The Singapore Zoo, there and back again

Getting There.

Our first bigger adventure, besides activities of daily living, which are also adventurous (food, weather, language), was to the Singapore Zoo.  The actual adventure part came in the form of travel, nothing difficult but it made us laugh at how complicated we made it.  We had somehow decided that a taxi would cost too much, and the zoo was not easy to get to by train, so we decided to take the bus.  While Singapore’s transportation is excellent, you need to select the most efficient way which apparently we did not, but every goof up teaches us more I repeat to myself.  It took us 1.5 hours to get there!  We took 3 buses.  After the first bus, we used Gene’s smart phone to find the next bus stop. The phone map directed us a half mile and after walking it and not finding the stop, we asked a couple of teenagers for directions (we figured they’d speak English, but so happened not that well, so they whipped out their smart phones to check for us). We discovered the bus stop was across the street from where we got off and it had an overpass right there.  Fortunately, the third bus took us right into the zoo.  Good to know.  Won’t do that again; visitors take note!

Onto the Zoo.

The Singapore Zoo has a international reputation as one of the best in the world, and we think it deserves it.  What is truly impressive is the shear beauty, openness, seemingly unrestricted animal environments with few visible enclosures.  Mostly, the animal species appear to be in natural settings, very little concrete or other man-made materials.  The larger animals have water moats around them instead of glass or fencing and the plants are all real.  It also has a tremendous botanic garden feel with lots of open landscapes, gardens, streams and at least one lake.  It truly is beautiful and you feel that the animals are less confined.  But, it was crowed, a popular spot and lots of strollers, imagine that.

The monkeys in particular were wonderful to see. At other zoos I often don’t visit the apes because it is somewhat depressing.  Here the monkeys have amazing environments of high trees, ropes, log structures, and they can be seen swinging in trees over the pedestrian paths.  It seems like they could travel anywhere in the zoo.  The monkeys we saw were very active, engaged with their babies, and mugging for visitors. Unfortunately, not many of my photos of the monkeys in the trees didn’t turn out very well.

It was hot, so hot that I wasn’t keen on going into the rain forest exhibit.  It is enclosed and I thought it would be really hot in there, but it was pleasant and one of my favorite experiences.  It is like Olbrich Gardens/Bolz Conservatory but much larger, more wild, with many fascinating critters.  The bats were amazing and huge and close!  There were small mousedeer a foot high under the beautiful plants, monkeys cruising around and on and over the foot paths; birds and butterflies, unusual ducks and turtles.

and Back Again…

Ok, we were dead tired after the zoo and could not handle the bus back so we got in line for the taxi cue (I should have taken a photo of that!  It was about 3 blocks long at 5 pm (17:00) on Saturday.  After waiting a half hour, we saw a large sign with taxi phone numbers on it and decided to try calling.  We discovered that this is a great way to get a taxi; they charge $3 for this personal pickup call onto the cost.  The call is completely automated and they know where you are by GPS.  It takes about 3 minutes for them to arrive and they call back to give you the taxi number on top of the car so you know which one is yours.  Slick!  Visitors take note!  This return trip for two which was a good distance back to our hotel cost us $15.  We figured out that we paid about $8 for the two of us to take 3 buses.  Ok, taxis are pretty inexpensive here.

Our New Apartment Home

After many more days of looking in many different parts of town, all with their positive attributes, we are going to rent a lovely apartment on the 18th floor of The Metropolitan. It is close to the train (only a few stops from Gene’s office), close to wet markets (farmers markets) and Hawkers Center (prepared foods from vendors), and has a great view.

The wet markets and hawkers centers are not everywhere, at least not near where we are now, but in many neighborhoods; they are a big draw for us to live in a more traditional neighborhood.  In addition to younger working people, we saw many elderly and young families here. This building has many Japanese and Indian residents living here, too.  Since owning a car is so expensive, having these shopping areas near train stations or bus routes is quite common.

We need to get furniture and kitchen stuff. This should be fun, or frustrating, probably both.  We have been looking online because we need to get most of it pretty quickly.  I think we move in late July.

A Culture of Food

Singapore is a very expensive country for most things. I am finding that food and other things in the downtown and tourist areas are at least double, but it also depends on what you want and where you go to find it. Singapore is known for its marvelous food. The variety of foods you’ll find include: Singaporian, Maylay (Malaysian), Indian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Korean, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Thai, and lesser amounts of Indonesian although it is really close (we will just go to Indonesia I guess) and more. This is also home to China Town and Little India.

For prepared meals, you can experience fine dining at elegant restaurants of many different cuisines (I hate to guess the cost), to wonderful, traditionally prepared meals, Asian mostly, at Hawkers Centers with 20-50 food vendors (some are open air with roofs, others are indoor, less slick versions of our mall food courts). But Hawker Centers tend to be in shopping centers or neighborhood based. For American franchises, there are KFC, McDonalds, and I think Subway, but I haven’t more than a couple of each. However, Singapore has too many Starbucks here.

For raw ingredients, Singapore has wonderful Fresh Markets, similar to our Farmers’ Markets, they also have roofs, open 7 days a week, and often until midnight. One booth sold beer by the bottle (better than the bars that charge $10+ for a beer). They are a great way to get authentic ingredients. Also, there are large grocery stores in neighborhoods that are pretty reasonable, outside of the tourist areas. Nearly if not all malls have big grocery stores in the basements.


Expatriates (expats) are people who are either permanently or temporarily living in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The term is often used for professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their companies, like Gene and her colleagues.  Also, people who retire abroad are usually considered expatriates. There are many ex-pats from Asia and India here, and not that many whites (Brits, Australians, Scandinavians, and Americans) when you are out and about.

People who come to another country as manual laborers might be considered immigrants or migrant workers. From what I have experienced and heard, Filipinos make up a large percentage of domestic help and manual labor in Singapore. I am considered a tourist so I can remain in Singapore for 90 days and then must leave the country for 24 hours or more.  What a perk!  I will be planning these get-aways which will ensure that we do go to strange new lands where we have never ventured before. And, you should hear and see about them here.

I met a Canadian expat in the gym yesterday. A married woman who has three kids; they are all going to school orientation today. Her husband moves around for his job and is transferred every few years. They just moved from Beijing, China and before that Tokyo, Japan. She hoped for a transfer to Singapore and is very glad to finally live here. They will be looking for an apartment soon, too.

We’ve gotten to know a woman, Danni, from Australia who is married and has two kids in school here. Her husband travels throughout Asia. She and the kids are staying at the Treetops as a home base so the family can see each other more often; they will also get an apartment here soon. This morning I saw a number of cute kids in uniforms at breakfast. Each of the expat families who have school age kids get them enrolled and into a school shortly after arrival. One mom told me that the schools are very good assigning the new kids buddies so they get familiar with the school and find friends quickly. And, all kids in Singapore wear uniforms.

(6 months later) Interestingly, most of our condo neighbors are Asian and expatriates like us.  They have moved here for work mostly and can gain residency if they want to stay. We also have met a number of Westerners who have become Singapore residents, a few of them are people Gene works with.

See the purple dot on the map below to see where we are living.

Singapore-map[1] narrow

Apartment Hunting

Gene’s firm has a dedicated real estate agent who helps each of the newly transferred employees find a place to live.  Regina lined up a number of fascinating places to see. All are two bedrooms, 2 baths, some partially furnished, others not. The latter two locations were too zoomy, even too modern inside for our tastes, and too far from a walkable neighborhood, but amazing architecturally and a real eye-opener for us to see Singapore’s commitment to cutting edge design.  A new visual experience for an architect from Wisconsin, and an architecture fan.

Besides the cool experience, it helped us decide that we want a more urban walkable neighborhood.  These apartments are on the bay and would require a train ride to most places we’d want to go.  It will probably make us compromise on the view from our apartment, but if it is in the city, there are marvelous views everywhere when walking about.