Singpore for many years – usually as a stopping off point on longer hauls or as a cheaper gateway into Asia. It is a city that never seems to stop changing and re-inventing itself. Every time I’ve been back it looks different. Years ago when I used to stay in the cheap dumps that were scattered around Bencoolen St, you knew you were in an Asian country just by walking outside the door. It was exciting and exotic. It smelt of Asia it looked like Asia and it promised adventure, excitement !and cheap shopping – not so much anymore
If you want to experience ‘Asia’ – Singapore is not the place. Forget tourist traps like ‘Little India’ – where you are constantly hassled and ‘Chinatown’ which is a tourist precinct of organised stalls selling the worst of cheap bling. Forget the ‘Asia’ thing and enjoy Singapore for what it has become – a dynamic, modern city state that is not only unique but constantly transforming itself. The city heads for the skies with tall buildings show casing amazing design and innovative architecture. Acres of gardens and parklands transform a city of glass, concrete and steel. The preservation of the old colonial buildings is a reminder of its history, while the Changi Museum makes you realise its considerable achievements after years of war.
It has clear traffic flows, a super- efficient underground rail system, cafes with excellent coffee, world class hotels and restaurants and designer stores in every shopping mall. It is slightly sterile, safe, with some of the lowest crime figures in the world. Littering, graffiti and chewing gum are all forbidden. It is controlled but its citizens seem content with the status quo.
You can still wander the waterfront and see the old ‘shop houses’, find a snake charmer, drink Turkish coffee in the Arab Quarter or just escape in the new and beautiful Bay Gardens fashioned from reclaimed land.
Back in Singapore last week – I have decided that I have great respect for this tiny country. In the years when I visited between the Asia of decades ago and the period when everything ‘authentic’ was pulled down to make more sky scrapers and block housing, I despaired of it. Now, due to lack of space they are still pulling down and putting up – but in this era, with a lot of style and consideration.
Singapore has much to be proud of and one outstanding achievement is tolerance and harmony. With its diversity of citizens and religions – Indians, Chinese, Malays and ex-pat Europeans – its people all live as and are proud to be, Singaporeans.