Singapore, January 2012

Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians? I practically jumped out of my seat when I recognized the streets of Singapore. I had only visited once, but the trip was unforgettable, amazing. Singapore is one of my top five favorite places that I’ve visited. I was working for the Navy at the time, and so fortunate that my boss invited me along for this partner visit with the Singapore Navy.

The flight seemed interminable. It was two flights, actually. The first took us from DC to Tokyo (14+ hours), and then Tokyo to Singapore (8 hours). Don’t believe me? Check out how far Singapore is from Tokyo. Yikes. And we had less than two hours to stretch our legs in Tokyo.

To say that we were exhausted by the time we arrived was an understatement. And can you imagine the jet lag? Singapore is 13 hours ahead of DC. My body had no idea what day or hour it was. Neither did I care. I was so excited to be there.

At the height of my international travel (and prior to becoming a vegan), one of my favorite things to do was sample the local fare. My first item of business was to discover the most local item I could find. Of course, our taxi driver should know! I accosted the poor fellow almost as soon as we entered the cab which would take us to our hotel. First, he mentioned some chicken dish which sounded so unappealing. Well, perhaps just boring. I suppose he was used to foreigners (Americans) asking for local, but really wanting something comfortable and recognizable.

I pleaded for something genuinely local. I insisted I was unafraid of spices or anything unusual. He said, “Well, if you are really looking for something, then you should try the Chilli Crab“. What is that? Oh, a local crab dish. Not too spicy. We would be heading to a basement food court (where all the best food was found in Singapore, evidently) for dinner. Our taxi driver assured us that we could find it there.

I couldn’t wait. I was happy that I wouldn’t be casting about the food court aimlessly. I was on a mission.

My travel companions opted for recognizable foods. I found my Chilli Crab, but dismayed at the price. $40!! I wasn’t sure I could do it. $40? For one meal? In a food court, no less? I walked around for several minutes, desperately seeking something else. But nothing appealed. I really wanted to try the crab. Then I thought, “When am I coming back to Singapore? When will I have this chance again?” Our meals would mostly be hosted the rest of the week. I doubted I would see Chilli Crab again.

I did it. I ran back to the place I’d originally seen it, and paid my money. I was so glad I did! My travel companions were immediately and intensely jealous. Their meals looked positively dull next to this enormous and delicious dish. And it was so much fun to eat (messy, too!) If you’re ever in Singapore, I highly recommend it!

Our visit only lasted three days. For this, I was actually grateful. We were in and out fast enough that we did not acclimate to our new timezone. I managed to get through the meetings with little trouble. I imagine I was running on adrenaline.

As usual, one of my other favorite thing to do was to go for a run. There’s nothing like seeing a new city via your morning run. As you can see, I took my phone everywhere I went. I took pictures of everything, and my head was on a swivel. Perhaps it was the magic of knowing I was in Singapore. Perhaps Singapore really is that beautiful.

The run through the National Orchid Garden was little less than a mile. But it was gorgeous, and I couldn’t resist returning each morning.

Our last evening, our hosts took us to celebrate Chinese New Year. I had learned so much about Singapore, and its Navy, during our time there. As a small island nation, it may seem obvious how important naval defenses and preparedness are for Singapore. It may also be obvious how much Singapore values relationships with strong foreign partners. But I had never appreciated how important until I traveled there.

Though recent events have demonstrated how much can be done virtually, there remains incredible value in physically traveling to meet people. The intrinsic value in seeing how small Singapore is, in seeing the pride on the faces of our naval counterparts when they showed us their navy, in seeing the challenges they face from their perspective. I hope to return someday. If I do not, I am eternally grateful for my visit there. If you go, definitely try the Chilli Crab!

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