Coffee Academics is a somewhat of an institution. Born in Hong Kong it set new standards in coffee culture before expanding to Singapore and Mainland China. I have been coming here each morning to write. Today to my left is a Pilipino lady. She’s wearing a denim dress and white trainers, her Louis Vuitton bag is at her hip and I thought her large black coffee would last the distance but she’s just ordered another. To my right is an Iranian woman, a little older. She wears a pink hijab with her Bose headphones over the top, a navy suit with chunky gold jewellery and equally chunky sandals, her Okinawa cappuccino gone at next glance. I’m in a t-shirt with my Lululemon running shorts and thongs, they’re on their phones, I’m on my laptop. Birdy’s version of Skinny Love is playing in the background.
There is something about travelling alone. It’s freeing. You see more, hear more - feel more. Still, you’re only alone if you choose to be.
My flight was delayed out of Hobart. I was so pleased to be packed, have my bag checked through to Singapore (and at a mere 24kg might I add) that I didn’t mind at all. At wheels up it all seemed so surreal as I thought about what lay ahead. It will always amaze me how we can travel from one country to another, land and be totally and immediately immersed in a new culture. There’s no feeling quite like it. I love it and I’ve missed it.
It was quiet on the plane, yes I’d purchased noise cancelling earphones but it wasn’t just that - my mind was quiet. I had worked to some degree every day for the previous sixteen months. I would often wake during the night mid-sentence, I’d been sleeping with a notepad and pen on my bed and waking tired. I wouldn’t change any of it, not a moment - but it's safe to say I had earned this time.
Getting to Melbourne was a blur, followed by a bit of a run to security, through border control and straight onto the plane. I hoisted my carry-on into the overhead and squeezed past the guy seated in the aisle to my window seat secretly praying no one would occupy the middle seat - but it wasn’t to be.
Cruising at altitude it was time to settle in, this meant shoes off, comfy socks, earphones in and staring out the window. Except I lost a sock during this process and so the great sock hunt began. Someone alongside fossicking around in such a confined space would have annoyed me but instead of disapproving looks I ended up with two people joining the search. It was highly unlikely that my sock would had travelled so far as to warrant their time but the token collective search was icebreaking. Socks on I decided I’d wait a while before asking them both to move so I could go to the toilet. I watched Molly’s Game instead.
The plane ride was wonderful. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. I have never enjoyed flying. Turbulence usually scares me but on this day all turbulence achieved was to spill some of my entrée on my lap. Cous cous isn’t very exciting at the best of times so I wasn’t too disappointed by the loss.
After eight hours of sitting aside from a couple of laps around the aisles I think it’s completely understandable that I wasn’t ready for the travellators at Changi Airport. They run twice as fast as the ones in Sydney. My feet went from under me. I recovered without falling but not without sensing a pair of eyes directly behind me. Upright and now holding the rail I paused for a second or two before deciding to acknowledge it. I turned and said to a rather gorgeous man, “that went well didn’t it.” He was already smiling. “Can I laugh now?” He said. We both did.
I got some Singapore dollars and headed to the cab rank for the most efficient cab ride ever, I don’t think we slowed or stopped once between the airport and the hotel. I was however subjected to Belinda Carlisle. Check-in at the hotel was seamless, my bags were out of the car before I was, I was given a tag and told to go directly to reception.
My stay at The Grand Hyatt is part paid part partnership. I am to provide content and images over the coming weeks for which there would be some incredible meetings and experiences ahead. Room key in hand I headed for the lift.
I slept through, no dreams, no notes and woke ready to go. I just wasn’t sure what to do first. I had a meeting at 11am and had been fed so well on the plane I didn’t feel like breakfast. I walked into the bathroom and saw the spa, green tea and cucumber soap and a loofah. A Monday morning bath? Why the hell not, at least I would arrive at my meeting all shiny if not bright.
At 11am I met with the hotel’s social media manager. What a clever, inspiring young individual she is - with a monumental workload given their proactive and innovative approach to digital media. We talked for over an hour. The stories from within the walls of the hotel were captivating and served to make the tasks ahead of me all the more meaningful and exciting.
Speaking of exciting, I was off to see Singapore’s original hipster hood. These are the kinds of places I love - those that still exist in stark contrast to the gleaming modernity of a city like Singapore.
In the 60s and 70s, the area provided lodging for poor Malay families and also gave shelter to pilgrims on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
The lane’s claim to bohemian fame began when Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçonsset set up a ‘guerrilla’ store in 2005 — a popup lasting only a year with minimal expense on things like interior design. This is a trademark of a popup store that we might recognise today but back then, they were evolutionary.
Singaporeans loved it. Soon after, a wave of avant-garde fashion stores followed, kicking off Haji Lane’s current repute as Singapore’s place of offbeat eccentricity.
It was hot in the shade but I walked around for an hour ducking out of the way for people taking photos. It was a while before I realised they’d all been taking selfies and I wasn’t in the way at all. I ordered a pint of beer at Piedra Negra and sat trying to sort the WiFi connection between my camera and phone.
Back out on the main street I wasn’t having much luck hailing a cab. After the ninth attempt I turned and went in the the nearest shop, a Halal takeaway joint with no one in it but the owner who was busily tapping away on his laptop. I asked him if I should keep trying to get a cab from this street or go elsewhere. He talked for some time, none of it was in English but I did hear the word “Uber.” I smiled, said thanks - possibly cutting him off, I can’t really be sure and went back outside. My Uber arrived in no time. Keen for the air-con I jumped in only to be greeted with, "OMG you’re beautiful!" I gave her the most perplexed look, for multiple reasons a) just generally WTF b) no good with compliments c) I was a sweaty mess. She talked non stop the whole way which was great but I needed to interrupt at one stage to let her know she was about to go by the street we needed to turn down.
By now it was about 3pm and I’d arrived to see my childhood neighbours, we had been neighbours for the first seven years of my life. Jo, the eldest was living in Singapore with her husband Adrian and children, Moni, Elijah and Zara. Adam, Jo’s younger brother was in the country having travelled from London with two of his children Grace and Cara. I hadn’t seen them for nearly 20 years but here we all were, at the same time - without any planning. Amy, Jo and Adam’s youngest sister had also been in Singapore but I had missed her and her family by a day.
I messaged Adam to say I’d arrived not totally confident I would find the right apartment. I gave it a go and after wandering around a bit I found the right place on the fourth floor. Susan, their live-in helper opened the door. “Oh she said, Adam has gone downstairs to find you!” I walked over to open balcony and there he was four floor down looking up and laughing, I’d taken the stairs, he’d gone down in the lift.
Nothing had changed, well aside from marriage and children - Jo and Adam were as I’d always remembered, genuine, kind, wonderful people. The kids swam while we reminisced. We all had dinner together and talked until midnight.
Tip: Holiday mode is great but check you’re dressed properly before leaving your hotel room. I went to breakfast with my t-shirt on inside out.