A friend of a friend is off to Singapore soon and I thought I’d share some of my observations about that city-state:
“It’ll be lovely when it’s finished,” a friend of mine commented. She was talking about Singapore. Not a particular building in Singapore – but the whole, entire city-state. Singapore feels like a building site. Apparently, it’s part of their economic strategy – tear down perfectly good structures and erect other, perfectly good structures in their place. It seems to be working – Singapore has avoided the brunt of the global recession that is enveloping the rest of us.
That aside, Singapore is probably the best place to start your Asian tour. It is familiar enough – everyone speaks a sort of English – that you don’t feel totally overwhelmed. Yet foreign enough to make you feel like you have travelled half-way around the world – which you have.
Its an excellent springboard to countries such as Malaysia – which is just a hop skip and a jump down the road (Bukit Timah Road) and over the Causeway. The Indonesian islands of Bintan and Batam are just short boat rides away.
Singapore is a city that is constantly celebrating. The mix of cultures and religions means that there is always an excuse to get dressed up and overeat! All the major festivals of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm. Lunar New Year (known as ‘Chinese’ New Year in Singapore) falls in January or February, which is followed shortly afterwards by Valentine’s Day. Since the early years of this century, St. Patrick’s Day, in March, has joined the calendar of events in Singapore.
Given that eating is a national past-time – with every cuisine in the world available in the city-state – it will come as no surprise that there is a ‘Food Festival’ in Singapore in July. So no matter what time of the year you go, you can be sure that you will bear witness to a cultural celebration which will remain with you forever.
The climate of Singapore is tropical and humid – the country is just one degree north of the equator – so there will be no huge difference in the weather no matter what time of the year you visit. If the heat and being permanently damp from the humidity gets to you, it’s easy to nip into an air-conditioned shopping mall to cool down. Shopping is the other national past-time in Singapore, so there are malls littered all over. Conveniently, most MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) stations have shopping malls built over them.
Speaking of the MRT, it is a fantastic mode of transport. Clean, efficient and ultra-modern, the MRT criss-crosses the island and is a very cheap way to get around.
Unlike most countries that have a predominately Chinese population, Singapore has a designated Chinatown. It is well worth a visit as a one-stop area for all things Chinese – including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is fully regulated in Singapore.
My favourite place in Singapore, however, is Little India. Turning the corner from Jalan Besar (literally ‘Big Road’ in Malay), is like being instantly transported to India. The sights, sounds, smells (and driving!) are just like you’d find in any town in Tamil Nadu! The Indians in Singapore are predominately Tamilian, which is why Tamil is one of the country’s four national languages.
The other ethnic enclave of Singapore is ‘Kampong Glam’ – where the Malay culture is on colourful display – while Holland Village was, historically, where the Europeans shopped. The best bakery in Singapore can be found here, just behind Cold Storage Jelita. It is called ‘Petit Provence’ and has the most amazing cinnamon rolls you will ever eat. In Singapore, such an item is called a ‘die, die, must try’ piece. So don’t be alarmed when you hear that phrase during your visit.
So that’s the good (or some of it). Watch out for my next post, when I’ll tell you a bit about some of the bad.