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Magic in an Urban Paradise

From a garden in the city to a city in the garden

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By Diet Immarie Salazar

A city so advanced yet maintains an abundance of greenery, Singapore is a haven for urban dwellers who just cannot get enough of what cities have in store.
Even before arriving in the city-state, the service provided in the Singapore Airlines, the flag carrier airline of the country, within a short span of almost four hours can already build up anticipation. Apart from the world-class service and professionalism that the crew offers, you will have a hard time disembarking because of the plane’s comfortable seats, delicious meals, and up-to-date in-flight movies.

A Jewel in the Heart of the City
Hypothetically speaking, staying on the plane instead of going out to explore Singapore will be a regrettable decision because Singapore Airlines is just a glimpse of the beauty of the country it is named after. Upon getting off the plane and stepping into the terminal, it is apparent that Changi Airport lives up to its title for the sixth consecutive year as the “World’s Best Airport” with a relatively hassle-free airport procedure and myriad activities, including watching movies in the theater, playing videogames in the entertainment decks, and strolling in their gardens while waiting for flights. This will be upgraded to a whole new level in the first quarter of 2019, however, when the Jewel Changi Airport opens inside the current airport as a multidimensional lifestyle hub with more gardens, high-end retail stores, restaurants, a Yotel hotel, and other attractions.

Jewel is designed by Moshe Safdie, the renowned architect of Marina Bay Sands.You can imagine walking into a translucent jewel through its glass-and-steel dome-shaped façade and into a paradise waiting for you as you get lost in the canopy mazes and bounce around the sky nets bordering the picturesque Forest Valley, one of Singapore’s largest indoor gardens, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall called the Rain Vortex at the center.

Arts and Culture
Not only does Singapore value art in the forms of architecture, landscaping, and interior design but also in other visual art forms like paintings and sculptures found in the National Gallery, particularly in its first minimalism exhibition in collaboration with the ArtScience Museum titled “Minimalism: Space. Light. Object.” which runs until April 14, 2019. The exhibit features minimalist art works from renowned artists such as Mark Rothko and Donald Judd from the US, Yayoi Kusama from Japan, Charlotte Posenenske from Germany, Lee Ufan from Korea, Olafur Eliasson from Denmark, Anish Kapoor from India, Ai Weiwei from China, Po Po from Myanmar, Carmen Herrera from Cuba, Richard Long from the UK, Kim Lim, Jeremy Sharma, and Tang Da Wu from Singapore, among others.These cryptic installations, as minimalist art goes, would make you think of their underlying meaning and significance to the artist, which then heightens your appreciation of their works of art. One of the most remarkable installations is Mona Hatoum’s Impenetrable, an ethereal cube floating in the gallery. As you approach it, you would then see that the sculpture is made of hundreds of barbed wire rods, yet the temptation of squeezing through the spaces between the rods remains palpable. This unnerving feeling stems from her experience as a Palestinian exile, where the barbed wire symbolizes prisons and fences, portraying violence and division in her home in Palestine.

A-view-of-the-city-from-the-55th-floor-of-Marina-Bay-Sands

With all these featured artists from different backgrounds, Singapore is seemingly a melting pot of nationalities, which celebrates diversity and equality of cultures. Colorful Peranakan, or Malaysian Chinese, residential homes are nestled in cul-de-sacs and mosques and Hindu temples dot many areas of the city. In the Chinatown district. You can buy goods and souvenirs at reasonable prices and visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, which has a huge prayer wheel and lots of golden sculptures of Buddha and Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, and houses the famed tooth relic of Buddha.

The Great Outdoors
A growing means of transportation in Singapore is the e-scooter, a stand-up scooter powered by an electric motor. If you haven’t tried riding one, there are several shops that offer bicycle and e-scooter rental services. This one particular shop, Let’s Go Bike Singapore, located on Crawford Lane, has a friendly staff who will teach you how to ride an e-scooter and, at the same time, give you a tour of Marina Bay. Breezing through the streets of Singapore on two wheels, while marveling at the juxtaposed beauty of nature and architectural designs of famous landmarks, offers the best firsthand experience of the city’s everyday life.

Another outdoor activity is the visit to the Night Safari, the world’s first nocturnal wildlife park. Explore the wild at night on an open-air tram as you gaze at creatures, such as flamingoes, hyenas, hippos, tigers, bears, tapirs, rhinos, and elephants, roaming around. The Night Safari is not limited to animals, there are dining outlets and other activities to experience as well, like the Rainforest Lumina, where you can walk through an enchanted trail along the rainforest of mystery and dancing lights. There, you will meet the virtual Creature Crew and find out more about their stories and magical powers by interacting with technological features, like jumping on illuminated platforms of different colors to make Tairee the white tiger and his other animal friends appear.

Christmas in the Air
Known for extravagantly celebrating festivities, the streets of Singapore, especially Orchard Road, are lined with bright Disney-themed Christmas trees, lights, and pop-ups of Disney princesses and Toy Story characters, giving off a feel of winter wonderland despite being a tropical country. Different establishments also celebrate the holidays in their own way.

Inside Naiise, a homegrown concept store, is J’adore Studio where you can learn calligraphy and watercolor painting. For the month of December, the studio offers workshops on how to paint floral wreaths and other Christmas elements for the perfect handcrafted Christmas card to give your loved ones.

Touring Singapore would not be complete if you don’t get to visit Gardens by the Bay. Photos in magazines and websites cannot prepare you for the amazement and wonder that will engulf you and the freshest air that will fill your lungs as you wander inside the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome, the world’s largest glass greenhouse. Strolling along the elevated walkways around the 35-meter-high manmade mountain and waterfall surrounded by diverse species of flora and fauna, and through the paths lined with baobabs, thousand-year-old olive trees, and other unique plant life will leave you questioning if all of these are simply part of a beautiful dream. And with the Flower Dome sticking to the Christmas theme, Disney TsumTsum characters are placed amid sleds, larger-than-life presents, red and white poinsettias, Christmas berries, and holly.

Besides the adrenaline-filled rides and thrills in Universal Studios, the theme park also celebrates Christmas as it showcases dazzling light displays, fireworks, a Christmas parade, and musical performances all throughout the month.

Flavors You Will Never Forget
Fans of the Crazy Rich Asians movie know that the film was set in Singapore. If you get to visit the iconic locations seen in the film, then trying out the nearby restaurants and food stalls is definitely a must! For instance, as can be spotted in the background where Rachel and her friend, Peik Lin, were chatting, the Reading Room is a quaint book café for tea and coffee-lovers looking for and craving cheesecakes and other sweets.

Another would be Chijmes, a Gothic-style chapel and heritage building, which has a shopping and dining center beside it, including the Coriander Leaf restaurant serving delicious dishes such as momo dumplings, butter naan, roasted hen with lemons and thyme, and—a childhood dream come true—White Rabbit ice cream, tasting exactly like the milk candy.

For a gastronomic adventure, the Newton Food Center has an assortment of cuisines for enthusiastic foodies. The satay, cereal butter prawns, and chili crab are must-try dishes, not only because these were featured in the movie but also because of their flavors bursting in your mouth in every bite. Despite being in an open-air food court, the hawker stalls get awarded Michelin Stars, so you can only imagine how delicious their dishes are.

There are, of course, other restaurants, which were not featured in the movie, that will make your visit to Singapore absolutely worth it. The most memorable and mouthwatering dishes, which never fail to make me crave for more just by thinking about them, are the spicy dried laksa in the National Kitchen by Violet Oon and Peranakan dishes, like ayampanggang or chicken in coconut milk and other spices, and desserts that will remind you of home, namely iced soursop or guyabano anda or chilled sago, at the Blue Ginger restaurant.

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