On my second evening in Singapore, I sat in my room at the M Social hotel, surrounded by smartphones, a tablet, a laptop, and an e-reader. Fresh towels arrived at my door, delivered by a robot named AURA. Before I could collect my jaw off the floor, she whizzed off down the corridor and into the elevator.
To say that my travel hinged on technology would be an understatement. Since my arrival, I had had a gadget in my hand. Public transport apps helped me navigate the MRT and the data-enabled smartphone in my hotel room was a boon. I could take it out in the city with me, ensuring I was always connected, and it came loaded with recommendations on cool bars, sights, cafes, and things to do nearby.
As is usually the case, my aim was to pack the most into my trip. My sacred commandments, like any self-respecting traveller-not-tourist, went something like this: Go local. Done! My first breakfast in Singapore was the typical kaya jam on toast, soft-boiled eggs, and treacly kopi, at a hole-in-the-wall kopitiam (coffee shop) amidst a blur of office-goers.
Get off the tourist trail. Easy. In Katong, the neighbourhood of colourful Peranakan houses, I had the streets pretty much to myself. Try new things. I ate duck porridge and it was not pleasant.
Despite adhering to the regimen, within two days I was burnt out. There was always another museum to visit or artsy neighbourhood to check out. With horror, I realised that I was a victim of that most awful of 21st century afflictions: FOMO, or the fear of missing out.
I began thinking about my earlier travel days, when I’d delight in simply finding under-the-radar second-hand music stores. Eventually, I walked into Retrophonic, in the deserted Chinatown Plaza. Crammed with turntables and walls lined with LPs, the cosy record store was my cocoon for the next few hours.
Dylan & the Dead spun on a gorgeous wooden turntable as I thumbed through a massive selection of jazz, blues, and rock n roll records. Before I left, the store owner informed me about the ongoing Neon Lights music festival — on the line up were big names such as George Clinton and Sigur Rós, artists I’ve followed for some years. On a whim, I booked tickets for the next day. Fort Canning Park was the venue, transformed into a slushy mud-pit on concert day, as a result of the previous night’s rains. But even in less than perfect conditions, it was the best live concert experience I’ve had: great music, perfect sound, good views of the stage, and a fantastic crowd.
Towards the end of my trip, I realised that even though I had slowed down on bulldozing through my itinerary, I had fulfilling days — when I sought out experiences I truly enjoy, I saw Singapore from a completely different perspective.
Slowing down doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing. To me, it’s about getting to know a place through things that matter to me, even if they aren’t the destination’s most defining feature.