(Posted by Kristin)

We have stayed in all kinds of places on our trip, from the coffee farm to the campervan, hostels big and small, guest houses, and a smattering and budget hotels. One thing we had been eager to try but hadn’t yet been able to pull off was couchsurfing (if you are not familiar with couchsurfing, it is basically an amazing network of random people offering a free couch (this could be an actual couch, a bed, floor space, whatever) to other random travelers, all made possible through the magic of the internet. Couchsurfing requires good email access and somewhat defined arrival and departure dates — neither of which we really had in NZ and Australia. We thought Singapore might be a good place to start; we had a defined arrival date, and no guidebook, so thought it would be great to stay with a local person and get their insights on all the places to see and eat. It turns out couches in Singapore are a hot commodity, so we weren’t able to get a couch, but we did get an offer to hang out from Kian, a local Singaporean Couchsurfer. Couchsurfing is as much about meeting people from all over the world as it is about a free place to crash, so we jumped on his offer to meet up.

If you know Xavier, you know he loves orchids, so when I heard that one of Singapore’s must-see attractions was the National Orchid Garden (part of the Singapore Botanical Gardens), I immediately added it to our to-do list. So when Kian asked what we wanted to do, I suggested the orchids. He and his wife picked us up at our hostel and off we went, on yet another grey rainy Singapore day.

We wandered through the botanical gardens, spotting some turtles in the pond (not surprisingly near the turtle food vending machine).

The orchids did not disappoint! There were hundreds of varieties of orchids (over 600 on display), tended by master gardeners who keep them in the peak of health.

A highlight was the VIP orchid section, named after a variety of international celebrities and dignitaries. I think this one is for Princess Diana.

Yes, these are orchids!

They even looked good in the rain, with the droplets delicately balanced on each petal.

And another.

These ones escaped the rain.

Another amazing section showcased the competition orchids. These were spectacular!

As we meandered through the gardens, we had a great time talking to Kian and Lin, learning about life in Singapore.We learned that it costs $90,000 just to buy the right to own a car (good for 10 years) — a great traffic reduction policy! They also have a pretty sophisticated EZ-pass like system, which plucks money from your account (with a beep) as you zip along roadways and in and out of parking lots. Xavier also asked Kian what he thought was the biggest social issue facing Singapore, and we were both intrigued by his response: apathy. Since the government takes care of many people’s needs — and people aren’t allowed to protest if they aren’t happy, people just kind of go with the flow. Is this a good problem to have? Discuss.

We followed up the orchids with a quest to find the thieves market, now lost amidst all the downtown construction for a new MRT station. The thieves market used to be where people went to sell stolen items…now it is basically where they just sell used stuff — possibly some of it stolen, of course.

The market has been marginalized and shrunken over the past few years, as many Singaporeans are embarrassed by it, preferring a cleaner, more modern shopping experience.

All this activity built up a healthy appetite, so Kian and Lin took us to one of their favorite spots for a taste of Singapore laksa…more on that later.

Thanks Kian and Lin for the tour — see you next time!