Leaving the Asian tiger city

Trip Start Jul 02, 2004
Trip End Sep 10, 2004

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Tuesday, August 3, 2004

As the next major airport hub of Asia, Singapore has got a long way to go to make it really attractive to all types of tourists and ex-patriot workers. It's an amazing city in it's own right, clean, efficient, safe, cheap to get around although the government does extend a very large influence over it's citizens in their everyday life.

So what happened in Singapore? Well the answer is nothing! Singapore is very quiet and conservative and the average 18-25 year old tourist would be hard pressed to find things to do during the day and keep themselves occupied. However, that's no reflection on how well I was looked after by my friend's family there. They took care of my every need and treated me so well there. I owe them a big thanks for their work to look after me.

Singapore is a fine city to live, work, shop and eat. The latter two being commonplace activities. The city is literally a shopping capital of the world, there are shops everywhere. Orchard Road is the equivalent of Oxford Street in London and lacks the busy crowds and shops on every square inch but it makes up for it with ultra-stylish shopping malls and arcades. The prices are good too. All tourists get tax free shopping, which equates to a measly 5% refund at the airport but if you're buying expensive electronics, the incentive is there.

Singapore is an ex-British colony and the identity of it' first governor, Sir Stanford Raffles is stamped everywhere on the city in the name of high-class service and standards. The Raffles Hotel charges something like $3000 a night, it's restaurants are some of the best in the world and even it's schools are impressive. All named after Raffles.

Eating out
Food is another draw of the city. If you can't find a shop, you'll find a food stall (or hawker stall) or restaurant selling all means of Chinese, Indian, fast food and local cuisine. And it's all pretty cheap. The government even rates the restaurants on their cleanliness and gives them a poster to display with a big letter 'A' for the best rating and 'C' for the poorest rating.

I think the best eating out experience I had was with Gaarda (my friend's cousin) and Krishna when we went to a street near Tanjong Pagha station which is a normal street by day but closed in the evening and filled with tables, chairs and stalls selling all types of Singaporian food. The selection you get is random, it just depends which stall vendor visits you first with their laminated menus. This street I was on was nearly 50metres long and there were even more restaurants in the enclosed areas nearby!

Another one was the 'Lok Lok' stall that the IEE took me out to visit on my last night there. This was at the back of the 'Le Meridian' hotel and you basically select your food raw which is on a skewer. The way it is cooked is that it's either put on a plate for the chef to grill and bought to you or you place it in a big pot of boiling water on your table! Really original by European standards, if I could set up a restaurant in London like this, I'd do it.

Singapore has the biggest range of electronics shops I've ever seen! They're third to fashion shops and restaurants with the number there are on the streets. They're filled to the brim with gadgets and consumer electronics: camera, MP3 players, DVD players, mobile phones, watches (fake and real), and more. The best place I went to was the 'Sim Lim' centre which is a shopping mall filled with electronics shops. 7 floors of shops and stalls selling nothing but electronics!

The rule of the law - it's a fine city
Singapore is a fine city! Which means that you can get fined for pretty much anything here if it seems to be a bit dodgy. The most famous fine is for chewing gum which is banned in Singapore. I saw people chewing it though, but they made it so blatantly obvious they were chewing gum it was just funny to look at. I think its seen as being rebellious there to chew gum so people draw attention to themselves to show off! Not surprising given the type of people there.

Eating, drinking or doing anything on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)/Tube system incurs a heavy fine. Even taking a takeaway cup of Starbucks coffee on there is seen as being rebellious too, even if you're not going to drink it! It's a bit strange really, the rule is there to stop people messing up the MRT with food and drink. No problems there really but how come you can bring food and drink onto the MRT but not consume it. Surely if I had a cup of coffee in my hand and the train bolted, I could drop it and still make a mess. But there's no rule to say you can't bring food and drink onto the MRT in the first place ;-)

Everywhere I went, I saw signs saying "Don't do this", "Fine for doing something else", "Don't walk here". It's a really restrictive society and even things such as driving are heavily regulated. In the UK we take for granted the right to drive a car. In Singapore, you don't have the right to drive a car, even if you can afford it with the really steep duty on cars there. You have to bid for a "Permit to drive" once you have your license. These are issued monthly based on how many cars are scrapped the previous month. So the more people that want to start driving that month, the more your permit costs!

Singaporians are rude
There's no such thing as good service in Singapore. It's one thing the place lacks from when the British colonised the island. I went to many shops looking for things to buy and got a dull response from the customer assistants. They just aren't bothered about being nice and I think it costs money for them to smile at you because most of them just can't do it!

London has a long established custom of letting people off the Tube first before boarding a carriage. It's practical and helps to speed things along. So in Singapore, why to people insist on trying to sneek a place to stand at the entrance to a carriage when everyone is leaving?!!!!! It's so frustrating when you got 25 people behind you pushing to get off the train and then one little Singaporian with their head down trying to get on the train in front of you. I had to give them a shove out of the way as a last resort before hitting them for their own safety!

Attraction of Singapore
Whilst I was there, I went to see the Singapore Science Centre and IMAX theatre, Night Safari (which was actually quite amazing) and the Sentosa amusement island. The Night Safari was really impressive since it takes place at night in Singapore zoo and impressively, the animal keepers manage to coax the animals out of their habitats into the main areas of the park where the zoo tram runs through so you're guaranteed to see something. For the first time in my life, I saw a Rhinoceros (which are nearly extinct in the wild), and amongst others, Giraffes, Elephant, Ox, Lions and all manner of local beasts and animals including an Asian Tiger.

Sentosa is a reclaimed island that has been turned into an amusement park. It's a bit desolate in places but still a major tourist magnet. Me, Gaarda and Ahmed went around the park and saw pretty much everything. The worst being 'Volcano Island' that was just plain boring. We waited for ages to get in (we were one of 10 people there at the time) and then we walked around the recreation of the inside of a mined volcano where a famous explorer once lived(!). Then it lead to an auditorium where we all though we'd see some live dancing or something interesting. It turned out to be the most amazing and tedious mechanised history of volcanoes ever! There were no people involved, and machines just chugged along to recreate a lava flow, volcano spirit and projector screen zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The 'Underwater World' was packed, probably because it was the most interesting attraction. The main bit of it being an underwater walkway and travelator that takes you inside a massive water tank filled with all types of fish. Sting rays, Sharks, large fish that were the size of a small child and tiny minnews all swam around the tank whilst people inside just stood on the moving walkway and flashed away at their cameras! This had an attraction that led onto the Dolphin World where we saw Pink Dolphins, yes they were pink!

The best one was the fountain show. Just have a look at the pictures to see what happened, it was amazing. Projector, pyrotechnics, an excellent animation set and laser beams all combined to form a huge show in the dark. It was a really good round off to the evening.
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