Feeling stuck? Jump into the pages of this book and "see" Singapore again

Updated: Mar 25

When I wake up in the morning, one thought immediately pops into my head.

It is yet another day of not really being able to go out, do things, or move about as freely because of the pandemic. But that’s okay. Taking care matters more, as well as staying safe and looking out for other people.

On the bright side, it’s another opportunity for us to pick up a book (or two, or three) and learn something new.

Although Melanie Lee’s Out & About in Singapore makes me wistful about the places that some of us might have taken for granted, because we always figured they would just be there, and that we could always go there whenever we wanted to. 😬 But for now we can’t.

Where are you off to?

Illustrated by William Sim, the book takes readers to well- and lesser-known attractions around the city, revealing fun facts and essential information that’ll help us explore them with fresh eyes.

We’re probably not the only ones wondering about the what-ifs and missed chances. 😊

“Both the editorial work (for Out & About in Singapore) and being a parent made me realise that there are plenty of fascinating things to do in Singapore – and that there is definitely something for everyone here,” says Melanie, who’s also a university lecturer and travel and lifestyle writer.

Melanie will walk you through it

Out & About in Singapore was actually published in November 2019. Reading it then (and inspired by it), we would’ve found it easy to check out the landmarks. Not so at the moment, as we’re mostly staying put.

“I’ve always loved travelling, so the cabin fever has been real! I try to go for daily walks or runs to shake off that restlessness, and my mind would always daydream about holidays from the past during these ‘trots’. I’ve also been reading fiction books – it’s a great way to get transported immersively into another world,” she relates.

“Travel was always the way I took a break to relax and regroup. But given that an overseas vacation is not possible now, I’ve tried to adopt a ‘travel state of mind’ that’s possible within these current circumstances – and besides the daily ‘trots’ and reading, I also do regular meditation and journalling to clear my head after a haphazard day of housework, working from home, and general Circuit Breaker disorientation.

“I’m also joining my eight-year-old son in playing Roblox (I’ve never really played video games in the past, even as a kid), and I’m having quite a bit of fun exploring these virtual worlds with him.”

But we can dream

And plan. 😉 When the situation gets a little lighter, we can use Out & About in Singapore to familiarise ourselves with the city once again – and tour a couple of spots for a refresher and a breather.

“I hope that readers will be charmed by artist William Sim’s gorgeous and intricate illustrations in the book, and that these would inspire them to visit places that they have yet to,” Melanie shares.

“From my days as a ‘local tourist’ (for various assignments for travel, lifestyle and arts publications that took me around Singapore), I found that it was the stories surrounding a particular destination that made that destination memorable.

“As such, it is also my hope that the text in the book gives readers a slightly more ‘in-depth’ understanding of all of these wonderful places in Singapore, so much so that when they finally get to visit these places in real life, these visits would be so much more meaningful,” she concludes.

“Hidden gems”

Melanie knows Singapore’s nooks and crannies, but she still considers these three as her favourites. We’re pretty sure you’ve been here too; why not go for a second look when you can? It’ll give you something to look forward to. 😊 (Meanwhile, we can just gaze at and read about them in the book.)

#1 Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

“It’s not a big museum, but it’s kid-friendly and really rich in content. My usually restless son can spend hours poring over all the specimens there. And those huge dinosaur fossils make such a great first impression!”

#2 Statues in the Civic District

“It’s a brief mention of a few installations, but I think they give a sense of the history of this iconic area where Singapore blossomed as a trading port. You can find a cool public art walking trail here (which you may be able to attempt, masked, at some point).”

#3 Night Safari

“Not a hidden spot, but I once did a work attachment there for a few days for a feature story in Travel + Leisure magazine, and it’s still my favourite writing assignment of all time because I got to bathe elephants, feed giraffes and scoop zebra poop. I have a soft spot for this place and I very much insisted that it had to be included in the book.”

Travel with the little ones too

Melanie also wrote Imaginary Friends: 26 Whimsical Fables for Getting on in a Crazy World (illustrated by Arif Rafhan), as well as the children’s series, The Adventures of Squirky the Alien (illustrated by David Liew).

Published from 2014, The Adventures of Squirky the Alien includes (in the following order) Why Am I Blue?, What Happened to Planet Q?, Who Is the Red Commander?, Where Is My Mama?, How Do You Get to Garden Galaxy?, and When Does the Search End?. ↓

An insightful story for kids about adoption, the series follows Squirky as he goes on a space adventure to find his birth parents, meeting amazing characters and gaining life lessons along the way.

It’ll bring your kids to a different world (at least for a little while). 😊

“I wrote this series of picture books several years ago for my son, who is adopted,” Melanie recounts.

“However, I think Squirky, the blue alien in this story, who goes to space to look for his birth parents, is quite relatable to preschool kids because he learns broader life lessons such as courage, honesty and sacrifice.

“This series was written a while back, but for those who are revisiting these titles, I’d say to just have fun and have an open mind when reading these books with your kids,” she continues.

“And I realised it’s a travel story as well!”

Plus it’s simple and easy to read; although if you need more information and a guide, Melanie invites us to go to her blog for her reflections and tips.

Beyond that, your family can also watch out for her middle-grade graphic novel (with Arif as the illustrator) this year.

Hopefully it’ll soon be okay to venture out, grab the books at bookstores, and spend some time at your favourite areas in the city for real. 😊

To order Melanie’s books, visit her website, blog and Amazon; and for other updates, follow her on Facebook, Instagram here and here, and Twitter.