“What are you doing for four days in Singapore? There’s nothing much to see there”.
This opinion was shared by a friend of mine and later by my sister who seems to be annoyed that I was going to spend more than three days in Singapore whom she thought boring and ridiculously expensive. An opinion that I thoroughly understand given the fact that Singapore is a one-hour flight away and numerous Indonesians visit this neighboring country as frequently as we have Tempe in our dining table.
But, I always have a certain fondness towards this country. A fondness that grows from my ardent admiration towards its’ predictability – alas, the reason why many people are bored after their first visit.
Yes, Singapore is very predictable, you arrived at Changi, top up your EZ Link (or buy a new one if you forgot to borrow it from a friend), and hopped on the Changi Airport train towards Tanah Merah. From there, you’ll hop on the East West line and if you’re a broke traveler like me, you’ll either get off at Lavender or Bugis or you’ll go forward and change to the Downtown line in Bugis and get off at Chinatown.
Despite its’ predictability, Singapore continues to give me a surprise.
During my last trip, the surprise was in a form of an area that I’ve never ventured out before. It was almost 11 and the MRT system was about to close when we left the popular landmark of Singapore, Marina Bay Sands. My friend who traveled with me informed me of an ‘underground bar’ located in Ann Siang Hill.
The supposedly ‘underground bar’ is called Operation Dagger (later, we found out that it is literally underground). My friends and I strolled leisurely around Club Street, the street interconnected to Ann Siang Hill. I was beaming and filled with happiness as if I just found a treasure chest full of rare, collectible books when I first stepped into this area. The area reminds me of Montmartre, Paris. There were many low-key bars and restaurants with patios and most of the visitors were non-Asian foreigners (or expatriates). The atmosphere was lively, vibrant, but not too noisy and intruding. It was the perfect balance of a vibrant Seminyak area in Bali and the sophistication of laid-back Montmartre. The road was blocked and no cars or any other vehicles are allowed so we have to walk by foot. We strolled around for a while unable to find the ‘underground bar’ until we Googled how the front of the bar looked like. There was no name sign nor any other signages other than their little logo painted on a white wall beside an unassuming office building.
We opened the bar’s door, unsure whether it’s the right place until we heard some lo-fi music coming out of the basement. We were greeted by a pleasant-looking bartender who patiently waited for us who were totally confused by the avant-garde selection of the cocktails. The cocktails were nothing like I’ve seen before. I’ve been to an underground and artisan cocktail bar in Chicago with my best friend before, but this bar’s menu was just beyond my understanding. Among their cocktail selections were a cocktail with bone marrow, goat cheese, onion, and many other ingredients who I’ll never think could be made into a cocktail.
The bartender approached us again and seemingly understanding our confusion, she asked us about the kind of cocktail taste that we like. I went for a ‘straightforward’ liquor and she offered me a drink called ‘Onion Gum’. When she arrived later with all of our orders, she passionately explained all the details of the drink, how it was made, and the inspiration behind it. Needless to say, the experience was a lot more precious than the drink itself.
After a few sip, my friend and I went upstair for a cigarette break and stumbled upon the same bartender who attended us. We chatted a while, found out that she was a pharmaceutical science graduate and that she thought about the liquors the last when she made a new recipe. When she described the process of the cocktails-making, I can’t help but be thinking she’s more of an alchemist rather than a mixologist. After all, I only drink a very simple mix of two shots of Gin and tonic every time I went to a bar, so, the thoughts of combining different ingredients with a liquor to create a balanced taste of cocktail is something beyond my imagination. The bar also refreshed their menu every three months.
I was glad that this bar, despite its intimidating first look, was very far from intimidating. Instead, my friends and I went back to our hostel with joyfulness upon receiving a very top-notch customer service and made cordial connections with some of the bartenders there.
On the fourth day, all my friends went home and I was alone for one day in Singapore. I traveled to some other parts of Singapore that I’ve never visited before and ended my aimless walks in my favorite cafe in Martin Road. I sat in the corner with an unfinished Charles Bukowski’s book while chugging a cider and enjoying my solitude under the unforgiving Singapore’s heat. During the quiet moment of my journey, I discovered once again that the most joyful part of my every travel was to discover new places and meeting new people, finding out what they think about Indonesia and what they think about Indonesians they’ve met so far. I chuckled to myself when I remembered the bartender who thought that Indonesians are stuck up because we tend to talk only within our group. I told her that we’re not stuck-up, instead, we’re shy and sometimes afraid of foreigners.
Afterward, I promised her and the other bartenders that the next time I come to visit, I’ll bring a dozen packs of Gudang Garam cigarette so they know just how nice their neighbors are.