Thursday, August 16, 2012

My SE Asia Solo Trip! (Part 3: Kuala Lumpur and Singapore)

The decision to fly from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur was a strategic one. I knew that I had to fly out of Singapore (back to Berlin) on August 13, and being a generally cautious/over-early person for flights, I knew I needed to be in Singapore at least a few days early to avoid any last-minute rushing-over-by-land-transport issues. Flying to KL a couple of days before that allows me the flexibility of looking around KL and then casually taking a train or bus to Singapore.

Both in Singapore and in KL I had friends to host me at their homes. It was quite a big contrast in experience, however, despite people having told me that the two cities are similar. In Singapore, my hostess was a friend from college and a native Singaporean, so she regaled me with stories of the island's history, its current politics, and everything in between. She had offered to let me stay at her place, but when I showed up I discovered to my surprise that she still lives with her parents (a very typical Singaporean living situation, as it turns out, because space is a premium), and my room was actually right next to where her parents slept, so I felt pretty bad about imposing upon her whole family!! Anyway, she and her friends took me out to dine at the local spots, showing me the Singaporean way of "food-hopping" during the same meal in order to catch various local foods at the most delicious locations that sell them. (This is real commitment to eating, I think, considering that we had to get into a car in between each location in order to drive to the next place!) Her friends were a friendly and very easy-going bunch, and they tried to introduce me to Singaporean English ("Singlish"), even though I was hopeless at understanding when they would speak Singlish very quickly to one another. :)

By the way, my friend is an example of someone who got a scholarship from a big Singaporean company to study abroad. I did not know this previously, but scholars like her (and there were at least a few of them at Cal) get all of their living expenses paid for during their stay in the U.S. as well. Between her undergrad at Cal and masters at Stanford, she said the scholarship was worth about 400,000 Singaporean dollars! Holy smackities. In exchange, scholars commit to going back and working at that company for a number of years after graduation -- in her case, it was 6 years. But, it's really not a bad deal, considering that she still gets paid a full salary and has growth opportunities within the company because of her scholar status. Here is she and her boyfriend, who was another Singaporean scholar to the States. :) The neat thing about these guys is that they're quite Americanized -- more so than typical Singaporeans, I am sure, but after living back in Singapore for 4 to 6 years (depending on the previous commitment), they are also well-integrated back into their homeland and happy to stay there.

In Kuala Lumpur, I stayed with a former colleague who has just started a new job at an international school in the suburbs of KL, so she has been there for just over a month and has not had time to explore the city. On the web I read a lot of conflicting suggestions of what to do in KL, so in the end I just randomly roamed around and enjoyed the city. I did a fair amount of window-shopping, but I also enjoyed their bustling Chinatown, checked out their Central Market from the 1800s, saw their proud Twin Towers, and went up to the Batu Caves with the small but nice Hindu temples. Some of the Hindu statues were huge! And, they were all very colorful.

Here are some other random pictures from KL's Chinatown, which becomes packed with tourists after dark.

KL's colorful street art:

A necklace in a gold shop that simply made me laugh out loud (those are little piglets hanging off of mama pig):

A sign on the elevated train that signals this train car is for women only (probably to protect Muslim women from touching men during rush hour):

And, their famous Twin Towers!

I even had a great reflexology foot massage in Chinatown, which bordered on pain because I requested their "normal strength" and Malaysians like their massages STRONG, apparently! I also took their public busses back to my friend's place in the suburbs, which was an experience in and of itself. The bus went from the urban areas of the city to windy country roads, where there are shacks along the street but you can still see tall metropolitan buildings in the background, and then to really nice suburbs with high-rise apartments with fancy pools. I think KL is an interesting place for a short visit, because it's not yet super modernized. It's going to take some time for them to update their transportation infrastructure, so it was fun to see a city in progress like that.

In Singapore, my focus was all about the food. There are popular hawker centers (food courts) all over the city, where you can order food from various stalls and sit with your friends at numbered tables. Food is payable upon delivery to the table by the stall, and this system allows you to try a bunch of different things during the same meal. (Again, that need for food variety is very Singaporean!) Each meal averages out to be only about 3 USD per person, and the food is soooo-damned-good! My friend took me to Chomp Chomp hawker center, which had a great vibe.

I went by myself to Maxwell hawker center in the Singaporean Chinatown, and to another Hawker Center at "Block 51" on the Old Airport Road. The last one is my favorite! They had amazing chicken rice, which is a dish typical of Singapore; they cook rice using chicken broth, and then serve it with cut-up chicken and hot sauce. When you eat it, the entire dish oozes with flavor, especially the broth-cooked rice. These stalls are so popular that they simply close mid-afternoon after serving up all the chicken and rice prepared previously.

At the Old Airport Road hawker center, there is also a silky tofu dessert stall that is quite famous; the few times I went there, every time, no matter what time of the day/night, there is ALWAYS a line at this stall! People line up to order about 25 of their tofu desserts at a time, to eat and to take home. It is good and silky smooth though.

In the Singaporean Chinatown, I ate foods that I had forgotten even existed, like hand-made Sechuan "Lian Fung" or spicy cold slippery noodles, and I also drank super refreshing sweetened winter-melon tea (available only in SE Asia, sadly).

While in Singapore, I went back to Din Tai Fung, which is a posh Asian soup dumplings chain that you can really only find in SE Asia and Los Angeles. (The one in Los Angeles is not as good, I don't think. I also went to the Din Tai Fung in KL, and that was good!) I am posting the photos so you Chinese people can appreciate this. SO FREAKIN' GOOD! You just cannot get soup dumplings like this in Berlin, even though I think the hole-in-the-wall soup dumpling restaurants that my parents took me to in Shanghai are cheaper and better-tasting than Din Tai Fung.

All in all, I was too happy to wrap up my visit with fine Asian dining. I don't have pictures of the rest of the amazing foods I had tried in Singapore, but I assure you that if Asian food is your thing, Singapore is well worth a visit at some point, simply for its culinary pleasures. It is the multi-cultural hub of SE Asia, that is for sure. And, it's clean and beautiful to walk around in! Here are a few more pics of the city proper:

And, did I mention that you can get a fish massage there? (It freaked me out to think about the fish nibbling on my feet though, so I kept kicking the water non-stop.)

The country is so modern that even their airport bathrooms have touch-screen surveys. :)

Overall, what a joy it was to travel solo through Asia!! I loved every part of it. If you're single, I cannot recommend anything more. GO TRAVELING, and GO ALONE!!! You will grow from it (especially if you go extendedly, more than a few months), and you will meet so many unexpected people, learn to really listen to their stories, and you will have completely random experiences that you could cherish for years to come. Every single person I've met who has been traveling solo for over a few months has said that this was an investment in themselves, and a very worthwhile one that has simply changed them for the better. So, if you are thinking about this, take a risk and just go!!


  1. Malaysian int'l school = ISKL? :-p

    Your SE Asia travel pictures are killing me!! KILLING ME!

  2. haha I took photos of the foods so I can look back and drool over myself over how delicious it was. It'll be depressing to me in about a week, to look at them. :P

    I think she works in a school called Mont'Kiara International School. Mont'Kiara is the suburb she lives in, and it's a relatively new one with many Japanese immigrants.

  3. Ahh, part of me wishes I were that adventurous! And part of me is very happy to spend my days reading in bed. :)