Walking in My Own Footsteps in Singapore

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February 13th 2020
Published: April 26th 2020
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Singapore CBD skylineSingapore CBD skylineSingapore CBD skyline

... on a rainy evening on my first day there.
My friend Mizzi who lives in Melbourne, Australia, and I had decided to meet somewhere halfway between Germany and Australia for a holiday. I had suggested Borneo since I had wanted to go there during my year in Singapore, but had never made it there. Mizzi liked the idea, and so we booked a two-week holiday in Sabah, one of the two Malaysian provinces in Borneo. On my way there it was almost natural to make a stopover in Singapore to see my friends and former colleagues Ben and Tishal. Ben lives in Singapore, Tishal in Johor Bahru, just across the border from Singapore in Malaysia. The whole trip had been meticulously planned, first of all with getting all the schedules matched up, second with the details of the trip in Borneo. However, life often comes up with a surprise. For me, there were two of them.

The first one was the weather. I was to fly out of Düsseldorf, normally easy to reach by train from Dortmund. However, for the evening before my departure and the morning of my departure on Monday, the 10th of February, a heavy storm was forecast and Deutsche Bahn closed down all connections throughout
Panoramic view of Singapore CBDPanoramic view of Singapore CBDPanoramic view of Singapore CBD

View from the top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
the country on the evening of the 9th of February. Thus, I spent my Sunday morning researching affordable airport transfer to Düsseldorf, which put me slightly under pressure because there were loads of work that I needed to finish up before leaving for my holiday. Anyway, I managed, the trip went smoothly, I was in the airport early.

The second surprise was coronavirus. A lot of people had asked me whether the virus would affect my travel plans in any way, and I had even heard of people cancelling their trips to Southeast Asia. I considered this to be completely hysteric behaviour. How likely is it that one gets infected with the virus, compared to being hit by a car? The virus was in China, and even there, only a small fraction of the people had caught it, and it was deadly only for people with a weak immune system. More people die of an ordinary flu every year in Germany. The statistician in me found the worry completely ridiculous. Little did I know at the time…

Anyway, what I had not taken into account was that the virus would also make governments and local authorities take action.
Gardens by the BayGardens by the BayGardens by the Bay

The two greenhouses Rain Forest Cloud and Flower Dome and Super Tree Grove.
Right when I was queuing at check-in, Tishal from Malaysia sent me a message saying that she would not be able to come into Singapore. The city had raised the status of health hazard from yellow to orange because a comparatively large proportion of people had been infected with the virus in the city. This had caused Malaysia to take some precautions. Not surprisingly, they were denying Chinese or people who had been in China during the last two weeks entry into Malaysia. Moreover, they had ordered that any Malaysian citizen who had been in Singapore was to go into home quarantine for two weeks after their visit to Singapore. This meant that Tishal would not be able to come to Singapore. She has a little daughter that goes to play school and a job, and she and her husband had a trip to Australia planned, starting a few days after my visit. So there was no way she would be able to make it into Singapore. I suggested that I could come over to Johor Bahru, but she advised against it, saying that passing immigration would take forever, and that the risk of me getting g in touch with

The new waterfall in Terminal 1 of Changi Airport.
the virus in the large crowd would be bigh. So I had to accept that I would not be able to see her. This was very sad because I had not seen her since her wedding in summer 2015. Moreover, I started worrying that I would not be able to enter Borneo after my visit to Singapore, and this for the next couple of days, I followed the media closely.

Other than that, my journey to Singapore via Dubai went smoothly, and I arrived in Singapore at noon on Tuesday. I was back in the city that I had lived in for a year and that I really love! Changi airport is exceptionally well-organized and efficient, so within half an hour after touch-down I met Ben who was expecting me in the arrivals area in the terminal. It was great to see him, we had not seen each other since 2017 and had been in touch via Skype and WhatsApp only. So there were plenty of stories that we needed to share over coffee. Ben also showed me the most recent attraction at Terminal 1: “Jewel”, a huge waterfall underneath a glass dome, surrounded by rain forest. This most amazing airport keeps adding not only buildings
Robertson QuayRobertson QuayRobertson Quay

The beginning of my 20 km walk of the city.
and runways, but also all kinds of attractions. And they are built within no time. Comparing this to our new airport in Berlin makes me feel very embarrassed. After Ben had left to return to work, I walked around the waterfall for a bit and then caught the MRT train into the city. On my way, I got to talk to a friendly elderly Singaporean, and somehow we started talking about the situation in Hong Kong. I heard an interesting point of view. Of course, as a Westerner I think that the protesters in Hong Kong are absolutely right in protesting because the Chinese government wants to restrict their freedom. However, the Singaporean gentleman said that China had been kind to the citizens of Hong Komg and that the protesters were limiting others' freedom. Whether the Chinese government has been kind to the citizens of Hong Kong I cannot know, I only know what our media tells us. But the perspective on who is restricting whose freedom I found a valid point.

I had booked a hotel close to Bugis MRT station. The location was convenient, on the MRT line that runs to the airport and rather central in
Clarke QuayClarke QuayClarke Quay

Old shophouses that are nowadays bars and restaurants.
one of my favourite districts of the city, Arab street. However, when getting out of the MRT station, I had to wait for a while until I could walk to my hotel because it was pouring down with rain. If that is the case in Singapore, the only thing you can do is seek shelter somewhere. So I waited and got to talk to a young Japanese woman who was visiting old friends that she knew from a high school year in Singapore. Then finally I could make it to my hotel, checked in, and after a shower caught the MRT to Marina Bay Sands.

My plan had been to go for a walk in Gardens by the Bay, one of my favourite places in Singapore, but the heavy rain showers would not stop, so I decided to have an early dinner on the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. I wanted to go to Ku De Ta, the restaurant and bar in the front of the “ship” on top of the building. The one in the back, Sky on 57, is so strongly connected to a wonderful evening with my dear friend Hetty that I will not
CBD and Boat QuayCBD and Boat QuayCBD and Boat Quay

View across Singapore River to the modern CBD and the old shop houses of Boat Quay.
go there by myself or with anyone else. Moreover, it is really expensive. Therefore, I wanted to go to Ku De Ta. However, things change, and nowadays the restaurant up there is called “Ce La Vi”. The concept, however, is the same. You pay a sort of deposit on the ground floor and when you order food and drinks up in the restaurant, the amount you paid downstairs is subtracted from your bill. If one does not want to eat or drink anything, one can go to the observation deck, but one has to pay a fee for that as well. So I went up, found myself a nice spot with a view of Marina Bay, and ordered something to eat while not only enjoying the view but also watching people. Always the psychologist 😉).

For a while, I really enjoyed my time there. Then, while I was eating, a lady and her husband sat down next to me, and the lady started imposing herself more and more on me. She asked so many questions that it almost felt like an interrogation, and she told me her whole life. I am not particularly good at saying that I have
Statue of Prince Sang Nila UtamaStatue of Prince Sang Nila UtamaStatue of Prince Sang Nila Utama

... the legendary Palembang Prince who founded Singapore in 1299.
had enough, so ultimately I excused myself and said that I had to leave. I think she felt sorry then, but I really could not take any more of it. I guess this is what happens when you travel by yourself. You have more conversations with strangers than you do when travelling with others, some of them are enriching and inspiring like the ones I had had earlier on, some of them are just ones you would rather not have.

My plan had been to watch the lasershow that the hotel plays as 8 and 10 PM every night and that I had watched so often from the office window during my year in Singapore. But the weather did not get any better, so after having an ice-cream and waiting around for a while in the luxury shopping mall below MBS Hotel I decided that this was not going to happen and caught the MRT back to Bugis. It was still pouring down with rain. I waited for some time at the station, but it did not get any better. So I walked back to my hotel in the heavy rain and got there soaking wet. But with the
Statue of Sir Thomas Stamford RafflesStatue of Sir Thomas Stamford RafflesStatue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles

... the British researcher and statesman who established Singapore as a trade post in the 19th century.
warm temperature that was not so much of an issue.

The next morning, temperature was very pleasant and the sky was blue again. I borrowed a large umbrella from the hotel – and would end up carrying it round with me all day without using it. I had breakfast at Common Man Coffee Roasters near Robertson Quay. They roast their own coffee and have very tasty breakfast. I had my first latte since the beginning of the year and I really indulged in it, just as much as in my bread topped with avocado and vegemite mushrooms. What a great start of the day!

I had decided to spend the morning walking some of my favourite places in the city. So I walked along Singapore River from Robertson Quay to Clarke and Boat Quay, past all the shop houses that give one an idea of what Singapore must have looked like in the early 1900s. Nowadays there are bars and restaurants in the houses, and they are most alive at night. Around Boat Quay, the river has the shape of a carp, a symbol of wealth and good luck for the Chinese. There is also the statue of Sir Thomas Stamford
Boat QuayBoat QuayBoat Quay

View across the carp-shaped Singapore River to the old shophouses that are restaurants nowadays.
Raffles, the Englishman who established Singapore as a trade post and after whom a lot of squares and other local sites are named.

I walked to the Merlion that overlooks Marina Bay and that reminds one of the legend of the founding of Singapore. A prince from Sumatra, in the late 12th century, saw an animal that looked like a lion on the land while sailing past, and therefore named the city Singapura, the Lion City.

I continued along Marina Bay and the floating soccer field and crossed Helix Bridge. Its design is inspired by the helix structure of DNA. After passing it, finally, I could walk around d the Gardens by the Bay. There are two greenhouses, one has plants from around the globe and from different climate zones, the other simulates the rain forest at different altitudes and has a large waterfall inside. In the gardens, there are a number of heritage gardens showcasing different plants and their use. And there are the famous Supertrees, tree-shaped structures made of metal covered in plants that are illuminated at night. They generate their own power for this through solar cells. I did not visit the two greenhouses because
Victoria Theatre and Concert HallVictoria Theatre and Concert HallVictoria Theatre and Concert Hall

... not far from Boat Quay and CBD.
I had done that a few times, but I went up the OCBC Skywalk, a bridge connecting some of the trees from which one has a nice view of the gardens and the Marina Bay Sands.

After that, I caught the MRT to Vivo City to give myself a little treat: I took a pedicure in the same studio that inused to go to while living in Singapore. I had a quick lunch at one of the restaurants in the mall and then walked over to the Marina at Keppel Bay. I used to live in a condo down there, Reflections @Keppel Bay, designed by star architect Daniel Libeskind. It still looks the way it used to look, just as the one next to it, the Caribbean. However, there is also a new one that was still under construction when I lived there, the Corals condo, also designed by Mr Libeskind. In the Marina, there is a small island with a restaurant on it, Privée, that I enjoyed going to while living in Singapore. I wanted to take a walk around the island, but the path around it was blocked because of incidents of coronavirus, and there were people
Statue of the MerlionStatue of the MerlionStatue of the Merlion

... and Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background.
in uniforms there measuring temperature. When I saw them I quickly turned around and walked back to the path along the marina, past Reflections, and from there into Labrador Park, where I used to go running in the mornings. From there, I caught the MRT to Singapore National Museum to refresh my memory on the city’s history. They now have a very well-made multi-media exhibition on the history of the city from its early beginnings until now. I could easily have spent half a day there, but I needed to head back because I wanted to meet Ben for dinner.

On my leaving the museum, a somehow very Singaporean story happened. I had left my umbrella on a window sill near the cashier, and the receptionist had said he would look after it. However, when I returned the umbrella was gone. I was convinced that someone had stolen it, as I would assume in Germany. However, the receptionist put a lot of effort into investigating what had happened to the umbrella. He searched different places, then called the manager, who then himself started his own investigation. Ultimately it turned out that the cleaner had seen the umbrella, had thought
Marina Bay Sands HotelMarina Bay Sands HotelMarina Bay Sands Hotel

View across Marina Bay. The white building in front of the hotel is ArtScience Museum.
that it did not belong there, and had put it into a storage room. So, some 15 minutes later, I walked out of the museum with my umbrella. Nothing ever gets stolen in Singapore, and if so it will be a major scandal and very unusual event.

I met Ben back in Arab street and we had a Lebanese dinner in a place where we once had had dinner with our managing director from the UAE, who is Iranian and who always selected the best combinations of mezze and other dishes from the Levante for us. It was good to have some more time with Ben to catch up, and I hope I will be able to be back soon. After dinner, I had an early night because I had to get up early the next morning to catch my flight to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo. But this will be the next story.

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Helix BridgeHelix Bridge
Helix Bridge

... leading across Marina Bay to Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Gardens by the Bay.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel againMarina Bay Sands Hotel again
Marina Bay Sands Hotel again

View from Gardens by the Bay.
Singapore FlyerSingapore Flyer
Singapore Flyer

The Ferris Wheel located on Marina Bay. View from Gardens by the Bay.
Gardens by the BayGardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay

2020 is the Year of the Rat, thus in Gardens by the Bay there was a little arrangement of statues and flowers dedicated to this year.
Supertree GroveSupertree Grove
Supertree Grove

... in Gardens by the Bay.
Reflections @Keppel BayReflections @Keppel Bay
Reflections @Keppel Bay

... where I was staying when I lived in Singapore. In the foreground you can see the marina.
Labrador ParkLabrador Park
Labrador Park

The bridge leading from Reflections to Labrador Park - my morning running trail.
Singapore National Museum ISingapore National Museum I
Singapore National Museum I

A great place to learn about the history and culture of Singapore.
Singapore National Museum IISingapore National Museum II
Singapore National Museum II

A light installation inside the museum, leading down to the new exhibition of the country's history.

27th April 2020

The statistician in me found the worry completely ridiculous...
On your step by step through Singapore you had heard the coronavirus was in China...avoided blocked paths where testing was being done...was this 13 February 2020 being your date of your blog? Kinda bizarre to know in hindsight that they had their first case on 23 January, 7th on 4 February and Stay Home Notices for Singaporean residents and returners from China came into effect on 18 February 2020. Then the success story for control of Covid-19 for the World...now subject to a second wave that is very troubling. Looking forward to your next blog to find out if the virus continued to follow or disrupt your trip.
27th April 2020

RE: The statistician in me found the worry completely ridiculous...
I was in Singapore from 11 till 13 February. Yes, I think Singapore did a great job taking the right measures at an early stage. At the time I was pretty sure the virus would not make it to Europe or the US. The rest of the trip was "positively" affected by the virus because there were less tourists in Borneo, but we were still allowed into the country, we could go everywhere and do everything. We were lucky because we flew home one week before the lockdown in Germany started. Next posts will follow. Thanks for following and commenting :-)
28th April 2020

Little did we know.....
The world changed in a blink. It still seems surreal and we are learning new information daily. In the U.S. we think leaders had information they didn't share or act on. There is a balance between chatting with someone near you and pestering you. Obviously, she was not picking up on your vibe. Thanks for taking us on a trip of Singapore with you. Always interesting to go back and see changes and connect with friends.
28th April 2020

Re: Little did we know.....
Thank you for commenting and following my journey :-) When I posted the story it felt almost like it had been another life. How quickly things can change...
3rd May 2020

So you made it to Borneo...
I await your next blog to see if you made it back! By the way, as a statistician, do you think that the governments of this world have overreacted to Covid-19? Do you think the Swedish model to react was better?
10th May 2020

Re: So you made it to Borneo...
Thank you for following my trip and sorry the next story is taking so long. Work kept me busy last weekend. I will post it soon. Regarding the response to the Covid-19: I think once the virus started spreading the response was the best that governments could do. With it spreading exponentially our health systems would not have been able to cope. I found the pictures from Northern Italy and New York City shocking and absolutely horrifying. I am glad that we went into lockdown.

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