"You know! We have the cleanest city on earth! We even ban the chewing gum!" My taxi driver could not help boasting when I told him that I thought that Singapore was a clean and tidy city.
Yet, banning gum is only a minuscule part of the effort since independence in the 1960s for the evolvement and organization of this tiny city-state, consisting of 57 islands. The city's preoccupation with cleanliness translates into an inner town that is totally renovated and always spotless. Even though skyscrapers crowd each other for space, traffic is well regulated on the superb avenues that criss-cross the city. Old sections and famous landmarks are gradually face-lifted.
Compared to many other countries, the quality of life here is excellent. Everyone works with unemployment virtually non-existent. In fact, the country requires 1 million foreign workers.
Lee Kuan Yew, architect of modern Singapore, is largely responsible for the beautiful metamorphosis of this city-state. A Cambridge-educated, third-generation, Straits-born Chinese, he led Singapore, from before independence in 1965 until 1990. With a firm hand, he carefully transformed his state from a poverty-stricken urban centre to a booming nation, now called 'The Switzerland of the East.'
Located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, about 640 sq km (259 sq mi) in area - 50% built up - had virtually no history until the British came. Less than two centuries ago, it was a barren, pirate-infested island.
The city owes its beginning to Sir Stamford Raffles, a British colonial official. Seeing its strategic importance as an excellent port located at the crossroads of Asia, he laid its foundation in 1819 along the Singapore River - still the heart of town. His town plan was based on cast, class, creed and race. Hence, he allotted separate districts to Europeans, Chinese, Malays, Arabs and Indians - a demarcation visible in the city today.
Under Lee's guidance, by developing education, technical training and organizing growth, Singapore became Asia's pre-eminent centre of finance, trade and tourism. The saying that "Singapore has always striven to balance the mystic of the Oriental god-king with the rationality of the corporate technocrat" is a result of Lee's handiwork. Now, one of the most affluent countries in Asia, it boasts the world's busiest harbour; there are always 600 to 800 ships in port at one time, and an airport served by most of the world's major airlines.
As an entity, Singapore is Chinese with a strong Western face, mellowed by other influences, its architecture an eclectic mix of colonial Chinese, Malay, Indian and Arab influences.
In communication and speech, there is the same potpourri. The city-state has four official languages: Bahasa Malaysian, the national tongue, Mandarin, Tamil and English which is the language of business and administration. Even though 77% of its 3 million population are Chinese, 14% Malay, 7% Indian, 2% Eurasians and others, English unites them all.
The country is a mixture of the great Asian cultures, but there is little friction between the races. Buddhist and Hindu temples, Christian churches, Muslim mosques, and relics from the British colonial past, all are respected in a live and let live atmosphere.
The conglomeration of races has spawned a mind-boggling array of restaurants serving, in addition to Malaysian food, Thai and all types of European food, Asian peasant fare and the courtly food of Imperial China and India. The state is a miniature world of Asian cuisine, peppered by the Western kitchen. Everyone has access to these foods in the ubiquitous cheap, hygienic food-court centres.
Modern tourist facilities are emulated by neighbouring countries which aspire to follow Singapore's lead. Singapore's renown as a fine place in which to spend a few days is drawing annually nearly ten million visitors, more than two and a half times the island's resident population. Like a young taxi driver told me, "It's a tourist mecca."
No wonder why: the city offers a large variety of attractions, restaurants, and can accommodate any budget. You can find
cheap hotels in Singapore or go for luxurious resorts with world-class cuisine and VIP-worthy spa treatment.
Habeeb Salloum has authored numerous books, his latest: Arab Cooking On A Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes And Recollections - winner of the Cuisine Canada and The University of Guelph's Silver Canadian Culinary Book Awards in Winnipeg in 2006. He contributes to Forever Young (Oakville), Contemporary Review (Oxford, UK), Canadian World Traveller (Quebec) and the Toronto Star.
- Citizens of most western countries do not need visas, only valid passports to enter Singapore.
- For transportation from the Changi International Airport to the city, the best bet is to take the MRT. Trains run every ten minutes and the fare to the city centre is SGD $1.80.
- Exchange cash at 'Money Changers'; traveller cheques in banks. 1 US dollar = 1.45 Singapore dollars (SGD).
- Tipping is prohibited at the airport and discouraged at hotels and restaurants.
- Singapore's humid temperature averages 23 C to 30 C (73 to 86 F). Only light clothing is needed.
- Singapore is also known as a food paradise for its wide varieties of food.
- Water is clean and safe to drink from the taps.
- Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world to visit.
- In Singapore you are fined if you litter, chew gum (except smoker's gum Nicorette), and smoke in public places. Firecrackers and guns are banned. There is a mandatory death penalty for anyone trafficking in drugs or discharges a firearm in the course of committing a serious offence.
- For hotel rooms contact Asia-hotels - check Web site:
http://www.asiahotels.com/location-listby-name/Singapore-Singapore.asp However, if affluent, the Raffles Hotel is the place to stay. See website:
- Singapore has an International Airport Departure Tax of SGD 21, but it is usually included in the ticket price.
- From the airport there are a number of ways to get into the city:
- Taxi (cab) is easiest - simply follow the signs after clearing customs. Meters are always used in Singapore and prices are reasonable. A trip to the city during the day will be between $20 and $30 including $3-5 airport surcharge. An additional 50% surcharge applies between midnight and 6 AM.
- Limousines charge a flat $35 to anywhere in the city and are a pretty good deal after midnight, as you can skip the queue and avoid the surcharge. The same pricing applies to chartering van-sized MaxiCabs, which are good for large families or if you have lots of baggage.
- Shuttle - Shared six-seater MaxiCab shuttle service to designated areas/hotels costs $7.00 and can be booked in advance or in the arrivals hall. 6 AM to 2 AM, every 15 to 30 minutes.
- Subway - MRT trains run from a station between T2 and T3, but you'll need to change trains at Tanah Merah to a city-bound train: just exit through the left hand side door and cross the platform. The 30-minute ride to City Hall station costs $1.40 plus a refundable $1 deposit, and trains run from 5:31 AM to 11:18 PM.
- Bus - Bus terminals can be found in the basements of T1, T2 and T3. 6 AM to midnight only. Fares are sub-$2.00, exact fare required (no change given).
- Banned in Singapore: There's more to the list than just porn and drugs:
- Overhead wires
- Satellite dishes
- Standing water
- Freestanding billboards
- Feeding pigeons or monkeys
- Malaysian newspapers
- Homosexual activity
Singapore Tourism Board
If you go
Singapore Tourism Board, Tourism Court, 1 Orchard Spring Lane, Singapore 247729.
Tel: (65) 6736 6622. Fax: (65) 6736 9423.
Singapore Tourism Board, 1156 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 702, New York, NY 10036, USA.
Tel: (1-212) 302 4861. Fax: (1-212) 302 4801.
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Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
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Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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