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Exploring Singapore – in one day

Sunday 8 March 2009

I never planned to go to Singapore, but flying from The Netherlands to Australia is a very long flight. So staying over in a city like Singapore and then continue the flight is a relaxing way of getting there.

That’s how I ended up in Singapore and I opted to stay here for a few days to explore the city. I got several folders promoting the city and looking at the Internet, this must be shopping heaven. But there must be more to this place. Keep in mind that there are 4.8 million people living here on a relatively small island (it’s just over 700 square kilometers and therefore it’s packed…) and they want more than just shops. My travel agent already solved the “what to do” issue: they booked me on the 3.5 hours “Experience the City” tour.

As planned, on Sunday 9.00 a driver picked me up at the hotel and brought me to the place where most of the tours start: at the Singapore Flyer. There was my bus: full of tourists from all over the world “doing” the city in a few hours. Andrew, our host for the tour, was going to make sure that all the highlights of this town were going to be visited.

After a short drive, we stopped at Esplanade Park and we got off the bus to explore the area. Here you will find the funny shaped Esplanade theater. The architect wanted it to look like a microphone, but the locals call it the Durian (a smelly but beloved fruit) because the skin of the building resembles the fruit. The outer part of the building is all glass and they had to do something to keep the sun out. That gave the building its looks. Singapore is building another big “arts and events” center. And this is Singapore so it’s going to be big and luxurious. This will also house the first casino in town (the build is financed by a group from America, located in Las Vegas).

After walking for about 5 minutes, Andrew pointed out that this was the best location to take pictures of the financial district. So we did… Here I also found out that there were “water-Andrews” hauling boats full of tourists over the Singapore river (this city has one of the busiest ports of the world, so they now their business). After all these exciting insights it was time to return to the bus.

On our way I asked Andrew what 4.8 million people were doing on a Sunday afternoon. He replied: you will find most of them in the shopping malls. Not to shop, but they have air conditioners (and it’s hot out here: temperatures around 30 degrees and humidity over 85%). Other popular destination are the film theater (it is a very cheap way to be entertained for hours and again it’s cool in there), community centers and churches (as we found out later on this tour, all major religions can be found in this city).

On our way over to the bus we stumbled upon a group of photographers taking pictures of a girl that was dressed as a ballerina. This of course raised a few questions: is she famous or what? No: this was a group of amateur photographers that hired the girl to pose in different locations.

Once on the bus again we drove to Little India (personally I think the name says it all) and there we got off the bus again for a 20 minute walk. We weren’t the only group here, because when Andrew was trying to explain ALL the highlights of Little India (little is the right word here) there were many more “Andrews” around telling more or less the same story to another group of visitors. Now it became clear to me why the organizers of this tour wanted me to stick a label to my shirt: without these labels the “Andrews” were going to lose their flock…

We got to learn what the color of the spot that Indian women put on their forehead means (Red = married, keep your hands off, Black = available, I may be interested), what the different flowers they were selling here were used for and then of course: the ins and outs about Ganesha.

And back to the bus on to our next exciting stop: Little China. It took the driver some time to get the bus parked: there were at least another 10 to 15 of these busses on a small parking lot. “There must a convention in town” according to Andrew. I think business was booming and after talking to some of the other tourists, none of them was here for a convention.

Little China is again the right description: a lot of shops in the market place and stalls on the road, selling everything you can think of. In the market they sell mostly clothing, suitcases and food. In the stalls everything the tourist wants: shiny stuff and lots of it. The other interesting item here was a temple. Well look at the pictures…

Small detail: look at the apartment building. You will see that they don’t have wash dryers here: they don’t need to. It’s so hot here, you just hang your wet wash outside (and hope that the humidity outside is less than that of your wet clothing). You can see this all over town.

After 20 minutes it was time to leave for our next stop. On our way we got to drive through the financial district which is ranked one of the 3 biggest and most important financial centers of the world. We found out that Andrew used to be working on the stock exchange. “Used to be” because he was one of the victims of the financial escapades of Nick Leeson who used to work for Barings Bank and caused the collapse of that bank in 1995.

We were on our way to “Singapore Chems & Metals Co.”. Here 18 people cut, polish, cut and transfer raw material into amazing things. Have a look at the pictures. The craftsmanship is amazing. A single person can work for over a year to create the bigger pieces and if you zoom in on the pictures, you can see what the final result costs…

Andrew explained the importance of these items. It’s all about Feng shui. Every Chinese business man wants to have a mountain behind him at work (indicating the business is rock solid), or a waterfall (money will flow to him) and then there was something with the birds as well, but I forgot the story about that piece.

The next and last stop of the tour was a visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This is a 52 hectares area showing a massive collection of orchids (including Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim) and other plants and trees. Some of it contained in well landscaped plots others in a more natural looking rainforest. You can spend at least a day in here if you are into flowers, plants and/or trees.

It’s good to see that Singapore keeps these gardens as a nice green area in town. It must be worth a whole lot of money if you would sell it to project developers…

Here my tour ended and I was brought back to my hotel. Singapore has a free bus service that takes you to a lot of places in town: the Hop on Hop off service. After my tour I hopped on the bus to see where it would bring me. This is a very commercial driven service: out of the 22 stops, 18 are located near a hotel or a shopping mall. Well I am in shopping heaven here, so let’s “do” a mall. I choose Raffles City (by the way: the name Raffles appears all over town. This because of the founder of the city: Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles). It was exactly what I expected: an American style shopping mall. So after 15 minutes (I really searched for a reason to stay here…) I had enough and went back to my bus stop (just in time: I caught the last bus of the day) and back to the hotel.

My hotel is along the Singapore River in the Clarke Quay area. Here you will find lots of restaurants, bars and pubs and since it is Sunday, it is busy here. Beside the vast amount of tourists, there are also a lot of locals. Young couples come here to meet and hang out along the riverbank. Just relaxing, talking and having a moment away of the day to day life.

It’s been a long day and I “have been there and done that”, the tourist way.

Here you can find all the pictures of today: 2009 Australia Singapore

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