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Our writer reconnects with his Canadian cousin with a walking tour of his favourite haunts around Singapore. IMAGES: FARHAN SHAFIE (LEFT),INSTAGRAM/@NATIONALMONUMENTS_SG

I Brought My Canadian Cousin On A Walking Tour Around Singapore: 5 Non-Touristy Spots Which He Loved

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Canada? Tim Hortons, Justin Trudeau, or Drake, perhaps?

For me, it’s my cousin. TL;DR - My aunt married a Canadian man over 30 years ago and moved across the Pacific Ocean to raise three kids in the Great White North.

They did return briefly to Singapore in the late 90s to live with my family for a couple of years. This was when I connected with her eldest son, J (let’s keep his name a mystery, shall we), over our shared love for Power Rangers and pro wrestling.

But eventually, my aunt’s family settled in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and we would lead separate lives. Over the years, we kept in touch briefly as pen pals and then through social media. The last time my cousin came over was nearly a decade ago. Even then, he marvelled at how futuristic Singapore is and how clean everything is.

So when I got news that he and his fiancee were coming back to visit for a couple of weeks, I was excited to show him around our Little Red Dot once again. All grown up now in his early 30s, the man wanted to take a trip down memory lane and savour a truly authentic local experience, beyond the typical tourist spots. What better way to do so than a walking tour around some of my favourite haunts?

Padi @ Bussorah Street

We started off our day looking to satisfy J’s Malay food cravings. One of my personal favourite makan places is Padi @ Bussorah Street, which is just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Sultan Mosque. They offer traditional Malay cuisine such as satay platters and their signature Nasi Ambeng, which consists of beef rendang, sambal squid, begedil potato cutlet, and more. It’s a perfect sharing meal for a regular family size and quite the reintroduction for J’s Western taste buds.

Between the copious amounts of sambal shared around and the chugs of sirap bandung, it was quite the gastronimcal experience. J also loves the surrounding Arab Street area for its bustling nature and cultural significance. I feel that it really speaks to the Asian part of his identity, given that he has spent time in kampungs while living in Southeast Asia during his youth. There are also various halal food options in the area, from Turkish restaurants to Indonesian eateries as well.

Address: 53 Bussorah Street, Singapore, 199469

Opening hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 12pm to 9pm.

Friday through Sunday, 12pm to 10pm

Closed on Monday

Haji Lane

Next up on the itinerary was a stroll down Haji Lane. A favourite haunt for millennials, this alley comprises an eclectic mix of vintage thrift shops, niche businesses, and hip cafes. The stunning murals painted on the walls of the shophouses captivated J as well.

As an MMA fan, he was thrilled when we came across a martial arts equipment retailer called Knockout Gear nestled among the rows of stores.

What I love about Haji Lane is that it continues to reinvent itself, with new shops popping up every few years, while still retaining its bohemian charm. According to J’s fiancee, the area reminded her of Kensington Market, which is apparently the vintage shopping destination in Toronto.

Bras Basah Complex

We eventually made our way out of Bugis as our walking tour continued westward. While our ultimate destination was Gardens by the Bay (every tourist probably has this place on their bucket list thanks to Crazy Rich Asians), I was determined to show J some hidden gems along the way.

The iconic Bras Basah Complex certainly fitted the bill. The building’s facade alone felt like a throwback to a bygone era, with it’s twin 21-story blocks standing like an obelisk among the modern architecture in the vicinity. Imagine if you were a homeowner living in one of the flat units. You would literally have seen Singapore develop into a first-world city state right before your eyes.

If you are interested in art and design, this place is a haven. The sheer scale of Art Friend on the third floor completely floored J, much to my amusement. There is also a Swee Lee Store for music enthusiasts and a number of second-hand bookstores as well. It is no wonder the Bras Basah Complex is sometimes known as the “City of Books” in Mandarin. We could have easily spent a few hours there.

Civilian War Memorial

As we arrived at City Hall, the common thing to do would be to take the underground route from the MRT station all the way to Esplanade.

But then, you would be missing out on the beautiful Esplanade Park and one of Singapore’s most historic monuments, the Civilian War Memorial.

Once again, J noted how Singapore had done a brilliant job preserving its history and culture amidst modern developments. Certainly, it’s difficult to miss the memorial’s four white columns shooting skyward into our CBD skyline.

According to the National Heritage Board, this structure has been acknowledged as a site of national significance and was gazetted as a National Monument on 15 August 2023. Learn more about the Civilian War Memorial’s sombre history here.

It’s a stark reminder that Singapore’s current success is not possible without the sacrifices of our pioneer generation. It was something that J appreciated as well.

Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

One last pitstop on our walking tour was one of Singapore’s most well-known landmarks, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

While “The Durian” had been overshadowed somewhat by Marina Bay Sands in recent years, it was still a world-class performing arts centre and an architectural marvel in its own right.

Since its inception in 2002, The Esplanade shaped most of my youth, given that I’ve attended countless concerts, festivals and plays here through the years. I was excited to show J around the venue.

One thing that might not be common knowledge is that The Esplanade operates as a not-for-profit arts centre; therefore, most of the events here are free to the public. We even managed to catch a free choir performance in the concourse area during our walkabout.

While Google Maps stated it would be a half an hour walk at most, we ended up spending nearly 2 hours stopping by the various pitstops. J had a ball of a time seeing Singapore from my perspective. Perhaps a trip to Toronto in the not-too-distant future to return the favour? 🤔😉

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