Welcome to Singapore. The Lion City, the Little Red Dot and the Air-Conditioned Nation. Singapore is an island nation, situated one degree – or 137 km North – of the Equator, and just off the southern tip of Malaysia in Southeast Asia. There are only three city-states in the world – Monaco, the Vatican City and Singapore – however Singapore is the only island city-state, with a population of 5.3 million. It is highly developed, a global commerce, finance and transport hub, and boasts one of the world’s strongest economies.
The official languages of Singapore are English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Most Singaporeans speak a local dialect of English called Singlish, which is based on standard English with influences from the other three official languages. Over 70% of the population speak Mandarin as their first or second language.
Singapore is made up of 63 islands, although most are largely unoccupied and used for military or industrial purposes. Incidentally, Singapore is the world’s largest exporter of ornamental fish.
1) What better place to begin than the airport, the #1 airport in the world might I add. Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 alone boasts an app to guide you around, an entertainment deck, an indoor fish pond, an array of restaurants and fancy shops, a spa, a movie theatre and a rooftop sunflower garden, which has seen over half a million of them bloom since becoming the first airport garden of its kind in 2002.
2) Public transport is EFFICIENT and ON-TIME and, most noticeably, SPOTLESS. People are FRIENDLY and HELPFUL. People wait for everyone to get off BEFORE boarding and everything is CLEARLY signposted. Take note Paris, take note.
3) Some peculiarities of Singaporean transport are the fact that the MRT trains (Mass Rapid Transit, read tube) are, quite literally, built into the walls (this knowledge would have saved a good wee while looking for the rails on arrival) and when the train arrives the glass panels light up and open and you step into the future.
On the other hand, the LRT, or light rapid transport, is overground and serves the super-residential areas. I say super as most of Singapore seems to be residential, but the LRT serves the extra-condensed residential areas. A quick google tells me these lines are fully automated rubber-tired rolling stock, elevated and grade-separated in their entirety and run on viaducts. This information can effectively be summed up as: WHO IS DRIVING THIS THING?
A third point to note is that everyone is on their phones, all the time.
4) The pedestrian crossings here are akin to those in Brisbane with the familiar ring of the demented woodpeckers on the appearance of the green man (perchuum-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun). Only here extra spurts of the demented woodpecker song are added as a live countdown of the remaining time to cross appears (DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN….. pause…. DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN…).
5) Singapore is definitely a more westernized version of Asia. Brisbane, I now realise, was also highly influenced by Asia, and not just in terms of pedestrian crossings. Things are orderly and run like clockwork here. I am back to the dark descending at the flick of a light switch and the outdoor lifestyle. Outdoors that is aside from the frequent tropical power shower thunderstorms.
A brief aside… Singapore the food-lover’s dream
It would be quite impossible to go hungry in Singapore. Food is everywhere. From coffee shops to hawker centres to fast food to fine dining to the many malls, most places are open all day and some 24 hours. Hawker Centres (aka food courts), found throughout Singapore, are indoor markets where individual vendors sell ready-to-eat food from small booths – the largest has over 260 food stalls!
My favourite new food so far is Roti Prata, a fried flatbread cooked over a flat grill; sometimes with an egg on top, always with curry sauce. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, a satisfying meal at any time of day!
Kaya toast (toast with a traditional jam made from coconut and eggs) is a standard breakfast here alongside a cup of coffee/tea (which tastes more like the tea in India than the UK). Another Singaporean breakfast is runny eggs with pepper and black sauce.
Fried carrot cake has no connection to our carrot cake. For starters, it contains no carrot. I am told the ‘cake’ is rice flour and white radish which is steamed, cut into cubes and fried with garlic, eggs and white radish. It is served black (fried with sweet dark soya sauce) or white (original). I am a fan.
Then to the food with a Malaysian influence…
A Chicken Rice stall (Singapore’s national dish) and satay by the bay…
I am never entirely sure what I am eating and a lot of the Hawker Centre staff don’t speak English, but I’ve found that the universal language of a smile and a clean plate works well.
6) Feeling hot, hot, hot (and sweaty) ALL THE TIME. The humidity is real. Continues relentlessly to be 35 degrees and 80% humidity. The weather here is pretty constant throughout the year. The wet season is just a little bit wetter and the dry season is just a little bit drier. This means I must now rework my entire small-talk-social-standards-life-training and remove mention of weather from conversation starters. (Case in point: “rather hot today” met with blank stares).
7) For this reason, I now understand the seemingly excess of shopping malls… AIR CONDITIONING!!!
Rules. All the rules. Here are a select few…
Public transport rules. My personal favourite… no durians. At least there isn’t a fine for it. I’m thinking this probably has something to do with their smell.
To the more standard general rules…
To the slightly bizarre rules such as “No flying of Model Aircraft,” and “No collection of Seashells” (What is she supposed to sell by the seashore?!).
To the sort of funny rules…
To the gentle reminders…
8) Singapore: the City in a Garden. Not so much a rule but a motto. Singapore’s garden city journey began in 1963 and has subsequently been transformed into a landscape where greenery is a major feature.
Roads are lined with trees, buildings must have greenery incorporated…
9) Which means that Singapore really is an urban jungle. Monkeys swing around remaining fragments of forest, snakes crawl up trees, crocodiles are found in the North…
10) 80% of Singaporeans live in HDB blocks (HDB = Housing Development Board). The remainder live in condos where the significant price difference gives you a swimming pool and a security guard, which as someone pointed out you don’t really need in Singapore. The government were mindful to ensure social cohesion and a good racial mix among various ethnic communities living in public housing estates. Most blocks have to be near a park or green space and their several stories lead them to be suitable venues for step climbing/running workouts.
On that note, let’s discuss the doorbells. Many hours of surveying have exposed me to many different doorbells. Ding dong they do not, rather when I press the button I await an Indian chant or prayer, the Brownie Closing song, Fur Elise (particularly popular, many speed variations available), or my personal favourite “Under the Sea” from the little mermaid.
Stay tuned for installment #2!