A lot of expats and travelers in Southeast Asia like to rag on Singapore. They say it’s too clean, too orderly. It’s boring and polite and polished. Nothing but soft edges. But I’ve always thought criticisms like that said more about the person than the place. Singapore–like everywhere else in the world–is largely what you make of it. It’s a complex and complicated place, capable of being just about anything.
Little India on a Sunday is chaotic and wonderful, with energy pulsating through the crowded streets. Chinatown fills up with old men playing chess and gossiping as they sit idly about. Hawker centers dish out world class cuisine day and night. Locals and tourists alike browse through the Gardens by the Bay and the old colonial promenades downtown, and at night restaurants, cocktail bars, speakeasies, and clubs all come alive until the early hours.
I’ve been back and forth to Singapore several times this year, and I haven’t once had to repeat a single night out. There’s always somewhere new to go, some place new to try. Something newly opened, etc. So don’t be so quick to judge–it’s one hell of a place. Here are some outtakes from a recent travel assignment. People, places, and things. And some of the best food I’ve had in recent memory.
A few months back, I traveled to Singapore to photograph a big travel story for Selamta Magazine–the inflight publication for Ethiopian Airlines. I got to run around and see amazing things, meet fantastic people, and eat more than a few world-class meals. Pretty much the perfect assignment. And then to boot, the story design and layout looked absolutely beautiful in the final magazine. So thanks to everyone over at Selamta for treating my images and the writer’s piece with such care and respect. I love seeing something come together like this. Here are the tear sheets. I’ll post some outtakes and a more detailed account of my travels in Singapore in a few days. So for now.
I spent a relaxing afternoon at the Singapore Zoo recently. And since I’m the world’s worst animal photographer, I just tried to take gritty artsy black and white images of some of the more interesting creatures that crawled, crept, and slithered close enough to my lens. So here are a few. I don’t know. Just something to look at. Nothing more.
Note that baboons are some of the craziest things I’ve ever seen up close and personal. Their hindquarters look like someone tried to turn them inside-out but then quit halfway through. Also, tigers are majestic and beautiful and lazy as shit. Fruit bats–or whatever that vampiric thing hanging from a tree branch is–have enormous penises, relative to their body sizes, and they look weirdly human. The penises. Not so much the bats, which look more like flying wolves. Lemurs are pretty chill all around, and during feeding times they’ll just hang out right next to you and eat a pineapple. Crocodiles are downright prehistoric. And snakes will never not look scheming and shrewd and shifty and generally just evil, even when they’re simply lying there, napping on a tree branch.
Vibrant, fragrant, and frenetic, the alleys and laneways of Little India pulse under the sun of a Sunday afternoon. Men gather to watch television outside, women walk through the shops lining Serangoon Street, and the roads and markets surrounding the BTS station are thronged with what feels like an entire nation of people taking the day off. Crowds gather in small patches of grass and on cement benches and behind houses. People elbow their way through Mustafa Center. The din of a thousand conversations emanates from every outdoor restaurant. The smells of freshly rotting fruits and vegetables and tempered spices and things on fire fill the warm humid air.
I’m drawn to the shop fronts and sidewalk vendors, to the men yelling and smoking outside of gold shops. To the young children in colorful saris being carried along by their mothers on one errand or another. To the man crafting betel nut leaves like an art form. The call to afternoon prayer over the loudspeaker at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. The devout hunched over in meditation. The woman filling lemon rinds with wax to use as candles for the altars.
Little India feels overwhelmingly like a sum of all its parts. A chaotic rainbow of colors, scents, and sounds. Take one thing away, and the authenticity starts to fade. But as it is, it’s unlike anywhere else in Singapore. A neighborhood completely made of its own design, marching to the strange dissonant beat of its own weird drummer. And that’s a beautiful thing to see and experience, especially on a Sunday afternoon, camera in hand, with absolutely nothing to do but wander and get lost in the beautiful madness.
This past weekend I had the great honor to photograph a two-day Malay Muslim wedding in Singapore. Vibrant colors, beautiful people, and friendly families–plus about 12 too many servings of beef rendang–all combined to make it one of the more memorable ceremonies I’ve ever attended. Here’s a quick shot of the bride’s hands, folded in prayer, during the solemnization on the first day. More later. When life gets less busy.
After five days on the little island-state, I can’t say enough good things about Singapore. It could have been the weather, the food, the company or the relaxation (it was kind of the first real vacation I’ve had in a while). But whatever it was, it was great. It helps if like me you enjoy local cuisines and just wandering about different neighborhoods without any real destination in mind. If I were more of a shopper, I have a feeling I would have been quite pleased as well, with the famous Orchard Road malls and all.
It’s back to work and all it entails now. Hanoi is still in its post-Tet slumber, but that shouldn’t last much past the weekend. And for all the market ladies that leave the city to visit their families in the countryside for weeks on end this time of year, the one that stayed was the butcher right outside my bedroom window. Perhaps it’s as good of a welcome back as any, being woken up at the break of dawn by the butcher’s cleaver slamming down again and again onto the large street-side wood block.
This morning will be my last here in sunny Singapore. I leave in a few hours for Vietnam, where word has it that the cold has returned to home sweet Hanoi. Which makes me slightly less than excited to return. It was a great trip and a much needed vacation. I spent one afternoon going over prints for an upcoming gallery show, a morning shopping for developing supplies (let’s hope the HC-110 makes it back) and a day or so shooting the Year of the Tiger proceedings. To usher in the new year I even went to the zoo. I saw a white tiger, which seems auspicious enough, but the polar bear pictured above far and away stole the show. It was backflipping and twirling and diving all throughout its pool, pushing itself with not a small amount of force towards the glass enclosure and surfacing right in front of the waiting crowds, clearly having a good time of it all. Which seems like a nice note to sign off on.