Singapore

Singapore is my new favourite city!

There’s not much to dislike about this small island, nation and city.  They are all one and the same.  To give an idea of the size of the “Lion City” here is a map with the city of Toronto superimposed.

From east to west the entire country is either urban or suburban.  When you are in the heart of downtown it feels like the Chinese version of Manhattan, and out to the edges it feels a lot like Mississauga (for you fellow Torontonians), many high rises, parks and green space.  Served well by multiple subway lines, you’re never far from a station.  The population is about 75% Chinese, with a large Indian minority, some Malay, with European coming in at a tiny percentage.  But the official language and lingua franca on the street is English, making Singapore feel exotic and yet familiar.

Created as an outpost of the East India Company and an attempt to counteract the presence of the Dutch East India Company, Sir Stamford Raffles, the lieutenant governor of Java chose Singapura, from the Sanskrit meaning Lion Town, to be the forerunner of the economic powerhouse that Singapore has become.  Raffles has given his name to the famous hotel where the Singapore Sling was invented, a hospital and many streets, but he himself only visited this place twice.  The names were bestowed by others.  He had nothing to do with the hotel.  First becoming part of Malaysia, Singapore gained independence in 1965.  The people live an affluent life for the most part with the third-largest foreign exchange market, third-largest financial centre, third-largest oil refining and trading centre and the second-busiest container port.  Singapore ranks 5th on the UN Human Development Index and the 3rd highest GDP per capita. It is ranked highly in education, healthcare, life expectancy, quality of life, personal safety and housing.

The most striking aspect of Singapore for me is its architecture.  Mostly new and modern, even the lowliest apartment buildings may have soaring cantilevered floors and observation decks.  The Parkroyal [sic] Hotel is covered with greenery and has won awards for its eco-consciousness.

My favourite however, is the Marina Bay Sands Casino on the waterfront.  With 3 towers of 55 stories, an ice skating rink and infinity pool on the roof it is the world’s most expensive casino.  Topping the 3 towers is a structure which resembles a large ship, as if it came to rest there by tsunami.  The “ship” has full grown trees decorating it.

Carol and I spent our first full day here by taking a tour of the city by bus and river boat.  Highlights are the city core with its exciting buildings, the waterfront area, Chinatown and Little India.  It may seem strange that a city which is 75% Chinese would have a Chinatown, but it is a relic of older days when ethnic groups lived apart.  We visited a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple where on the 4th floor is a relic of the historical Buddha in the form of his tooth.  As ceremonies were happening in both holy houses when we visited, it made for an awesome experience and superb video!

In the afternoon Carol and I became familiar with the easy subway system and traveled to the western part of Singapore to see the Jurong Bird Park which features shows and exhibits in a large park setting.

The second and last full day of our stay in Singapore we headed north into the more lightly developed part of the island.  Here was the only region we saw which still contained patches of rain forest and wasn’t all green lawn.  The Singapore Zoo, River Safari park and Night Safari park are all in the same country-like setting on the banks of a natural reservoir.  The zoo is open concept and allows people to get close to the animals without obvious barriers.  I was thrilled to get within a few centimetres of flying fox bats and squirrel monkeys.  In the monkey exhibit there is a wary warden who keeps on eye on the mischievous monkeys, one of which was apparently starting to go for the video camera holster on my belt!  In all three parks there are trams which take you from place to place, so the amount of walking required is really up to the visitor.

The River Safari park is similar to the zoo, but arranged on both sides of a waterway, and has features of an aquarium, a lazy river “log flume” type ride and tour boats which glide around the reservoir.  Here also are 2 pandas, a hit with everyone.

Night Safari park, featuring nocturnal animals from around the world was less enjoyable for us as we were by this time quite tired of walking and our show started around 8:30.  The Night Safari is almost a victim of its own success.  After a buffet of Chinese food we queued up for the main show at the head of a press of about  a thousand people.  When the show was cancelled at the last minute due to light rain we become part of a flood trying to get to the trams which glide around the park giving talks in various languages.  When we saw the snaking line for the English show at Tram Stop 1 we began to give up and plan our bus ride back the hotel.  Some park employees must have noticed our disappointment, for in the next moments we were ushered to the head of the line.  I wasn’t sure how to take that and felt sorry for the hundreds who were still standing behind us, but I didn’t turn down the offer either.

The tram works around the park in the same manner as the other parks with the tour guide keeping up an informative patter.  The various clearings on the way are gently lit by high lights as if from the moon, and you can see the animals quite well, although not well enough for any decent pictures or video.

This morning we fly out to Hong Kong.

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