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Singapore Surprises

SINGAPORE | Wednesday, 14 August 2013 | Views [1754]

Merlion - Singapore's emblem

Merlion - Singapore's emblem

It's quite staggering what you can pack into just under 700km2. How about 5.5m people, skyscrapers of all descriptions, parks, attractions and of course sufficient living space. Welcome to Singapore - island, city and state. A fusion of nationalities living together, united in creating a better life.

I arrive on the eve of the 48th National Day celebrations in the metropolis that is Singapore. Skyscrapers at every turn, an efficient road network, shopping malls with every conceivable brand that ever made it big whatever it's country of origin, an enviable rail system, streets flooded with pavement restaurants and not forgetting parks and green spaces. This is not a city that has been thrown together in a haphazard manner. The key to Singapore's success lies in its planning and behind that is its philosophy of creating a better life for all it's citizens.

I am not overly fond of big cities as a rule but it is fascinating watching this one operate. It should be dirty with so many people & cars confined to such a small place but it is not. One should feel lost in a concrete jungle but greenery abounds - from roadsides to balconies and roof tops. There is no getting away from being jostled but even then queues are formed and respected. If you have ever admired the ingenuity of a tall and impressive termite mound, then you have had a glimpse of Singapore. Capitalism is king here, but no-one is forgotten. I marvel how the island has not sunk under the weight of commerce and concrete and yet as the days roll on I find that I cannot help but be impressed.

Perhaps the pinnacle icon of success here is the strangest building I have ever seen. Three skyscrapers joined together by what looks like a cruise ship washed ashore on top of them. To be truly impressed and for info on Marina Bay Sands see http://www.businessinsider.com/take-a-look-at-singapores-swankiest-infinity-pool-2010-7?op=1 For those of more modest means there are the botanical gardens and the island's playground Sentosa. Linked by a free monorail service or boardwalk, the attraction entry fee costs just S$1 and gives use of beaches and childrens' play areas. Also inside are paying adventures which range from Universal Studios to the zoo. It is easy to spend an entire day here, which I did, taking the cable car back. There is a surprising amount to see and do in Singapore and after inadvertently eating buckwheat and putting myself out of action for a day, I know I will be leaving with much left unseen.

I read about a newish concept called 'pods' which are designed to give you more quiet and privacy at your hostel and so I decide to give it a go. The reality, it strikes me, is more of a marketing concept designed to make people think that jamming you into smaller spaces with panels around them is cool. It is not, it is simply a means to get more people into under sized rooms! Our cabin (8 bunks in a shoebox) has no window and air conditioning that magically turns itself off, having gone to the trouble to get someone to put it in for you in the first place! It's ok as hostels go, just please don't try fooling people into believing its for their benefit! The location is great, neighbouring Bugis MRT, it is easy to get anywhere, even the airport.

Feeling slightly overwhelmed after the simplicity of life in southern Thailand, I go in search of dinner. Many restaurants literally have queues outside but looking at what they are serving, I have no idea of what to order. I settle for familiarity in a Thai restaurant. Every new destination takes a while to adjust to. Each creates a sensory explosion in its uniqueness and foreignness and travelling alone seems to intensify the experience. Chatting to the waiter about the delights of Thai food he puts his hand out and asks if he may clear. I didn't catch what he said and was about to shake his hand, realising at the last moment and hastily rearranging my fork to cover my near gaffe.

The National Day slogan is 'Many people, one Singapore'. I wonder how this can work so well here and still allow for such a strong sense of national identity. Trying to draw comparison to Bangkok, I can find very few similarities. Clean, efficient, ordered and well maintained there are many lessons that can be learned by many other countries worldwide. The fabulous rail system with its reusable ticket for which you pay a 10c deposit that is refunded on the third use and a 10c discount for reusing your card on the sixth and final use. A queuing system which London's tube system would certainly benefit from. These are the little things that make everyday life here more pleasant. Despite this I am unable to get my computer fixed in the timescale I have - given the national holiday. Ants in Koh Lanta invaded the internals and I am still unsure exactly what the damage is. I have never in all my travels heard of ants eating computers, and getting into two bags to do so. Blogging is now a painfully slow and frustrating process on my iPhone which entails losing information and having to start again. Bear with me if I lose the flow!

There were so many impressions that Singapore left on me that I have yet to tell you what I actually did there....

Tags: asia, backpacking, capitalism, island. merlion, marina bay sands, pods, sentosa, singapore

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