Our aim here on Puzzled Pilgrim is to showcase travel as it happens on a more human level. It is more about exploring locations and destinations that locals and tourists alike can enjoy. While we often hear about “hidden gems” when discussing travel, I’d like to take some focus on some rather obvious gems: The public library. In Singapore, the library branches and system is incredibly well funded. This means an expansion of programs accessible to the public, tons of free events, and of course wonderful quiet corners for crooning over our books. A public library was the first stop in Singapore outside of the wonderful Changi Airport as I had some time to kill before nestling up in my temporary abode. I bustled my belongings over to Library@Orchard, a beautiful modern public library that was designed for designers. Right off the bat I was intrigued with this branch’s playful entrance.

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It was made to be a hot spot for users interested in lifestyle, design, and the applied arts and even has a pretty wicked blog that features book recommendations, events, interviews and more. It has the feel of a sleek, beautiful recording studio mixed with a splash of the Guggenheim and the aesthetics of an Apple Product. White, modern, minimal, and extremely well organized.

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I love exploring libraries because like public transit, it offers a glimpse of the locals. I found Library@Orchard to be filled with the same people you’d find stuffed in a trendy independent coffee shop; young twenty somethings with eyes studiously hovering over their laptops, books, and magazines. Many came to the space to use the beautiful sets of hidden alcoves, reading chairs, and views of the outside world from the window.A wonderful view at that since the branch sits  on the fourth floor inside a huge mall.

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There are plenty of materials you can pull off the shelves and sit down with. The top floor offers an incredibly quiet, almost sanctimonious feeling for its users. Downstairs you’ll be sure to encounter more open space with plenty of tables, chairs, and perhaps even some chatter from one of the many public events hosted in its mini amphitheater. What I really liked was how modern and interesting the use of the space was. Especially the huge white piece of furniture that held the DVDs because you could see both the cover AND the spine! Am I getting a bit nerdy here? Absolutely.

Library@Orchard

There was also a delightful little calligraphy exhibit. Hand drawn envelopes for imaginary invitations or letters were made to notorious authors, characters, or other literary figures. My absolute favorite was elaborate Truman Capote invitation for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. For pure talent though, take a look at the Little Red Riding Hood envelope.

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The gem of the National Library of Singapore system is their National Library branch. Towering at 16 floors with two distinct buildings connected by windowed crosswalks, this place is a mecca of Singapore history and information. They currently have an exhibit of some of their finest archival materials, relating to the birth of Singapore and its history. If you’re in the neighborhood, or even if you aren’t it’s worth taking the trek over to check it out.

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What I found most impressive was the great primary resources and plethora of history covered. I knew very little about Singapore so going through the exhibit with a volunteer run tour felt a bit like a crash course. Not my favorite, but certainly the most haunting part of the exhibit was selections from the cartoon book “Chop Suey” which are first looked like a cute funny comic but upon further inspection was an illustrated depiction of all the various forms of humiliation and torture the Japanese inflicted upon Singapore persons during their occupation. Along with some real footage from the war crimes trial, and other publications of the time.

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Super crazy stuff went down in Malaysia and Singapore at the hands of the Japanese. Only an inkling of this I’ve known from reading James Clavelle novels and these cartoons were frighteningly more touching. It’s one thing to read about a fictional novel that is inspired by historical events, and quite another to see an account by a real life person.

Last off in my tour de libraries was the Chinatown branch. I was out on the streets after my visit to The Company of Cats, a delightful cat cafe in Chinatown. I really just wanted a place to sit and collect my thoughts. I’d recently been deported from Indonesia, was in a new country I’d never been to before, and stressing over nominal things like student loans and marriage. What to do, what to do? Walking around the streets of Chinatown didn’t seem to comfort me as they had the first time I walked around a few days ago. I floated from mall to mall until I looked up and saw a shining set of letters plastered to the window above me.

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I made my way up a variety of escalators and carpeted walkways into the still library. I settled into a couch overlooking, once again, a mall from inside a library. I thought carefully about how in Syracuse there was a library inside a mall but I found it a bit tacky. I think I still feel a bit that way but these did win me over. Their location can profit from being in such a hive of activity. After I read and found the sun starting to shift into my face I uprooted myself and began to browse. I couldn’t believe it but this library was ALL volunteer run! What a feat.

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I riffled through a few books off the shelves and found a book of poetry. My wonderful Texan cousin had just written me a letter about her new found love for poetry so I decided to give a look to see if I could catch her bug too. Indeed I did, with this incredibly saucy and wonderful piece.

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This tickles me pink! Is she showing off in that last one? Or is she sad she wasn’t able to receive the flowers? I think the former. I feel like perhaps she was a favorite and she’s writing about her ability to ride the Emperor’s horse and be in his bed when all the other women are outside with duties at the harem. I reflected for a moment. I am cute but I am no beauty- under what conditions would I be employed at a palace? Perhaps as an artist or a writer. Mayhaps an instructor of some sort. My strength lies in my brains, oh but I always do admire those who seem to capture such a set of femininity.

So there you have it. If you’re ever in Singapore, stop by their libraries for some quality people watching and browsing. Keep an eye out for those exhibits and events! Do you have a favorite library or public place you try to take in when you travel?

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