Most journeys begin in Singapore, at least if you live in Jakarta. I decided to give myself a full day to explore Singapore before meeting my parents and flying to Vietnam. It had been almost a year since I spent some quality time in Singapore and I always find it interesting because I think it may be as close as one can get to the direct opposite of Jakarta.
I’d heard that the Little India area of Singapore was an interesting place to walk around in and perhaps the closest Singapore ever can get to Jakarta. But even here, the organized roads and clean markets made me feel a world away from Jakarta, my home for the past 14 months.
Several years ago I took a summer course in London and I met two Singaporeans, Yan and Abigail. When they heard I was in Jakarta, they offered to show me around if I ever returned to Singapore (ah, the wonders of Facebook keeping people connected). Yan and I met in Little India. We walked through a large market that also had many food stalls. Yan explained how the government checks the cleanliness of the stalls and ranks them. I couldn’t help but smile and think how food carts block roads in Jakarta creating a parking hell while dirty dishes sit in buckets of unclean water.
Most Jakartans with the means have been to Singapore. Many come for weekend trips and shopping. I often wonder what they think to themselves when they return to the traffic congested, pollution filled, unorderly, city they call home. Do they want it to be more like Singapore, especially in terms of infrastructure? But Jakarta does have one thing that I always feel is missing in Singapore: it feels alive in every way possible, for better and for worse.
For lunch, Yan took me to The Banana Leaf Apolo (48 Serangoon Road, #01-32 Little India Arcade) an Indian restaurant recommended to her by an Indian colleague. I figured it was about time for me to finally try fish head curry.