From Syracuse to Singapore and beyond

When friends come to visit, it’s not the time to write. It’s time to catch up, eat good food, sip lots of drinks, and form fantastic new memories. That said, after they leave, and after the next weeks of you postponing your writing or forgetting about it altogether, would indeed be a good time to get started. So here we are.

Julie and Charlotte, two good friends from Syracuse, were in Singapore in mid-September (yes, it has been that long since I last wrote…life gets busy indeed, huh?). They arrived into Singapore around 7PM on Friday evening, September 13, and from the second they walked in my door, it was like old times. Immediately, the wine glasses were full and the laughs were ON. We had originally planned to go out on the town that night, but we ended up sitting out on my deck, placing a big order from Dumpling Darlings, and talking into the late, late evening.

The dynamic duo was a bit jetlagged the next morning, so by the time Julie woke up, it was late morning. José and I were having brunch next door to our apartment at Common Man, where Julie came to meet us for a coffee. We headed back to the apartment around noon, got changed as Charlotte groggily woke up, and from there, Julie and I headed out for a little city exploration.

This time around, Julie and Charlotte’s visit to Singapore was completely different. Last time they came to see me, in 2017, I was living in a different apartment in a more residential neighbor, and didn’t quite have my finger on the pulse of what was hip and new in town (I felt myself grow 10 years older typing that sentence. “I didn’t know what was hot-and-hip with the youths!”). I’ve become heaps more familiar with what’s going on in town, and I live in a cooler, more central neighborhood now. Like night and day. All that to say, we had lots of good brunch options around us that morning, and merely had to walk 10 minutes to get where we needed to be next. We strolled along the river to Marina Bay, where we popped into some different shops, took in the strolls, and Julie realized (in a shocking turn of events, really) that she could eat! So we headed to Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese restaurant franchise that serves heaven-in-a-dumpling. You can see her model shot with her delicious dumplings, below.

The haze in Singapore was particularly bad that weekend, so bad that I wanted to limit our time outside. Unfortunately for me, the most iconic bar in Singapore is completely doors and having visitors that fly to see you from thousands of miles away means making concessions, so after our late lunch, we went to CÉ LA VI at the top of Marina Bay Sands. Charlotte was doing a bit of sightseeing on her own, and came to join us for a few rounds in the early evening. As much as I tried, I really can’t think of any details to fabricate here that will spread out the noticeable pattern of jumping from restaurant to restaurant and bar to bar, so let’s continue without judgment. Next up was Lantern, a lovely lounge across the marina from Marina Bay Sands. José met up with us there for a drink, before we headed to Don Ho for dinner that evening. Don Ho is a “social kitchen” and bar with a fresh, tropical theme, meaning it’s a trendy spot with good food and huge margins. Luckily for us Julie, there happened to be a limbo contest happening at Don Ho that night, and not only did Julie jump on the opportunity to compete, SHE WON THE DAMN THING. Video footage can be found here.

As if we didn’t have enough reasons to celebrate, we won a free bottle of prosecco and continued on our merry way into the evening, to Lulu’s until evening became morning. A classic, college-style evening. Just like old times (the major studying and volunteering that was always mixed in goes without saying, Mom and Dad).

Sunday was the last day Julie and Charlotte were in town, but unfortunately we were so sleepy from the night before that we didn’t rise until after 10AM (about four hours after my typical wakeup), and Julie, Zé and I headed to grab a bite downstairs at PS Cafe. We were feeling lazy afterwards, and spent the rest of their time in town catching up and packing up. It wasn’t too sad saying goodbye, though, as I’d see them the following weekend in (wait for it…….) Shanghai!

So, fast forward to Friday. We knew for months we wanted to go somewhere in Asia, and had decided on Hong Kong back in May. The problem is, if you’ve been staying updated on the news, you know that going to Hong Kong would not have been the wisest or safest choice. As a side note, I’ve had several friends go to Hong Kong in recent weeks/months for work or leisure and have said it is fine, but nowhere near as fun or interesting as it normally is, because of the violence in the air, and congestion on the streets. After weeks of holding off on booking flights, the situation still had not abated, and we ultimately decided to play it safe and travel elsewhere. Julie would be departing for Boston and Charlotte for Tokyo (work), so we needed to choose a location with direct departures to both. This, plus our desire for a cultural city with nightlife and good food, led us to Shanghai. If you haven’t read my post, a) what are you doing?! and b) you should check it out, for a deep-dive into the details about the city, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll keep this post top-level.

I took an atrocious overnight flight to Shanghai that got me in about 6AM. I hopped into a taxi from the airport to our hotel, a boutique place called the PUDI Boutique Hotel in the French Concession area. We had read quite positive reviews online about this place, but my initial impression was that it was outdated in every sense, and my impression didn’t change at all over the weekend. Dusty, dingy, and dark: that’s the PUDI Boutique. I knew we were only staying the weekend though, which made it a bit easier to manage, but I was disappointed as the reviews online seem to have been left by students at the School of the Blind.

It was also raining when I arrived, which did not stop for the remainder of the weekend I was there (don’t get down, the tune of this trip wasn’t all bad!). There were a few neighborhoods and shops we wanted to check out, but with the rain pouring down, we were limited. So what do you do when you can’t do anything else? Eat, of course. Julie and I headed out on Saturday morning to get some dim sum nearby. For those less familiar, dim sum is a style of Chinese cuisine. It is prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on a small plate. Dim sum dishes are usually served with tea and together form a full tea brunch and, most importantly, is one of my favorite meals. The typical dim sum menu will include various types of steamed buns, rice noodle rolls, and dumplings, all of which will include a range of fillings and ingredients from pork to prawns and chicken to vegetables. If you’ve met me even for five minutes, you know I ordered a range of dishes and did what they call…..over-ordered. Worth it, in my opinion. It’s the ultimate, cozy comfort food, with lots of warm dishes and doughy bites. Mmmm.

We walked back to our hotel after strolling the (now only drizzly) streets of the French Concession area, stopping for coffee and taking in the fancy window shops. After our afternoon out, we got back to the hotel around 7PM, just in time to get three girls showered, changed, and ready for dinner. We were meeting up with Dani, a friend of Julie’s and resident of Shanghai, at Sense 8 in Xintiandi, which may sound familiar if you read my last post on Shanghai. Last time we went there, it was dripping with coolness: a DJ, dim lights, trendy patrons. This time, the DJ was replaced by a Cantonese singer for some reason, and the patrons were less trendy, more…….elderly. We were a bit hesitant, but didn’t have any convenient alternatives, so we decided to sit. We were seated near a (very) large family celebrating their grandfather’s birthday, and instantly provided us with entertainment for the evening. I swear the family had at least 20 people, and kept growing by the minute, and they absolutely loved us: just four American girls sitting at a Cantonese restaurant in the middle of Shanghai. They were entertained by us, and we by them. Before I knew it, Grandma was giving me her life’s wisdom while sitting at our table, and Uncle Something was toasting glasses with us. A night on the verge of going south, recovered.

We followed up our dinner with a cocktail at nearby bar whose name I am forgetting, followed by an evening at M1NT, an ultra-swanky club with tanks of real sharks, 360-degree views of the city and upbeat musical ‘stylings,’ according to the Internet. (What is a music styling??)

When I moved abroad, many, many folks said those words we all hear when we’re studying abroad or traveling: “Can we come visit?” Most never do, but some are different, like Julie and Charlotte. They take the time, catch the flight, and inevitably, you build memories that last a lifetime. It’s incredibly enriching to have friends come and visit, but to have them come twice while you’re abroad? I can’t even think of the words to describe how lucky I feel. Of course, there are certain truths about a friend’s visit to your home abroad: you’re going to be incredibly busy, you instantly become a tour guide, etc. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. After all, life is meant for good friends and great adventures together.

Some photos from Julie and Charlotte’s visit:

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