If there’s one lesson that traveling has taught me over and over again, it’s that life is generally more fun, more interesting, when we say “yes” rather than “no”. Saying yes we risk the unknown and open up ourselves to the possibility of being surprised, to having our boundaries expanded and our points of view changed. Maybe it’s because, on the verge of saying no, our expectations for the experience are lower, or maybe it’s because opening ourselves up to “yes” primes us for other great things that are headed our way. All I know is that it has been exceedingly rare during this trip that I have wished I had turned an opportunity down.
Take our visit to one of Singapore’s most recently opened mega attractions, Gardens by the Bay. Nestled next to the iconic Marina Bay Sands, the two giant space-age greenhouse domes and expansive “Supertree” arboretum that comprise Gardens by the Bay make for formidable additions to the city’s skyline.
Like most activities in Singapore, a visit to the Gardens doesn’t come cheap: access to both domes costs a whopping S$26 ($20US, or the cost of a Singapore Sling), which is pretty pricey to go see some plants. I’m no budding horticulturist, and if we had left the decision in my hands, I probably would have given the Gardens a pass, but this is why it can be exceedingly nice to have access to a local who can help you make better choices. Our friend Chris had already visited the Gardens, and he had enjoyed them so much that, despite the hefty price tag, he urged us to visit them and to sweeten the pot, told us he would happily come along with us.
The first dome we visited contained the Flower Garden, which is a lot like a traditional greenhouse, except it is filled with plants from all over the world. Because we were visiting during the holidays, there were a few Christmas-themed decorations scattered throughout, and of course, because this is Singapore, there were also many signs prohibiting all manner of bad behavior such as throwing gravel and touching the plants. Now, I don’t want to throw stones (pun intended?) or point fingers, but during our travels we have come to believe that these signs are largely for the benefit of visitors who come from one Asian country in particular. It seems like most people who live in the world understand the social contract we are all bound by and are perfectly content to “look with their eyes”, but for people from this country, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a greenhouse, a museum, the ocean or a UNESCO-protected site, if something is worth looking at, then it is also worth touching and indeed must be touched. At this point, I have lost count of the number of times we have seen people contort themselves over and around barriers in order to get their grubby little paws on things, but suffice to say that the signs at the Gardens were being flagrantly ignored by a certain swath of visitors and the poor plants were quite literally being manhandled.
Bad behavior aside, we quite enjoyed our walk through the Flower Garden, marveling once more at how spectacularly diverse our planet is and how weird nature can be. And of course, because we are all sometimes 11, we also spent a good deal of time laughing at some of the more, ahem, suggestive plants on display; the cacti section was particularly amusing.
Like I said, I’ve never taken a great interest in floral life, but I still really enjoyed observing the vast selection of flowers on display. Having so much variety spread out in front of you, it’s pretty astounding to note the many shapes and forms that plant life can take, from intensely intricate to outright bizarre. My personal highlights were probably the sweet pea plants with their gently curling tendrils and, all the way from the other side of the globe, the preposterous baobab trees, so squat and lumpy and a slice of Africa a continent away.
Next up was the Cloud Forest, and OH MY GOD it was so cool! Also enclosed in a huge glass dome, the Cloud Forest is essentially a chilly rainforest, complete with a crashing waterfall that seemed as though it were cascading from the heavens. I felt like we had stepped right into a videogame as we made our way across suspended skywalks (which terrified heights-hating Tony to the very marrow if his bones), passing through lush greenery featuring beautiful orchids and carnivorous plants. Hovering hundreds of feet in the air, the view of the skyline across the river was spectacular. If the film Blade Runner took place in the jungle rather than a big city, I think this is where it would be set. The blend of the exotic with futuristic elements is pretty much Singapore in a nutshell, and this was far and away the highlight of our visit to Gardens by the Bay.
Keeping up the ultramodern fantasyland vibe, we ended our time at Gardens by the Bay with a wander through the Supertree Grove; although you can pay to access another elevated walkway between some of the Supertrees, they are just as enjoyable (and perhaps even more impressive) from below; sometimes you stand on the shoulders of giants, other times you stand in their shadows. Looking as though they were plucked straight out of Avatar (or a far less crappy version of the film), these towering “trees” range from 25-50 meters in height and have been designed to not only astonish the eye, but to carry out environmentally sustainable operations such as harvest solar power and offer air filtration. A large portion of the Cloud Forest was devoted to explaining the ins & outs of the hows & whys of the Supertrees, some of which seemed dubious at best. But potential scientific skullduggery aside, even if these trees wind up being largely decorative, they are insanely cool to observe, which is reason enough for them to exist as far as I’m concerned.
If there is a theme to our time in Singapore, it is probably me reluctantly agreeing to activities that I secretly didn’t think would be all that great, only to find time and again that I was wrong and that whatever we were doing was very worthwhile indeed. Saying yes changes us; it pushes us forward, and sometimes it even pushes us up, all the way into the clouds where it teaches us a new way of seeing. And when we come back down to earth, we find our outlook—on the world, on ourselves—is different as a result. That is the power of saying yes.
Tell us: Have you ever visited an attraction or tried an activity that you didn’t think was for you only to find you really enjoyed it? What was the last great thing that you said “yes” to?