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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Singapore

Tuesday | December 22, 2014


The last day on The World for a few month gave us the opportunity to sightsee in Singapore. I'll next join the ship when it is Mumbai.


It was the Christmas season so The World was unusually crowded with "strangers." For the first time during my experience on the ship, the lobby more closely resembled what one would see at a Disney World Marriott.  I understand that 120 passengers will be boarding the ship today, among them 62 children. I was treated to seeing a handful of them running and cavorting around the lobby, pulling candy off the Christmas train display and generally causing a ruckus. While checking in, one twenty-something girl was waving her arms around in dramatic fashion when she knocked one of her appendages into a waiter who was carrying a silver tray full of champagne and orange juice glasses for arriving guests. The sound of fine crystal shattering into tiny pieces on the marble floor was enough to make me scurry back up to the apartment to hide.


But Singapore had long fascinated me, so a tour of the city was the order of the day.


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At 10:00, with our bags being ported by one of the bellmen, we met our chauffeur/guide, Jumari Bin Sunariyo (HP: (65) 86133086 or (65) 94512457).  Jumari was one of the nicest drivers we have had on this journey. He was thoughtful, kind, polite, and very informative. He watched over us when we left the vehicle – to take walks, visit temples, or take the cable car – and was very knowledgeable about all aspects of Singapore.


Although we saw and learned a great deal today, there was no single museum, temple or world heritage site that dominated the day – in fact, there were virtually none of those. Rather, it was a wonderful opportunity to learn about Singapore, it’s history and its culture.


So now, a bit about Singapore. It is known as the Lion City (literally Singa-Pora, lion city in Malay) for its emblematic Merlion (half mermaid-half lion) statue.

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This tropical city-state is an exotic melange of cultures and cuisines, sacred temples and pulsating nightlife, rare antiques and leading age electronics – in short, a complex metropolis with capacious appeal. But more than that, Jumari introduced us to the nationalities, religions, and deep-rooted historical culture of Singapore.


As I often do, please permit me to share a few thoughts and facts about Singapore:

  1. Singapore was founded by a British governor, Raffles, in 1819.

  2. Lee was a very influential man in Malaysia. It was he who won Singapore its independence from Britain in 1965.

  3. 40 years ago, Singapore was 647 km in size. Now, it is 725 km in size.

  4. The entire port and bay and garden areas of Singapore are reclaimed lands.

  5. In fact, Singapore has reclaimed so much water area that it is now bordering on international water.

  6. In building the port and areas that are now above the water level, Singapore purchased the dirt and land for the project from Indonesia. (I had lots of dirt to sell too; I wish they had contacted me.)

  7. There are 5.5 million people residing in Singapore.

  8. 3 million of the citizens of Singapore are considered local, whereas the rest of them are immigrants who come here to work, mostly from China, India and the Philippines.

  9. Singapore is well represented by 10 disparate nationalities and 4 independent religions – Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist.

  10. Singapore’s only natural resource is its people. In fact, they do not even have enough drinking water on this island and have to buy it and import it from Malaysia.

  11. Two of the most famous ethnic areas in Singapore are Chinatown and Little India; we saw both.

Indians in Singapore live primarily in dormitories. On weekends, buses take them to Little India to socialize and eat.


The first attraction we visited was Gardens by the Bay.

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Fast forwarding nature into the future, the Gardens by the Bay is the latest grand attraction at Marina Bay. It brags of several highlights including impressive science fiction “super trees” as well as state of the art conservatories sheltering plants from endangered habitats.


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Next, we drove by a huge outdoor amphitheater with a floating stage. And in the water, all around the stage, were thousands of white and red balls.

I mentioned the very influential Mr. Lee above. The Lee family essentially controls all of Singapore. For example, Singapore has wonderful public housing with over 100,000 units available. But the transactional lawyer for every one of those units must be the law firm of Lee & Lee. (Nice work if you can get it – but really bad luck if your last name is not Lee.)


Consistent with everything I have ever heard about Singapore, the prices here are insane. Our guide told us that a Toyota Camry would cost about $110,000, and the car we were riding in, a Mercedes Benz S class, $300,000. Much of that is accounted for in the in the enormous price one must pay to own a vehicle – almost $80,000. And that license only lasts for 10 years, regardless of whether the vehicle is still operable.


Jumari reported that Singapore has excellent schools but a very expensive healthcare system. And we chatted quite a bit about the criminal justice system. His father-in-law works for the penal system and is responsible for administering caning to criminals who are sentenced to that form of punishment. Using rattan sticks, he beats them on the back the number of times prescribed by the sentencing judge – if a prisoner cannot tolerate the number of lashes he has to withstand (for example 50), he takes 10 or 15 lashes and is brought back to his cell, only to have the rest administered – in whole or in part – later that week or the next week.


Capital punishment is also widely used in Singapore; the method of execution is death by hanging. Unlike the United States, capital punishment is not relegated solely to the crime of murder; it can be applied to one convicted of rape, serious assault or serious drug charges (and probably other offenses).


Jumari took us to the center of the Chinese/Buddhist section of Singapore where we got out of the car. I walked a few blocks by myself, past hundreds of souvenir stands before finally coming to a lovely temple.

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Once inside, we located the Buddhas relegated to our birth year signs – mine is the pig!

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Then, we wandered around to the front of the temple where we encountered a fascinating ceremony. It appeared to be more than ordinary mass, as there were numerous Buddhist monks chanting to a very full audience.

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We watched it for a while and even took short video clips. One of the leading monks walked through the assembled and shook what appeared to be holy water on all of us. It really was a fascinating experience and quite different from what we have seen in the first 53 (or so!) temples we visited on this trip.

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And I found a street sign I would like for my room.

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As we drove to town, we also remarked about the amazing architecture in the city. There were so many different types of buildings, one could spend months there and not even study all of them.

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These two interesting photographs each depict an ancient mosque in the foreground and a vividly striking skyscraper in the background.

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There is one building that features a massive garden on the roof – and a swimming pool whose edge extends to the edge of the building.  Jumari said he once swam there (his niece works there and got him a pass for his 50th birthday), but stayed away from the edge for fear he would “swim off.”

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We next drove to the Singapore Cable Car, established in 1974.

Much more than simply a mode of transport linking local residents and visitors from the top of Mount Faber Park (where we embarked) to Sentosa Island (where we disembarked), the cable car “joyride” offers a wonderful 360° ariel treat of the entire Sentosa harborfront skyline. In addition, this is the only cable car in the world which:

  1. takes off from the hills,

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  1. passes over a highway,

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  1. through an office building,

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  1. over a bay

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  1. over a Universal Studies theme park

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  1. before heading to the island resort of Santosa.

The technologically advanced fleet of 68 cable cars launched in October 2010 and really does provide extraordinary vistas.

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Once we boarded the cable car, Jumari sped around to Santosa to meet us. On the island, which is located just 1640 feet off Singapore’s south coast, Jumari took us on a tour of the houses of the rich and famous.

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He advised that some of these houses can cost $20-$30 million. The British converted the island into a military fortress during the late 1800s, and in 1967 it was returned to Singapore who in turn developed it into a holiday resort.

This fine Egyptian house featured these larger than life size man/wolves with red, illuminated eyes.


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Next, it was time for lunch. Jumari drove us to the world famous Raffles Hotel where we dined in the Tiffin Room, a tradition since 1899.

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Though it is defined as a light, midday meal, our feast was an extravaganza. Dining here is a sensual experience. The curry buffet was amazing and it featured authentic northern Indian specialties and vegetarian curries. Of course, as one might expect with a world-renowned lunch, the cost was proportional – $189 for two.


We were also treated to a concert of Christmas carols put on by what appeared to be a local high school or college chorus.

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After lunch, we shopped in the Raffles gift shop, whose prices were no less decadent then those in the Tiffin Room. See, for example, this little tote bag ($700) and briefcase ($1,000).

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Our next stop was little Arabia, or Arab Street.

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Jumari introduced us to the oldest mosque in Singapore. Next, he took us to the Arab school and explained that, although girls and boys inhabit the same school, they are kept separate.

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Moreover, during physical education classes, boys are not allowed to observe girls participating in any sport, or even running.

We drove by a series of Hindu temples, one more beautiful than the other.

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The next neighborhood we saw was a small Turkish area. But one of the highlights of Singapore is Little India and it did not disappoint. It featured the same tailor shops, dressmakers, mosques and restaurants we have seen in countries all over the world that feature the Indian culture.

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And finally, we saw a Sikh mosque and learned that the Sikhs are the only group in Singapore who are absolved of the requirement that one wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle (because of their turbans).

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Jumari then drove us to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza at Changi Airport. Although it is named the Crowne Plaza, it is reputed to be the jewel of Asian airport hotels (and is actively campaigning for the title of best airport hotel in the world). We walked through an outdoor atrium on the way to our room, which had a nice view of the tower.

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