Tourist at home: Be a Crazy Rich Asian for a day

Take a spin around town in a vintage Vespa sidecar on a Crazy Rich Asians tour. PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

SINGAPORE - I am seeing Singapore in a newer light, just because it is joyfully oddball to go on a Crazy Rich Asians tour of a city I have known all my life.

More than that, it is a new experience to time-travel between a vanished Singapore and its glitzy 2020 facade in a vintage Vespa sidecar tootling to luxe film locations.

Lovingly restored, the sleek red machine has hidden roots in Jurong, I learn. An assembly plant for these Italian scooters opened in 1965 here as a pioneer industry.

I would not have linked the baby Vespa scooter from Singapore's hungry years to the Hollywood blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians (2018) or the novel that inspired it.

But the tour and the movie share lots of escapist fun and Insta- moments. My road trip highlights Instagram-cool film sites like Gardens by the Bay and it ends on a high with a private cocktail workshop at the Mandarin Oriental.

Like an opening sequence in a movie, five suave men appear around the corner of The Arts House, riding in formation. We whip out smartphones at the vision of retro sidecars in vivid colours, before we flag off.

This is inherently a safe-distanced outing for our group of five, since we sit in our own sidecar for the fresh-air jaunt around town. The maximum group size is 10.

It is liberating to rediscover the city in this sensory style, with just a helmet between me and the much-admired skyline.

We whiz along the F1 circuit at speeds between 30 to 50kmh but it feels a lot faster - an illusion because our sidecars are gliding close to the ground.

The approach to Marina Bay Sands is inspiring, compared with speeding past in a car. In a Vespa, it feels like a long road is conveying me to the triple towers. And it is a movie-magic moment when the cantilevered sky garden soars overhead.

With this image of Singapore's skyward ambition lodged in my mind, we ride on to Gardens By The Bay. In the movie, the wedding dinner of high-society lovers Araminta Lee and Colin Khoo was celebrated at the fantastical Supertree Grove.

As we grin and position ourselves for a wefie, Mr Simon Wong, co-founder of the SingaporeSidecars tour company and social enterprise, says of the fusion tableau: "Supertrees and sidecars."

Mr Wong, also my motorcylist-guide that Monday morning, may well be alluding to the spirit of the half-dozen playful, edgy Vespa sidecar excursions he has conceptualised.

These include a Kampong Glam hip heritage ride and a soon-to-launch spin around Telok Kurau, where founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew grew up. This is an "insider's insider" tour that also embeds an outdoor-cinema experience, Mr Wong says.

It is a sultry day, but the sidecar is comfortable and we stay cool while moving on to Chijmes, where Araminta Lee memorably wafts through a water-filled aisle in bridal glory.

Other stops include the Humpback restaurant in Bukit Pasoh, where Rachel Chu and best friend Goh Peik Lin have their heart-to-heart and play out their unscripted "pok pok" scene at a bar table facing conservation shophouses.

Here and elsewhere, our motley crew and sidecars are greeted with smiles and smartphone cameras. These are moments of levity for passing strangers in a pandemic.

Exhilarated, we wrap up the morning at the chic Mo Bar at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where it is a nomadic journey through regional flavours and aromas.

Bar manager Adrian Besa guides us in concocting or sampling artful cocktails such as The Elixir, refreshingly citrusy with kaffir lime-infused gin and a dash of bitters.

We also peer into his secret world of molecular mixology, where flavours are extracted with nifty whirling machines.

It is a happy hour-plus and I have so many instant favourites, from the Harvest Queen (guava and apple juices shaken with egg white and topped with edible Vietnamese rice paper printed with a peacock pattern) to Lantern (chilli gin, cucumber and chicken rice broth).

In variations of our tour, this cocktail experience is swopped for dumpling making, mahjong or tea with tai-tais, mirroring signature scenes from the movie.

Like the best travel, that day is a layered experience that immerses and delights me, and I also make new friends. Days later, I explore the Kranji countryside with two of my "travel companions", continuing our hyper-local journey around Singapore.


WHAT: Instagram tour with cocktail workshop

FEE: $360 a person

DURATION: Three hours

COMPANY: SingaporeSidecars Facebook and Instagram

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