Singapore

 
Friday May 3rd

 
      Arrived in Singapore, direct flight from Chaing Mai in the early afternoon. I came on my own as Om has to stay for her daughter's reincarnation ceremony. You can see all the ships in the busy shipping lane from the plane, this is the original reason for Singapore's success, it's at the end of the long Thai and Malaysian peninsular so the shortest point for ships to go from India and the Middle East to South East Asia and beyond.

 

The shipping lane going past Singapore, from the plane
 

 

Singapore from the plane again
 

 
      The airport is surprisingly efficient, and bodes well for the rest of Singapore. Customs took as long as the time of a couple of escalators and waiting for one person in front of me, and there was all the luggage already on the conveyor. There is a choice of easy and cheap ways to travel into the centre of Singapore, the island seems to be only about 30 kilometres long. The train is only 60p but the minibus easier.
      It's almost as hot as Thailand and rained heavily for an hour too, just when I was looking for hotels. So I went to the first that had a room (and unlike many of them didn't need a walk up two flights of stairs even to ask if there was one free). The room is tiny, no window but strangely this doesn't seem to matter, and everything in the room is just a bit better than you'd expect. Rooms are much more expensive than Thailand, this one's £17, though I think overall the cost of living here is about double that in Thailand (and half compared to the UK!)
      Heaps of technology shops and computer game shops, and multiplayer games are even bigger here than internet cafés.

 

There are many electronics shops in Singapore
 

 
      There's a great area called Little India round the back of my hotel, Dunlop Street is my favourite. Almost everyone here is descended from India, and there's a colourful Tamil Hindu temple on the main street. The many video shops sell only Indian films. The 'shophouses' where people live above are colourful too. Most people live in the huge tower blocks but they don't look too bad. The buildings along the streets look new but in the style of the old colonial buildings, I saw just one of those remaining in the whole area [13th May: and even in China Town almost anything remotely old was being replaced.] Everything is shiny and new in Singapore, quite a contrast to Thailand, even the nature is all tidy. Walking around in the late afternoon and evening there seemed to be uncomfortably huge numbers of people everywhere, and then I realised it was because 95% of people were men! Must be the Indian culture or something, I've never been there.

 

Dunlop Street, Little India
 

 
      I was looking for somewhere to eat that the guidebook was talking about, and ended up at the wrong place not understanding how the addresses worked, but it turned out for the best. The land might be flat but the addresses are multidimensional because most people live on a high level of a building. #10-02 means number 2 on the tenth floor, not building 10 shop 2, so there I was in the wrong place but eating a curry with my fingers off a huge banana leaf as people who live here do, and for only about a pound. I have no idea at all where the banana leaves come these days but it seems quite normal. It's not so easy eating pillau rice with fingers so I can see where north Thailand's sticky rice comes from. The curry was very good with all the same stuff as you'd expect from an English curry, poppodums etc.

 
Saturday May 4th

 
      I returned to the Tamil Hindu temple to take pictures and had a chipattee for breakfast in the 'eating house' opposite. Here if you have breakfast with the locals, Indian or Chinese style it is much cheaper and more interesting (like the thick slightly sugary milk that you get beneath coffee), though a spicy curry first thing in the morning isn't quite what I'm used to!

 

The Tamil Hindu temple in Little India
 

 

 

 

 

 
      Very hot again, too hot for walking much so I might need to start using the underground or buses tomorrow. In the area where I'm living about half the shops are electronics or electrical shops. As I was looking for something I went into the big shop across the road which turned out to be four floors of electronics, computing and computer game shops, unlike Thailand all the shops were used on all the floors, and full of customers. I've never seen so many of these shops together, it made Tottenham Court Road in London look small. As they didn't have what I wanted someone suggested I go across the road junction to another shopping mall. This was even bigger, six floors of the same kind of shops! Electronics heaven if you want to buy or hand build stuff like this.
      Some of the very tall housing blocks had washing hanging out of the windows on long poles, and there was a very small pool table in a shop so it seems it's not just my room that's small!

 

How to dry washing in a tower block!
 

 

Chinese temple
 

 

Bicycle taxis
 

 
Sunday May 5th

 
      In the other direction from Little India not far away from my hotel (nothing is far away in Singapore) the Arab quarter has changed a lot from it's history but it still has the mosques and same Arab descendants living there selling colourful cloths and rugs. The 'rats the size of cats and big enough to knock you over when walking at night' have fortunately long gone! Beach Road is a curiosity, it still has a line of fishing shops on one side, but across the road where there used to be a beach is now up to a kilometer away from the sea with the usual tall hotels and shopping malls. One of the hotels down the road was until recently the tallest in the world, but quite ordinary here.

 

In the Arab district, with a mosque in the distance
The beach used to be just behind the camera, now it's a kilometre away
 

 
Monday May 6th

 
      Walked up one of the only remaining hills in Singapore, close to where the British landed 190 years ago. Surprisingly cool sitting up there. It used to be a hill fort, now it has a water reservoir at the top. The view to the sea has gone, tower blocks and twice as much land as before has changed that.
      Beyond the hill is Orchard Road, the main shopping district, huge shopping malls along this street but as with the rest of Singapore closer together than you'd expect so it's easy to walk around the whole area. I lost my camera, luckily with only a few photos, and straight away bought another one, better and cheaper because Singapore has a GST (tax on goods) rate of only 3% (5% next year). It's interesting how tax is so much less in general here, they are reducing personal and company tax to 20% soon, Hong Kong already has 15%. In Britain we all pay about 50% tax if you include income tax, national insurance and VAT when you spend it. If I don't make enough money on the internet I'll be cheating the system by working little more than my tax free allowance each year (5000 pounds), spending it far away and waiting for the next tax year...

 
Wednesday May 8th

 
      I walked along to the financial district, I think I have got the idea of where everything is now. There are a few little things of history here, but almost everything is new. The bridge across to the financial towers looks new too, but still has a sign mentioning about how cattle and horses are allowed on the bridge! It was dark by the time I reached nearby China Town, this too is almost completely modernised. A great contrast though was a bamboo stage constructed for the evening's performace for just a small gathering of a Chinese audience. Walking away from it, it was just a tiny colourful light dwarfed beneath the shadow of all the financial towers.

 

A real picture of a tall office building!
The clue is in the picture...
 

 

The bar and restaurant area next to the financial district
 

 

The original China Town culture, with a bamboo stage.
When the play started the audience wasn't much bigger!
 

 

The stage again, in the distance, dwarfed by the towers
 

 

China Town
 

 
Thursday May 9th

 
      The best beaches, perhaps because no land reclamation has taken place here, are on Sentosa Island, an island to the south of Singapore island, connected by a short causeway. It's a good day out, a few Australian surfers there, presumably on their way home from Europe. There are theme parks around the island and a great museum explaining the history, justifiably perhaps making the British look a little silly for letting in the Japanese and in turn showing how bad the Japanese were (like marching prisoners up through Malaysia to work on Thailand's Death Railway), and the nuclear bombs that ended it all.
      There's a yet smaller island, this time connected by a swinging footbridge from Sentosa, to the south. This is the most southerly point in contenantal Asia, if you accept the two causeways and the bridge that you need to get there. The view is a lot of very big ships on their way around, and a number of islands of Singapore and Indonesia.

 

Sentosa Island theme park with the monorail
 

 

The most southerly point in continental Asia, where all the ships have to go
 

 
Saturday May 11th

 
      Took the 50p train halfway across the island to the Discovery Centre. By accident on the way I noticed Creative Labs on the way, they are one of the competitors to Imagination who I used to work for. Nice big offices they have, and I can see how it works in Singapore, plenty of skilled cheap electronics workers here, though they too now have much of their research in England.
      I can see from the train that the whole country is flat, with every last hillock taken for land reclamation, with thousands of colourful tower blocks on a sea of green parks, lakes and rivers. You can tell that it's at sea level, at least near my hotel where half the time the river flows upstream! There are surprisingly few cars here but the trains are so easy and cheap and the cars are taxed in the centre when they enter restricted parts. Like Sentosa Island the Discovery Centre is not excactly Disneyland but worth the look, it's in the grounds of the country's main military ground so there are a few cool things to look at and numerous hints about the worthiness of conscription!
      Back in my room it's interesting to see TV documentaries about Thailand from outside the country, apparently they are trying to bring down the hill tribes as cheap labour to replace the Burmese immigrants, and more significantly to take their forests and make money from them. This does not sound good for the forests, Thailand's seem to be far less exploited than Malaysia. It looks like the hill tribes are increasingly falling into other temptations anyway.
      But this is cool, Thailand is considering making a canal going from one side of the country to the other in the south, to shorten the India to China route further. It would be interesting to see what happens to Singapore then. Much of it's money now comes from skilled manufacturing like hard disc drives and other stuff for computers but you wonder if that too could go, in the direction of China.


 
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