Stargazing in Singapore
Sunday was a very exciting day in Bali. We drove to a mountain town with white-water rafting and elephants. We rode an elephant named Donnie – coincidentally the name of Olivia’s boyfriend and Lucas’ kitten – who then rode us right into the pond he uses as a bathtub. We came home late to a dinner of beef, pork and chicken satay (no rabbit!). My friend Jeff wrote back that if massages cost $13, rabbits must be really cheap, so I should have bought them all and released them into the wild. Wish I had thought of that. Just as dinner was served the area experienced a complete power outage. It is an odd feeling to be in an isolated villa in a remote part of Bali without power but Sri lit candles everywhere so we celebrated Halloween a few days early. Must be getting old…there was a time when I think we would have viewed the circumstances as “romantic.” The next morning, we left very early for the airport. On the way, we saw the rice paddies full of workers, hoeing and weeding before the island really heated up.
Then we flew to Singapore.
The last time I was in Singapore was thirty years ago. I came here on a business trip for a couple of days and remembered the Raffles Hotel as surrounded by gardens with a clear-to-the-water view. Now it is the only Colonial vestige in a sea of skyscrapers, but it is still beautiful and we ate Australian rock lobsters in the courtyard on our first night in town.
There are certain well publicized facts about Singapore, especially about its stringent – for lack of a better word – Parliament. They have many rules and fines for just about everything (kind of like our condo building). They stamp your passport to let you know that the penalty for illegal drugs in Singapore is death. It is a progressive and free society, contrary to some impressions and reports by the US media, although they do restrict certain liberties that Americans believe to be their God-given rights. For example, at least I believed there was no freedom of speech here (frankly, we have a bit too much of it in the US and it is a freedom abused, i.e. Fox news) but this is not correct. The right to free speech is encouraged with the exception of public speech about race or religion. Because the Singaporean population is a mélange of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Eurasian practicing four religions, Taoism (Buddhism), Islam, Christianity and Hindu (there is also a prominent synagogue for a Jewish minority), the government restricts open criticism of race and religion to protect its people from discrimination and harm. Sounds like a good idea to me. If we did this in the US maybe all those heinous hate crimes could be nipped in the bud. Now, of course, I have no idea if this is the true motivation of the Singaporean government. But what is important to me is that the people who live here believe it is true. The Parliament is comprised, in representative percentages, of all four ethnic groups. Of the 87 members only two are from the “opposition” party. I guess I’m writing all this to illustrate something I have learned in my travels from Chile to China – just because a government doesn’t function like our own doesn’t make it wrong, especially for its own citizens. Now genocide is morally wrong and there can be no excuse for that. But the people here is Singapore are happy and free, prosperous and peacefully coexisting (and assimilating – many new cultural groups of Chinese/Malay, for example, are growing here – without discouragement or bias – creating, in effect, hybrid races) despite what Americans might feel are “oppressive” rules. I cannot for the life of me understand how our country can support owning guns as a “right” when school children are regularly killed by citizens bearing guns but, hey, that’s me. Anyway, Singapore is spotlessly clean, completely safe, well-organized, beautiful to look at and the fully-employed people seem happy to me.
For those of you waiting for the travelogue-blog, here you go:
Chinatown is by far the most interesting neighborhood. It retains a lot of the original colonial buildings, although completely renovated and clean. 77% of the Singaporean population is Chinese, so Chinatown is more of an attraction and historical site – where the original immigrants settled – than functioning ethnic neighborhood. But the markets and small streets are fun to see. Little India is similar as a cultural district. The smell of jasmine flowers and curry powder is intoxicating. There is Arab Street and a Malaysian district but I haven’t been to those yet.
200 years ago only 500 people lived here. These were Malaysian. The British explorer, Sir Stamford Raffles, cut a deal for a British trading post (great excuse for colonialism) within a month of his arrival in 1819. He was a naturalist and planted an experimental garden, mostly of spices, a lucrative commodity in England. Of course, he was successful but the site of this original spice garden is now one of the most gorgeous botanical gardens in the world. The orchids are amazing.
Also world famous is the Singapore Zoo set in a natural rain forest. I enjoyed it, especially the exotic animals indigenous to the region, but I guess I’m spoiled by both the Bronx and San Diego zoos back home. However, tonight, we are taking a guided tour through the Night Zoo – a zoo that exists only for nocturnal animals. I’m really looking forward to that!
Singapore is surrounded by the South China Sea and the beaches are built around a lagoon. Sentosa beach is lovely and the water is warm. In the distance, everywhere, are container cranes and lifts reminding us that Singapore is a crossroads, especially for shipping to and from Asia.
Near the beach is Underwater World, where I particularly enjoyed the Pudong , supposedly nature’s inspiration for the fictional mermaid, and the leopard ray.
I had five suits made by one of those famous Singaporean tailors (Eberhard said: Couldn’t you have done with just three?) for the price of one in Italy. And it took me days to figure out what was striking me most peculiar about Singapore all along – no ads! Yes, the buildings are branded with a tasteful sign or name. But no, billboards, neon signs, graffiti, posters – how pleasant! Actually, there is one wall near Chinatown where posting is allowed – but why, I ask, would any one bother?