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  • Writer's pictureBrock Foley

Foley Family Singapore Trip, May 2024

Hello all, this is Brock Foley, Sean's eldest (and favorite) son. I am thrilled to be guest posting and it is truly an honor to be a part of the hallowed institution that is the mission blog. 

I am here to write about our trip to see my parents in Singapore. Hopefully I can capture some of the fun we had and solicit more visitors for my parents. Take this opportunity to visit Singapore I say, it is a great trip!

A couple of weeks ago my stomach was in knots preparing for our trip. Getting away from work and life for two weeks is not easy, preparing to travel with four children is not easy, but most of all, I was terrified by the thought of taking four children on a 16.5 hour plane ride. 

In the end, it was not worth all the worry. In fact, traveling with four children to Singapore wasn't that bad. Maybe we just got lucky, maybe our kids are prepared for long plane rides by the road trips we have taken them on (most recently a dreadfully long drive to Florida), or maybe our children are completely content to become screen zombies if we let them. Whatever the case may be, recovering from jet lag back in Missouri was the worst part.

Part of that is the city. There are easy cities and there are hard cities. Singapore is an easy city. One of the easiest I have visited. The kind of place it isn't so bad to bring four children and I am glad I did!

For this post I am going to share some highlights, anecdotes, and memories from this unique, once-in-a-lifetime adventure for my family. I will break this down as follows: first, I will give you my impressions of the city; second, I will talk about some of the highlights of the trip; third, I will talk about some of the challenges; and finally, I will share some of my favorite anecdotes from the trip. All interspersed with some pictures.

(if you like the organization of this paragraph you should see my wills, trusts, and contracts

My Impressions of Singapore:

Look, Singapore is, quite definitively, in Asia. But for much of the trip, if I and my family were not the only white people in the room/train/street, I could have been in any nicer American city.

I have read in multiple places the claim that globalization leads to an overwhelming sameness. Certainly I have found this true in many places, New York for example feels like a whole bunch of neighborhoods that look, maybe slightly different, but in the end have all the same things. This is great if you like Gucci, Coach, Yves St. Laurent, Rolex, etc. but I don't really care to go to different places for high end fashion brands I could find anywhere, and I am sure you can tell by my entirely gap factory outlet inspired outfits that I don't shop at these places. Perhaps this is more a criticism of Orchard (the high end shopping area of Singapore) but I did notice a lot of, sameness, in a place I expected to feel more unique.

But that is not to say that Singapore is not unique.

My favorite American city, besides Kansas City obviously, is Washington DC. It is clean, has an easy to navigate train system, has lots of fun and free things to do, and is family friendly. Singapore shares a lot of those characteristics but, better.

Singapore is like the city every other city wishes it could be.

Earlier I said I could have mistaken myself for being in an American city, but that was more down to similar brands and the familiar building style. Singapore is like a nice/wealthy American city, but better.

There was stunning architecture covered in plants. Everything was clean. The buses and trains were, well, the exact opposite of the subway (you could eat off of those floors - well, if you wanted to be severely fined that is). Any kind of food you can imagine is available. It is just, beautiful. The way plants have been allowed to thrive in that city is amazing. Everything felt, well thought out. It is an impressive place.

Consider our trip to the zoo. At the closest MRT station there was a collection of buses charging an affordable round trip rate to the zoo. Everyone knows where to go, the path is clearly marked, the buses are painted with zoo animals, it was effective, painless, and well executed. That is Singapore.

And amidst all that, there is an incredible mixing of cultures. That meant incredible food, I will get into that later, but it also meant exposure to major world religions. Within a short walk of my parents apartment there is a Taoist temple, a Hindu Temple, and a Mosque. There are Buddhist temples, beautiful Christian churches, and more. As a lover of world religions, it was exhilarating for me to be around.

We walked by the nearby Hindu Temple on our first day there. It was so unlike any house of worship I had ever seen before. Later I started learning about hinduism and found out chanting is a form of Hindu worship, and in the coming days I heard chanting coming from the Hindu temple. I loved it.

My family was able to visit Sultan Mosque which was an amazing experience. I love history and culture and Islam is such a massive piece of world history and culture. I loved being around so many Muslims and being able to step inside a mosque and view a house of worship.

Singapore is a very unique place, different from anywhere I have ever been. But I don't think, I cannot say for certain but I am pretty certain, it is not the full southeast Asian experience. For that reason I am grateful we saw something a little different in Malaysia. Which brings me to...

Trip Highlights

Langkawi, Malaysia

Perhaps the greatest culture shock I have ever felt in my life was driving past the fairly undeveloped and undeniably rugged shops and homes of Langkawi, pulling up to a one, very small, terminal airport, leaving my rental car which was a, lets say, well used minivan where the Malaysian man assured me the aircon pointing to hot was in fact the correct way to get cold air (it worked) in what was a mixed use car rental spot/airport arrival/departure lane, walking on the runway to my plane, climbing the stairs, and landing at Changi airport. A building with a stunning indoor waterfall, beautiful greenery, flights to every part of the world, and the Singaporean propensity for cleanliness, order, and, well, complete over the top-ness.

I really enjoyed Malaysia and two of my favorite stories from the trip will come from our time there.

It was very much, not Singapore. And don't get me wrong, Langkawi has a Ritz Carlton and a Four Seasons. It is not a backwater. But maybe it kind of is. This is what I liked.

When you picture Thailand or Southeast Asia, this is it. Beautiful beaches with little island shooting up out of the water all over. One of my favorite things we did was take an island hopping tour, getting up close to those little islands. Rocks covered by the densest greenery you have ever seen climbing straight up out of the water. It was fantastic.

Everything was so cheap. Like shocking. We paid $60.00 to rent a boat for the 8 of us for half a day. Everywhere we ate it was like $30.00 to feed everyone. Also, if there is a competition of most beautiful currency, the Ringgit might win.

The food was delicious. I will be honest, I was a little intimidated by the thought of eating there. But we had great Korean food, American food, and some delicious kebabs and lamb kabsa. I didn't expect to eat great mediterranean food from a very Arabic man in Malaysia but, I don't regret it. It was a lot of fun trying to figure out what my cinnamon allergic mom could eat through a language barrier and it was only after my dad google translated "she is allergic to cinnamon" into Arabic on his phone that we realized, she could maybe have a salad. Sorry mom!

And the house. It had a stunning view and was smack in the middle of the jungle. We saw monkeys every day. Mostly rummaging through the trash which was collected at the end of the driveway, but still, I saw a monkey run across a roof and jump into a tree, I saw baby monkeys swim, and I saw a family of monkeys sit around lazily while a group of tourists excitedly lined up to take pictures near them. Oh and I watched a mischievous monkey run away with an unsuspecting Indian families lunch, chased by a shoe wielding 7-year-old.

We also rode a cable car to the top of the oldest mountain in Southeast Asia. It was steep and challenged my distaste for heights but it was also unlike anything I have done. A very fun an unique experience.

The trip to Malaysia was wonderful and different and some beach time was exactly what the kids needed. Hugh loved playing in the waves, the girls loved playing in the sand, and I loved taking it easy for a couple days.

The Food

Singapore has a reputation as a great food city. And I will only evangelize that reputation for the rest of my life. I don't know anywhere where I have been more in love with the food.

I ate Malaysian, Peranakan, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, American, and more on this trip, much of that you could find in the same mall food court, or hawker center. The easily available diversity of food was absolutely insane. So many new and delicious things to try. We tried many bakeries (because that is who I am), drank a whole lot of lassi and juice, and our kids devoured satay. I also tried a crookie (croissant cookie) and despite my grumpiness at eating something tiktok famous, it was amazing and I am going to try to replicate it at home. We had great baklava from Arab Street (although not as good as Baba's Pantry in KC), solid gelato, and some tasty entremet's. I loved the food in Singapore. 

Going to a Hawker Center, spreading out, buying a bunch of different things, and then bringing it to the table and chowing down was so much fun. I tried a lot of new things, found a lot of new foods I love, and I will be disappointed by the food everywhere else I go for the rest of my life. 

The kids liked the food too. I am so proud of how they ate. At one point Hugh took a piece of kimchi and asked, can I try this? And ate it all. I don't know what I was doing food-wise at six, but I promise you it wasn't trying kimchi of my own volition.

My favorite was probably the Indian food. Roti Prata is fantastic, idk why I haven't seen it in the US. And in Little India we had a life changing lime lassi (we previously thought it only came in mango). I had some delicious curries. I also shocked an Indian cashier when I ordered three different flavors of lassi at once, she did a double take but I pointed at my children and... I think she got it. Needless to say all three were gone in minutes.

So maybe don’t visit Singapore, it will ruin the food scene in a lot of other places if you do. I don't like thinking about it now, it just makes me sad.

Gardens By the Bay

This is the most famous part of Singapore, I think, and rightfully so. There are a lot of beautiful gardens in Singapore. A place that is humid and rainy and sunny all the time is obviously the kind of place plants like to live. But these gardens are fantastic.

The Cloud Forest is architecturally stunning and all around beautiful and very unique. I assume it was built by gathering some amazing architects and gardeners and saying, you have an unlimited budget build something incredible. And they did. I don't know how to describe it. There is a large man made waterfall, with greenery climbing every wall, and beauty everywhere around you.

The Flower Dome was similar. It has a beautiful olive tree grove. A dutch inspired tulip display. And much more.

We stayed that night for a light show on the super trees (the crazy looking manmade trees) which was very fun. The kids enjoyed it as did I. There are actually three nightly/free light shows in Singapore, which tells you the kind of place it is.

Following the end of the light show they said they had an experimental art display. Fog machines started to run and after a couple of minutes blue and green lights pointed up at the fog flicked on. The idea was to mimic the northern lights. I don't know if the goal was accomplished but the effect literally took my breath away. In fact, the crowded collectively gasped in delight at that moment. It was very cool.

Our three year old was an absolute champ on the late night long walk to the MRT station and 40 minute train ride home.

The City

I really liked Little India and Arab Street. Going into Sultan Mosque was an awesome experience for me. I also enjoyed the shops in that area, and there were a couple of great looking bakeries that I enjoyed poking my head into. The Merlion was a fun trip as was the walk along the bay to get there. I also enjoyed the Zoo, it is exceptionally well done, and I thought the National Museum was fascinating.

I also just enjoyed seeing the city. There are a lot of beautiful buildings that incorporate plants in ways I have never seen before on a building.

One thing that I enjoyed as a cultural experience and that is very different from the US is the malls. Malls in the United States have all but ceased to exist, but even in their heyday, they were nothing like this. The local mall to my parents, Northpoint, was not even close to the largest and it had approximately 8,000 restaurants, a park, a public library, a train/bus station connected, and every shop you could think of. It had tutors for your children, music classes, and shops to meet every need including a hijab fashion store, something I had never considered existing before. It was crowded, overwhelming, and the kind of place you may never find your way out of. It was like if a Walmart had 1,000 independently owned stores with no discernible pattern and was also a public gathering place. They were a lot of fun.

My favorite part was the food. As was true everywhere, there was an astounding variety of food. We had sushi, dim sum, and Japanese souffle pancakes (the kids favorite food of the trip), there was a hopping cinnamon roll shop, lots of fresh pressed juice, many Asian bakeries, and more. It was a unique culture experience, and while I certainly understand the appeal of such an institution, I gotta be honest, I understand why Walmart and strip malls are, well, kind of nice.

Emily and I also explored another, much larger mall. Got some Korean glass noodles, which are hard to find in Kansas City, at a Korean grocer, and were astounded by the facility. Oh, and Toys r' Us... It is alive and well in Singapore. Who knew?

Family Time and Seeing my Parents Mission

I had not seen my parents in a long time and it was great to see them in person. The kids had not missed a beat of course and were quickly slamming them with book requests, activity requests, food requests, and more. It was great to catch up and spend time together. It was also fun to explore a very new part of the world with them, well new to us.

I was impressed by how they have adjusted to life in Singapore. By now, they are old hand city dwellers. I am certain they miss their home and its convenient grocery stores, but they are doing a fantastic job where they are at. And they were great tour guides.

I also really enjoyed seeing their mission and the kids got to have some unique experiences with that. Olive, Hugh, and I joined Grandpa on inspections of missionary apartments (cleaning checks/making sure everything is in working order in a way 19 year-olds wont), we got to see the multistory church building where they work and worship(the nursery room has a remarkable view), and we got to meet a lot of the people they interact with. It was a lot of fun, I am used to people loving my parents because of all the good they do and it is nice to see that translates to southeast Asia as well.

The kids even got to tell Grandma she was working too much, something we hear often. Our children have a very definite set of priorities and work is far lower on the list than playing with your children/grandchildren.

The Kids Favorite Things:

If you asked them they would say: Grandma and Grandpa's apartment pool, the zoo, Legoland, the beach, and Fluffstack (the souffle pancake place).

The Challenges:

  1. Singapore is hot and humid. I am a firm believer that in Missouri in the summer, you just have to get over it and sweat. You cannot let the heat stop you from doing things. I had the same attitude to Singapore. But that attitude is harder when you are outside every day walking around and seeing things. It wears on you. And the days I wore pants were, suffocating. Don't bring pants to Singapore, shorts only people. Everywhere you go the aircon is pumping, but I was sweaty, all the time. The morning after we got home it was 61 in the morning and it was like heaven. I am sure you get used to it and there is a lot more aircon in Singapore than in say, Mexico, but. Sheesh. If you are walking around outside, it is going to be harder then normal and you are going to sweat.

  2. Cities are not made for children, even the easy ones. I would contend (without much by way of evidence apart from to correlating statistics so don't take this for a well supported argument) that one of the primary reasons birthrates are decreasing is rise in urban based populations. There is a reason why people move to the suburbs when they have children and why people in cities have smaller families. Cities are not made for children. Our baby Will, is a massive flirt, he loves to smile and wave to anyone who will make eye contact with him, and for a day or two, he was working every train over, but he quickly grew very tired of his stroller. But you cannot let babies crawl around city streets, even if they want to. And while there was plenty of green space in Singapore much of it is walking and biking trails which are not overly helpful to a 10-month-old. The other children were champs and after almost missing a train Hugh took the responsibility of staying close to adults very seriously. But managing four children is not fun in a large city. And I am glad I don't have to do that every day of my life, if I did I probably wouldn't have four children (well past the replacement rate you are welcome future world)

  3. The Malaysia house. Look, it was beautiful and it was easy to entertain the kids with a beach nearby but it was essentially glamping. There was a lizard that hid behind the refrigerator and came out to climb around the walls at night, there were a lot of bugs, a dog or monkey destroyed a couple of shoes we left outside, because that is what you do in Asia, one night, and the aircon was far more limited than in Singapore. Oh and Emily, the kids, and I got locked into a room by a broken doorknob, but more on that later.

    1. I choose to believe it was a monkey that destroyed our shoes over the more probable dog story. It is much more exotic. However, there was a puppy aged dog that hung around the house a lot, so, we all know what really happened.

      1. Malaysia had a lot of street dogs that were very cute. If we replaced George when he dies, it would only be with a Langkawi street dog.

  4. Finally, the kids ate all my chicken rice. Should have ordered more I guess.

Some of my Favorite Stories

  1. Based on very limited evidence I can definitively say that Indian people love white children. Anytime we were in an elevator or line with Indian people (which was often), they were very excited about our children.

  2. Langkawi is very Muslim, I learned, and it was a unique experience going to a beach full of Muslim women, swimming in the ocean still dressed head to toe and wearing a hijab. Such an impressive commitment to their faith.

  3. One of my favorite encounters was with Chinese man on the train. He got on the train, stood next to me and the family, started counting our kids, and held up a hand with four fingers and a face of amazement. Then he laughed. Not a lot of large families in Singapore I guess.

  4. On our island hopping tour in Malaysia there was one pier with a bunch of monkeys hanging around. As we walked back to the boat there was a woman in front of us carrying a fresh coconut. The monkey watched her, started to follow her, and then reached out and touched her leg. She jumped and ran away, as one does when a monkey touches you. The monkey then looked at Emily who was also carrying food and made as if to follow us onto our boat, I looked at it and used my stern George voice, "No", the monkey stopped, we got on the boat, and left. Monkeys are fun, though, I suppose they probably get old when you live with them all the time.

  5. Also in Malaysia, we got stuck in our room in the airbnb. The doorknob simply would not turn and it was obvious it was an old and broken doorknob. So I started to take it apart. It was bed time and the kids were very anxious but fortunately above the door was a small window that opened. So, I handed the kids over the door, through the window, to my dad on the other side, all except Will, who was not anxious but was more than happy to be out of his stroller crawling around the room. We had called the airbnb manager but they were an hour away, and not overly helpful, so we found what tools we could and dismantled the doorknob. Eventually I used a paring knife to get enough traction on the latch to get the door to open. I broke a hanger, a door knob, and was none to gentle with the door in the process. Still got a five star review from the host though. They did not get the same from me, but honestly, for a beautiful jungle house with one of the best views I have ever seen, my review still wasn't that harsh.

  6. Some missionaries were given some pretty tacky tourist goods by a member of the church in Singapore. Those missionaries then passed those goods along to me. And now I am the proud owner of a set of Merlion Fondue forks, I can't wait to put them to use.

  7. Somewhere around the entire population of Singapore told us how pretty Will's eye are. Big fans of blue eyes.

  8. There were moments on this trip where I sat back and thought, this is just an insanely cool experience and I am so happy I was able to do this with my children. One of those moments was at the Newton Hawker Stand (the one in Crazy Rich Asians), surrounded by people from all over the world, foods from all over Asia, and sitting in the humid and hot air eating off of a shabby table and struggling to use chopsticks. It was really cool. The reason I complain about sameness is because I very much enjoy experiencing new cultures and trying new things. The hawker centers were like nowhere I have been before and they made me so happy. Lets stop building the same insta friendly restaurants all over the world please! There were plenty of those in Singapore too, fear not.

    1. And other times where I had to look at Google Maps to believe how far away from home I really was. About as far as you can possibly be from Kansas City.

  9. Too many bikes on the sidewalk, I will tell you what else cities are not made for, bicycles, unless you are in the Netherlands I hear. Next time some guy in a truck yells at me for biking on the road I am going to ship him to Singapore so he can share a sidewalk with someone on a bike and see how that feels.

  10. Another fun thing was going through immigration a number of times between Singapore and Malaysia. For whatever reason, Hugh got flagged like every time. Which slowed us down a lot. Not sure what Hugh did to upset the nation of Singapore, but, it didn't make my life any easier haha.

  11. Finally, in one fun moment at my parents complex Emily and I got on an elevator to discover the other person in the elevator had wordlessly pressed the button for our floor. I guess she already knew that the white people are on floor 8.

Here are some assorted pictures including some large amounts of public transport used on this trip, and the Merlion.

All in all, this was a fantastic trip. I got to experience a lot of new things and try a lot of new things. While there is plenty of sameness in Singapore there is also a lot I have never seen before and a very different culture to my own. My visit to Singapore has me excited to visit other Asian destinations. I am thrilled we got the opportunity to take our children to Singapore. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and although the flights were tough and it was a struggle to get them back into routine on our return home, I do not regret this decision at all. And now I know, I can survive any plane flight. They don't get much longer than this.

Oh and fly Singapore Air. It is nice, much better then any airline I have flown before. It is like, if an airline actually wanted you as a customer.

If you have the chance. Go see Singapore. My parents are decent tour guides and they are great company.

But I am sick of paying for babysitting and cooking on the Sundays my in-laws aren't around, so, come home soon!

I leave you with these catchy Singapore advertisement taglines we saw in various train stations: 1) "if you molest, we will arrest." And, regarding mosquitos, 2) "if they breed, you will bleed."

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Jun 13

Sounds like an awesome trip and visit!


Jun 07

Oh my goodness, this is the definite travel advisory post. Loved how you covered every angle in prose and photos with facts and thoughtful observations. Singapore should pay you for the travel promotion! Really wonderful - I will read it again as we prepare to travel there ourselves, later this year.

Sean Foley
Sean Foley
Jun 12
Replying to

Brock definitely captured well our grand adventure together. We are very excited for you all to come over the holidays!

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