November 24, 2016
There are really two things that Singapore offers to tourists.
First, Singapore is about food. This is a city known for great food at reasonable prices.
Second, Singapore is about shopping.
We truly love the former. We are not as enthusiastic about the latter. Susie has fallen in love with a movie called “About Time” in which about a man who can go back in time and relive days of his life. He passes this gift onto his only son as well as a little bit of advice.
“Do not use the gift to get rich. Have you ever known a truly happy person that only cared about being rich?”
A couple of years ago, I read some research about the best ways to spend money. The researchers used Functional MRI technology that enables them to “see” how the brain reacts. For example, someone in an F-MRI could be asked to make a fist with her left hand and the researchers could see the exact part of her brain that lights up. In this experiment, the researchers looked at people’s brains as they simulated different ways to spend money.
Here is what they concluded. Buying a new iPhone or car brings short term excitement, but the “new” phone/car soon becomes an “old” phone/car. The buyer becomes less satisfied with the purchase for two reasons. First, the item might become scratched, faded or otherwise less functional. Second, newer versions of the same products make the older version less appealing.
OK, so if you do not buy “stuff”, what do you spend your money on?
The research says “experiences”.
If you have a wonderful meal with a loved one, or a great game of catch with a child, your brain experiences it as still just as wonderful a year later. The pleasure might be less intense, but the nature of the experience does not change over time.
In short, spend money on experiences and not stuff. Frankly, this research helps validate our decision to go on this adventure with our kids.
But it also sheds a new light on shopping as an end in itself. We like to buy souvenirs that connect us to our experiences, but we do not crave trendy items or fashion. [Note: fashion is perhaps even worse than technology as a purchase – fashions change even faster than tech, so any purchase becomes rather outdated within months of the buy.]
The people of Singapore clearly have not read this research. To be frank, Singapore feels like the greatest continuous shopping mall in the world. Malls connect to malls via tunnels that contain shops.
I have seen every prestige brand imaginable here. I have been extolled to have a “Glam Christmas” and to shop ‘till I drop.
So, as you might guess, we embraced the restaurants more than the shopping.
We have had our expectations exceeded, but we also had a disappointment.
The disappointment was a true surprise. The airplane magazine told us about the Tai Hwa Pork Noodle shop, a small shop that had achieved one of the most elusive recognitions in the food business: a Michelin Star.
The review in the magazine raved about the multi-generational food stand and the precision of its chef. We stood in line for 45 minutes for 6 bowls of pork noodles.
We expected to leave with a great story of excellent food at a low price.
It was not exactly our favorite. To start, each bowl included not only shredded pork, but also pork liver. None of us are big liver fans, so we ended up not eating everything. It was good, but not transcendent. We were expecting an experience like going to Franklins BBQ in Austin – a long line, but a true payoff for our patience. I do not think that was the case with the Tai Hwa Pork Noodle shop.
But we also had one place we fell in love with - a food court near our AirBNB apartment. There is nothing fancy or attractive about this place, but it offered around 10 small food stalls: Indian, Vegetarian, Noodles, Roasted Chicken, Western, Duck and other offerings. We had some of the best Thai soup we have ever enjoyed and the $3 Roasted Duck with Noodles was exceptional. I was almost as good as really expensive Peking Duck, but served in minutes at 5% of the price.
We would eat at this court 3 different times.
Of course, after Myanmar, almost any food experience would seem amazing. So I cannot way with complete confidence that the food here is as good as I think, but I think that it was.
I would certainly come back.