Tuesday, March 31, 2009
30 March 2009 – Singapore – Wow were we ever impressed with Singapore. Not a very democratic place but the leaders get A+ for urban planning.
This island city is off the southern top of the Malay Peninsula just one degree north of the equator but has so much greenery and so many trees (more than 4 million) that it seems much cooler than you would expect. Building codes require that buildings along the street have an overhang to shield people from the sun and rain as they walk. 80 percent of the people here own their own homes – many in condos built by the government. So public housing here is not just for the poor, but people here don’t rent public housing, they buy it. The only way you can tell the public from the private condo buildings is that people who live in the public condos can hang their laundry out.
They have a terrific subway that goes everywhere and housing is allocated so rich, poor and middle income have an equal chance to be close to the subway. All the buildings look fresh and new since there is a requirement that all buildings be painted every 5 years. Cars are discouraged – there are a limited number of permits issued each year and they are auctioned off to the highest bidder – typically adding $10K to the cost of buying a car. Car prices are artificially raised as well. They have an island nearby that is designated for recreation and has beaches, picnic areas, sports facilities, etc that you can reach by bridge or aerial tram.
They are one of the world’s busiest ports and refine perhaps half of the world’s oil – all of this on islands away from their main residential and business island. A very prosperous place.
Drug offenses here carry the death penalty. Littering, spitting on the sidewalk and other minor offenses carry a stiff fine. The only thing that carries a duty in this free port is smoking materials. Bringing any amount in without declaring it carries a $10000 fine! Thus Singapore is a beautiful, nearly crime free place, with no litter, no slums, no homeless, not much smoking, little pollution and no beggars. Not what we are used to seeing in this part off the world – or anywhere else for that matter.
They are 77 percent Chinese descent, 14% Malayan, 7 % Indian and 2 other and pride themselves on being Singaporean and on living with harmony between races and religions. Their first elected President was of Chinese extraction, but the current one is Indian. Of course it is the Prime Minister who wields the real power and he is elected by the ruling party. There are only currently 2 opposition members in their parliament, so the Prime Minister is very powerful indeed. But their leaders have apparently used their power wisely and with long-term prosperity and quality of life a primary goals.
We toured the orchid garden in their botanical park. Probably the most beautiful garden we have ever seen. We rode down Orchard Road (their upscale shopping area) and past Raffles Hotel and then on into Chinatown. We got off the tour there and spent the afternoon having lunch (Chili crabs – a local specialty of whole crab in a sweet-hot sauce that has scrambled egg mixed in. Man were we a mess afterwards – the sauce splatters as you are picking the crab apart.) and shopping. We took the subway to Orchard Road. Mary needed some cotton trousers for Egypt and India and most of the stores here have only “size Asian” as Mary calls it – too tiny for American bods.
Singapore is very livable despite year round temps in the 90s. We would be interested in coming back and spending a few more days here. Oh and did I mention that everyone here speaks at least a little English?
Next stop Andaman Islands (owned by India)