The excitement of travelling for me used to involve hopping onto the next train or crossing borders into new territories. That was until I discovered the joy of exploring your own environment afresh. During a short internship stint back home with TimeOut Singapore I realised there’s not as much to be gained by visiting famous landmarks as there is from a new insight into a country you are familiar with.
This is especially true when the country is the place you call home. Working there allowed me to rediscover the sights and sounds of my little sunny island.
One aspect of my job was to call up all various places in the holiday listings to check for any updated activities or details that the review might have missed out. Apart from feeling like a telemarketer, it was great fun because it allowed me access to a lot of information (almost like exclusive insider news) about the huge buzz of activities taking place for the following month.
Despite the small size of the city, the number of activities is incredible, from nature walks and garden festivals, to museums and places of interests, to shopping and eating and finally the night life in the heart of Clarke Quay. Going through the thick stack of listings, I realised that Singapore has changing under my nose for years and is definitely working towards its goal to become a more vibrant and cosmopolitan city.
In the past, Singaporeans tended to complain about the severe lack of nightlife and activities. Besides the new and impressively revamped nightspots, even places like the museums are promoting night activities for families and the public. The Night Festival at the National Museum was the highlight of the month, with special performances, lighting displays and an open-air cinema event that took place outside the museum.
One perfect example of the conscious change that Singapore’s image is going through is a particular bistro I remember calling to ask about one of their Ladies’ Night events. The manager was quick to clarify that they are more than a bar; that they aim to promote an image that conjures clinking wine glasses over gourmet food. I wondered about this rather strange request: Should I place them under the listings for nightlife or food?
There were other bistros that made similar requests, all trying to differentiate themselves from the typical image of night life: clubs and pubs filled with loud music, booze and young people. What I saw was a change (an upgrade even) in lifestyles that Singaporeans were going through; niche markets catering to particular groups of people are expanding rapidly.
While preparing the magazine for publication, I was also helping out at the Picture Desk of the magazine where I had to source and sort pictures. Scanning through photos, I found myself looking at shots featuring parts of Singapore that I did not know about and even beginning to look at Singapore through a tourist’s eyes.
What is interesting is that quite a number of the editorial team are foreigners who have just been living in Singapore for a while, which in essence means that all the articles that I have been reading and the photos that I am viewing are those of a foreigner seeing Singapore.
What’s more, they seem to know so much more than me. Perhaps that was it. Perhaps I needed to put myself in the shoes of a tourist and to view my home country from an outsider’s point of view before I could unearth its treasures.
This is the irony of travel. People tend to be so caught up in exploring the greener pastures of the other countries, doing research on all the great sights and sounds of the destination they are headed to, that it seldom occurs to them there is much to discover in their own backyard.
My internship allowed me to ‘travel’ around Singapore from 9.30am to 6pm daily, without physically getting out of my seat. But each phone call I made and each article that I read unearthed a small part of the country for me.
Some people may think that going home over the holidays is going to deprive me of a chance of travelling to all these other places in the world, but I like to see it this way: armed with my little bit of ‘insider information’, I am embarking upon the most comfortable low-budget holiday.