05.04.2014

SINGAPORE: A CITY-STATE

SINGAPORE: A CITY-STATE, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 05.04.2014

We’d assumed that Singapore would be a bit too small of city, and as a result we’d kept postponing our trip there for quite some time. Finally we decided to combine our trip to Singapore with a visit to Kuala Lumpur and this decision in particular was one we certainly never came to regret!

Singapore is an interesting destination given that it’s both a city and a country. It’s like Hong Kong. Or Monaco... It’s got both the West and the East… It’s a modern and economically developed city within the mystic atmosphere of the Far East and an equatorial climate. People here are sophisticated, educated and kind. It’s also one of the biggest commercial centers of the region… Because of all these qualities, many Europeans, Americans, Chinese and people of all nationalities have made Singapore their home. They’ve all come here either to work or study and decided to finally to settle down. The administration of the country is interesting too since they are a republic but it is an autonomous city-state as well. The law provides Singapore’s citizens with several privileges such as tax exemptions in commerce which don’t apply to non-citizens, which are all special privileges to those that are citizens. They also happen to have very interesting social laws too. Chewing gum in public is illegal, and I think it’s forbidden both to keep up levels of respect and cleanliness in the city, especially since it’s considered disrespectful to chew gum when with others are around in many Far Eastern countries. Singapore is also spotlessly clean. Some other Asian cities feature regions a little dirtier and run-down, but there’s none of that in Singapore. Instead, imagine a rich and modern country sprawling out before your eyes.

We were greeted by a modern-looking, well designed airport when we landed in Singapore. We finally felt that we’d arrived in an equatorial country after leaving the air-conditioned airport to be hit in the face with the hot and humid air of Singapore.

Our hotel was at center of the city on Bugis Street. This elite and vivid district jam-packed with the life of the city was a place I couldn’t really have enjoyed more. It’s very close to the famous Esplanade Theatre: central and within walking distance of the major tourist attractions. It also has a complex called Bugis Junction that’s open late night with shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and a subway station. Our hotel was right across from it and we had a great time tasting the local food there almost every day after coming back exhausted to our hotel. Don’t skip the deserts at “Chewy Junio” on the lower level on your way to the subway. I highly recommended that you try their tiny little, soft cream puffs filled with various types of cheeses and raspberries, chocolate, vanilla etc. Each one of them tasted wonderful. Breakfast habits are quite different than Turkey’s, as they are in many countries abroad. For example Chinese people have fish and rice wrapped in leaves for breakfast which for us would be unthinkable for breakfast. In Singapore some people get cheese-filled French toast with a soft-boiled egg, which is a little bit closer to what we’re used to. They almost never use salt at all, so there’s never a salt-shaker around. They gave us a strange look when we asked for salt on our eggs and served us a saucer with a pinch of salt on it. :)

The Subway the way to go here for public transportation as it goes just about everywhere. Almost every building is connected one another with underground passages which are also linked to the subway. You can literally move from one building to another without seeing the sun at all! Buses are also cheap and easy to use for transportation, you just have to get a card that you can use both on the subway and buses.

Must-see places in Singapore include the Esplanade Theatre, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore Flyer (a giant Ferris wheel), Merlion Statue, Orchard Road, Chinatown, Little Arab Town, Little India and Sentosa Island.  You can kill 4 birds with one stone since Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore Flyer and Merlion Statue are all in the same neighborhood. 

Esplanade Theatre by the famous architect Michael Wilford is a shopping mall and art center with spiky architecture. Don’t miss the shows, concerts and other events happening every evening just outside the exit towards the shore. It’s a packed house every night if you want to take in some of the local dishes served at small stands in the alleyway right next to the Esplanade. You can find a wide variety of types of food and people from all walks of life come to sample the delicacies. It is cheap, fun and the food is wonderful. Singapore is a “seafood heaven” since there is all kind of fresh everything for the seafood lover.

It is impossible to miss the glorious Marina Bay Sands Hotel located on the other shore right across from Esplanade! This giant hotel is constantly mentioned on National Geographic TV about how it’s built to look like a boat deck placed on three giant towers. Moshe Safdie and Associates created this wonder with the architects of Aedas. It’s truly proof of how contemporary architecture can push the boundaries of math and science. The terrace that looks like the deck of a ship has a giant pool, but you have to buy a ticket even to go up and look at it.

Just ahead of this is the Singapore Flyer in the same neighborhood, which sticks out so you can’t miss it. This giant Ferris wheel has cars with each one being almost as big as a room, giving you a full 360 degree view of Singapore. Try it to see the bird’s eye view of Singapore and get to know the geography of the city from up on high!

Singapore’s symbol is the Merlion Statue… You just bump into it on your stroll along the shore somewhere between Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This is a giant statue of a lion with water flowing out of its mouth. It’s lit at night which is lovely. There’s also a wonderful laser and music show whose many colors make it a total feast for the eyes. A little further down the road is the business district which is full of giant skyscrapers. It looks like a panoramic view of Manhattan lit up at night in glitter.

Although there are several city centers now, Orchard Road used to be the only central district in the city. Orchard Road is still a significant district full of large shopping malls, entertainment venues and hotels on its main street. Therefore it’s a must to have a special walk along this street especially for people who love shopping, though I must say that I didn’t see many particularly local-looking buildings around here: it looked pretty much the same as Baghdad Street in Istanbul.

What drew my actual interest were the Chinatown, Little Arab Town and Little India districts where you can get a sense of more Far Eastern scenes.

When you’re in the main city, it can feel like you’re in the US rather than the Far East but you realize where you are as soon as you enter Chinatown. This is a little version of China surrounded by vendors selling all kinds of interesting merchandise, Buddhist temple trinkets, and restaurants. Of course Singapore’s discipline, order and rules still apply here so it still looks clean and well organized.

Little Arab Town and Little India are closer to Bugis Street at a short walking distance away from it. It’s remarkable how varied the restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars are here in Little Arab Town. This place is full of unique and local wooden carved Arab homes and restaurants. It even has a Turkish mosque in it! At night the restaurants and bars and cafes are filled with young people until late at night. For shopping, stop at the Mustafa Center.

Little India is neighbors with the Little Arab Town. This colorful and ethnic district has a glamorously decorated large Indian temple full of statues, many colorful shops and stores selling all kinds of spices and flower necklaces, jewelry stores and local restaurants. Houses are painted in all colors just as in India and you see the Indian population of the city walking around in beautiful colorful Saris. This is a smaller version of India the small difference of Singapore’s meticulous attention to detail reminding that you are still within its highly ordered society.

The last place that can’t be missed is Sentosa Island. We took the train to the island but you can also take a ferry. Tickets are available online. This island is like the Disneyland of the Far East, full of entertainment centers, theme parks, restaurants and hotels both for children and families. Cute little trains constantly go all around the island taking you for free to see the environs and pick whatever suits your fancy. The island has a beach too where you can enjoy the sun and sea.

If you have the time, take a “Night Safari” tour too. They let you go on a train at night through the zoo. We liked as it was such an unusual and pleasant experience, though it can be a little spooky to see a crocodile or watch a lion or an elephant in pitch black of night. The train has safe stops where you can walk around an area in a secured zone though naturally a bit of adrenaline does kick in. There was this passage filled with bats on the trip and I felt the bats flapping past the top of my head as I walked through with my face covered. It would have been better if the tour had not been limited to just 2 hours or so in the zoo, especially since we had to spend some of it queuing up. Still, I highly recommended it to all travelers even if they travel with children or not.

Finally don’t forget to have your photo taken next to the statue of the kids jumping into the water right by the river and get some of the Singapore orchids as souvenirs for your loved ones.  Still got time? Go to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia while you’re there, that’s what we did and it was great!

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