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An ocean away: Singapore

Two summers ago, I took my first big trip. Every year my family traveled within the country to different national parks and landmarks. As exciting as all of those adventures had been, however, I knew none would compare to this. Just the two of us, my mom and I would travel internationally for three whole weeks. 

Our first destination: Singapore.

Now, Singapore may seem a bit random. Of any place in the world, why would we choose a tiny island that most people would be unable to locate on a map? For me, however, this was the perfect place to begin my world travels.

Genevieve Felder, a friend of mine practically since birth, moved there in 2009 and has wanted us to visit ever since. Her family’s plan was for her family to move for only two years, so her mom could open a new location for the Culinary Institute of America, but 10 years later, she’s still there, finishing her senior year of high school. With each story she told me about the people and culture, I wanted to go more and more. Finally, with a lot of planning and scheduling, the trip came together, and my hope to visit my friend and Singapore became a reality.

After the 17 ½ hour flight, we finally landed. It was surreal that I was an ocean away from home. When I put it like that, it may seem scary, but I was ready to explore this unfamiliar city. I rushed outside to take in all of my surroundings. The moment I walked outside, I was instantly hit by the heat, but it didn’t phase me. After all, one good thing about growing up in Missouri is it prepares you for any and every type of weather, sometimes all in one day. 

We hailed a taxi and headed down the highway. I was surprised by all of the foreign flora lining the roads. Trees that looked like giant bonsais grew on the medians and flowers bloomed everywhere. It felt as though a jungle was growing through the roads, unlike any place at home. 

When we got to our friends’ apartment, I walked in and looked to my right to see a giant wall of windows showing the view of an orange rooftop. The moment hit me, and for the first time since landing, I realized everything was real. In so many of our Snapchat streaks, Felder would send a photo of these windows, of that roof. And so I thought it was only appropriate to get out my phone and send her a picture from the window. Once my mom and I got unpacked and organized, we tried to adjust to the 13-hour time difference but ended up passing out at 2 p.m. and sleeping for 15 hours.

Once we woke the next day, we decided to go out and learn how to use their Mass Rapid Transit system that runs throughout the island. We walked to the closest train station, got a pass and hopped on. We went to the National Museum of Singapore which had various interactive exhibits and told Singapore’s entire history from when it was a colony. By the time we had explored the entire museum, it was late afternoon and the jetlag in us said it was time to head home.

Fast forward eight days, and we’re back in Singapore, this time to meet our friends. We fit as many activities as possible into the ten days we were there: Gardens by the Bay, Orchard Road, and Singapore Zoo. By the end of the trip, I was a pro at running around the island, jumping on and off trains, ordering food and not running into people in malls. On our first day out, we went out to Little India and explored all the different shops, then visited an art exhibit in the afternoon. Walking around helped us get acclimated to being outside in the humidity for hours at a time, which proved useful as the next day we visited the Botanic Gardens, although Felder and I were more interested in all the dogs we saw than the actual flowers. 

Day four was designated just for art museums. I discovered while visiting the various museums that no matter where you are, art is universal, which may be why I gravitate toward it so much. At our last stop, we were able to go to the roof and gaze out at the iconic skyline of Marina Bay: a hotel with a boat on top, 700 feet in the air, a theatre that looks like two giant durians, a museum resembling a lotus flower, and a Ferris wheel. The architecture of the city was like something straight out of a science fiction movie set 200 years into the future. It was so unique, I wondered how anyone came up with the blueprints. 

For our seventh day, we planned a simple day-trip to Orchard Road, a major road with countless malls, each with at least eight floors and hundreds of shops. Compared to it, the Columbia mall didn’t even deserve the title of a mall. On day eight we started at the Singapore Zoo. In one exhibit, we were looking at the white tiger and I felt like it was staring right back at me. I waved my hand at him, just to say hello, and he moved his tail back in the motion like he was waving too. 

 Later that day, I got to visit Felder’s school, which is an American school with preschool through 12th grade. The building was divided between an elementary, middle and high school, with elective courses such as performing arts or athletics in different wings. The school had an insane amount of security, which surprised me as Singapore is already one of the safest countries in the world. There was a guard “office,” like at a toll road, where you had to check-in, and it takes five minutes for every visitor to be authorized. One I was allowed through the gates I approached an enormous building that was not only three times the size of Rock Bridge but had three floors as well. Throughout the school there were open-air hallways and common spaces since Singapore’s weather was constant year-round. It was so different having to go outside to get from class to class and walking up and down multiple flights every day. Touring the school felt like a workout, ending with me needing a long nap afterward.

On our second to last day, we wandered around the city then spent the evening in Chinatown. Once we entered, the change in atmosphere was incredible. There were so many different shops, boutiques and food vendors. It was very easy to get lost, which may or may not have happened to us on more than one occasion. Before I knew it, our last day in Singapore had arrived. Although we didn’t have anything special planned and just ended up wandering into different complexes with no set purpose, that day was still as memorable as one where we ran around the entire island. 

Singapore was incomparable to any place I had visited prior. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, that dream trip was no exception. The entire experience exceeded all expectations I had going in. I could feel the life of the city all the time; the atmosphere was unlike any other. My domestic travels had already piqued my interest in exploring new locations, but by traveling internationally I fully understood how diverse the world really is. I had learned about different cultures through school and my own curiosity, but being taught and being immersed in it are two very different things. Adjusting to an exotic lifestyle gave me a thrill I have craved ever since returning home.

Singapore has been one of the best places I have gone, simply because I got to take it in with a best friend. She was able to show me the life she’s made and how different we are just based on location. It’s hard to live an ocean away from someone you love so much, but for me, by experiencing her lifestyle first hand, it brought us even closer together.

Where was your favorite travel experience? Let us know in the comments below.

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