Singapore is the cleanest, most organized city that I've ever experienced! That's thanks to the government and their excessive system of fining people for anything and everything. If you're caught chewing gum you're fined. If you're caught jaywalking, you're fined. If you're smoking outside of the yellow box at the bar, you're fined. If you bring a Durian (the world's stinkiest fruit) on a bus or subway (the super-efficient MRT), you're fined. I can understand that the locals are really tired of so much regulation and restriction, but the result is a really clean, orderly city that is free of chaos and stress. It's the most peaceful and calm big city I've ever visited! The MRT is never crowded, the buses all look like they just rolled off the showroom floor, and everything runs on schedule like clockwork! Even Little India and Chinatown are clean, organized, and calm! Little India?!? Chinatown?!? This is truly a unique place!
Singapore is in a stage of transition. They are one of the wealthiest countries in South East Asia, but manufacturing which used to happen in Singapore has moved to other countries with cheaper labor costs, so Singapore is re-inventing itself to try to maintain its healthy economy and prosperity. The island of Singapore was established originally as a port and manufacturing city. It has many dutch and british influences, especially visible in the architecture. Many men migrated there from surrounding countries (China, Malaysia, India) seeking work. As a result, around the turn of the 20th century, the ratio of Men to Women in Singapore was 10:1! With a gigantic bachelor population, there was a need to feed everyone on the street, so hawker stalls set up shop. But the president was not happy about the chaos that could potentially ensue (and does in most other southeast asian countries) with stalls and stands up and down every street, so he organized huge hawker centers and moved all the food vendors to centralized locations where things could be kept clean and organized and under control. Today these hawker centers still exist, and they are still turning out delicious Singaporean food at bargain prices. I sampled Nasi Lemak, Laksa (one of my favorites!), Satay, and many other Indian, Malay, and Singaporean dishes. Most are an interesting blend of Chinese, Indian, and Malay culinary traditions. While in Singapore, Ray and I also tried some new fruits that neither of us had ever seen before: Durians (the spikey so-called “King of Fruits,” which resemble chicken organs inside (see the accompanying picture...Ray's face says it all!) and taste just as foul as they smell...despite what the vendors try to tell you, Rambutans (which look like aliens but taste pretty good), Dragonfruit (which are also very colorful...the ones that are hot pink inside are nice, but the ones that are white inside have almost no flavor whatsoever), and Mangosteens (which are dark purple on the outside with white, mushy sections on the inside...they are pretty good).
I went out to try to find some live music on Friday night with a guy named Chris who was staying at our hostel. He was on his way home to England after living in Australia and NZ for 2 years. We went to an Australian pub called “The Prince of Whales” only to find out that the live band was awful and loud, so we sat outside in the garden. We met two locals: Chris (a girl) and Dong who were very entertaining and told us all about their place. Dong has some interesting ideas that he pitched to us, including a vending machine that sells emotions. It was fun to get their perspective on life. The next day Ray took off for Malaysia, but I was having a good time and wanted to see more of Singapore. We had mainly wandered around Little India and East Coast Road, where we were staying at the time. After Ray left, Chris and I checked ouy Changi Villiage (where they serve up the best Laksa!) and Ubin Island (just off the coast of Singapore). We took a bum-bum boat out to the island, and rented bicycles once we arrived. The island is pretty and remains the way Singapore was before the high-rises and sky-scrapers took over downtown. In fact, Ubin island resembles Majuro in many ways (though it is bigger). The next night I shifted to the Chinatown branch of the same hostel, which was a great way to see a different part of the city. I met two English backpackers (Simon and Geoff) who ended up on the same train to Kuala Lumpur later that week, and Maria, a pretty, young Filipina who manages the Chinatown hostel. On Sunday I took the MRT to church and then went out walking at Bukit Timah nature reserve nearby. It is the last patch of primary rainforest left in Singapore, and it's a beautiful green space to visit. They have lots of gutsy Macaque Monkeys and great views of the city from the top of the hill. It is such a unique and beautiful contrast to look through the lush jungle onto the skyscrapers below. There were many cute families out spending time together on Sunday afternoon, which was fun to watch. This family togetherness is something I really like about South East Asian culture.
At church I heard a name announced that sounded familiar. I recognized it was a friend of a fried of mine who grew up in London but now lives in Singapore and teaches English to Chinese and Vietnamese students preparing to attend University in English, so I emailed him and he invited me to visit his class the next day. It was a lot of fun and his students were so sweet. I just love being in class with students, and his were a really wonderful group. After class we went out to lunch with a few of them and got to know them better. After class I wandered to the one part of Singapore that I had not yet seen: the Colonial district. When I passed by the Parliament building, there was a group of traditional dancers in white performing outside. It was a beautiful sight! I went up to the “Fountain of Wealth,” which is the largest fountain in the world. They have a free water and lights show at dusk, so I went to check it out. People believe that if you circle the fountain 3 times while touching the water, you'll accumulate greater wealth. It has been commercialized and when they had “water touching time and started playing the song, “Some People Wait a Lifetime, for a moment like this...some people search forever, for a moment like this,” I was so disgusted that I almost picked up and left. But then they put on an equally cheesy, yet less superstitious Celine Dion song and I'm glad I stayed because the light show was nice. On the walk back home I stopped by the famous Merlion statue on the Esplanade and took a few pictures. It was a beautiful view with the lights of the city behind. I walked by Clark Quay (another beautiful, lit up area) and back to Chinatown and then to the train station. I had such a lovely time! I'll definitely be back to Singapore!