It seems incredibly shortsighted now, but back when Tony & I were planning this trip, we were so focused on the places we would visit and the sights we would see that we gave no thought to the people we might meet and the ways they would change our journey. Looking back, I find it so hard to believe that we could have neglected this aspect of travel, a facet that I have now come to view as critical and the true motivating factor that keeps us going. In the end, it has never been the monuments or the beaches or even the food, that ultimately determines how much we fall head over heels for a country (though those things certainly play some role), but the people we have met and connected with while there.
I knew that whatever its many charms, undoubtedly we would enjoy our time in Singapore because it would give us the chance to catch up with our friends Chris and Peiyan. What I didn’t know when we arrived in the Lion City was that it would be the staging ground for a new friendship, one that elevated our time there from “excellent” to “epic”.
A few days into our stay, I remembered that the woman behind one of my favorite travel blogs, Expat Edna, used to be based in Singapore. I reached out over Twitter to see if she had any tips on things we should see, do, or eat. As luck would have it, Edna replied that she was also spending the holidays in Singapore, and would we maybe like to grab breakfast together?
Riding high on the wave of all the incredible relationships we had built while in Taiwan, Tony & I jumped at the chance to meet up.
I’ve said before that saying yes instead of no opens us up to those moments that change our lives, and this was just another example of that. Sometimes it really feels like the universe has your back and is conspiring to make sure great things happen for you. That’s how meeting Edna felt. I mean, given that she is based out of Europe, what were the chances she would just happen to be in Singapore while we were are also there? Moreover, what are the odds that she’d be staying with friends in a HDB just a few blocks over from our own? Our meeting simply felt like one of those things that was meant to be.
So, who’s surprised to hear that within minutes of actually meeting face-to-face over a traditional Singapore breakfast of soft-boiled eggs and toast slathered in rich, coconutty kaya jam that we were chatting and laughing like long-lost friends. As breakfast slid ever closer to lunch, we knew that in accordance to those famous last words by Bogart, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
With Edna, we got to see Singapore through the eyes of an expat well familiar with its ins & outs. We got to meet and mingle with some of her best friends from her Singapore days, and get a real taste for what living like an expat in this city could mean. It was wonderful getting to talk to all of these people originally hailing from different corners of the globe who had found themselves together in Singapore, not because they were taking a life-changing trip but simply because they had chosen to embrace the spirit of adventure within the parameters of their own lives and take a job in a foreign country. It’s really easy for long-term travelers to get caught up in the notion that our way is the only way to see the world, but on our journey, we have met many interesting people with a real passion for travel and exploration who do just fine while also holding down jobs and homes and all the trappings of a more “traditional” life. Meeting people like this is a reminder that we can live our dreams out on many different stages and even if there comes a day when we can no longer wander the world as perpetual nomads, that will not mean our traveling days are at an end.
Thanks to Edna, we got to head up to the 50th floor of the Pinnacles at Duxton, a swanky HDB with a killer Skywalk and view of the city’s skyline to rival that of the Marina Bay Sands. Normally you either have to be a resident or pay a small fee to access the Skywalk, but with some tricky pass card wrangling, the three of us made it up there and just soaked in the awesome scenery.
If there is one thing I loved most about our time with Edna, it’s that the girl knows how to eat (though you wouldn’t know it by looking at her)! Thanks to her, we had an all too willing partner in crime who made it her mission to share her favorite eats with us, from fistfuls of satay and pitchers of beer (so much beer!) at the outdoor market of Lau Pa Sat, to indulging Tony’s bubble tea cravings, to pints of pricey cider at Li’l Papa’s Wiener Beerstro (with flavors like elderflower & lime, and toffee apple, how could we resist?).
But nothing could top our free-for-all feast at Lang Zhou La Mian, a little hole in the wall restaurant (aren’t those always the best kind?) nestled down one of Chinatown’s many laneways. I’m sure we had walked by it on our own several times, never realizing that inside lay the most perfect xiao long bao, perhaps in all of Asia. These delicate soup dumplings featured impossibly thin wrappers, plump from the amazingly rich, beautiful broth they cradled within and threatened to spurt across your chin without some tricky chopstick & spoon maneuvering.
We also gorged ourselves on blocks of fried homemade tofu, a true symphony of textures: crispy and salty on the outside, protecting a creamy unctuous center. Between mouthfuls, Edna admits that even people who claim they don’t like tofu, just can’t get enough of this stuff; one bite and we were too busy stuffing as much of it into our own mouths to waste time arguing.
And what of the hand-pulled noodles slathered in a Moorish minced pork & black bean sauce? Or the roast chicken—a special not found on the menu—that featured perfectly moist chicken, drizzled in a slightly sweet sauce infused with roasted garlic and scallions? I don’t even know what to tell you except that everything that came out of Lang Zhou La Mian’s kitchen was perfection and our little group certainly tucked away way more food than a party our size really had any right to.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, Tony & I loved this place so much that when it came time to pick a place to ring in 2013, you’d better believe we were right back here packing away the XLBs and tofu like we might not make it to the new year
Thanks to Edna, our time in Singapore was unexpectedly bittersweet. Is there anything worse than forming connections with people where you laugh late into the night and stumble home slightly tipsy, only to remember come the morning that as fortuitous as it was for your paths to cross this once, they likely won’t do so again for quite some time? To realize that the flip-side of traveling the world is not just making friends, but leaving them behind as well?
Well, sure. It would be far worse to have never met those people or forged those friendships at all. In life, there is always some sour to temper the sweet, but on the whole, we have been so lucky on this trip to have not only had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, but also for the chance to make some new ones who we’ll carry with us into the future. These friendships have become the very best reason for us to travel; they connect us to the world and to this trip in ways that a pretty picture or a simple story cannot. They give a face to the places we have been, and even to places we have yet to go—as sad as it is to say goodbye, there is nothing nicer than looking forward to foreign lands knowing that whenever we should find ourselves there, we already have friends waiting for us, to either reunite with or discover anew. These friendships, they give me comfort because I know that they are the proof that when I return home at the end of this long journey, my world will be so much bigger and I will be that much richer—in love and experiences—than when I first set out.
So to the friends we have made, both during this journey and even before we set out on it, I say thank you for the moments we have shared and the ones we some day will. And to the friends we have yet to meet, I can’t wait for that day to come.
And to Edna, thank you for your generosity in taking us under your wing and sharing some of your life with us, and stuffing us with some of the best food we’ve been lucky enough to eat. For now, we have Singapore, but I have no doubt there are more adventures to come!