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Surprising Singapore: Garden City of the East
by

Arnie Greenberg

If you feel you’ve missed out on celebrating the Birthday of the Monkey god or Dragon Boat Festival or perhaps the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts and the Mooncake Festival, I’ll tell you how to make up for it.

In a word, the answer is Singapore.

You may be surprised when you first arrive. The city is large, modern and spotless. It’s like no other place in the world. You can be fined for throwing a cigarette butt in the street or spitting out your gum. You can be fined for jay walking. That may apply to other cities but in sunny Singapore they take it very seriously. In a city of 3 million prosperous natives, million dollar condos are considered cheap and Singapore boasts the highest per capita consumption of Mercedes Benz cars. Here you can shop till you drop and when natives are not shopping, they’re eating. The number of restaurants is staggering. There is an eclectic blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and western-style restaurants. Many are in the conservative areas like Tanjong Pagar, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. There are ships arriving daily from all over the world and the airport, like the rest of the city is first class. Even their skyscrapers rival those in other cities in Asia and America. Modernity is the key and while ancient daching scales are still used to calculate weight and price of pearls, the computers are king in commercial centers.

This independent entity covers over 250 square miles and owes its design and modernity to two individuals. The first was Sir Stamford Raffles, its founder, who bought the island from its Malay ruler in 1819 in order to set up a trading post. His free port rapidly grew on the east-west trading routes. It is no longer a sleepy village.

After independence in 1965, the driving force behind Singapore’s success was Lee Kuan Yew who, as Prime Minister until 1990, led the people from rural slumber to a high-tech awakening. This grandson of a Chinese coolie, held a double degree in law from Cambridge University and created a community with a standard of living second only to Japan. He and Raffles created a well-ordered society with religious and racial tolerance. The city is a true ‘garden’ with 3 million people of all cultures. While Malay is the official language, English is heard almost everywhere. Service is ‘efficient’ and everything works, even the police, so watch out for that cigarette or gum. That applies to buses, elevators, theatres and chopping centers or air-conditioned restaurants. And speaking of theatres, Western entertainment is very much alive there. People like Pavarotti, Simon & Garfunkel, Michael Jackson, Elton John, and Eric Clapton have performed to great crowds. Cats, Les Miserables and Evita played to rave reviews. My choice was a local show with Malay dancers and traditional music. Some of the hotels offer this as dinner entertainment, and the food is memorable.

There are things to see and do including such exotic things as a visit to the Reptile Park, Night Safari, Crocodilanium, Underwater World or impressive Zoo. There is even an exotic Botanical Garden. Add to this, well-trimmed golf courses and nearby beaches and you have a holiday for the whole family.

Singapore is in a ‘growth triangle’ linked to Johur state in Malaysia and Riau islands in Indonesia. While the temperature is generally between 75 and 88 F, I found it humid if not hot, but remember it is almost on the equator.  July and August are the warmest months. Rainfall is most abundant from November to January. Light summer wear is most practical. It is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Coast time. As a duty free port, it combines cosmopolitan ambience with the best of Asian hospitality.

My knowledge of Singapore had to do with stories I had heard about the local gentry sitting around the Raffles Hotel sipping Singapore Slings while the Japanese closed in on them in WWII. I could picture the British gentry sitting in huge wicker chairs discussing the invasion under slow moving ceiling fans. Of course, I headed to Raffles and the famous “Long Bar” for my over-priced Singapore Sling. At almost $20 per drink, one can imagine the profit when the drink is mostly juice and they sell an average of 1000 per day. The mixture comes from a tap, pre prepared to formula. Fruit and swizzle sticks are added, and voila, a Singapore Sling where it was invented. Would it taste differently? I’ll never know. I watched my wife enjoy hers but being the he-man that I am, I ordered beer. It was a fun experience though not because of the drinks. On the bar were large baskets of peanuts in the shell. This is the only place in Singapore that you are ‘allowed’ to throw the shells on the floor. Because it’s a no-no in the rest of the city, it was a greater pleasure for me. The place was crowded and it was cool. I enjoyed it as a place I knew about in history.

The Long Bar is in the Raffles Hotel at #1 Beach Road. It’s part of a first class hotel with 104 suites, 12 restaurants and bars offering Asian and local food. Other facilities include a health club, ballroom and shopping arcade. It’s pricey but a different experience.

If the $15 Passenger service Charge is not incorporated into your air ticket, you will be required to pay it during check-in

You can see your travel agent of Fax the hotel for a reservation at 65-3397650. There’s also a Sheraton Hotel with 404 rooms or a less expensive room at the YMCA Orchard Street #1.

It might be wise to contact Singapore tourist Board office in Los Angeles Tel; 1 323 852 1901 or in New York at 212 302 4861. They will send you material to help plan your stay. Enjoy your stay. Visit Raffles and watch those cigarette butts. First offenders may be fined up to $1000.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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