The Crazy Rich Asian’s guide to SIN­GA­PORE

Chris Pang, fresh from his star­ring role in the re­cent block­buster, re­veals the high­lights of a visit to the is­land city-state

Sunday Times - - The Big Read -

There’s a rea­son we chose Sin­ga­pore to shoot Crazy

Rich Asians. It’s ob­vi­ous for any­one who’s read the book — it’s set there — but Hol­ly­wood sub­sti­tutes lo­ca­tions all the time. Van­cou­ver be­comes New York. Parts of Alabama stand in for Cal­i­for­nia. But for us to find Sin­ga­pore, well, we weren’t re­ally left with any other op­tions. Si­t­u­ated at the per­fect cross­roads of east and west, it’s a bustling is­land-me­trop­o­lis that is no wider than 64km at its widest point, yet still some­how man­ages to feel larger than life. Eco­nom­i­cally self-made un­der the coun­try’s first prime min­is­ter Lee Kuan Yew, it at­tracted growth and sta­bil­ity the likes of which south­east Asia hadn’t seen — and, in some re­spects, still hasn’t. Sin­ga­pore to­day is sim­ply amaz­ing. From the mo­ment you step into the lav­ishly ap­pointed Changi Air­port, to your taxi ride to a down­town ho­tel (or bou­tique shop­house inn), it as­saults you with colour, en­ergy and char­ac­ter. Not to men­tion heat. Bring your tank tops and shorts — for­get­ting that sleeves ex­ist en­tirely would be your best bet.

If you’re lucky enough to ar­rive over Christ­mas or Chi­nese New Year, take a ride down Or­chard Road for the lights and a fan­tas­tic sum­mary of Sin­ga­pore.

You’ll no­tice the crowds, the nev­erend­ing bus­tle, the well-heeled yup­pies mix­ing it up with the no-non­sense aun­ties and un­cles. You’ll no­tice the tucked-away malls like Far East Plaza, filled with twist­ing cor­ri­dors, rub­bing shoul­ders with mod­ern, glam­orous steel-and-glass con­struc­tions like Ion Or­chard. No­tice what you don’t sense ei­ther — not a sin­gle piece of lit­ter on the streets, or aber­rant smell in the air — which, as those who live in hu­mid lo­ca­tions know, is a rare thing.

Or you could do as the film’s char­ac­ters Nick and Rachel do and head right to one of

the fa­mous hawker cen­tres for some chicken rice, mee pok (a de­li­cious, lo­cal noo­dle dish), har mee (an­other de­li­cious, lo­cal noo­dle dish)

or char kway teow (an­other … well, guess). If those aren’t for you then I’m sure you’ll find some­thing at the In­dian stall next door, or the Malay joint across the way, or the halal spot tucked be­hind or … you get the idea.

Sin­ga­pore is a true multi-cul­ture, and you get to pick the very best from that melt­ing pot. And yes, if you were won­der­ing, the hawker cen­tres are the one place in Sin­ga­pore that smell — and they smell de­li­cious.

If none of this is for you, then get lost. And I mean that lit­er­ally — Sin­ga­pore is so safe, feel free to wan­der the back­streets and qui­eter ar­eas and get lost. Pop over to Ann Siang Hill for a meal, or MacRitchie Reser­voir for a hike, or to Haji Lane for a piece of fur­ni­ture you’ll never fit in your lug­gage. Once suit­ably dis­ori­ented, pop to the near­est MRT sta­tion for a 20-minute train ride back to your ho­tel.

What to do

Do not try to com­pile a list of your top 10 things in Sin­ga­pore. It’s too hard and too much gets cut out. But, that aside, def­i­nitely do visit Ma­rina Bay Sands (marin­abaysands.com).

Stroll the in­side and won­der if you’ve walked into a south­east-Asian Las Ve­gas. Check out the shops and, just when the im­pulse to buy a £40,000 Hublot watch starts to hit, head out­side to the Gar­dens by the Bay and re­mem­ber that life isn’t all about stuff.

Def­i­nitely check out the Sky Trees at the Gar­dens, where we filmed our wed­ding scene for Crazy Rich Asians.

Check out Or­chard Road. Then, just as soon leave it for the afore­men­tioned Haji Lane, Chi­na­town, Bugis Street and the like. OK — are the tourists gone? Good. I’m glad you’ve stayed with me.

Now head to Joo Chiat and Ka­tong and check out the lo­cal Per­anakan Cul­ture. The Per­anakan are de­scen­dants of eth­nic Chi­nese who mi­grated to is­lands in south­east Asia many cen­turies ago and the cul­ture per­sists to this day. There’s a row of colour­ful shop­houses — a clas­sic piece of Sin­ga­porean/Per­anakan ar­chi­tec­ture — that own­ers are happy to let you In­sta­gram in front of.

While you’re over in the east, if you’ve the nerve, and if you’re an ar­chi­tec­ture or his­tory buff, or just want to re-en­act some of the grander scenes in the movie, take a walk around the Grand Ho­tel (25 and 26 Still Road South). For­merly known as Karikal Ma­hal, it’s a de­com­mis­sioned ho­tel that to­day lies aban­doned. It’s a lit­tle creepy at first, but you get a sense of Sin­ga­pore’s colo­nial past and her­itage from the echoes within.

Where to eat

Eat at the Hawker Stalls, ob­vi­ously. My per­sonal favourite is Max­well Food Cen­tre, where we shot the iconic hawker food scene in CRA), where the al­leged best chicken rice in Sin­ga­pore is lo­cated, but feel free to ask a group of lo­cal Sin­ga­pore­ans which is best and get ready for the en­su­ing ar­gu­ment.

If you do de­cide to go to Max­well, do your­self a favour and grab the chicken rice, Can­tonese style chug or por­ridge, and the lo­cal bak kut teh — a type of savoury pork soup, dark and burst­ing with flavour.

Just re­mem­ber to bring a small pack­age of tis­sues with you to “chope” — mean­ing “re­serve a seat” — and also to wipe your face af­ter — none of the stalls pro­vide nap­kins.

If this all sounds a lit­tle com­pli­cated, or you’ve just got a day’s lay­over and want a bit of ev­ery­thing, then def­i­nitely head to the Strait­sKitchen at the Grand Hy­att

(sin­ga­pore.grand.hy­at­trestau­rants.com/ strait­skitchen). It’s a sin­gle price fee for an all-you-can-eat “top picks” of Sin­ga­pore cui­sine. Go for the popiah — a lo­cal type of spring roll — and stay for the pan­dan ice cream. Don’t let the con­ve­nience fool you — this is still a le­git Sin­ga­pore ex­pe­ri­ence and one my lo­cal friend swears by.

And if it all still sounds like it’s too dif­fi­cult, then don’t leave your room. Don a dress­ing gown and sim­ply or­der in to wher­ever you’re stay­ing be­cause every­one de­liv­ers and it’s al­most uni­ver­sally good. Grab a ren­dang burger from McDon­ald’s if you want. Or­der 2.5kg of roti prata and a chilli crab from

Changi and gorge. And if you’ve room af­ter, hit up The Ice Cream Cookie Co and have the best ice-cream sand­wiches I’ve ever had. Try one of the sea­sonal, lo­cal flavours and pre­pare for the brain freeze when you in­evitably fin­ish the whole thing in a minute flat.

Where to stay

Most of the ho­tels in Sin­ga­pore are suit­ably swanky and well kept. But if you want the lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, try to find a shop­house. A cur­sory search on Airbnb yields dozens of re­sults, but for con­ve­nience: The Sul­tan

(the­sul­tan.com.sg) is a con­verted shop­house ho­tel that is very, very ex­pen­sive, but very, very worth it. Con­sist­ing of 10 his­toric shop­houses, each of its 64 rooms is metic­u­lously ap­pointed, and it’s in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion.

On the other hand, if you’re less Crazy Rich

Asian and more just a reg­u­lar one like me, you’ll en­joy the aptly named The Shop­house on Arab Street (shop­house­hos­tel.com). It’s a hos­tel, which makes it a great place to meet other trav­ellers to ex­plore the neigh­bour­hood with. Given that it’s right in Bugis, you’ve a great neigh­bour­hood to ex­plore, too. And, even bet­ter, Sin­ga­porean Hawker Cen­tres are al­ways bet­ter done in groups. Go min­gle!

Where to shop

Or­chard Road and Ma­rina Bay Sands might be out of bud­get for some, but you can al­ways find what you’re look­ing for in Chi­na­town. There are a few day mar­kets sell­ing touristy knick knacks, but if you get into the back streets, or Chi­na­town Point, you can find a few lo­cals ped­dling wares as they have for years. Hag­gling is much, much less com­mon in Sin­ga­pore, so try not to be too ag­gres­sive.

And one last thing...

One fi­nal do, for the night-owls among us: head over to Ann Siang Hill (vis­itsin­ga­pore.com/ed­i­to­ri­als/annsiang-and-club-street). Grab a west­ern­friendly meal at PS Café (pscafe.com/pscafe-at-ann-siang-hill­park), and then stay around and wait for the bars and clubs to light up. More palat­able and slightly classier than Clarke Quay, this is where you’ll want to wend out those hot Sin­ga­porean nights.

Pic­ture: 123rf.com/sa­hachat

LATE BLOOMER The lo­tus-shaped ArtS­cience Mu­seum at the Ma­rina Bay Sands Casino and Re­sort in Sin­ga­pore.

Pic­tures: ©Warner Bros

THEY DO Chris Pang, left, and Sonoya Mizuno, above, play new­ly­weds in 'Crazy Rich Asians.'

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