To enjoy the sights of Singapore, the lazy and cheap way, hop on a double-decker public bus. Sit in the front row. Enjoy the views in front and on the side.
I’ve always enjoyed doing this since I was little. When I was a kid, there’d be a periscope on the right-hand side of the front of the bus. I’d peer down the periscope and tried to see the driver’s face. There aren’t any periscopes in buses now. I think bus drivers use CCTVs to keep an eye on what’s going on upstairs.
That day, I took a 40-minute double decker bus ride from my home to my therapist’s clinic.
My therapist told me that the way to stay grounded in the present, was to use my senses. Observe my surroundings. Hear the things going on around me. Feel the vibes. Etc.
I was at Orchard Road, a popular shopping district. The sky was sunny and the weekend vibes were thick in the air. But I wasn’t in the mood to shop. Yet. First, there was the matter of getting lunch.
I wound up at a café that I had not visited in years: Watanabe Coffee. Their signature Spaghetti Neapolitan is as delicious as I remembered. I also had cold brew coffee in a copper cup, because I was feeling a little sleepy.
I didn’t use my phone while I was eating. I prefer to savour my meal. In between bites of food, I people-watched. Little Japanese girls with big bows in their hair. A young lady in a cutesy outfit and beret puffing away on a cigarette. A long-haired pregnant woman in athletic wear sitting near me and eating bruschetta. When I was done eating and people-watching, I read a bit of my book (Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers).
Now I could do some shopping. I went to Johan’s Bakery and bought two breakfasts’ worth of corn bread. My family and I love their corn bread.
I tried on some clothes. I don’t buy clothes often, but I needed new ones after discarding many worn-out pieces earlier this year. The mall has some nice ones, but nothing special. Then I remembered a cute pair of batik shorts that I saw on Facebook that morning.
Should I take the train to Chinatown just to check out one pair of shorts? My laziness told me to go home. But, in the end, something compelled me (loss aversion? Curiosity? Desire?) to hop on the train.
I walked past the touristy parts of Chinatown, then down a side street that lead to a cluster of shophouses. This ‘hood is home to a variety of bars, boutique hotels, restaurants, cafes, and cool wall art. It’s hard to believe that the area was once a red-light district.
The staircase was near the roast meat shop, as I remembered. I went up, pushed open the door, and inhaled the smell of vintage.
The lady boss showed up. “Hello! Are you looking for anything in particular?”
The shorts you featured on Facebook today, I thought. But I didn’t want to zoom in on that one so fast. “Oh, would you happen to have any circle skirts?” I asked. Circle skirts are rare so if I can find one and I like the design, then it’s a keeper.
She didn’t have any circle skirts so she suggested a couple of other vintage skirts. As I tried them on, she mentioned that she remembered me. From the time I bought a couple of items, back when the shop was in a different ‘hood.
“Whoa, you remembered me from a few years ago!” I said, impressed. I ended up trying a variety of clothes, including the shorts that caught my fancy. All while chatting with the lady boss about vintage and batik.
I bought just the shorts that day. This was a one-off piece that the shop produced in-house, so it was a win for me. I also got to know the lady boss a little better. Her name is Pia, and she has a good eye for fabrics and fashion.
My day, which was already pretty good to begin with, went up a notch.
I could have taken the same route back to Chinatown train station.
Instead, my feet took me down a different route. A route that I never used before, but I knew it would take me to Tanjong Pagar. Where I used to work.
I like Tanjong Pagar. It’s one of my favourite ‘hoods in Singapore. There’s an eclectic mix of shophouses, swanky office buildings, heritage sites, and old public housing. Traditional coexists with modern. There is also a good variety of cheap eats, mid-price grub, and fine dining.
Memories came back to me as I walked towards Tanjong Pagar train station.
Of those lunch hours and afternoon breaks spent exploring this ‘hood.
Of the delicious eats I discovered, sweet and savoury, local and international.
Of the good times and bad times with people I worked with.
I stood in front of Tanjong Pagar train station. Just as I was about to go in, I noticed something strange floating in the air.
It turned out to be someone floating down in a parachute, red smoke trailing behind them. Of course! National Day Parade practices must be happening nearby. The parachutists are military folks who are practising landing in the middle of the parade grounds.
For a few minutes, I stayed to watch this rare sight. What serendipity to be nearby during parachute practice!
I visited my neighbourhood library to borrow a book. I love the libraries in Singapore. They have a great collection of books and DVDs, and the customer service is excellent.
I boarded the bus home (not double-decker this time). This route was a little longer, but I didn’t mind. The bus wove through the heartlands, passing old housing estates, provision shops, and schools.
I got off and walked home. The sky was a little dark now, and dinner beckoned.
I enjoyed having the whole day to myself. The interesting thing was that I didn’t plan to do everything I did, except therapy. I went where I felt like and explored familiar surroundings with child-like wonder. I found joy in little moments, from a pair of shorts to a plate of pasta to a chance encounter with parachutes.
On that day, I was 100% in the present and I loved it.