A Singapore Personalized Token: A Grown-Up Christmas List and Meeting a Perfect Stranger

My sister and I were talking the other day about how we should start collecting a small, bagatelle thing from every country we’re visiting. It would serve as a token, a nod to the memories we’re making. That’s why on our last night in Singapore, we wandered around a nearby market and then a mall to find something to begin our little tradition.

We didn’t agree on something in particular that reminded us the most of our time in Singapore, but later on the same night as I laid awake, tossing, turning, and spellbound, I realized that every trip told its own storyyours not the same as mineand that was the personalized token each of us needed to hold on to.

So three tokens I got from this trip: walking around Orchard Road with early Christmas spirit, meeting a perfect stranger in a small coffee stall, and being enchanted by the prospect of falling in love subsequently.


There is something about early morning trips that soothe me: the temporary empty street silencing the world with its lack of haste, while you’re in your hypnagogic state, hearing the hum of small real chatters in between the imagined.

My one-week trip to Singapore started with a long-awaited alarm at 1 a.m. Our flight didn’t take off until 7, but home was quite far so we didn’t take the chance. The trip to the airport was exactly the journey I was hoping for: peaceful and familiar. Listening to the chatter coming from my mom and aunties threw me back to the family gatherings that used to be regularly held when I was small. With comfortable background noises, agitation and anticipation, and a long-lost family member, time had never truly felt more like a concept. Proving the point of how it was self-evidently subjective while at the same time wasn’t, we arrived at Changi Airport 35 minutes earlier than expected.

Residing in my cousin’s place for six glorious nights, my trip felt excitingly a lot like playing pretendfor a few days, I got to experience what it felt like to live in Yishun and imitate what the locals (probably) did. The apartment we crashed into was so cozy that imagining it as our short-term comfortable home was unforgivingly easy.

After unpacking the many piece of baggage that came along with the fact that my cousin hadn’t visited Indonesia for almost three years, we feasted on the food that we had bought earlier from our homeland. I was particularly excited about siomay and fried pork meatballs. They didn’t taste as good as they looked, but I was so full that my stomach hurt.

The rest of our first day went away quickly with us resting, catching up, and talking about plants (yes, the elders of our group are huge plant lovers). Some of us then went out to order takeaways for dinnergood news, we’re having a noodle party! From top left to bottom right: fish soup bee hoon, fried hokkien mee, bak kut, dry wanton noodle, mee hoon kueh, and lor mee. My favorite? Definitely the bak kutthe soup tasted like tung kua’s that my mom used to cook for me growing up.

We did a little votingfish soup bee hoon was the most favorite, followed by lor mee.


I used to live in China for a few months back when I was little, though, too bad, I had no recollection regarding my temporary residence there. Singapore, however, reminded me of the memory I couldn’t placethis place felt exceedingly similar to how I pictured my old memory must have looked like if not for the childhood amnesia.

The sentiment grew wilder when we were strolling around the market next block first thing on the second day. The familiarity was something I hadn’t expected but welcomed with open arms. It was like getting a warm big comforting hug.

Our group bought a pack of grapes, longans, plums, and also some takeaways from the hawker center there. Testing our luck with another lor mee and dry wanton noodle, it turned out that we won the bet since they tasted better than the one we had eaten one day prior, while the fried wanton, carrot cake, and chwee kueh made the perfect complement.

Breakfast, in other words, was delicious. With a happy tummy, we then boarded the double-decker bus to our next stop. Since our agenda stated that we would go “shopping at Mustafa Centre”, we went to the Little India area to tick the box on our to-do list.

But shopping, especially with the aunties on the team, was expected to be wild. So anticipate we did. Heading off to a nearby hawker center for ammunition, we had our lunch first. This time, my favorite was the mixed carrot cake and wat tan hor fun (though I was more familiar with the name “kwetiau siram”).

This was also my first time trying the famous oyster cake from Fu Zhou Hwa Oyster Cake. Sprinkled with dried anchovies and nuts, the fritter was filled with oyster (obviously), pork, and shrimp. Its taste was overall very unique that the aunties quickly approved.

Our decision to eat first and then shop later turned out to be the best decision we took that day. If we had thought shopping was going to be wild, the reality was even more ferocious. Three hours wandering around the second floor of Mustafa Centre produced a ridiculous amount of purchases.

It turned out that the elders were not only plant lovers, but they were huge spenders also. Attached below was a candid picture of me pushing the cart to the cashier, all shocked and a bit self-conscious on account of the keen eyes of some passersby. I was not even embarrassed. The shopping frenzy was crazy but amusing all the same.

Fun fact: For us tourists, if we made purchases over 100 SGD (in maximum 3 bills per day), we could apply for a GST refund at the B2 counter.

After completing our first shopping spree, we went to try Swee Choon, the famous dim sum restaurant in town. From my cousin we knew that the restaurant was only opened until 2 pm, and reopened at 6 to 4 later at night. To assure that our names wouldn’t be thrown into the waiting list, we made sure to arrive in front of Swee Choon at 5.30 in the evening. Our early arrival made us the ultimate first customers, though minutes after that, the queue got so long that it made me wonder how good the dim sum was.

My sister and I took pictures of each other while waiting.

Gonna admit that it was worth the long queue. The dim sum was a chef’s kiss, definitely a must-try, but I loved the har kow and beancurd chicken roll the most.

One of my favorite pictures I took on our night stroll around Little India.

The second day ended as fast as it had started. If its highlight was the dishes, the third day was more nuanced: we went to Sentosa Island to visit the beach, take a look around the Trick Eye, and watch the magnificent Wings of Time.

There was actually an application we could download for the effect to work, but I preferred taking the original pictures as the tricked ones were a bit blurry.

On our way to the Wings of Time stage.

The show began at 7.40 pm. Glad we arrived long before the scheduled so we could pick the middle seats.

I was a bit hesitant at first, thinking it would just be an ordinary light play. Wings of Time was not what I had assumed it would be. It was amazing.


It was a small coffee stall with no name. Located in the wet market near my cousin’s apartment, the stall served a particular breakfast set also: the kaya toast with onsen eggs that Singapore was really famous for.

If curiosity killed the cat, it killed off every ounce of fear inside me too. Wednesday morning was the first time I saw himthe fourth day. Working behind the cashier register with a snapback covering his head, there stood the most… beautiful guy I had ever encountered in my life to date. Looking all tall, broody, and busy.

Do lean back and relax though. I’m not usually lucky in this field of expertise, and this one was lamentably no different. The first morning that I saw him, I was still quite indifferent to the charm he seemed to give off. My sister ordered us a plate of the breakfast set, and I was more focused on how delicious the combination of toast and soft-boiled eggs was than anything else.

It felt funny to look back and think about how on that day, all I could think of was: I just ate the most perfect breakfast and I wanted more.

The day went on like nothing was amiss. My sister and I went out of our way to go to Magazine Road and visit a Friend-themed cafe, Central Perk (to read more about it in a separate post, just click the link). After the nostalgia, we went to Orchard Road to try the famous ice cream sandwich sold to us by an old Uncle for only 1.50 SGD each.

In front of the booth, the Uncle showcased some of his portraits with a lot of famous people. Some of them were Indonesian singers, actors, and actresses.

Before I tell you what happened next, I need to first provide a little background info: when I was small, my daydream was not about toys or barbies. It consisted of me wandering around a tea garden in the middle of the rain instead, walking on the muddy street to look for a haven and have a hot plain tea theremy reverie, that odd one. The ghost of something that hadn’t happened haunted me though as I grew up the yearning knowingly dimmed.

After we were done with our durian ice cream, we went home on one of the regularly-circulating buses. The weather was hot and sunny at first, though a few bus stops later, raindrops started to pour.

After a while, it seemed that the rain paused suddenly for me and my sister to go down and walk a little to our next terminal. What actually happened: the weather was just messing with us. Just when we thought we were going to arrive at our destination dry and well-groomed, the resume button was pressed and heavy rain started to once again fall. A small umbrella that we had brought with us just in case was taken out for the rescue, though tiny that it was, we ended up getting partly drenched.

It was… incredible, though. The feeling, though not exactly the same, was quite similar to the one I felt from the daydream I used to fill my head with. Somehow, the rain managed to evoke the long-lost reverie, and I thought about it as I stepped along the footpath, wonderstruck and in delight.

Musang King and Red Prawn Durian. Both were quite bitter but good.

I was tired from all the walkingmy Singapore trip was full of strolling around, no kiddingbut I got up quite early the next day for breakfast. This was when I decided to try the same set from a different stall (hate to sound biased, but the butter was too thick for my liking). Still, for a few minutes, I got a glimpse of him from the corner of my eyes when my cousin was buying O Kosong coffee. She was a regular there.

Of non-existence his presence was in my mind that whole day. We visited China Town for the sake of vacating before going to Garden by the Bay later in the evening (to read more about GBTB in a separate post, just click the link).

Singapore's China Town was on a whole different level. There were a lot of beautiful murals randomly drawn on walls; all of them seemed to tell stories about mundane, everyday life. I had learned a lot from past experiences that there was more than what the eye saw in the simpler things. That's why murals like these enraptured me easily.

After aimlessly wandering around and admiring the beautiful murals, we then went inside a traditional market with the biggest hawker center I had ever seen. Though the market looked similar to the one in my hometown, I was satisfied that I could finally try the famous Xiao Long Bao my cousin had praised so highly.

And that, my friend, was the last day I walked around without expecting the impossible to happen. As Friday morning came, the awareness of the impending end of our vacation arose. It had been six days and five nights spent in Singapore, and the countdown felt eerily comparable to a person almost waking up from a beautiful dream.

There were times when I thought about how cruel it was that our subconscious could explore the world of improbability and present it as though anything was possible. It was even crueler when a part of us wanted it to happen so badly that we unconsciously pushed ourselves to believe it might be true.

I was generally a shy person in front of new people. And I knew I wasn't the type who gave off a remarkable impression in the first meet. So when my sister didn't go down for breakfast that day, I was on my own, standing in front of his stall. He looked at me casually and said, "Hi." He had a medium size tattoo on his left arm.

Straightforwardly, I blurted out what I wanted to order, "A toast and an egg, please."

I didn't catch what he said next, and I knew I looked quite confused when I said, "Sorry, what?"

"Egg and toast?" He repeated with patience.


He uttered the word "Onsen" to the cook behind him, and I awkwardly stood there, waiting. I didn't have any idea how awkward I looked, but it must be quite severe since he helped me with the tray, the spoon, and the hot-boiled eggs when the word "Self-service" was boldly typed and printed in front of the stall. And when my breakfast was ready, I mumbled a small "Thank you" before attempting my best to walk with calm.

I didn't know him. Nor did I get his name. The story about him should have ended here, but I was never not dramatic. The thought of him spiraled into my mind, and for the first time in a long time, I felt the need to memorize a particular moment. I was deeply sunk in the quicksand of my own thoughts, and he was the force taking me down with little to no compulsion. His persona had no name. I gave him one: 'A Perfect Stranger'.

If this were a movie, I would have met him again later that day. He would have asked me to get a cup of coffee and I would have said yes but ordered some tea instead. He would have been there in the Airport when we were visiting Jewel, or in Orchard Road when we were eating the same Uncle's ice cream while listening to the Grown-Up Christmas List song from the speaker.

Durian was not available in a cone, so I tried the peanut flavor.

A statue we found on our way to the MRT station.

Reality was not a movie though, and he was only a regular guy on a morning shift in a random coffee stall. As much as I wanted to believe that I was going to meet him once again before going back home, the truth stood undefeated. I was just an ordinary traveler who happened to be enchanted by a stranger over a plate of toast and two onsen eggs. A stranger I most likely wouldn't get to ever meet again.

My sister and I decided to walk after our attempt in finding the perfect token.


As expected, he was not on his shift on my last day on this gloomy Saturday morning. As I was memorizing the street we passed by from the window of our taxi, I wondered if a part of the universe was disappointed as well. Raindrops trickled softly against my window seat, like it was grieving for the loss of a dice bet.

I said goodbye to him silently, wondering if the news of some tourists getting attached to his stall's kaya toast got to him from the old man who was always there (my guess was he was the owner). I wouldn't go as far as saying that I had fallen in love, but our brief encounter became solid proof that it wasn't that terrifying to begin with.

In the spirit of the approaching festive season, I realized that this Christmas, I wanted to fall in love, as I fell for Singapore and the many things in it.