It all starts with my friend, Frecy. She and I went to Journalism school; she with her long curly tresses, silver shoes, and mini skirt, I with my dark frizzy hair, black clothes, and dark eyeliner. She was consistently on the Dean’s List while I was being emo long before it was hip. We were not very close, although there was a time that we were, back when we staged the drama that I wrote. She played the title role, Violet. Fast forward to 15 years, I went to Singapore in August of 2017 in time for my birthday. Fres and I met again and when before I wasn’t sure if we were truly friends, this time I knew that we are.
Years ago, Frecy went to Singapore to follow her heart. The relationship eventually ended but she remained grateful to the guy (and to this day, they are still friends), “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gone to Singapore, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
I couldn’t help but admire her when she said that; such maturity that even I don’t possess.
She is now married to a Singaporean and together they have two beautiful boys. They live in Bukit Panjang, a residential town in the West Region of Singapore. Fres offered that I stay with them during my Singapore visit. She let me use her kid’s playroom as my temporary bedroom.
Even when Frecy and I are no strangers to each other, I still felt a little apprehensive about staying in her house knowing that her family would be there. I didn’t know her husband, I wasn’t sure if he would appreciate my presence. There’s also the thing about house rules and the whole concept of pakikisama, (fellow feeling). It’s not like staying in paid accommodation where I can go and leave as I please. There, I had to interact with the family, abide with their house rules, and ask permission when I need to use the loo or when I want to eat. But the real source of my anxiety is the ugly experience that I had when I couchsurfed in Vietnam. In my head, I was like, what if Fres and her husband, treat me the way the Vietnamese CS host did?
Thankfully, Frecy and Edmund Lee are decent and nice people. They are not doing Couchsurfing, but if they were I would have left them a glowing review. Because of this family, my Singapore trip has been far more enriching.
Because I stayed with a local I had access to the best spots that they frequent. I was able to eat the most recommended dish of my friends, the spicy crab at Kek Kopitiam, I ate the delectable buttered chicken masala in a well-known 24-hour restaurant, Al-Azhar, and I also visited my first Jollibee abroad at the Lucky Mall in Orchard area.
Edmund said that he and his mother have a penchant for discovering cheap but amazing eats. I say they sure know where to find them because all of their food suggestions were delicious.
Universal Studios Singapore
Frecy is a new hire in their company, but she took a leave on a Friday to take me to Universal Studios Singapore. There is a special train that goes to Sentosa Island where USS is located. I looked at the window like a kid, relishing that sweet feeling of anticipation. USS was just as fun as the Universal Studios Japan, but because we didn’t have a special pass, Fres and I spent almost an hour waiting in the queue in every attraction.
My most favorite ride had the longest waiting time, Transformer. It was amazing what the seats in this ride can do, they tilt, spin, vibrate, and the sound was so loud it was almost like it’s coming from the inside of my skull. The visuals in which we’re watching the Autobots and Decepticons fight are so vivid it was easy to buy to the illusion that we were part of the scenes. In those scenes in which there’s water, we were literally got sprayed on with mist. In the fire explosions scene, we were blasted with hot air. But it’s all safe, in fact, it’s one of the safest things you could do for that sweet adrenaline rush. Fres and I left the attraction giggling like school girls.
On my last day in the Lion City, which happens to be my birthday, Fres took me to the places that would tell anyone, I was indeed in Singapore. We started the day in a mall to replace the broken screen of my phone. Then we went to this hip neighborhood called Haji Lane, lined with fashion boutiques, novelty shops, Middle Eastern cafes, and bar and restos.
They say you have never been to Singapore if you didn’t pose by the iconic Merlion statue at the Merlion Park. My friend made it a point to take me there. The amount of tourists is a bit overwhelming it was impossible to take a picture without them ruining the shot. Nonetheless, Fres knew how to wait for a good timing so I was able to have this photo without so many distractions (people).
You can also see other famous Singaporean landmarks from this area like the Marina Bay Sands and the durian-inspired building, the Art Science Museum.
East Coast Park Castle Beach
One of my favorite spots in Singapore is the East Coast Park Castle beach. Dubbed as an urban getaway, East Coast Park is part of Singapore’s Parks and Nature Reserves. It’s a 15-km stretch of coastline, on a 185 hectares of land. Locals like to go here to have a picnic, do camping, cycling and inline skating, go fishing, waterski, etc. Fres and I rented bicycles and spent an hour or so cycling around the area.
Celebrating my 35th Birthday
On the eve of my birthday, Fres and Edmund took me on a long drive to Malaysia to a spa that they frequent. It sounds funny but we did cross-border for the sole reason of getting a massage. The service there is a lot cheaper than in Singapore where everything is expensive. After a relaxing massage, we went to a rundown noodle place that serves appetizing noodle dishes, another discovery of Edmund. I wasn’t able to take photos given my semi-awake state at that time.
On the night before I left for Singapore, the Lee family surprised me with a birthday cake. The kids even sang me a birthday song in Chinese. Needless to say, I was very touched. I have been observing my birthday away from my folks for several years now and so it felt good to celebrate it in the company of a family.
Club Castle Group
For the last hurrah of my Singapore trip, Edmund, Fres, and I went to Club Castle Group. It’s a bar far from the city that has videoke, drinks, and a humongous deck of cards. We had a few drinks, until I checked my flight schedule and realized that my flight is at around 5 in the morning, not 11 a.m. as I originally thought.
And so we hurried home, I packed my stuff, and the couple drove me to the airport. I felt sad not being able to say goodbye to the kids whom I have grown quite fond of. I am also sad that I am leaving this lovely couple, especially my friend, Fres, who has been nothing but warm and generous to me during my stay.
Fres is one if not the most brilliant student in our class and I’ve always known she will go places. She has the brain, the drive, and the courage and I am happy to see that she has reaped the fruits of her efforts. She is living a good life in Singapore, she has a beautiful family, a thriving career, and yet she remains to be humble despite her success. Because of her and her family, I was able to get a taste of local living in another country. It made my trip more meaningful not to mention memorable. At least now I know that staying with a local is actually a good experience if you are with the right people.
To the Lee family, thank you so much for your warm welcome and generosity. You are the true reason I will never forget my Singapore trip.