According to a quick Google search, tourism is defined as the activities of people traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment. Like many young people of my generation, wanderlust compels me to travel overseas to escape the daily grind and explore the unknown.
Yet, over the past year, that conventional idea of tourism has been tweaked with a premodifier: local tourism. But what a contradictory oxymoron. Granted, while I did know that Singapore has some things to do, having spent several solo dates recharging as an introvert, I did not think them as tourism-worthy activities—they wouldn’t match up to the level of discovery and thrill reaped from visiting an entirely foreign place.
However, with almost 100% of both my school and leisure activities becoming online, I found myself on a search for an experience to break the routine. The monotonous (and myopia-inducing) lifestyle of having long hours of screen time made me realise I should probably stop potato-ing at home for better mental and physical health.
On holiday, I’m typically on the search for picturesque views and once-in-a-lifetime experiences—away from the perpetual hurrying at crowded MRT stations and the shoulder-to-shoulder squeeze on peak-hour buses. I enjoy basking in the greenery, feeling the cool breeze on my face. With the aim of exploring new places, I’m also more willing to step out of my frugal cheapskate mentality, to sweat it out in some physical activity, and to accept
boring educational heritage museums.
Hence, channelling that holiday attitude, these are some highlights of my local tourism journey so far!
Tranquil and rustic
I found myself on a bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, early one Sunday morning. With makeshift seats made out of plastic chairs like those found at coffee shops—but with their legs shortened—and the operator going down collecting the $4 fare in cash, it certainly set the kampung vibes for the rest of the day. My group of five—in accordance with Covid-19 restrictions—had made our way to the only jetty with boat rides to Pulau Ubin, a short and windy 15-minute ride from the east of mainland Singapore.
On the island, the only motorised mode of transport is via taxi. Other alternatives include bicycle or walking, but in order to cover as much ground as possible, we opted to take a taxi van to Chek Jawa, located at the furthest end of the island, 3km away from the jetty. The visitor’s centre looks unmistakably British, apparently the only remaining Tudor-style house here. The historical architecture was a surprise from the entirely nature-themed trip I was expecting. I could imagine myself visiting Shakespeare’s family homes as I walked up to the building.
At Chek Jawa Wetlands, the 1km boardwalks as well as a 20-metre tall viewing tower also lead to serene views of the open sea, or closer to nature above the mangroves. Compared to the rest of Pulau Ubin’s unpaved roads, the route here is highly palatable for those who might not want to get their shoes muddied.
On the rest of the island, other places of interest include Puaka Hill, a short (but steep and slightly challenging) trek up to a view overlooking a quarry lake; a replica of a Chinese kampung house, Teck Seng’s Place, which only opens twice a month; the eponymous Butterfly Hill and several shrines and temples. Overall, the chill and relaxing atmosphere at Ubin was a nice respite from city life.
Exciting and unique
Next on my holiday list is indoor skydiving at iFly Singapore, “one of the world’s largest indoor skydiving wind tunnels”. Considering myself fairly frugal and skeptical, I have always rolled my eyes at marketing ploys and their heavy amelioration. Skydiving at one of the world’s largest indoor skydiving wind tunnels. Close to a hundred dollars on minute-long experience that I wasn’t even sure I would enjoy? I was too risk-averse to select it at such a high opportunity cost. Maybe next time, I’d say.
I guess next time came when SingapoRediscovers vouchers and some discounts were made available. We got the cheapest option of The Teaser package, with one flight for $46. (Visit their website for the most updated pricings.) Still a significant price for a regular night’s entertainment, but the pandemic had rendered tourist spots like Sentosa quieter, which was a great opportunity to seize for me. The weekday night meant that there were just a few others around, making for a peaceful experience. Well, as peaceful as practically levitating in the air can be.
The registration was quick and fuss-free as we were the only group in the queue. The staff ensured that we met the flight requirements as we were checked in, before ushering us into another room for a promotional-cum-safety video. Finally, our instructor taught us the position we should hold to fly (pretty much like the ‘Superman’ core exercise with our body horizontal and limbs up), as well as hand signs he would make to instruct us, and the thumbs-down sign we should do if we felt uncomfortable in the wind tunnel.
While the flight itself was really short, lasting for less than a minute, it was really fun flying up and down the wind tunnel, brought along by the instructor. Surprisingly, the scariest portion was the moment right before stepping into the wind tunnel, with the fear of falling, because how can seemingly nothingness hold me up? But that was really negligible since a split-second later, I found myself flying as the instructor had pulled me to the centre of the column. Recall the star float if you’ve gone for basic swimming lessons—flying is like swimming in air!
One flight didn’t feel long enough; the shiok thrill reminded me of parasailing at a beach resort or leaping off the zip-line at school adventure camp.
Though museums are historically and culturally significant, the inability to form personal connections with the exhibits on display, together with their lengthy descriptions, often made me feel like I was studying from a textbook.
However, the Singapo人 (SingapoRen) exhibition at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) has made it to my list of highlights for its outstanding engagement. We had allocated barely an hour off our weekend to check out the free exhibition, which turned out to be too short for me to take a leisurely stroll through the 5 exhibition zones to document my visit in pictures.
The exhibition on Singaporean Chinese culture felt like a refreshing take on my Chinese-ness. The interactive and multimedia-filled exhibition accompanied by both Chinese and English writeups touched on more recent history, introducing how migration led to many overseas Chinese communities, framing Chinese culture in Singapore as uniquely Singaporean. It also touched on the different dialect groups, as well as how the multilingual situation contributed to Singapore’s linguistic landscape, which struck me as progress from the harsh execution of language policies from the 1980s to 2000s—the Speak Mandarin Campaign established in 1979 stigmatised the use of dialects, leading to the norm today where even the comprehension of these dialects are dying out amongst the younger generation; the Speak Good English Movement launched in 2000 did not recognise colloquial Singlish, only referring to it as broken English.
Presented in vibrant colours and themed zones, it was hard not to love the exhibition. It included many opportunities for visitors to participate with our RFID wrist tags, such as answering Would You Rather and True or False questions. There was also a touchscreen 2-player game on preparing coffeeshop beverage orders based on the local naming conventions like Kopi C Gao Siew Dai and Teh O Kosong Peng. The decor in Zone 2: Beyond Generations featured old metal letterboxes similar to those I had seen at my grandfather’s void deck, and old-school HDB metal gates which felt nostalgic.
Overall, seeing an exhibition so close to what I was familiar with in my daily life gave a sense of legitimacy to my lived experience. The final segment, Zone 5: Making Our Mark, presented Singapore brands which have established a presence overseas—including Bee Cheng Hiang, Old Chang Kee, and even Irvin’s Salted Egg Fish Skin—circulating the room on a cable-car-like conveyor belt, evoking a tinge of pride that no Social Studies textbook could.
Unlike touring foreign places for the first time, local tourism has a different charm. There’s a pleasant surprise at being able to discover the unfamiliar within the familiarity. While venturing to ulu locations can be a clear path to explore, I realised that there can be much to discover even at places accessible and near me. Both SCCC and iFly had been buildings that blended into the background as I passed, but taking a closer look allowed me to rediscover what I had not noticed initially. I guess wanderlust is precisely the desire to wander—a yearning that is answered by taking a step back with a change in pace, to notice the gems hidden in close proximity.