Hong Kong has Disneyland. Singapore IS Disneyland. Like Disneyland it’s clean, well ordered, and controlled. Disney employees have to follow a strict code of behavior. It’s like everyone in Singapore is a Disney employee and is expected to follow the code of behavior. Our Captain, in his blog, put it this way:
“The Singapore populace (is) almost regimented in their behaviour, all walking the same side in each direction, a steady flow with no jostling.”
Singapore is pleasant, hassle free and easy to get around. English is the business language. Almost all signs and announcements are in English. The street food is inspected, safe, and in some “Hawkers’ Markets” even juried. The food represents the cultures of Singapore, Malay satay, Chinese dumplings, hot Indian tikka, and western cuisine. There are no worries about water or ice. You could call it “Asia for Beginners.” The main tourist show is called “Instant Asia.” The troupe performed on the ship after we were all aboard waiting for the Singapore customs to clear everyone’s passport. Ths show has dances from the dominant Singapore ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil, which, along with English are the official languages. The narration was in English.
Although much Singapore shopping is in air conditioned malls with fixed prices, visitors can get some sense of the exotic in the shops. The People’s Park Mall in Chinatown mostly filled with non-western brands and food. You can find exotic little shops with stuff you can’t get in Kansas. You might also find some brands that you may find offensive, like “Darkie” toothpaste. It was a big selling brand in Taiwan 50 years ago when were students there and is still the least expensive toothpaste with the biggest displays in shops catering to the Chinese today.
Bargaining is not completely dead. I went into a camera shop to buy lens cleaner. The shopkeeper saw my camera and offered me a lens for it. It’s a lens I would use. The price on the box was 1,995 Singapore dollars. I didn’t know the brand, had not read reviews, and didn’t know what it would cost on line so I kept saying no. During the course of the bargaining he put the lens on the camera, took pictures, and showed me its capabilities (see above). By the time we were done he had the price down to Singapore $395 and he would throw in a camera bag. I didn’t buy it, which I may regret once I read reviews and compare prices. But, for me, it was too much of a risk. Perhaps he had it in stock, it just didn’t sell, and he wanted to clear it. It may also be that it is not a good, robust, lens.
Mass transit is clean, fast and remarkably un-bone crushing. Even during standing room only rush hour on the air conditioned SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transit) you risk the danger of falling over during turns because, unlike Hong Kong, you are not crushed against your neighbor. There are signs all over the metro urging politeness with a series of cartoon characters. Standup Stacy always offers her seat to someone who needs it. Move in Marvin never stands in the doorway. Bags Down Benny always puts his bag on the relatively clean (chewing gum is banned in Singapore) floor and not on a seat. You get a notice warning you not to carry contraband, including chewing gum off the ship.
We saw none of the belching Jeepneys from Manila or noisy and smelly motor bikes from Saigon. Singapore’s views on electric cars are evolving. They don’t emit pollution but they do use electricity, which is generated by carbon fuels. Ninety five per-cent of Singapore’s electricity is generated by natural gas burning plants, clean but still carbon based. Since so much LNG travels through the Malacca Straits Singapore is on the supply line. Four percent of Singapore’s electricity is generated as a byproduct of waste incineration. There is one solar plant.
Suzi and I had a wonderful two days walking, walking and walking through Singapore. We walked through the old Colonial district, with many of the buildings repurposed for the arts, through Little India,
Chinatown, the new reclaimed land around Marina Bay, Sentosa Island, Tiger Balm Gardens. And, of course we had Satay in one of the outdoor “Hawkers’ Markets.” We were in Singapore 30 years ago on a getaway from work and the kids, and loved it so much that be brought the kids with us a year later.
We looked for many of our haunts. Some are still there, some have utterly changed. Raffles Hotel is “under wraps.” Renovation is underway and the cloth covering around the hotel is really a giant scrim with the image of the hotel. From a distance it looks like Raffles.
The City Hall and Court buildings are a giant art gallery, connected by a striking modern glass and metal structure. The old parliament is an arts center.
Our favorite hawkers’ market and the Merlion, the iconic symbol of Singapore, are not where we left them. But we did find enough old to remind us where we had been, including the, then, very modern 80 story hotel that was sharply discounting rates because it was new and, at the time, Singapore had overbuilt hotel rooms. Now we can hardly afford to go into the lobby let alone score a room with a commanding view, although there are higher buildings in Singapore now.
There are only three ports on this cruise where we have set foot. San Juan, at the end hardly counts because we were there for 8 hours on a cruise more than 40 years ago. Hong Kong and Singapore are both places where we have spent some time. Most of this cruise has been exploring the new. Hong Kong and Singapore allowed us to combine discovery with memory.