Singapore – Old and New

Food was a big highlight when I was in Singapore, so much so that I had to separate it from the rest of my post about Singapore. Though it may be hard to believe, I did in fact spend my time on non-eating activities! Hanging out with Tessa’s  family members I got a glimpse into the lives of Singaporeans, both their pride and their dissatisfaction for their port country.

Amidst the urban sprawl there are hidden gems tucked away in narrow street corners, showing a stark contrast to the the more modern side of Singaporean beauty. From the hip streets of little India to the opulent luxuries of the Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, there is something here for everyone. Singapore is similar to Canada in the sense that it is a mixing bowl (is that a new saying?) of many cultures, each immigrating from their respective countries sometime during the history leading up to Singaporean independence in 1965. People of Chinese heritage form the vast majority of the population and their influence on architecture is very apparent, especially in older buildings. The buildings are painted with bright colours and showcase tall windows with wooden shutters. They’re a sight to see since I’m so used to the shiny new glass and wood buildings of Vancouver. Food stalls are always close by so hunger while exploring historic Chinatown is definitely not an issue. The markets in this area are great for finding everything from everyday items like brooms and buckets, to random nik naks and souvenirs.

Lanterns for sale in the nightmarket in Chinatown. Also some of the buildings found in Chinatown.

Indians are a minority, forming about 9% of the total population. The vast majority of Indians in Singapore are Tamils, a group from the south of India. When we spent an afternoon in Little India, we were greeted by old buildings in narrow streets wide enough for single lane traffic. Many of them have been converted to hip shops selling clothes, stationary or random merchandise. Step into one of the larger streets and the site is more like that of India: lots of cars, crowds and shops selling everything from saris, scarves, jewelry to sweets. Invest a good afternoon to walk around each and take your time absorbing the sites and smells.

Narrow streets of Little India

However, not everything in Singapore is old. The waterfront area surrounding Marina Bay Sands hotel is the epitome of modernized SE Asia. Tall office buildings, coffee shops, hotels, casinos and mega malls are all there for those who want a taste of the modern luxuries. One of the highlights of my Singapore leg of the trip was staying for one night at the Marina Bay Sands hotel. We were really fortunate to have a friend of Tessa’s hook us up with a free room for the night. It started off with an afternoon relaxing in the infinity pool at the top floor. The views from up there are amazing to say the least. You could clearly see all the buildings surrounding the hotel, the river as well as the bleachers for the F1 races that were set to start in a few days. The view here really cannot be beat and is definitely worth checking out if you can fork out the $400SGD (average) for a night there. For those that gamble there is a casino conveniently located downstairs, although anyone use to clean, Canadian air will have problems breathing the thick, tobacco smog that’s inescapable throughout the casino complex.

The view from up top!
Acting all tough and shiet. Taken by Tessa Tham
Pondering deep thoughts as you can see. I actually had really constipation and stomach aches the whole day…Taken by Tessa Tham

After a whole afternoon at the pool, we washed up and went to the mall belonging to the MBS complex. This mall is filled with all the designer brand stores that I cannot afford but it was nice to walk around anyways. There is an artificial ice rink right beside the food court. If you’re planning to eat here, don’t. The place was quite dead when we went and the food was very mediocre for what you were paying. Just leave the hotel property and try your luck nearby. At night, walk around the mall complex because the views of the helical bridge, river and the actual hotel after you cross the bridge is stunning with the city lights. Crossing the strange yet highly ordered geometric design of the helical bridge gives you an iconic view of modern Singapore. Since my visit, they’ve completed the Singapore Garden By the Bay, adjacent to the hotel property. It offers a botanical garden, great architecture and many striking artificial trees.

The shopping mall connected to Marina Bay Sands hotel
The view from across the Helical Bridge (T) and halfway across (B)

Speaking with many of the locals there (mainly Tessa’s friends and family), they seem to experience, in essence, the same struggles we do as Canadians. Heavy taxation makes for an extremely high cost of living, leading to extended work weeks and generally very busy lives. There is a discord with the government too as many politicians have inflated salaries and some have used questionable means to stay in power. Lastly, there is the effort to unite all the ethnicities into a single national identity with consideration to western influences added by the large number of ex-pats. Singapore is a modern port country that values and maintains its historical roots while managing to shoot to an economic power in SE Asia. While many of the modern additions can be kitchy, touristy and (dare I say, downright artificial), the beauty of it is still undeniable. If you find yourself in SE Asia, Singapore is definitely worth a stop.

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