Hearing the waspy buzz of Formula 1 cars racing through the streets of Singapore, but I was never quote close or efficient enough to actually catch a glimpse of them. This is also a pretty fair analogy of how I felt about the rest of downtown Singapore; the newness of the city, the meticulous tropical landscaping, the modern buildings, the hotels and storefronts, the infinity pools. Being exposed to so many things peaks one's curiosity, but due to limitations in time there were only so many things that can be fully realized. Also the newness of it all can't help but make you question if there really are things behind and around the corners of what you were unable to see.
Singapore seemed to be the "it" city of southeast Asia. The envy of the surrounding countries, possibly based on the affection Westerners hold for it? I can't help but think such affection is present because of the easy transition it offers. It's the same modern city (if not more modern in some instances) that exists anywhere in America or Europe. There are giant construction cranes, migrant Indian workers and buildings going up everywhere. Everything is written in English and everyone speaks it fantastically. The city itself is immaculate, posing no threat and alerting no senses of possible harm.
Staying locally on the outskirts of downtown and taking a train in each day allowed for a look at how most people lived day-to-day. Capturing people at local hawker centers and markets buying fresh fruit, flowers and fish is part of a Singaporean's daily routine. I'm sure some people cooked, somewhere, but the majority of all meals (even breakfast) seemed to be had amongst others at the hawker centers. It actually took a bit of getting used to, not being used to such frequent social eating.
One morning while taking the dog out for a walk (which I've heard some Muslims are fearful of, they think they're full of disease) I was waiting at an intersection supposedly near a monastery. I looked around remembering that, but hadn't seen the monastery yet on the other mornings so far so I figured I was just confused on where I was. As I turned around, in front of a Shell station and some construction barriers, was a monk calmly staring back at me, quietly agreeing with the universe. He briefly smiled at me and I gave him the same acknowledgement back. I took a picture right before the light changed and I've had his stoic expression and garb in my mind ever since. His presence was such a contrast to all the neoteric structures and props surrounding him. I never found the monastery.
The Singapore Zoo was really quite impressive. Nearly all of the exhibits were barrier-less and utilized spatial design of the exhibits to (hopefully) prevent any interaction. The majority of the animals seemed to be in the least, content, which was nice. I enjoy seeing and photographing animals in almost any context except for a state of man-made despair. Fortunately though for the Singapore Zoo, this was not the case. One of the first animals we came upon was a white Bengal tiger. It was jumping in and out of the water, effortlessly swimming along with its over-sized paws as people sat and watched it. Of all the photos I took of him there was only one where he was looking directly at me and I remember seeing him stare at me through the lens as I framed him up in the viewfinder. There are some moments in life that humble you by going out of their way to point out your own inferiority in a certain situation. Making eye contact with a giant white tiger in a cage-less exhibit is definitely one of those.
Walking around at a park near where we were staying, we came across some wild monkeys that were navigating around in the trees high above our heads. Eventually, we crossed the path where a mother and some younger ones were on the ground eating some of the local foliage. They mostly left you alone as long as you didn't look like you were stopping to feed them, but would stop eating every now and then to see if anything better had come along. As I stopped to take some photos, the mother immediately came rushing over to me, seeing what I had to offer. She was not large, about the size of a small dog, but the boldness at which she approached was intimidating. I didn't move and when she realized I wasn't going to offer anything but the annoyance of my presence, she went back to her family and kept foraging for them.
We took the public trains and buses everywhere we needed and wanted to go. They were almost always crowded as many locals used them for their daily business. I took the train downtown from where we were staying on the last day of the trip and came across an area where a bunch of men were all playing Chinese checkers. I stood out enough as it was, so I put my camera away and walked around. I watched as they played. Most were too involved in their match to give me much notice, but I wanted them to slowly ignore and accept my presence. There were larger groups of men that surrounded what I could only assume were the better match-ups. Their focus was impressive, even when a hazardous move was realized only after it was made. Everyone but that person would erupt with their own specific vocal or bodily response. Shifting around, they had sympathetic nervousness on behalf of the player and commented to other men standing next to them on what they thought he should have done. I sat down next to one man who was definitely drunk. He was not playing and looked somewhat bored. I try to never make assumptions about people, but sometimes they happen. I asked him why he wasn't playing and he said he never played on Thursdays, only watched. He started rambling on about something else which I started to tune out, but he ended up looking me right in the eyes and said the following: Never be shy about taking photos. That it was good I had come to stop at this place where locals were. He told me that this was the real Singapore. I gave him a very honest nod and smile, took my camera out and made some photos before leaving to take the train back to Bishan.