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Singapore, for those who aren’t crazy rich

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On a Tuesday in July, about 45 retirees, tourists and working folk on lunch break queue silently at the Chinatown Complex food centre in Singapore’s Smith Street. They are sweating in the tight heat (it’s 90 degrees outside and there isn’t air conditioning), waiting to order at the metal-framed Hawker Chan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle stall.

Hawker Chan sells plates of soy sauce chicken rice for 2 Singapore dollars (about $1.50) and gained global fame when it was awarded one star in 2016 in Singapore’s first Michelin guide, making it the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal. Some devotees line up for more than an hour; this tableau of diners loyally waiting for their favourite dirt-cheap food is replicated in hawker centres across this island nation.

Customers wait for food at a hawker centre in Bukit Panjang, a neighbourhood in the west of the island.
Customers wait for food at a hawker centre in Bukit Panjang, a neighbourhood in the west of the island.  (Rebecca Toh photos / The New York Times)

It’s a far cry from the Singapore depicted in the hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” based on the bestselling novel of the same title. Watch the film and the Lion City, as it’s known, appears exclusively populated by the immaculately coifed and buffed über-rich (true, there are plenty here) who live in lushly landscaped sprawling homes (many of those about) and jet set to islands to escape the ennui of daily life (it happens).

But, in the six years that I have lived in Singapore, a per capita GDP heavyweight, I’ve learned that the scene at Hawker Chan is much more reflective of life here. It is commonplace to live and have fun in the city without breaking the bank.

Singapore gained independence in 1965, when it was mostly lowrise with shop houses and kampongs (villages) where homes had tin and thatch roofs. A government drive led to the creation of the Housing Development Board, which replaced kampongs throughout the island with high-density towers known as HDBs, no-frills blocks where four-fifths of the country’s 5.6 million residents today live.

With a strategic location in Asia and a history of receiving migrants from Southeast Asia, China, India and Europe, Singapore gradually prospered, the greatest leap occurring in the last two decades, when it shifted from an industrial to financial capital and reworked its agenda to attract the rich through lifestyles. “Motor-racing and luxurious living became promoted systematically as part of the landscape, epitomized by the iconic Marina Bay Sands,” said Liew Kai Khiun, an assistant professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University.

Today, immense wealth exists in pockets but given the country’s Lilliputian size (smaller than New York City), it seems to inhabit everyday life, visible in the Ferraris that I see rumble around the roads daily, the marquee condominium complexes (one, Reignwood Hamilton Scotts, has an elevator for vehicles so residents can park their exotic sports cars in their living rooms) and the marinas.

But these snapshots are not the norms. “The perception of Singapore as the playground of the rich has caused some uneasiness and tension,” noted Liew. This was expressed in the complaints (about stereotyping, lifestyle, lack of ethnic diversity) by Singaporeans over the trailer of “Crazy Rich Asians” that portrays a city alien to the experiences of ordinary folk here.

Singapore is costly: For the fifth year running, it’s the most expensive city in the world, according to an annual survey by the Economist. With an average annual resident income of about 46,000 Singapore dollars, most Singaporeans regularly tighten their purse strings, this necessary financial prudence helped by a wide range of free and low-cost facilities and diversions. There are free parks to explore, free concerts, free health clinics and tons of cheap places to eat. A day out need not cost a small fortune.

The 184-acre Singapore Botanic Gardens (about three-quarters the size of the New York Botanical Garden) opened in 1859, and in its early days was an important centre for cultivating plants, especially the rubber tree. Free to enter, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 and is a spotless, peaceful patch of greenery, filled with people strolling (with or without dogs), exercising and birdwatching.

Gardens by the Bay was built on reclaimed land and is a marvel of engineering and sustainable design. I like how its climate-controlled greenhouse domes, superstructure artificial trees and green expanses contrast with the nearby central business district towers. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra stages free concerts around the city (sometimes at the Botanic Gardens). Music fans can also check out the rotating schedule of free shows at Esplanade, the performing arts complex with a roof inspired by the durian fruit.

Companies like Monster Day Tours and Indie Singapore offer free walking tours of Little India and Chinatown that trace the evolution of these enclaves. ION Orchard, a shopping mall known for its high-end designer stores, has a free contemporary multimedia art gallery on its fourth level, and free art is dotted around the city. My favourite freebie, Haw Par Villa, was opened in 1937 by the Aw brothers, the inventors of Tiger Balm; I never tire of the sometimes-gruesome dioramas and sculptures depicting Chinese folk tales through imagery that includes dismembered and impaled torsos or people drowning in bubbling pools of blood.

There are also many economical ways to experience Singapore. The city has a network of pool complexes that cost a couple of dollars for adults, and include the Olympic-size pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and one at Jurong East neighbourhood with waterslides, a lazy river and a wave pool that I have visited more than 30 times. HDBs often have markets at the ground level, where I and many Singaporeans buy fresh produce and household necessities at lower prices than in the city’s ubiquitous air-conditioned malls.

For 2.50 Singapore dollars, visitors can catch a boat to Pulau Ubin, a small, little-developed isle off Singapore’s main island that gives a hint of life here pre-independence: It’s populated with jungle and wildlife and a handful of residents in tin-roof homes, no running water and virtually no electricity; an undiluted immersion into nature. I liken it to time travel.

No trip to Singapore would be complete without a meal at a hawker centre, a microcosm of the deep multicultural heritage here (a subject unexplored by the film). “The food in Singapore is one of the best melds, not just a melting pot, of world flavours,” said K.F. Seetoh, Singapore’s de facto food ambassador and creator of the World Street Food Congress, by email. “It is beyond rich migrant-food culture.” For example, he noted that rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad whose name translates to “eclectic mix” and whose origins are unclear, “is neither this nor that, but truly our own style,” an apt symbol of the many cultures of Singapore.

Singaporeans are predominantly ethnically Chinese, but the Pan-Asian sensibilities of the country are inescapable — from street signs and subway announcements in the country’s four official languages (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English), to the mosques, churches, Buddhist and South Indian temples dotted around the island, sometimes on the same stretch of road. I can think of no place that offers a profound mix of Asian cultures and cuisines so compactly.

I have spent many hours at hawker centres, for a quick meal or to sip on a fresh sugar-cane juice and watch myna birds with sun-colored beaks and slick black feathers chirping and hopping between tables, waiting for falling scraps.

Sometimes I go just to wander among stalls selling an endless variety of dishes that embody the cultural mélange, “everyday cuisines like satay, chicken rice, yong tau fu, fish-head curry, prata, nasi lemak, laksa, mee siam,” said Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore. “The cultural makeup of Singaporeans is somewhat complex. It is Southeast Asian, South Asian, East Asian and global, but not in an essentialist way, where race is defined by fixed, unchangeable traits.”

While these dishes — lip-smacking, addictively salty, spicy, silky and costing a few dollars — originate from different parts of the continent, they are all considered wholly Singaporean, comfort food of sorts. And they are like the country as a whole: not crazy, not universally rich, but most certainly Asian.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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