How to Pretend You’re in Singapore Tonight


While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

It took over a dozen visits to Singapore for me to fall in love with it. But when I did, I fell hard. As a teenager living in Jakarta, Indonesia — just under two hours away by direct flight — I looked at Singapore’s shiny veneer and dismissed the whole place as shallow and materialistic. It was one big shopping mall, I thought, with too many rules and not enough character. But then, as I kept going back, I intentionally squashed my preconceptions and I started noticing other things. I quickly realized how much I had been missing.

And now, like anyone else who has had the pleasure of digging into a plate of chili crab or spending a balmy afternoon watching container ships float just off shore, I miss it. Thankfully, with a little work in the kitchen, a handful of books and some time in front of the TV, there are ways to make you feel like you are in the Lion City for a night.

Moving from television to film — but sticking, for a moment, to food — Mike Hale, a Times television critic, recommends the film “Ramen Shop,” by the Singaporean director Eric Khoo. In the film, a young man goes in search of a family bak kut teh recipe. Along the way, the film explores the close links between identity and cuisine and the history of Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II. In the end though, according to the reviewer Ben Kenigsberg, the film is mostly about good cooking: “It demands only your appetite.”

It is impossible to talk about Singapore’s role in film without mentioning “Crazy Rich Asians,” the blockbuster portrayal of Singapore’s 1 percent, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan. But, while the film is entertaining, it doesn’t exactly capture life in Singapore for most people. For that, Mr. Hale points to “Ilo Ilo,” a small-budget Cannes winner, which tells the story of a middle-class Singaporean family and the Filipina housekeeper who works for them during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Sui-Lee Wee, a China correspondent for The New York Times and a native Singaporean living there now, agrees that film can be one of the best ways to channel the spirit of the city.

“I have spent 10 years away from Singapore, and Singaporean movies always bring me back home,” she said. “I love those set in the 1990s because it reminds me of the Singapore of my childhood.” Along with “Ilo Ilo,” she recommends “Shirkers,” the true story of one woman’s hunt for lost footage.



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