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Published: November 21st 2015
We flew to Singapore with Air Asia; the flight left on time at 9.50 am and took about 1 hour 20 mins. The time change meant we landed at Changi Airport at lunchtime. Changi is consistently voted in the top three airports in the world, often in first place, and I can see why. It is super-efficient with plenty of people to get you through Immigration with no stress or queuing, there's plenty of everything (toilets, trolleys, seats, etc), some relaxing areas for a nap if you fancy one, a movie theatre and even a butterfly garden! It is clean and well organised and we were quickly able to locate the shuttle bus to get us to our hotel. On our return journey the taxi driver told us that the trees and plants on the median strip of the dual carriageway leading to and from the airport were all in pots or other easily removable containers so that the road could also be used as a runway for planes should that ever be necessary. Impressive.
Singapore covers a relatively small area so space is at a premium. When we were looking for affordable hotels we noticed that room sizes were
often given in the description but the square metre measurements used were pretty meaningless to us. Reviews of our final choice, the Adonis Hotel, all mentioned that the rooms were very small but we decided the positives (clean, convenient, friendly and, of course, price) far outweighed size issues and besides, how small can a room be before it is too small? Well, our room was so small that it was impossible to walk round the end of the bed and meant I had to climb over Steve several times every night until we decided to swap sides. We resorted to storing one of our suitcases in the shower when not in use and hoped the chambermaid didn't think we wanted it cleaning. We had to take it in turns to move around the room, with one sitting on the bed or the chair (yes it had space for a chair but it had to double as a bedside table) while the other did whatever necessary as it was impossible to pass each other in the tiny amount of free space. The pinch point most rooms have became a bottleneck in this one! Nevertheless the hotel itself was quirky and they
used mirrors to maximum effect in the public areas to make it appear bigger than it was. In recognition of the small rooms the hotel compensated by providing a free (yes, free!) minibar in each room which was restocked daily, and a free (yes, free!) happy hour or two every night. It was incredibly popular with visiting tourists for the unusual accommodation and with locals as a meeting point and for the food. It was situated on a heritage street of row houses and the manager told me it had been the owner's grandparents' bakery back in the day. I liked it!
We walked around to get our bearings that afternoon. We were located just a block away from the Raffles Hotel so took a wander in to see if it was still as grand as reported. The answer is yes, it is (at least from a visitor's perspective). They make a point of pushing the fact that the famous Singapore Sling drink was invented there and there are many nods to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. I bought a postcard in their souvenir shop and was a bit miffed that it already had stamps on
it as I had no intentions of sending it to anyone. Clearly, Raffles Hotel guests don't demean themselves licking their own stamps, which were almost as big as our postage stamp sized room!
The cashier asked if I had a back. A back???? No, she said, would I like a back? It's already got stamps on the back, said I. A baaaaak? she asked again, patiently. Me - Oh, a baaaaag?! A Raffles baaaaag? Would I like a Raffles bag? You betcha I would. Just give me the baaaaag, never mind the postcard with the stamps on the baaaaak. So, thank you kind lady, I'm more thrilled with my Raffles bag than with the postcard. It's made of classy paper (no cheap plastic here!), with an embossed picture and little 'rope' handles. Indeed I haven't broken the seal (yes, they put a seal over the top of their baaaaags) to check if the card is even in there! It is wonderful.
The following day we did a city tour on one of those open topped red buses. I think these are just the best way to see a city and to get a feel for those areas you
might want to revisit on foot later. Given the space issues I thought Singapore might seem cramped and claustrophobic, a bit like Hong Kong, but that is far from the case. They have reclaimed huge amounts of land, (Beach Road is no longer anywhere near the beach) increasing the size of the main island by at least 25%, and they have put what land they have to good use with wide open spaces, many parks and public gardens and huge expanses of well planned roads. Of course, to achieve this they have built up, with the many towering buildings making for an interesting skyline with really creative architecture of mixed style and construction materials, ranging from heritage to colonial, to Art Deco to modern and futuristic, making each building unique in its own right. Nevertheless, they have made a conscious decision to preserve buildings and areas of note and the heritage, mainly two storey row houses of China Town and elsewhere. The roads run smoothly and there is a good transport system. In an attempt to limit the number of cars on the road Singapore only allows the import of as many new cars as have been decommissioned over the
same period (now there's an idea) and people must 'bid' for the right to get a new car. Cars can cost up to 3.5 times as much as elsewhere. Despite this, we were surprised at just how few bikes we saw (pushbikes, motorbikes or scooters).
Other impressions. They drive on the left. We saw no dogs and no litter. Chewing gum is not permitted anywhere in the country. There are no seats to sit on and just relax and see the world go by (a problem for a people-watcher like me). The traffic lights take just forever to change for pedestrians to cross the road (a bit of an issue for foot-weary sightseers, especially as there are no seats to rest on). They use British-style 3 pin plugs. Everyone is very stylish and there are lots of shopping malls but I did discover Bugis Market which is a wonderful street market where many of the locals, especially the young, shop. It was strange seeing them prepare for Christmas, with decorations and Christmas trees in heat and sunshine. Singapore is quite expensive, not just for visitors but for the general population too. There is a very strong, almost extreme, work
ethic. Chatting to the hotel staff, it was not uncommon for the young assistant manager to work 60 hour weeks. The chef seemed to be always on the premises. One of the young receptionists/waitresses said she had jaw ache each evening from having to smile and be pleasant so much. Singapore is a meritocracy and people are measured by their success; stress levels were very high.
There is a fine for almost everything in Singapore. Whilst the young recognise that Singapore is a safe and healthy place to live, with high standards of education and medical care, several I spoke to found the rigidity of the nanny state smothering and wanted to be more expressive and perhaps even a little rebellious (as youngsters should be). Nevertheless, we saw no policemen during our stay in Singapore. I mentioned this to the taxi driver as we were leaving and he said, quite seriously and I believe him, that there were thousands of taxi drivers who were the real policemen so a visible presence was not necessary.
On our last evening we had our meal at a local eaterie just behind Raffles Hotel. It's the closest I'll get to eating there. The food was a very tasty and filling chicken and rice dish and our two beers cost more than the meal. We watched for any visiting celebrities sneaking out the back way from Raffles but must have missed them.
Did I like Singapore? Yes, very much. It is safe, clean and interesting. Would I like to live there? No, thank you. I like a bit of civil disobedience now and again ....
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