Sensations in Singapore

Singapore was the last stop on our tour, and we were glad we finished here – it was by far the cleanest, wealthiest country we had been to in a while and we needed to indulge ourselves. Some of the highlights, in superlative form:

Coolest bar scene: Clarke Quay, on the river
Absolute best Hainanese Chicken Rice: One of the “coffee shop” plazas in Bishan
Cleanest Chinatown mall: People’s Park
Widest variety in a hawker centre: Maxwell Food Centre, though they did have at least three distinct stalls specializing in Hainanese chicken rice
Where all the Indian people are: Little India – seriously, I barely saw any outside of this neighborhood
Best vegetarian eats: Kamala Villa
Best-trained wild animals: Night Safari, where the animals seem to know you’re there and will put themselves on display for you
Attraction most difficult to get to on foot, while carrying all our luggage: The Merlion
Best view while swimming: The Infinity pool at the top of Marina Bay Sands
Best high-end mall: Ion at Orchard Road
Best place for digital goods: Funan Digital Life Mall
Strangest bridge: The Helix
Best spot to catch a JLo concert: Gardens by the Bay
Best way to lose $100 in roulette: Bet it on bottom 3rd, at the Marina Bay Sands casino
First online store to sell lion dance gear: Lion Fashion
The only physical lion dance shop in town: De Xing Trading

Singapore is an urban planner’s dream city. It’s something you’d get if you had a particularly OCD person tinker with SimCity for years and then sprung it to life. It’s one of those rare cities in the world that seems to get it all right – housing, transportation, parks, business districts, schools… Meticulously designed, developed, and governed – there’s a designated place for everything and everything has a place in this city. (E.g. even taxis can only stop at specific taxi stands, and there’s a limit on the number stationed at each one – lines are drawn for each spot!)

New developments like the Marina Bay district (including Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, and the use of the water as a reservoir itself) were planned decades in advance, while land reclamation was happening. It’s truly stunning to see how forward-thinking the planners were – likely a tradition since the first great planners of this city, Stamford Raffles and Philip Jackson. The attention to detail in all aspects of the city made it a breeze for us tourists to navigate and explore, and did a fair bit to nudge me closer to a career in urban planning. 🙂

We heard that the strict guidelines and the emphasis on rules pervading every corner of life in this country had an impact on the culture – specifically that citizens ended up more conservative, less creative, and more risk-adverse than people elsewhere in the world. It’s likely true – the political party in power hasn’t changed in a very, very long time… But the city-state is clearly doing well and the people are prosperous. So much so that we invented the term “Singapore-world problems” that’s a class above the “first-world problem”. Examples: “There’s a light show in the Gardens by the Bay at 7:45p but a water/laser show in Marina Bay at 8:00p – how does anyone get to see both?” or “The water in this Infinity pool overlooking the skyline is so cold to swim in…”

Singapore had a lot of the signature Chinese-Malay-Indian mix of fusion foods that were so delectable in Kuala Lumpur. We noticed that even as the price of everything else was higher in Singapore, the food stayed surprisingly cheap at USD$2-5 equivalent for a filling meal at a hawker centre. Between that, shopping, and checking out Singapore’s many, many unique attractions (that seem to be built specifically for tourists), Singapore turned out to be a great place to indulge. Even the weather (which is as hot and humid as it gets) was easily escapable by ducking into a mall or subway station.

After this trip, Singapore has just rocketed up my list of “world-class cities” to share the top spot with the likes of Vancouver and Sydney. I could see myself living here… but only if they build a glass dome over the city and air condition the whole place. Sure, I can see that happening in a few years of planning. 🙂

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