Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Singapore





It was HRH the Queen of Kutch’s 50th birthday. A Bacchanalian celebration was held in Mumbai, where 70 of her nearest and dearest Courtiers were invited. The celebrations then continued with an early morning flight the next day, thankfully, to Singapore.

Singapore!

We are here for a short 5 night break.

We were flying Singapore Airlines after a fairly long time. Most of our trips are in the other direction, i.e. West by the wonderful Emirates and the beloved by Indians, Jet Airways. Everyone sings praises about Singapore Airlines. We were looking forward to the flight. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200 a relatively old plane. I must confess that I was sorely disappointed. The in-flight service was good, but, unfortunately an old airplane is really tiresome. The entertainment system was patchy, the choice small, and the quality of the equipment poor. Mind you, I compare this to a similar service that we use on the Bombay Dubai flights on Emirates. This was a poor second. I believe that the flight from Singapore will be on an Airbus A 380. Let us see how that leg will be. I must say the landing was exciting. A huge tropical storm in Singapore. We made two approaches, both of which were aborted at the last minute - “go around” is the technical term. Finally we landed on the third attempt. Then bags were delayed as they claimed that lightening was all around. Finally we were in our hotel. On asking around I was told that Singaporeans are deadly scared about lightning strikes. Hence they go ape shit and hide.

Many people, especially the intellectuals, regard Dubai as `fake’ an `adult’s fantasy’ or an `adults playground’. I do not. I quite like Dubai. It is man made; it has loads of glitz, expensive cars, dodgy women and men, malls to indulge in vacuous shopping, theme parks of all kinds drawing masses of tourists to a place with an inhospitable climate. Everything is new and shiny and is supposed to be over the top. A place to indulge in every aspect of hedonism while neighbouring countries are restrictive and puritanical, and, gasp, Muslim.

And Singapore? Does not every one of these adjectives or criteria not apply to Singapore? Want to go point by point? Robertson, Clarke and Boat Quay, the Sentosa Island Resort, Jurong Bird Park, Gardens by the Bay, the Formula 1 extravaganza running thru the city streets? Inhospitable climate – check. What about the man-made Universal Studios, S.E.A. Aquarium, KidZania Singapore, MOSH!, iFly and Mega Adventure Park – whatever they are? Everything over the top with football field sized shopping malls along Orchard Road. How about the puritanical neighbours – Indonesia and Malaysia which are Islamic? Both Dubai and Singapore, are City States, with autocratic, though, benevolent rulers. Both places are built on trading, commerce and finance – the Arabs and the Chinese being legendary traders. Now what do you have to say?

I like Singapore. I just don’t like the unfortunate painting of Dubai by a brush that you do not want to use for Singapore. Paint them both fuchsia for all I care, but be sure to paint them with the same brush.

We reached Singapore on Christmas Eve so the next two days were holidays – Christmas and Boxing Day. As you may know Orchard Road is the main shopping street in Singapore. Mornings were quiet, but by afternoon and in the evenings the shops, malls footpaths, underpasses were chock a block with people. This was as crowded as Oxford Street in London or Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. There were people like ants.

Shopping in the traditional sense is not something either HRH the Queen of Kutch or I indulge in. Yes we do shop. We are obsessed by food, so it’s food markets. Supermarkets, gourmet stores, the food and drink sections in book stores and, of course, the kitchen or cook shop sections in department stores. I can spend hours in them and can spend thousands of Rupees in them. So in Singapore we visited the rather good Japanese stores both supermarkets and cook shops. Chinatown, although very sterile in Singapore is great fun too. Went to a huge Chinese Supermarket and a Kitchen store on Temple Street. All time well spent.

You must know by now that my centre of the Universe is London. Jokes are made of how I have to travel via London to get to anywhere. One aspect about something as mundane as escalators that struck me was, I thought they moved faster here in Singapore than in London. Also, in Singapore you stood on the left of the escalator leaving the right open for the people in a rush to bound down or up. In London it is the other way around. You stand on the right, bounding on the left.

Singapore is really very clean. I do mean really clean. And yes, you cannot buy chewing gum. I looked in several of the stores we visited, no chewing gum, only mints. It rains virtually every day, the result is that the trees and vegetation is clean and green, washed of all the dust. The heavy vegetation, clean streets, modern high rises juxtaposed with colonial bungalows makes a very attractive combination. There is a lot of greenery.

Another strange phenomenon in Singapore is the presence of Kinokuniya, an anachronism. This is a huge, absolutely massive bookshop Japanese owned slap bang in the middle of Orchard Road in the Ngee Ann building. This bookshop dwarfs all bookshops you have in the UK. This one is massive. In today’s day and age finding such a store is a real delight. We spent a couple of hours looking for books. I must say with all honesty that my actions after that were wholly inappropriate. I took down the names of the books on my mobile and got back to the hotel and ordered each one of them online from Amazon India. They will be delivered home in the next few days. HRH the Queen of Kutch has ordered what she wanted on Kindle. This is the best way to kill the shop. The books I ordered turned out to be on an average 30% cheaper that in the shop. The only explanation I can offer is that private equity or venture capital funding of Amazon is able to subsidise the cost of the books I buy. Something is seriously wrong. Frankly, if the physical book shop disappears. I will simply have a far smaller universe to buy my books from. Out of the 5 books I bought, I saw 4 in the store. There was no way I would have known about these books had I not gone to the store. Point is how do you search for something you do not know exists? If you do not know a book or its author exist how the heck do you search for it? I hope Kinokuniya survives, intact. If it does go the Rhythm House way, I know I am to blame.

The food is good though not necessarily cheap. You could get a bowl of Laksa in a Hawker stall for SGD 6 that is INR 300. A Fish Ball Noodle Soup would be about the same. Remember that both these have very little protein, and what they have is shredded or mashed, thus bulking it up. A bowl of Pho the Vietnamese Noodle Soup with a bit of sliced beef and a beef ball would be SGD 11 which is INR 550. Remember this is in a mall, so, fairly basic. Of course you have all sorts of dining options and all sorts of price points. But, we eat a Spartan lunch, so this was what we had and loved. The quality of food is by and large much better that what we would get back in India. There are lots and lots of bars all over. In fact the purpose built Robertson, Clarke and Boat Quays are where the young and happening chill out after a day’s work. There are lots of microbreweries and beer is good. A pint of beer would be anywhere between 15 to 20 SGD which is INR 750 to 1000 which is pretty stiff. But you can be sure it’s cold and refreshing. 

I must tell you that public transport in Singapore by the trains is good, efficient and cheap. We used taxis. These are slightly more problematic. The first point is that you cannot hail them. You have to be at a taxi stand. When it rains in Singapore and yu are without an umbrella taking shelter from the storm, getting a taxi is an impossibility. The second aspect is the fare. There is a basic fare which is displayed on a screen, and it steadily rachets up, along with your blood pressure. When you complete your ride an electronic voice will tell you a fare that is several dollars higher that what was displayed. Then magically just as the electronic voice complete the sentence the fare will change on the screen to the announced fare. None of this is cheating or rigging of the meter. It is simply that all sorts of surcharges are added to the basic fare - peak hour, additional passengers, tolls, and CBD charges. If you ask for a reciept you will get a line by line itemised bill. However this charging is arcane. 

I am not a child neither is HRH the Queen of Kutch or Senior Mrs Stonethrower who is accompanying on this visit. So all the attractions I have listed in the earlier paragraphs hold no charms for us. But, if you are an adult, and like nature and like seeing how man made stuff can enhance the enjoyment of nature, I seriously recommend that you visit the Gardens by the Bay. This is a new area of Singapore, purpose built, in and around the beautiful Marina Bay complex where you have the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This is a large 250 acre area that opened in 2012. The primary attractions are 3. The first is what they call the Supertree Grove. Supertrees are tree-like structures that dominate the Gardens' landscape with heights that range between 25 metres and 50 metres. They are vertical gardens that perform a multitude of functions, which include planting, shading and working as environmental engines for the gardens.

Then you have basically, two huge cooled, temperature and humidity controlled conservatories or greenhouses.

Flower Dome is the lower but larger of the two, at 3 acres. Yes 3 acres! It replicates a mild, dry climate and features plants found in the Mediterranean and other semi-arid tropical regions The Flower Dome is 38 metres high and maintains a temperature between 23 °C and 25 °C. The Flower Dome features seven different "gardens" as well as an olive grove with a bistro and a central changing display field has also been incorporated to enable flower shows and displays to be held within the conservatory.

The Cloud Forest is higher but slightly smaller at 2.0 acres. Yes dear readers, a 2 acre greenhouse. It replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions It has a 42-metre "Cloud Mountain", accessible by an elevator, and you will be able to descend the mountain via a circular path where a 35-metre waterfall provides visitors with refreshing cool air.




I must tell you it was quite chilly walking thru the two conservatories. I have some very beautiful photographs of the flowers inside. The Gardens By The Bay were truly exciting. The sheer pain, money, design, Governmental vision on creating this is something to admire. On your next visit to Singapore do visit this. Truly impressive.

So folks, all in all, Singapore is a nice place to go to. As an Indian you do not feel out of place. Things are not alien, there is no language barrier, transport is easy, and food is good. The Gardens By The Bay are worth it. You do not need special clothes, just our usual Bombay clothes and if your wife does wear a sari or a salwar khameez neither she nor you will stick out.

Go to Singapore. Fun for all and far better than the utterly boring Kuala Lumpur, the seedy slutty Bangkok and the overridden by Chinese, Hong Kong.






Tequila Sunrise - The Agave plant from which you get Tequila




Supertrees































2 comments:

  1. That's a well - written blog - lucid , interesting and one that made me think and reflect especially the part about the similarities between Singapore and Dubai.

    I thought I could share my views based on our years in Singapore and travels to Dubai and hearing about friends' experiences in Dubai:

    I agree that there are similarities - both man- made beacons of trade, commerce and opulence . Both are multi - cultural and yes run by autocratic but benevolent rulers. However I think there are some differences.

    First from the aesthetic or the external lens seen thru a tourist's eyes : Singapore has a huge thrust on greenery, orchids and the like e.g. I doubt if Dubai has anything like a Gardens by the bay . Also while there are man made things in Sg, they are conscious of their impact on the environment - I have read articles on how Dubai's over the top construction forays. Dubai seems to have a more ostentatious culture to throw money and make it the best , richest , tallest ...Singapore when it separated from Malaysia in the mid 60s aspired to be a clean self sufficient state that can give its citizens an international level standard of living. While things are man-made and people are materialistic, I don't see similar mega King- size claims or aspirations. Other than perhaps claims (tightly so) of a green, clean and over- disciplined state with one of the best airports in the world.

    With both places having a huge Indian population , Singapore is more multi cultural - the Chinese impact can be seen and felt a lot. In Dubai it's more of the Islamic and Sourh East Asian influences.

    After HK in Asia, Singapore is the epicenter of the finance world - hedge funds and banks abound there. So do many other companies with regional HeadQuarters like research , pharma etc. Dubai really isn't on that map .

    Singapore is better planned, it has a plan B and a Plan C for every eventuality - there may not be another city in the world that compares with this - rendering it predictable. Dubai is probably more fun!

    From a living point of view, the access that one has to truly international schools, medical facilities and doctors and truly cosmopolitan condominiumss and residential areas is huge. Our Japanese and Korean friends found enough and more of their food and groceries. I am not sure if Dubai can match this!









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