Weekend in Singapore

I used the “force” a while back to get my non-existent scissors through airport security.  We were headed to Singapore for a long weekend.

Singapore is a stark contrast to Indonesia in so many ways.  It is fascinating how you can go so developmentally far in just a 75 minute flight.

This county is one of the most densely populated countries on earth with some 5500 people per square mile, and yet, they’ve nicknamed themselves “A City in a Garden.”  There is green space everywhere. Parks and sidewalks and pedestrian zones.  The mass transit system is clean, efficient and cheap.  The three of us spend 7 bucks on subway rides for the weekend.  Cabs were more expensive, but still fairly affordable. A 30 minute cab ride cost 25 bucks.

The roads are wide open. The cars are new and everything moves at speed.  The government discourages a lot of cars and the cars they do have are new.  I don’t think I saw a car older than 2010 all weekend.  They’ve got a sizable tax on cars that increases with the age of the car, so there is an increasing incentive to get rid of it after a while. That tax must also extend to motorbikes because there were far fewer of those.

Singapore is a maritime crossroads and at times has been occupied by a world of leaders.  Muslims, Indians, British, Japanese.  It is a hugely diverse country.  You can walk down a street and find a Mosque, Buddhist temple, Hindu temple, Catholic church and a Synagogue all within walking distances to each other.  Apparently they all participate in each other’s festivals, too.

Also, as a result of being at the crossroads is the food!  You need to bring a second stomach for the

amount and variety of food you can find.  There aren’t really a lot of food carts, but many areas of the city have a multi-story, semi-open building dedicated to food stalls selling the world’s great street food from traditional dim sum to dosas to pig’s organs soup. I don’t know what they rent a stall for, but it is comforting to know that each vendor has clean running water and a toilet near by.

Singapore owes its status to it’s long time leader. Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  He’s probably the closest one could come to a benevolent dictator.  In old fairy tales, we often read about “good kings” who ruled wisely and their people prospered. I’d often wondered if good kings existed, but this is close.

Mr. Lee rose to power in a quasi-communist movement back in the 50 and recognized after WWII that unless Singapore stood up for itself it was going to forever be trampled on by the powers of the day.

He set about making Singapore as self sufficient as possible.  When they realized that they were beholden to Malaysia for water, they secured new sources of freshwater and invested hugely into desalination plants.  They designed the city to be user friendly and Mr. Lee was an early advocate of the green movement. There was a strong rule of law and corruption of any sort was not tolerated.  He knew that there was a history of many different religions and cultures, so he melded them together and placed the state ahead of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. English is the language of trade, but there are 4 official languages.

I’ve been told that if you don’t have a place to live, you’re given a place.  If you’re able, you’re expected to work.  Taxi driving positions are apparently reserved for those in need of a job. This does present a problem as your driver may be less than linguistically or geographically literate.

There is free health care up to a certain income and after that one is expected to buy into the national program. Same with housing.  There is an expectation that you’ll buy a house and there is a lending program through the post office to make this happen.  

Mr. Lee was Prime Minister until 1990, but was still an active in Singapore politics until this past February when he was in the office the day before he died.

But, enough of the promotion of Socialism.  I know you really want to know what to do when you’re there.  So, here goes…

Orchard Road is the big shopping area.  You can find nearly all the western goods you’d ever want here.  Shop after shop after shop.

If you want anything else, go to Mustafa’s.  Based in Little India, this would seem to have any product you could want from anywhere in the world.  I wrote a few posts ago about the wall of Head and Shoulders at Target.  Mustafa’s has several walls of dandruff shampoo from africa and the himalayas right next to their equally impressive H&S display.  Noodles, and spices and candy and fresh fruit.  Row after row.  Floor upon floor.  You will lose yourself here.

Little India itself is pretty impressive. Go on a weekend and it feels like you could be in Delhi, though cleaner.  And no cows in the street.
The Sri Veeramakaliamman temple is worth a look.  Just drop off your shoes and walk in.  Don’t take photos, though.  Right across the street is MRT. This is a long established dosa place with lines out the door at all hours.  You will often share a table with whomever comes in next.  The tastes were great.
Chinatown is equally active.  Lots of community activity and shops. If you go in the evening, there is honest-to-god C&W line dancing with honest-to-god Chinese cowboys at the community center plaza. The streets have the usual tchotchkes, but some great food and the Buddha’s tooth temple is an interesting sight. Lots of shiny gold statues.  

The Bugis Street Market is a great place to look for bargains and souvenirs.  There is a ton going on here.  Ladies, get your nails done cheap.

It was raining on the day we planned to go, but we hear the Botanical Gardens are a nice place to go for a walk and picnic.  It’s free and easy to get to on the train.  We saved that for next time.

Instead we went to Gardens by the Bay with the Flowerdome and Cloud Forest.  These are the largest green house and tallest indoor waterfall in the world.  They have really nice gardens and as a bonus, they’re air conditioned.  

Nearby is Marina Bay Sands, which is a pretty interesting hotel. You can see it in the photo up top.  If you stay there you can swim in the infinity pool at the top.  There is an observation deck that anyone can go see.  I can’t believe that there is not a way to bungee jump off the end.  That seems like a natural.

At night, you can see the Singapore Night Safari.  This is a zoo based on the premise that many animals are most active at night, so the place doesn’t open until 6 at night and closes near midnight. Admission gets you a tram ride with english speaking guide.  You can get on and off and walk around as well.  Indeed, there are lots of animals to see and they are well presented. They high point had to be the fruit bat exhibit.  A great opportunity to be 2 feet from and feasting bats.  There were bat fights and bat shenanigans. It was cool!  

Wanna know what’s not nocturnal?  Human children. Know that there will tantrums.  If you stay a little later, the place clears out and you almost have the place to yourself.  

A few miscellaneous tips, there are lots of vegetarian places to eat, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Take cash.  Despite Singapore’s financial prominence there were a surprising number of places that didn’t take credit/debit cards.  They did have a NETS system which seemed to be some sort of socialist payment system.

We were there for 2 nights and could have used more time there. Maybe on another long weekend.

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