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Published: December 28th 2009
Our room at the St. Regis
One side of our immigration card reads:
"Welcome to Singapore!"
The other side reads (in red):
"WARNING. DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW."
This explains the dealth penalty part (and we'll tell you more about Singapore's other interesting laws and penalties shortly) but what about the Disneyland part?
First, we'll say that we really like Singapore. It is so clean. And efficient. And organzied. And civilized. And safe. In short, it's everything that Hanoi is not.
Second, like Disney, it is expensive. Think New York or London. A big shock after spending much of the past two months in countries where the U.S. dollar is still somewhat valuable.
Singapore has a fascinating history which explains, in part, why it is such an anomaly: the only first-world country in the region.
It all started back in 1819 with our colonizing friends, the British. The wildly successful East India Company (a British trading company) needed a halfway point for its ships that sailed the India to China route. The East India Company initially focused their attention on the mainland area north of Singapore - known today as Malaysia. However, in 1819, Stamford Raffles (the British lieutenant-governor
The bathroom was amazing. Heated mirrors. Spa type shower. Tub with plasma tv.
of Java) landed in Singapore with an expansionist itch and established a trading post. When Mr. Raffles arrived Singapore was nothing more than a swamp surrounded by dense jungle and populated by a few hundred Malay fisherman and a handful of Chinese farmers. Not the obvious place to start a settlement but it turns out that the Dutch were also interested in Singapore's natural harbor. Through some savvy political maneuvers, Raffles secured Singapore for Britain in 1824. Quite the visionary, Raffles convinced the British government of Singapore's strategic potential in terms of a trading post/shipping center - it sits at the very bottom of the Malaysian peninsula; a perfect stop off point along the east/west trade routes. He turned out to be right.
The British worked their usual urban-planning magic and quickly built a road network and expanded the port. As a free-trade hub, activity in the area increased significantly, as did the population. Over the next 120 years, Singapore grew to become one of the most important military and commercial centers in the region.
The Japanese invaded Singapore in February 1942 and for a few years brutalized the locals. At the end of WWII, Singapore was once
Entertainment system at the St. Regis which included a BOSE surround sound system. The room was wired so we could listen to our I-pods
again managed by the British. While most of the British colonies sought independence in the 1950s Singapore was more or less controlled by the British until 1963 when it briefly became a part of the newly-formed Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore became its own independent, albeit small, country.
In 1965, shipping was THE industry in Singapore but without the protection of the British and with few natural resources future prosperity was uncertain. Enter Lee Kuan Yew, a Cambridge-educated lawyer and leader of the socialist People's Action Party. Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore's first prime minister - and held that post for the next 31 years. Under his rule, Singapore grew from a third-world city with a well-located port into a first-world industralized commercial center. At first, Singapore recruited manufacturing and heavy industry but more recently has attracted companies in information technology and biotech manufacturing (Genentech even has a manufacturing site in Singapore). Today Singapore is a major business center along the lines of New York, London and Hong Kong. Lee Kuan Yew's oldest son is now prime minister but he remains highly influential in his current role of "Minister Mentor.
Having virtually no political competition (the PAP was, and
Resting in the lobby.
still is, the only political party in the country), Mr. Lee was able to push through much-needed social and economic programs to realize his utopian vision. The price that the Singaporeans (~75% Chinese, 15% Malays, 10% Indian) pay is reduced freedom. Freedom of speech is limited and detailed codes of behavior that most city dwellers would find laughable, are strictly adhered to in Singapore. Rules govern smoking, chewing gum (more on this tomorrow), crossing the street, wearing seat belts, vandalism, flushing toilets, public displays of affection and, of course, drugs.
We have to say, we like the end result.
We woke up late today (blackout shades certainly help with that) and called our butler, Willmor, who very graciously delivered two nonfat lattes (one of the St. Regis's many complimentary perks) while we read the paper and watched TV. We briefly reviewed our "pillow menu" (over 15 types of pillows are offered by the St. Regis including "neck roll, U shape, firm feather, soft feather, tatami, buckwheat" and a spectrum of non-allergenics) before deciding that the ones already on the bed were perfect.
We spent the morning exploring Orchard Road, the main shopping street in Singapore. Orchard Road was all decked out in its Christmas splendor. Some streets were themed in red and gold, others in blue and white. Christmas music seemed to be piped in from some external radio. We were deliriously happy with the fine walking in Singapore - wide sidewalks, smooth pavement, and regular cross walks.
Orchard Road is lined with malls, all packed with recognizable brand name stores that cover the spectrum of quality, price and snob factor, from the Gap and Borders to Chanel and Gucci. Cafes and eateries are everywhere. Singaporeans are serious about their food. We had breakfast at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, sitting on the squeaky clean patio under a protective awning, watching the parade of shoppers. The weather in Singapore is a steady 90F with high humidity and frequent rain showers. Since our plan for the day is to relax we don't mind the heat and humidity.
After a wander through a huge Borders bookstore (with a few shocks to the system when we found that most best seller books cost over $20 US and the Lonely Planet Australia book cost over $40), we made our way back to the St. Regis to check email and update the blog in the business center. The business center has three computer terminals, including one Mac, and both internet access and printing services are free. Another reason we love this hotel! While we typed away in the business center, a group of carolers sang familiar tunes in the lobby. Christmas season has arrived.
We attended the hotel's complimentary wine tasting at 6pm in the bar. The three generous pours of wine are accompanied by cheese, crackers and dried fruits and, around 7pm, the wonderful servers brought around little (still complimentary) dim sum plates.
By 8pm we were full and feeling a bit tired. The spa was beckoning and we enjoyed the dry and steam saunas, hot tubs and a particularly lovely "sensory room" - where you sit on overstuffed leather chairs and watch tropical fish glide around a large fish tank. This really is the most extraordinary hotel.
Tot: 0.082s; Tpl: 0.045s; cc: 8; qc: 26; dbt: 0.0157s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.2mb