Is ‘neuro-tourism’ the future of travel?
Leigh-Ann Pow gets wired about a new technology that reveals how she really feels about the sights of Singapore.
I am having a ‘the future is now’ moment as I stand outside Singapore’s Gardens on the Bay complex getting wired up with a Star Trek-worthy headset designed to measure my emotional response to what I am about to see and experience.
It’s all in aide of The Singapore Emotion Travel Guide, a groundbreaking, world-first ‘neuro-tourism’ study being conducted by the Singapore Tourism Board (working with Professor Joel Pearson, Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of New South Wales) that utilises the aforementioned electroencephalograph, or EEG, a wireless device that measures the electrical activity of the brain through electrodes located on the scalp.
Such activity can be translated into different emotions: excitement, happiness, focus, relaxation, stress.
Five Australian families, including my own, are taking part in the study.
A few hours earlier my daughter and I were introduced to neuroscientist Peter Simpson-Young, who explained how the next two days would work.
We will wear the headsets, which resemble a post-modern laurel wreath, at various locations around the city while Peter and his colleague Enrico Penzo, a creative technologist, follow at a discreet distance monitoring our brainwaves and capturing data on an iPod touch.
At the Gardens on the Bay, Peter adjusts our headsets and syncs the iPod as we set off into the giant indoor garden.
We both feel slightly self-conscious at first, but it’s amazing how quickly this subsides as the wonder of the experience takes over.
Our next stop is the fantastical Future World exhibition at the ArtScience Museum.
Given the nature of the exhibition – the wonder of technology – we blend in perfectly.
Later at the Night Safari, we weave our way through the open-plan zoo by train, getting up close to big cats, flamingos and a frolicking baby elephant.
While the methodology is pure science fiction, the results, compiled into a report co-authored by Peter, give real insight into what experiences resonate with the average Australian family.
Experiences in nature induced strong feelings of happiness, and participants felt high levels of positive emotions during free experiences.
It was also determined that families love experiences unique to the destination, and, surprisingly, kids were 10 per cent happier eating traditional Singaporean fare than Western food.
While the results of the study are meant to help families make decisions about their holidays to Singapore now, the future possibilities are endless, including using the technology to capture and record emotional responses to holidays, much like we use cameras to record the visual.
Travelling to Singapore? Here's some things you must know:
- The top 6 places to drop in to shop (and shop till you drop) in Singapore
- 3 Singaporean culinary delights worth trying
- 3 stroll-worthy neighbourhoods to visit in Singapore
5 cutting-edge exhibitions to see while in Singapore
A wonderful collection of imposing new museums and cutting-edge exhibitions are fostering Singapore’s growing reputation as an arts capital in the South-East Asian region. Don’t miss these:
1. National Museum of Singapore
A soaring new atrium by architects studioMilou Singapore (in partnership with CPG Consultants) links two historic edifices – the former Supreme Court and Town Hall – to create the mammoth new National Gallery of Singapore.
The hulking buildings become artworks in their own right when viewed from the atrium, which lets in diffused, dappled light through its glass façade, while on either side of this galleries are filled with permanent as well as touring exhibitions that aim to celebrate and foster the reputation of south-east Asian art.
Make sure you take the time to wander the lovely Ng Teng Fong Roof Gallery Garden for its calm green space and million dollar views across Singapore.
2. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
Part of the Faculty of Science of the National University of Singapore, this architectural marvel, with its verdant vertical garden engulfing one corner of its black box design, is filled with some 2000 natural history specimens in two permanent galleries, including some collected by Sir Stamford Raffles himself.
But the undisputed stars of the show here are the trio of Diplodocidae dinosaurs discovered amazingly intact in Wyoming in the USA from 2007 to 2009, and cheekily named Apollonia, Prince and Twinky.
3. Indian Heritage centre
Little India’s delightfully shambolic, frenetic surrounds can be an assault on the senses, but respite can be found with the elegant new Indian Heritage Centre in the heart of the fragrant neighbourhood.
Within its crisp modern lines, the history of Indian settlement, culture and industry in Singapore is explored through a permanent exhibition of artefacts, displays, video and wonderfully interactive elements for young ones.
4. Future World at ArtScience Museum
Resembling a giant, metallic lotus flower, the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands is an established part of the landscape now, but its new permanent exhibition is worth a repeat visit if you already think that you have been there, done that.
Future World: Where Art Meets Science is a mesmerising 1500-square-metre digital universe created in collaboration with the Tokyo-based teamLab, an award-winning art collective of ‘ultra-technologists’.
The resulting installations are at once beautifully ethereal and brilliantly cutting edge, from an interactive projection room where blooming flowers and floating butterflies cover every surface, their ephemeral beauty shattered with a mere touch of the walls, to an LED light maze that can be customised with the touch of a button, and my daughter’s favourite: an enclosure of massive orbs that change colour and create a subtle noise symphony when bounced against each other.
5. The surroundings of the city – Parkroyal on Pickering
Singapore refers to itself as a city inside a garden; after decades of construction and expansion the government is doing a great job to redress the balance, with guidelines overseen by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) dictating that all new builds must incorporate a garden element into the design.
The resulting architecture is arresting, with the three-year-old Parkroyal on Pickering featuring six curvaceous sky gardens (the multi-award winning design also incorporates myriad energy-saving features, including an innovative solar energy system that has resulted in the gardens being ‘zero energy’), gleaming multi-storey glass apartment blocks seemingly bursting to life with trees and flowers metres above street level, and a black box of a new museum, one corner apparently hewn away and replaced with a verdant vertical garden.
According to the BCA, by 2030 80 per cent of Singapore’s buildings will be certified green, utilising energy- and water-efficient technologies, constructed from eco-friendly materials and integrating green spaces.
My personal favourite remains the soaring Cloud Forest in Gardens on the Bay.
The top 6 places to drop in to shop (and shop till you drop) in Singapore
While Orchard Road is a ground zero for big names and blissfully air-conditioned malls, Singapore’s status as a shopping mecca is being enhanced by an endless roster of smaller boutiques and stores filled with real personality.
1. Books Actually
The heady smell of paper fills your senses as soon as you walk into this jam-packed little place, where books line the walls and perch on every flat surface, both in the front half of the store and out back where you will also find a quirky mix of second-hand titles, vintage bric-a-brac (bottles, rubber stamps, old toys) and stationery.
It’s so hipster cool; there is someone sitting behind the counter typing on a vintage typewriter, and outside there’s a book-vending machine filled with a lucky dip of tomes wrapped in brown paper. booksactuallyshop.com
Lalu is a local small chain that ticks the box for cute pieces that are on-trend but not obvious or laboured, as well as price, with lots of mix-and-match elements that can be paired up as a two for SD$29 or SD$39 combo.
3. Scene Shang
This chic store on buzzy Beach Road is ‘an ode to the old and a nod to the new’. Scene Shang is filled with an artfully curated collection of furniture, ceramics, lighting and art, much of which is created by local artists and designers. Even the tiny cup of fragrant herbal tea you are presented with as you browse is deliciously chic.
Also on Beach Road, the team behind Supermama’s flagship gallery store work with local Singaporean artists, designers and crafts people, as well as traditional craft facilities in Japan to assemble contemporary pieces that they feel reflects modern Singaporean culture. When we visited a long table was laid with what looked like blue and white Chinoiserie plates, but on closer inspection were printed with Star Wars scenes.
This light, white space on Amoy Street forms the perfect canvas for the bright, colourful design pieces that make up the store’s inventory, from all kinds of lovely hand-made ceramics to bags, toys, lighting and stationery. strangelets.sg
6. Gallery & Co.
Located just inside the entrance to the wondrous new National Gallery of Singapore, the Gallery & Co. is a browser’s paradise of design pieces, art books, children’s books and crafts, funky jewellery and clever souvenirs, like the T-shirt that states ‘No, we are not a province of China’.
Honourable retail recommendations
Little India for spices, sari material and exuberant gold jewellery pieces; The Mustafa Centre, a multi-floor behemoth stretching away from Serangoon Road for a couple of blocks, and home of absolutely everything; Chinatown’s markets where you can find everything from Disney character chopsticks to Chinese antiques.
The Changi Challenge
I’ve been to Changi Airport myriad times, but in my haste to get into town or on my plane, I have never seen half the facilities that it is famous for, and that win it the title of best airport in the world year in and year out.
So, with an hour or so to kill, I decided to take the Changi Challenge and go in search of as many of the good bits that I could find in that time.
First up was the Butterfly Garden, which I located with relative ease.
A soaring indoor/outdoor space filled with the gentle winged creature, it’s not exactly quiet, being next to a runway of one of the busiest airports in the world, but it is quite pleasant to sit in for a while in the evening when the heat of the day has subsided.
I then ticked the free movie cinema off the list, a multiplex in miniature where recent release films are played in an endless loop.
Another favourite is the cactus garden, an outdoor landscape of sculptural cacti where you can sit and watch the planes come and go, or when it is too hot, gaze out onto it from the air-conditioned food court. Still searching for: the giant slide.
3 stroll-worthy neighbourhoods to visit in Singapore
Leigh-Ann Pow discovered that Singapore is a frenetic, fantastical place that evolves and changes and reinvents itself on a dizzyingly constant basis.
Removed from the bustle of downtown Singapore, the Katong neighbourhood, a 15-minute drive from Changi Airport, retains a charmingly unaffected air, with locals coming and going past gelato-hued traditional terraced shophouses.
An enclave of Peranakan traditions, you can happily ignore the lure of showier parts of town, shopping and eating and sightseeing at an altogether slower pace.
Check out the historic edifice of the former Katong Bakery & Confectionery on East Coast Road, shop for Peranakan antiques at Rumah Bebe (also on East Coast Road), stroll the residential streets off Joo Chiat Road and visit the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple.
2. Tiong Bahru
Built in the 1930s as the island’s first housing estate, Tiong Bahru has a delightful halcyon days vibe to it, with its pristinely maintained Art Deco apartment blocks.
The area was an enclave for Chinese businessmen to keep their mistresses, and while it is still largely residential and laid-back, it is undergoing something of a gentrification, with cafes, restaurants and boutiques moving in.
Authenticity can still be found in the daily wet market and in the surrounding streets.
3. Dempsey Hill
A former nutmeg plantation, Dempsey Hill has been transformed into an eating and lifestyle destination, but it still retains something of an out-of-the-way, rustic vibe, with walking trails and abundant greenery.
Make your way up the hill for unique eating opportunities like COMO Cuisine, a restaurant and retail offshoot of COMO Hotels and Resorts, which will boast a collection of eateries and a hotly anticipated outpost of Dover Street Market coming soon.
So good you’ll want to see it again:
Kampong Glam, the former seat of Malay royalty in Singapore, is rich in ethnic diversity and Islamic architecture (the Sultan Mosque), making it the perfect neighbourhood to explore at a strolling pace.
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