Report from Tomorrow - Vol 47, Singapore Redux

Singapore Redux, Dec 2012

1USD = S$1.23 (S$1 = 0.81USD)

We've been absent for twelve years from Singapore - longer than I had expected to be gone. We came back as part of a larger trip visiting SE Asia. Since we knew Singapore so well and it has excellent air connections, we chose this city as our gateway. We were here for four days and then passed through twice more as we went visited Vietnam and Bali.

We knew it wasn't going to be cheap, since the USD has tanked by nearly 30% in the intervening years. And Singapore never was a cheap place, compared to elsewhere in the region. So rather than try too hard for cheaper accomodations, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Atrium. It was well located, and an excellent place to recover from the terrifically long flight on Singapore Airlines from Michigan (via JFK).

Chiangi airport was our introduction to the change (no pun intended) that has occurred in the past 12 years. We hardly recognized a thing. Singaporean efficiency had improved (who would have thought it possible) as we zipped through customs and got our bags in record time. Today we could take the MRT into town, when before it was a relatively expensive taxi ride.

In fact the MRT was the most prominent change we noticed. It must have doubled in these intervening years. Places we normally took a cab in the past (like Holland Village) are now MRT stops. In addition to many more stations in the central part of the city we knew, there are now plenty of feeder train lines (LRT) connecting to the MRT system.

One of the last things we did in Singapore was to take one of the longest MRT lines to see the farthest extend of the island (as seen from the MRT). The skies were filled with cranes, building 10 and 20 story housing. Twelve years later we repeated the trip so see nary a crane in sight.

Another obvious change to us was the additional million people that have been added to the island (now nearing 5.5 million I was told. The MRTs seemed to always be busy - of course we were there just before Christmas when school was out and we were in busy areas of the town. Traffic was plenty heavy, but nothing like what we saw elsewhere on the trip.

Singapore of the past had a derth of interesting places to go as a tourist. This has changed remarkably. We spent a full day at Gardens By The Bay which is filled with these interesting 'supertrees' shown in the picture above. Besides being interesting to look at, you can go up an elevator and go out on a catwalk walking high above the park below. The park includes two horticultural structures called the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome. The former is a mountain covered in lush vegetation shrouding a tall indoor waterfall. The 'mountain' is covered in plants from tropical highlands. The Flower Dome houses a cool-dry climate of mediterranean regions which are home to a collection of plants from deserts all over the world. It was filled with flowers in full bloom. We must have taken 200 pictures there alone. I'm sure the gardens are remarkable at night, all lit up - we didn't have the energy to stay or return.

Right next to the gardens is the Marina Sands Hotel with spectacular views of the city. We had intended to visit the Singapore Flyer, a giant ferris wheel, which affords great views, especially at night. Again, our energy was fading so we went to the top of the Marina Sands for very nice views of the city.

While we had a great time at Gardens By The Bay, I was struck by how sterotypical Singaporen it was. Who else would construct these huge climate-controlled buildings and fill them with plants from all around the world - in a climate that is swelteringly hot year round. I joked with a Singaporean about how these were prototypes for a future Singapore which would be completely covered by a dome with a climate-controlled environment.

So much has changed in Singapore - but much had not. I was prerty uncomfortable with the weather, just as before. We walked back to the hotel (another chance to buy umbrellas again) in a steady steamy rain. Our time was more difficult this time because we did not have months to acclimate and we were recovering from the long journet there. W were on the go all the time, seeing things, so our energy lagged. The food could be as good as ever (we had a terrific pepper claypot in Chinatown) and as bland as fast food place anywhere in the world.

Tiong Bahru is an MRT station with a shopping area that I knew well since it was right next to where I worked long ago. The food court was all fancy and bright and clean - and dull. I fondly recall eating good food there in the past, this time not so. Perhaps my pallet is so much more sophisticated, or we just chose poorly. We'd forgotten so much and struggled to find a food court we'd visited in the past. Eventually we stumbled into Lau Pa Sat and got to relive the good and bad of it again.

The ordinary people we met were as polite and helpful as ever. The efficiency and cleanliness of the place continues to surpass anywhere we've been, including the US. It's not the cheapest place in the world, so don't try to make it so, but its also not out of this world expensive either. I'm glad we got to return to see the changes and renew memories. Zai Jian Singapura, again.