Interesting. In such an ordered society, where everyone does the right thing, I was cruelly amused when the attendant on the Skyway struggled to keep us moving. We were only minutes away from the light show and were determined to stay on the elevated platform to see it. We engaged in conversation with another couple of tourists and that was it. Good manners trump getting people to move along. We prevailed and got to experience a spectacular light and music show from an amazing vantage point. Gardens by the Bay is a 110-hectare site with several extraordinary venues to visit including the conservatories and Supertree Grove, where the sound and light show happens every night. Gardens by the Bay is part of the nation’s plans to transform its “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden”. The Singaporeans are rightly proud of this magnificent space and more than half of the 50 million visitors to the gardens have been local. Impressive!
Of course, access to Gardens by the Bay is through the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, which incorporates the hotel, casino, theatre, shops, restaurants, and much more!!! There are so many extraordinary shopping venues in Singapore I wonder if these are new cathedrals where the congregation come to pay homage to the Almighty Dollar!!
Hamleys? Seriously? Hamleys? The Marina Bay Sands and many other department stores are littered with high-end franchises- Gucci, Channel, Versace- they are so much part of the lexicon spell-check corrects them! I’m uncomfortable with franchises because they homogenise our world and concentrate wealth in the hands of a few. I’m perplexed. Is Singapore an exemplary well-ordered multicultural society or the ultimate ‘nanny-state’? Or are those two concepts mutually exclusive anyway? It’s clean with heavy fines for littering (I did see litter but it also seemed to know its place and most of it was confined to hidden spaces under bushes and in gardens), has many non-smoking areas (including Orchard Road where I received a txt from a State Department warning of the fines), it feels safe. I saw a number of groups of heavily armed police patrolling the streets and the MRT (underground) has video loops of how to deal with a crisis such as a terrorist attack and the more mundane warnings about ‘mind the gap’, not leaning on the doors and what to do if your bag is caught. Apparently the homeless in the tourist areas of the city are ‘relocated’ and poverty is more apparent in the north of the island. With the popularity of Manga (Japanese cartooning) and Anime (animation) characters such as Stand up Stacy, encourage you to give up your seat on the train and the MRT cards are personalized with various Manga characters. I am conflicted. While I think it’s a great city state there is a pervasive feeling here of being watched over, being looked after. I feel safe. I feel there will be no surprises. I feel there is a sense of carefully managed conformity. I wonder what happens to the non-conformists, the eccentric, the creative?
The people are extraordinary. On a number of occasions when we looked lost or confused, we were approached and assisted. The most extraordinary exchange was when we found an obscure little restaurant in Chinatown the name of which was …well…in Chinese and so I don’t know what it was, but the food was amazing. We were determined to have the famous Chilli Crab. There were very few customers when we first arrived, but it was our last day and the price of the Chilli Crab was reasonably (comparatively!!!). There was little English spoken, so we were grateful for the picture plastered menu. We made sure we understood how much we were going to pay and ordered just one 600ml bottle of beer and two glasses. The waiter came and was about to pour our beer. No! Stop! Please! No ice! We had no compunctions about the ice being unhealthy it was just well…. ice? in a beer? I later noticed it was the done thing in that restaurant. Our crab was delicious.
As regular clientele filed in and the hubbub grew, I was taken by the dish that was delivered to the table beside us. I asked what it was, and the woman insisted I have a taste. I was a bit thrown but she insisted. It was chilli snails and the idea was to suck them out of their little shells. Much laughter and jocularity followed. When the fish arrived, and her lovely friend spooned some into a little dish and insisted I have some of that too we knew it was time to make our retreat. These people were just so lovely.
Our Singapore fling ended appropriately with a visit to Singapore’s latest amazing shopping centre, Jewel at Changi. It opened the day we left. It epitomises Singapore, incredible!