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Rescue dog shelter, Singapore

David and Lois Sykes Scholarships Travel Report – Nishta Vaishampayan (2019, BA Oriental Studies)

Last year, I was lucky enough to be granted the Lois and David Sykes Travel Scholarship. Using the scholarship grant, I travelled to Singapore for two weeks last summer and volunteered with a Rescue Dog Shelter, so I could practise my Mandarin speaking skills (and eat great food) as part of my Chinese Studies degree. Singaporean culture is somewhat similar to Mainland Chinese culture, in that Mandarin is one of its national languages. However, Singapore is incredibly diverse: 76% of the population are ethnically Chinese, 15% are ethnically Malay, and 7.5% are Indian. The remaining 1.5% are “expats”. There are four national languages: English, Malay, Tamil, and of course, Mandarin.

During my time volunteering, I met some lovely people — and dogs — with amazing stories. Communicating with the other volunteers in Mandarin allowed me to articulate and experience certain emotions, such as sadness and frustration about the abandoned dogs, in a “Singaporean” way. For example, combining Singaporean slang such as “lah” and using Chinese idioms. The work the volunteers do is extremely meaningful. According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authoriry of Singapore, approximately 15,000 to 20,000 cats and dogs are put down yearly in Singapore because the shelters are full and there is no place to house the impounded animals. The shelter I volunteered at started in 2009 as a handful of volunteers who fed stray dogs every evening in the eastern side of Singapore. While working with them, we fed about 50 dogs every day across Singapore. As Singapore is a small island and country, and only takes about an hour to drive across, this means that no area is neglected by the shelter.

The shelter also sterilises dogs, and works to get many adopted. Below is a picture of my family friend’s dog, Zen, who was rescued by the shelter.

After long days at their day jobs, the volunteers at the shelter stop dogs from being beaten, fighting other street dogs, and even being poisoned by humans. Due to the shelter’s tireless volunteers, these dogs can now sleep peacefully in their new homes. This trip was truly one of a kind, and I would urge anyone who is considering applying for the Lois & David Sykes Scholarship to make an application.


While I was in Singapore, I was able to experience its world-renowned food and scenic spots. Because of its ethnic diversity, there is no shortage of dishes to try. The tap water is also clean, and completely safe to drink — essential in a country as hot as Singapore! If going in the summer, be sure to pack enough suncream and linen clothes. If you plan to go around November/December, beware that this is monsoon season!

Singapore is famous for its skyline and sea. Places with great views include Marina Bay Sands, and the East Coast.

Restaurant Recommendations

As a pescatarian, I was not worried about the food available on Singapore island. Below is a list of the 5 best — and authentic — restaurants I tried. Singaporean seafood, especially chilli crab, is incredible. If you eat meat, their crispy pork and beef is also worth trying.

1. Paradise Dynasty

Paradise Dynasty is a Chinese restaurant chain focused on recreating an immersive experience akin to the imperial period. This restaurant is famed for its Xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings). Its menu is unique, with dumplings filled with luffa gourd (a vegetable used to make loofah sponges!), foie gras, black truffle, crab roe, cheese, garlic, and Sichuan spicy sauce. There were lots of vegetarian options, and the food was reasonably priced, especially as the portion sizes are fairly large. Their pork and prawn dim sums are definitely worth trying, as well as their mapo tofu (stinky tofu). A must-visit when in Singapore!

2. Violet Oon

Violet Oon is a traditional Peranakan restaurant in two locations. I would highly recommend the Violet Oon located above the National Gallery, due to its plush décor, and the fact there is a brilliant bar next to it called Smoke & Mirrors. This bar has a beautiful view of the sunset in Singapore, as it looks over the Singapore Cricket Club and downtown district. The price of dining here is more expensive than Paradise Dynasty, but the experience is worth it. Violet Oon also accommodates dietary requirements, with a separate vegetarian and gluten-free menu.

3. Din Tai Fung

Whilst Din Tai Fung has become available around the world, the restaurant in Singapore is even better than the one situated in London, particularly the spicy cumber and garlic spinach dishes.

4. Local Hawker Centres

Singapore, similar to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Indonesia, is renowned for its hawker centres. Hawker centres are open-air complexes that were originally built to provide a more sanitary alternative to mobile hawker carts and contain many stalls that sell different varieties of affordable meals. They are an integral part of the food scene in Singapore. My favourite hawker centre dish was “Hokkien Mee”: a noodle dish with seafood, tofu and vegetables. Hawker centres are a lot cheaper than restaurants, with a meal typically costing around $5 (£3).

5. Lucky Plaza Mall

Finally, I tried traditional Indonesian food at a small family-run restaurant off Orchard Road in an old mall called Lucky Plaza. I opted for the Gado Gado (a potato and green beans salad with a peanut satay sauce) which was fresh and quite filling. I also had the well-known Indonesian noodle dish Mee Goreng, which is a wok-fried egg noodle dish with vegetables. For dessert, we went to a stall next door and got Onde Onde, which are Malaysian glutinous rice balls covered in shaved coconut. This was a very authentic meal which only came to $15 in total.

Find out more about the range of travel grants and scholarships available to assist Univ students on our Travel Grants page or read further travel reports.

Published: 14 April 2023

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