Singapore is the sort of place that I wouldn't mind living in for a couple of years. Ok, it's perhaps a bit hot and humid, and some might argue that democracy and personal freedoms are in short supply. But on the other hand, the country functions in a smooth and efficient way that should cause politicians in many countries in Asia as well as Europe to be ashamed of themselves. Per capita income is only slightly below that of many Western European nations (at Purchasing Power Parity for the economists among you), the transport system is efficient, the streets are clean, the crime rate is low etc. etc. It is a melting pot of Indian, Malay, and Chinese culture, which is perhaps most evident when eating your way around the hawker centers. Some seriously nice food is available at very reasonable prices. And one advantage compared to India: in Singapore I can actually eat anything from anywhere without having to worry too much about spending several hours on the toilet later in the day. Also, just for the record: laws in this tiny country are strict, but the whole myth about people being fined for chewing gum is rubbish. While chewing
gum is not available in the shops, people are most welcome to bring back from abroad an amount which can be considered to be for personal use.
Yet there are obviously some sides of Singapore which are not ideal: The 2006 general election took place when we were here. The outcome surprised no-one: the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) once again took all but two seats in the 84-member parliament. Opposition parties have little access to the state-controlled media and their leaders are often sued and bankrupted. Press freedom is restricted. What would be minor offences in Europe can result in long jail terms or caning here, and the death penalty is not uncommon for drugs-related offences. Being an idealist, I'd like to think though that these issues can be worked on over time. And to be honest, most Singaporeans seem pretty happy with the way things are going. I have to admit I might be biased though. I spent about 7 weeks here in 2001 while doing a summer internship. Having many good memories to look back on, maybe I am not as good at criticising Singapore as I should be....
We arrived in Singapore on Friday
the 5th of May after a very short night on a Singapore Airlines flight from Mumbai. The staff of our hotel, the New 7th Storey Hotel, were kind enough to give us our room far earlier in the morning than expected, which meant we could relax and freshen up a little. I couldn't do too much relaxing though, as I was dying to get out and have a walk around. Leaving Phil at the hotel for a nap, I walked through the Civic District to the Financial District, and had some lunch at China Square, where I often went for lunch when here 5 years ago. Afterwards, I took the MRT to Orchard Road, to stroll around the many shopping malls. I was supposed to meet Phil at Orchard Road after lunch, but due to a slight oversleeping on his part there was some delay there! When we finally met up, Phil being very apologetic but at least refreshed and myself being zombie-like, we strolled around China town before having some dinner near our hotel. Exhausted but satisfied to be back in Singapore I had some major sleep to catch up on!
On Saturday, the day started rather sloooowly....
By the time I opened my eyes we quickly forgot about breakfast and went straight for lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant near our hotel near Bugis MRT station. I quickly showed Phil the main sights of the Civic and Financial Districts, and we watched a local game of cricket for a while, before visiting the Asian Civilisations Museum. The museum provides an interesting insight into the history of Singapore, and it displays beautiful artifacts from all over Asia. Definitely worth a visit, even though you'll probably be presented with a bit too much information for your brain too handle in an afternoon.
Sentosa Island is supposed to be a must-do when visiting Singapore. It is an island developed with the sole purpose of entertaining locals and tourists, and is home to many of Singapore's most famous attractions. We started off our morning on Sunday by taking the cable car from the Harbourfront to the island. On the way you get a pretty good view of the harbour and the financial district. Upon arrival, we decided to walk to Underwater World Singapore, Singapore's famous aquarium. Phil got the shock of his life when we spotted a big lizard and
a snake in quick succession during our walk, and it seemed to finally hit home that we weren't too far away from the jungle! The aquarium itself was worth revisiting, but it somehow didn't live up to my expectations. This could have something to do with the fact that I started scuba diving since last visiting though, and an aquarium just never being quite as good as the real thing... After the aquarium we decided to visit Fort Siloso, a fort built by the British to protect the harbour of Singapore. The fort played an unexpected role in World War II: rather than defending Singapore against an invading force from the south, little could be done when the Japanese invaded Singapore by land from the north. Singapore fell quickly and Fort Siloso was used by the Japanese as a POW camp until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.
After having spent several hours on Sentosa, we decided to head back to the mainland to visit the zoo. Singapore zoo is considered to be one of the most impressive in the world, housing a large collection of animals in naturalistic open exhibits, i.e. with hidden fences and barriers. It gives
the visitor the impression that the animals are not actually in cages, and gives it a more genuine feel. After visiting the zoo we freshened up in the hotel before making our way to Little India, where we had dinner at the Banana Leaf Apollo Restaurant, famous for it's fish head curry, which we naturally couldn't resist and really enjoyed.
Monday was to be our last full day in Singapore before heading off to Malaysia, which meant that we spent the greater part of the day doing things which we had put off for too long already: arranging travel to Malaysia, enquiring about travel within Vietnam, getting a haircut, writing and sending postcards, doing some last-minute shopping etc. All in all a pretty boring day, but a necessary one!
On Tuesday we left Malaysia by bus for Pulau Tioman, an island off Malaysia's East coast. Crossing the causeway from Singapore into Malaysia was an interesting experience: you have to get off the bus in Singapore to clear immigration, before being taken to the Malaysian side where you need to leave the bus with all your luggage in order to clear immigration there. Everything worked out smoothly though, and
by mid-afternoon we had arrived on Pulau Tioman. More about our time here later though!
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