Posts tagged Digital Nomad
5 Reasons to Visit Singapore (That Have Nothing to Do With Crazy Rich Asians)

Ivan here.

Singapore was the first country on our RTW trip.

When Jennie and I told people we were staying in Singapore for a week, the first thing they asked was, “Why? A week is too long for Singapore.” Then the follow-up question: “is it because you saw Crazy Rich Asians?”

No, we still haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians.

 
Crazy Rich Asians Source:  EW.com

Crazy Rich Asians
Source: EW.com

 

Whether a movie boasts an all Asian-American cast or an all Somali-American cast is beside the point. In the final evaluation, Crazy Rich Asians just isn’t the kind of movie I’d go out of my way to see. Then again, I’m also the kind of asshole who resents being told what I should see based solely on what I look like. It’s almost as if the studio is saying, “This movie’s Asian. You’re Asian. What’s the problem here? Where’s my money?”

Don’t sell me on something being Asian or (insert minority identity), and therefore, groundbreaking and significant by default.

Instead, sell me on the actual work being groundbreaking and significant.


The First Stop on our RTW Trip:

Why We Traveled to Singapore


The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night. Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night.
Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

Jennie and I had a very practical reason for why we wanted to spend a week in Singapore:

We’re looking for the next city to live in once our RTW trip is over. And Singapore is on our list.

On paper, Singapore checks a lot of our boxes:

  • It’s a financial services hub with a growing technology and cybersecurity industry.

  • Singaporeans are well-educated, speak multiple languages and have an entrepreneurial spirit.

We also got the sense that Singaporeans actually felt the rest of the world had something to offer them. That different countries, cultures and ethnicities could *gasp* learn from each other and get along.

I know, truly groundbreaking stuff.


5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Singapore Now


1. You can have a good time on almost any budget

Singapore enjoys a higher standard of living than most cities in the world, with a GDP per capita ($55,235) that’s slightly higher than the U.S ($53,128). That said, you arguably get much more for your money relative to other places. You notice this right away as you land in Changi Airport, rated the world’s best airport by Skytrax. Immigration was a breeze and the subway (MRT) to the city center took 40 minutes and cost less than $2 USD. The public transportation system is so efficient that we never had to take a taxi or Grab (Singapore’s Uber equivalent) during our entire week-long stay.

The only thing that could break your budget is accommodation. Jennie and I were lucky in that a friend let us use his apartment while he was away on sabbatical, but it’s possible on the low end to get a dorm bed for $15-20 USD a night or a private room for around $50-60 USD a night.

Outside of rent, there’s a wide range of things you can experience on any budget. Hawker centre meals cost $3-5 USD each. If you want to live the expat lifestyle during your stay, you can - for a price. Free tours are available in different neighborhoods across the city and local meetups and the dating scene (so we hear) is quite active and diverse.  

Jennie’s Note: We highly, HIGHLY recommend Monster Tour and their free walking tours. They are truly high quality and filled with a lot of personality.

If I could describe Singapore in one word for visitors it would be: seamless. Everything about Singapore is perfectly held together and without you knowing it, there were years of thoughtful planning behind it.

2. Singaporeans are great conversationalists, ambitious, career-driven, and that’s stimulating

One of the things you hear often about Singapore is the idea of the city-state being a “meritocracy.” This means that from a young age, the education system segregates students based on test scores into different “streams,” leading to intense competition and an overemphasis on study.

Predictably, this has had negative consequences, including mental health issues and growing inequality between different “streams” of students. But what the visitor actually experiences are well-educated, highly ambitious people who are knowledgeable about the world around them. Combine that with a dry sense of humor and their own brand of English (Singlish), and it’s almost impossible to have a dull conversation.

3. Foodie and hawker center culture is king in Singapore

Singaporeans live to eat - and the options in the city are limitless. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of Singaporean food blogs dedicated to a specific niche. Everything else a visitor does in Singapore can be considered filler for the next meal.

This is a true food haven for people who want great quality food at an affordable price point. There are few places in the world that can match Singapore’s quality. More on this in an upcoming post about Singapore’s hawker centre food culture next week.

4. Exploring different neighborhoods and public spaces

Arguably, outside of the famous Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay (arrive well after dark), the other “tourist attractions” in Singapore are pretty sanitized and unimpressive. The appeal of the city is actually in picking one or two neighborhoods to explore for the day, choosing a few local food spots and just lounging at a cafe from midday to mid-afternoon to escape the oppressive heat. Then as night falls, join a group of locals for conversation and drinks.

This might not sound like a fun, action-packed way to spend a trip, but as two type A personalities, Jennie and I never felt close to being bored during our one week stay.

5. Singapore has modern conveniences and infrastructure that actually works

If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore’s history, you should know one thing: Singapore became an independent country in 1965; it’s a little more than 50 years old.  

Whatever the downsides of Singapore’s government (and there are downsides), it just feels refreshing to step off a plane and arrive in a city where public infrastructure actually works the way it’s supposed to. To experience even the semblance of competence and streamlined government was a huge revelation to us, and raises some questions about the American model.


5 Places in Singapore We Recommend


1. Our favorite Singaporean hawker centers & stalls

A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

Learning how to order coffee at a Singapore kopitiam. Lime juice and barley drink from any drink stall.  A Noodle Story in Amoy Street Food Centre, Hong Lim Centre near Chinatown, wan tan mee at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, and satay skewers with Tiger beer (satay stalls No. 7 and 8) outside Lau Pa Sat food court were some of our favorite food experiences. More details in a coming post.


2. Tiong Bahru neighborhood

Singapore’s hipster neighborhood. Highlights include lunch at Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice and BooksActually, a vintage and independent bookstore store that publishes local Singaporean writers. It opened my eyes to a talented and hugely underrated Southeast Asian literary scene.

3. Bugis & Kampong Glam neighborhood

A Thursday evening starting with craft beers at Good Luck Beerhouse on Haji Lane ($18 USD), dinner at Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle ($16), followed by a Korean movie (Burning) based on a Haruki Murakami short story at the The Projector ($20) - barely scratches the surface of a night out in Singapore after a long day of work.

Check out this guide from Click Network and a Singaporean local. It was actually really helpful when we planned for this neighborhood!

4. Geylang Serai district after dark

Red light district of Singapore. Grungy shophouses and late night eateries with plastic chairs and outdoor seating - all under the glare of fluorescent lights and electric ceiling fans. Cheap, delicious food, beer, and people watching in a “seedy” part of town, in a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.  

5. Little India

We joined a free walking tour with Monster Day Tours to get more context and local recommendations on Little India (they do tours all across the city. You should tip the guide afterwards). It was also an opportunity for us to chat with other visitors over some roti canai.


3 Places in Singapore We Avoided


Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

1. Orchard Road

Orchard Road is Singapore’s 2.2 km stretch of shopping malls. Unfortunately, we can’t (and don’t) really shop because we have to fit everything we own inside two 40L backpacks. So for us, malls are only good for two things: air conditioning and clean bathrooms.

2. Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands (or MBS as locals call it) is owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. Mr. Adelson is known for other tasteful establishments like The Venetian in Las Vegas and an entire strip of casinos in Macau. MBS provides the essential service of redistributing wealth from the bottom 99% to the top 1%, as well as populating Instagram with infinity pool shots which, by some miracle, manages to crop out the other 976 people in the pool trying to take the exact same photo.

Singapore Universal Studios

Singapore Universal Studios

3. Sentosa Island & Universal Studios

Sentosa contains two of our least favorite activities: paying a lot of money to wait in line for a two minute ride - and being anywhere in the vicinity of a casino.

Look forward to our full travel guide to Singapore over the next couple of weeks. We’ll update the link here as well once it’s live.



Travel Diary: A Week in the Life in Kauai, Hawaii & An Unfiltered and Comprehensive Couples’ Trip Report

Couples Travel Diary - Kauai, Hawaii:
First Stop on our Global Long-Term Travels


Ivan here.

Over the two weeks Jennie and I spent in Kauai, Hawaii, we worked for roughly three days. But instead of commuting home to our Los Angeles studio, we drove along scenic coastlines in a small Nissan Versa, back to our small Kauai cottage by the jungle.

If I could describe Kauai in one word, it would be lush. The Garden Island was much greener and the landscape more diverse than we’d expected (not just palm trees and beaches!). Time moves much slower on Kauai. Two weeks living there felt like months.

Exactly the type of place we were looking for to start our RTW trip!


A Week in the Life:
An Unfiltered Couples’ Travel Diary in Kauai, Hawaii


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Since we manually record every transaction we make, I’ve recreated the first week of our trip, leaving in both the good and the bad parts. The second week is pretty much a variation of the first - except we’re hiking and snorkeling at different trails and beaches.

Day 1 (Sunday) in Kauai: Breakfast at jungle Airbnb cottage, cleaning gecko poop, showering outdoors, and biking along the East Shore

We’re staying at a rustic cottage near Kapaa on the East Shore of the island. I booked the place on Airbnb back in February for $75 a night ($975 for 13 nights), which is insanely cheap for Kauai. Other listed budget options here run almost double that. The cottage is located on a chocolate farm right on the edge of a tropical jungle. From our patio, we can hear the sound of the river flowing a couple meters below us.

Features of the cottage include a huge shelf of vintage books, no wifi, and an outdoor bathroom and shower, located about five feet from the cottage. I chose the place specifically for the experience, but Jennie for some reason was not as enthused. Also, the cottage is inhabited by a half dozen geckos. They mainly leave us alone, but in the mornings, they leave droppings we have to clean up. No big deal.

We wake up bright and early (6 AM) - partly due to the army of wild roosters who run free on the island - and take our first open air shower. Jennie insists on showering together because she’s deathly afraid of spiders. I’m a romantic and a gentleman, so I agree.

We make the 10 minute drive to Kapaa and grab breakfast at the first place we Yelp, an artsy coffeehouse called Java Kai ($17). The place reminds us of West Los Angeles/ Santa Monica - and not in a good way. We promise each other to do better.

We walk around Kapaa and rent a pair of island bikes from Hele On Bike rentals ($25 for three hours). We bike along Ke Ala Hele Makalae trail. The weather is humid without being unbearable. Tradewinds blow in regularly from the coast. In the afternoon, rain clouds move in and there is a brief, cooling shower. We return the bikes and cap our afternoon off with some Ono Ono shave ice ($6).

Shave Ice from Ono Ono Shave Ice - Sour cherry, mango and pineapple with an ube-flavored ice cream center is called an East Side Sunrise.

In the evening, we drive to Walmart ($55) by Lihue airport to pick up a week’s supply of water and groceries. Our plan is to eat out every day for lunch and cook simple dinners at our cottage.

There’s not much nightlife on Kauai. Locals typically turn in before 10 and wake up with the sun. That schedule sounds great to us.

Day 2 (Monday) in Kauai: Exploring Kapaa, morning run, poke lunch at Pono Market, and Kalapaki Beach

6 AM. Simple breakfast at the cottage. Jennie is working on a profile/interview of a senior exec for a client and needs to do a one hour phone interview, so she breaks out our pocket Wifi. I have no work planned, so I go for a morning run in Kapaa on the same route we biked along yesterday. Every runner/biker I pass by smiles and says aloha to me, which catches me off guard. The trail is less than four miles roundtrip and the scenery is stunning.

Jennie and I rendezvous for lunch at Pono Market ($21). It’s a cheap local spot that also serves Hawaiian plate lunches and other traditional dishes (amazing Lau Lau), but we decide to have poke bowls today. We order a spicy Poke bowl and a sesame Poke bowl and wash it down with a can of Hawaiian Sun Guava nectar. The ahi (tuna) is chewy and fresh.

In the afternoon, we pack up our beach towels and our green boogie board we bought at Ross ($10) and decide to hit our first beach. We pick Kalapaki Beach by the airport Marriott. We take turns swimming in the ocean, but grow bored quickly just laying there on the sand.

Turns out we’re not a do-nothing-at-the-beach type of couple.

A sample of our conversation:

“How long have we been lying here?”

“Only…(checks phone)...forty five minutes.”

(long silence)

“Feels like hours.”


Day 3 Tuesday: Kayak and hike to Secret Falls on the Wailua River and half day of “digital nomad” work at Starbucks

We’ve booked an early bird kayak and hike tour with Kayak Wailua ($50 per person, excluding tip). Our guide is Renee, who’s originally from Indiana but moved to the island 16 years ago and is now raising a family. She has a spacey, hippy vibe that reminds me of some people I know in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The first part of the tour is an hour-long kayak up the Wailua River. I’ve been solo kayaking before, but somehow I can’t seem to steer the double kayak in a straight line. We zigzag our way through the first part of the river. Renee slows down to give me tips. She says I’m over-correcting the kayak by turning too sharply. I take her advice and end up under-correcting. We do the second half of the river at a glacial pace. We trail the 10-kayak group, but thankfully, with the current, only by a few minutes. However, Jennie is not impressed by my navigational skills and my ego is bruised.

Secret Falls in Kauai, Hawaii


Side note:
I have a tragic sense of direction. My instincts always point in the opposite direction of where I should be going. This makes for entertaining stories to tell friends after the fact, but in the moment, it’s very discouraging.

The second part of the tour is a hike to the “Secret Falls.” The waterfall is not so secret anymore because every tour group on the island brings billions of people there each day. Thankfully, we’re the early bird crew so we get the waterfall to ourselves for a while. Taking a swim underneath the waterfall helps my self-esteem recover and Jennie learns the power of forgiveness.

In the afternoon, Jennie and I both have billable work to do, so we decamp to a Starbucks and work until sunset. Jennie would like you to know that if you pay with your Starbucks card you can get unlimited free refills on any non-frappe coffee or tea drinks ($5) in the U.S.. Over the course of four hours she asks for five refills, and a different drink each time #shameless #winning.

Day 4 Wednesday: Sleeping Giant (Nou Nou West Trail) early morning hike, “digital nomad” work afternoon at Starbucks, Chicken in a Barrel BBQ

Early morning hike up Sleeping Giant Mountain (also known as Nou Nou). We take the less frequented Nou Nou West trailhead up the mountain, as recommended by our kayak guide Renee. In terms of effort-to-reward ratio, Nou Nou West Trail is the best trail ever. It’s only 1.6 miles and starts under a shaded canopy of ginormous trees and ends on a rock cliff with a panoramic view of the entire East Shore.

A panoramic view of the entire East Shore from the top of Sleeping Giant.

A panoramic view of the entire East Shore from the top of Sleeping Giant.

Back at Starbucks after lunch at Hamura Saimin ($23). We have two extra large portions of Hawaiian saimin and split a piece of lilikoi (passion fruit) pie. Today, Jennie is polishing off some presentation slides and I have to revise and edit a whitepaper. We also take time to set up coffee meetings for when we arrive in Asia. I shoot off an email to friends in Singapore and Malaysia to ask for some introductions.

For dinner, we stop by Chicken in a Barrel on our way back to the cottage, a local spot that specializes in Kauai-style barbecue chicken. The chicken is smoky, tender and tastes even better cold. We order two 1/2 chickens to go ($28), head back to our cottage, microwave some Uncle Ben’s Spanish rice and a packet of frozen broccoli. We split half a chicken and save the other half for dinner tomorrow. One less decision to make!


Day 5 Thursday: First argument, snorkeling on the North Shore. Sea turtles at Anini Beach, Princeville Hideaway Beach, and Hanalei Bay

While parked at a beautiful scenic lookout on the way to the North Shore, Jennie finally has a minor meltdown about the outdoor bathroom and shower situation. The first couple of days, we ignored our host’s advice about applying mosquito repellent, so our legs have been ravaged by mosquito bites. This is the first argument of our trip.

Jennie learns in this argument that part of the reason I chose the cottage (aside from having an authentic Kauai jungle experience), was because she would always make fun of my sheltered childhood (she’s not wrong). So when I saw the outdoor bathroom, a part of me thought: “Oh yeah? We’ll see about that.” Technically, I win, but I feel bad about Jennie’s mosquito bite-ridden legs. Also, very unsexy, so that’s some self-sabotage right there.

Both our clients have reviewed our deliverables and requested some minor last minute changes while we’re snorkeling with sea turtles on Anini Beach (gear rentals are $15 per week at Kapaa Beach Shop). We break out the pocket wifi and make the changes in 15 minutes.

Onward to Princeville and Hideaway Beach.

Hideaway Beach turns out to be at the bottom of a cliff we have to climb down via ropeway. On the way back up, while carrying all our water and snorkeling gear, I slip on a muddy step and land hard on my ass. Jennie laughs way too hard (and for way too long) at this, which annoys me. I’m further annoyed we had to park with the valet at the nearby St. Regis hotel. I understand why valets exist - I just think that reason is really dumb.

We arrive at Hanalei Bay. I’m still grumpy about my fall, but my misery is Jennie’s sustenance so she’s feeling chipper again. The Bay is not how I imagined it in the short story I read by Haruki Murakami, where a Japanese woman loses her son to a shark in Hanalei Bay and returns to the place every year for the rest of her life.

I hope Jennie gets eaten by a shark (I kid). That evening, I read her the short story.

Day 6 Friday: Hindu monastery, snorkeling on the South Shore. Sea turtles and lazy seals at Poipu Beach, Mak’apela Cliff Trail

In the morning, we visit the Hindu monastery (free) near Kapaa. You ring a small bell at the entrance to announce your arrival. Beyond the entrance, you can write down a personal obstacle or struggle you have on a piece of paper and set fire to it at the altar.

I write down “ego and my arrogant attitude,” but I’m having trouble with the lighter.

“What’s the matter, you’ve never played with matches as a kid?” asks Jennie.

“No, my mom never let me,” I say. “You?”

“Yup. There’ve been some close calls...”

I wonder what she wrote on her paper.

Beyond this point, there’s the temple grounds and a gorgeous banyan tree. I’m sitting on one of the five flat rocks underneath the banyan tree, trying to meditate. A mosquito is sucking blood from my ring finger. I’m tempted to kill it, but that would defeat the whole ‘every life is sacred’ thing.

Checkmate.  

For variety, we go snorkeling on the South Shore (Poipu Beach) in the afternoon. We swim with more sea turtles and walk past a fat and lazy monk seal sunbathing on the beach.

Day 7 Saturday: Hiking at Waimea Canyon (Awa’awapuhi and Waipo’o Falls and Canyon trails) and the best sunset drive

It’s the weekend, so no chance of last minute work requests. We take the 1.5 hr drive to Waimea Canyon National Park. Today is an ambitious day, so we’re doing two trails for over 10 miles roundtrip. Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s almost always worth it to sweat for your view, rather than just park at a scenic spot and take the same pictures as everyone else.

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The first trail is the Awa'awapuhi Trail, which seemed deceptively easy and boring, since it was mostly downhill all the way there with not much to look at. But at mile 3, the trail suddenly opens up to a 360 degree view of the Kalalau Valley. There’s also a narrow strip of rock jutting right out into the ocean.

The second trail is the Waipo’o Falls and Canyon hike, which leads to a closer view of the Waimea Canyon rock face. Maybe we were spoiled by the view from the first hike because Jennie rates this trail a ‘meh’ out of 10.

A panoramic view of the Waimea Canyon.

A panoramic view of the Waimea Canyon.

We cap our first week in Kauai off with a view of Waimea Canyon from the main lookout point and then a lengthy sunset drive from Waimea Canyon back to our cottage.


What We Would Do Differently with a Week in Kauai


1. An outdoor bathroom is now a dealbreaker for Jennie.

Jennie has made me swear a blood oath never to book an Airbnb with an outdoor bathroom again. In all honesty, I thought it contributed to the experience. It’s not like we’re talking about a squat toilet with no running water. As for mosquitoes, we learned to deal with them after our initial mistake of not using repellent. Just wear long sleeves in the early mornings and after dusk, and apply repellent regularly. Our bites healed up after the first week, and everything turned out fine.

2. Too many visits to Starbucks

We found a better alternative in the second week with Ha Coffee Bar, but we should’ve made more of an effort to support local business. Sometimes when it comes to work, we just had to go for a sure Wifi connection and clean bathrooms.

3. Talk to more locals

The cottage is fairly secluded from the main residence and we were always driving off early for some hiking or snorkeling, but we wish we could’ve made an effort to chat with our Airbnb host. Her name is Charlotte and she’s originally from Germany and her story sounds really interesting! I really enjoyed her late husband’s book collection. During our stay, I read an obscure text called The Leisure of An Egyptian Official by Lord Edward Cecil, describing the day-to-day minutiae of a British colonial administrator.