Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Singapore

We started our day in Singapore early and full of excitement. First we drove up the 100-meter Mount Faber for a view over the city. As we walked to the summit we passed people doing their morning tai chi or sitting cross-legged meditating. It was a serene spot with lots of colourful flowering plants. We looked over a sea of high rise apartment buildings and brand new futuristic condominiums worth millions and millions of dollars.

As we drove to our next stop, we were impressed by the roadways, wide and landscaped. It is easy to see that urban planning is very important here. Although high rise buildings are everywhere there is lots of green space. Our walk through the National Orchid Gardens, where over 700 species were on display, was truly amazing. This is the largest display of orchids in the world and the colours are magnificent. When VIPs visit an orchid is named after them. Our guide kept asking everyone if they had seen Margaret Thatcher but she was a bit out of bloom at the moment. Preparations were underway for Chinese New Year with lots of kumquat bushes everywhere. At the end of our journey it was fun to watch several groups of really well behaved school children lining up to enter the orchid display.


We were immediately aware of an orderliness everywhere. The housing for 85 per cent of the population is subsidized, and some people pay as little as $30 a month for a studio. These subsidized buildings will have the same ratio of Chinese, Hindus and Malaysians reflecting the population as a whole. As people move in and out of the buildings the ratios are maintained. Two of these large housing blocks will have their own green space, medical facilities and food courts, where you can pay a couple of dollars for a good meal.
There are five main religions in Singapore and no others are recognized: Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christianity and Taoism. The religion you are born into is the religion you die with; you can't change religions.

Buying a car is an expensive proposition. First you have to pay the government $80,000 to get a ticket to buy a car that may cost $70,000. This can last you ten years before the cycle starts again.
Everything in Singapore is quite compact and soon we were in the old colonial district, established by Sir Stamford Raffles. The old buildings are well preserved but haven different uses today. One is being renovated and will soon become a world class art gallery. The steps where the Japanese surrendered to Lord Mountbatten are part of this building. Looking across the river from Raffles statue were the old merchants' houses. Of course the more prosperous you were the higher your house. These buildings were dwarfed by the five major bank buildings behind them. In Singapore there is always a mixture of the old and the new. We passed by a huge park containing the bones of 40,000 Chinese killed by the Japanese in World War Two.
As you will know Singapore was invaded by the Japanese in 1941. They surprised the British by coming overland, many on bicycles. The British officers were imprisoned in the local Changi prison. Singapore became independent in 1963 and almost immediately became part of Malaysia. In 1965 they once again became independent from Malaysia.

Red lanterns were everywhere as Singapore was being decorated for the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Goat. We visited the Thian Hock Kheng Temple, originally set up as a joss house by immigrants from China in gratitude for their safe arrival after long sea voyages. Now it is known as the "Temple of Heavenly Happiness." We had to step over a very high threshold, and "leave our troubles behind us". There were people coming to the different shrines to pray to the deities and to get answers to their questions. This was done by lighting five joss sticks and shaking them. Then there was a complex system of exchanging the joss for a stone and then another step in which the stone was exchanged for an answer of Yes, No, or Not now. Urns for the deceased were placed in cabinets. Prayers and offerings of food were made to the dead. To have a priest offer daily prayers for an ancestor costs at least $5,000.
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After visiting a huge mall totally dedicated to everything electronic, it was time for lunch. Usually, we are quite adventurous when it comes to eating but we decided to give the chicken feet a miss and opted for a sandwich and salad instead.

Now it was time to visit Raffles for a Singapore Sling. The old colonial hotel has grown from the original ten rooms to over a hundred suites costing $1000 per night. We headed for the Long Bar and ordered our drinks. Seamus had the original Singapore Sling with a gin base, while I had an Autumn Sling that was vodka based along with a lot of other liqueurs and some blackberries. It was very good, as it should be at $28 a drink!

We have some old friends who live in Singapore and after meeting up with them we went to their house for dinner. They live in a unique development of garden homes that were once owned by British officers. The bungalow homes have the traditional black and white colour and a garden in the front and a strip of a garden in the back. Some of the houses in the area have been torn down and replaced with much larger homes. This smallish house rented for $4,000 a month. We stopped at a little supermarket on the way and found products from all over the world but things were very expensive because absolutely everything is imported.

After a very long visit we took a taxi back to our ship. The taxi driver had worked for an American company before retiring. Boredom set in and he took up taxi driving. He was very friendly and we didn't object when he insisted on taking the scenic route back to our ship, We saw lanterns lit for the New Year, the exclusive Orchard Road shopping area, six-star hotels, the waterfront and the casino. Singapore is still vibrant at one in the morning.


Our next day was filled with a shopping expedition to a nearby mall for a few necessaries to see out our trip. It seems there are malls everywhere. Our goal, as it seems to be everywhere, was to visit a Marks and Spencer's but it was outrageously expensive. H&M was much better. Generally everything was more expensive than we were used to.

Singapore is definitely somewhere to come back to. It is a beautiful, exciting city and we were sad to leave.

 

 

 

 

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