Not had chance to blog much lately but thought I’d just blog about my first real break, a long weekend in Singapore. I was not going with many expectations. I had been trying to visit there for some years since my nephew, M went to work there but somehow timetables never aligned and he has moved on. My daughter H has been and enjoyed it so sensing a chance for a weekend away I booked the trip.
First impressions are threefold: hot and humid; expensive; but pleasantly calming, welcoming and safe. The weather certainly reminded me of summer in Hong Kong though I believe it is similar all the year round there. It was bearable but I made liberal use of the respite of air conditioning which reminded me of my early July trips to HK. The rain though was something else. I only experienced one major down pour but you can see the
need for the drainage gulleys featuring everywhere I went in the centre. Out of nowhere it built up quickly and the downpour was fierce. Just as quickly though it ended too.
Despite the weather I did a fair amount of walking the streets on day one and found it a very neatly constructed and ordered city. Clearly they have actually cleared away a lot of the history and a lot of the slum areas and replaced them with high-rise apartments to live in. The end result is everywhere is clean and there is a uniformity about the look of the place (added to by the fact that 280 ft is the highest they can build) so even the building are similar heights and a replacement of new for old. So the Clark Quay and Boat Quay areas in the centre showed a neatly re-designed river flowing through with well presented new buildings. This perhaps gave it a less cosy feel than most big cities but the end product appears to be a good piece of social engineering. I got the impression, and I was only there 3 days that they make positive attempts to celebrate their history including their colonial past. Much was made on the tours of the combined efforts to create a multicultural society composed of the majority Chinese but inclusive of Indian, Malay (the original occupants) and Europeans. I was not there long enough to test whether this presentation was surface or genuine. I would like to know more.
The old colonial areas had been incorporated with the centrepiece of the Raffle Hotel and other monuments to their founder Sir Samuel Raffles. No attempt really to hide from this colonial backdrop. Somewhat oddly but from my perspective gave me a quiet smile and something to watch for a short while, Singapore Cricket Club dominated the central area around which the city and municipal halls and other buildings were situated. Unlike in Hong Kong, when they rebuilt Central, the cricket ground was relocated here it seems there to stay. Not a pretty ground (two pitches in fact) but what looked like a decent standard of play in the game I observed.
I went on two tours which gave me a look at some of the key historic areas such as Little India and Chinatown and also went to Sentosa via cable car and enjoyed the history of Singapore museum there. A brief trip down Orchard Road which felt like Hong Kong at its worst with the shopping malls being just too much for me. I did manage to find a bar to watch the cricket and to spend 9 hours drinking expensive beer and watching England’s sad if inevitable exit from the World Cup.
The expense in certain areas was more pronounced than HK. Alcohol was routinely expensive the lowest prices being around a fiver for a pint of lager but going upwards from that. Food seemed expensive too but I tended to snack more than spend a lot of money there. Accommodation though nice was not cheap either.
Highlights for me of the visit was the Singapore Museum about its history and my talk to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports where they made me feel very welcome. I missed a river boat trip which I could not arrange in the space and also the Singapore Flyer (their answer to the London Eye) was shut for repair during my visit. But I went up to the 52 second floor of their new Marina Basin Hotel and saw the swimming pool featured I think in adverts for Singapore airlines. (see pic).
Unfortunately despite it being oppressive hot up there I was not a hotel guest so could not jump in.
People were friendly and the country is certainly safe. It was actually quiet on the streets most of the time. Maybe people travel by bus, MRT or taxi both of which were cheap in comparison to consumer goods I mentioned earlier. The city centre had a feel of Hong Kong but a little more stretched out with boulevard type roads and a greater sense of space. I would have liked to have explored inland but there was limited time. It is safe because it has very strict laws I believe and I was careful not to litter, chew gum, fart or cause any kind of scene for fear of their notoriously strict interpretation of the law. Having said that I saw little evidence of the police in my meanderings.
An enjoyable trip and one which I would repeat. There feels like more to see and a refreshing break too. Finally my kaleidoscope of Singapore.