Singapore is a collection of over 50 islands with the mainland by the same name accounting for a third of the area. Legend has it that Sang Nila Uttama, a king of SriVijaya dynasty from northern Sumatra, gave the name Singapura to this beautiful island nation. Sir Stamford Raffles gave Singapore its free trade policy.
Changi Airport, adjudged one of the best in the world quite a few times, is in itself a tourist attraction. Singapore is warm and humid throughout the year and the vegetation is lush-green with all kinds of tropical plants.
I have spent 12 years of my life in Singapore and there is definitely more to this country than meets the eye. If you are going for a short visit, there are enough places to keep you excited for a couple of weeks. Star attractions include Sentosa, the island of happiness, talking birds in the bird park and the night safari in Singapore Zoo. Chinese and Japanese gardens and the 19th century ambience of Chijmes are good for pleasant morning and afternoon walks. Sungei Buloh and Bukit Timah Nature Park are the places to go if you are in the mood to picnic and exercise.
Culture of Singapore
Singapore is multi-cultural with immigrants from all over the world. So wear what you want and eat what you like. The majority of the population is, of course, made up of its indigenous races – the Chinese, the Malays, and the Indians. It has four national languages - English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. You can get all kinds of food – Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Continental, South Indian, you name it and Singapore has to-die-for food from all parts of the world, be it in fancy restaurants or streetside fare.
Getting around Singapore
Singapore has a great public transport system, a network of inter connected buses and trains. You just need to buy a plastic card from one of the train stations and swipe your way through Singapore using its network of buses and MRTs (Mass Rapid Transport System). The pre-paid amount in the card gets deducted and you need to top it up periodically to keep traveling. You can also hire a taxi and if you are lucky, you might get a chatty taxi driver who can tell you much more about Singapore than any travel guide.
A good place to purchase gold, the island nation’s jewelry is acknowledged for its purity and authenticity. Shopping malls and theatres all over the city delight Asian, especially Indian tourists. There are also several theatres screening Hindi and Tamil movies. Little India, Chinatown and Orchard road are the places to visit on a weekend. The crowds are a delightful mixture of shoppers, tourists, ex-pats and residents, a good place to catch the real Singapore unawares. Boating on Kallang River during weekends from Raffles Place to City Hall is almost a festival of sights, sounds and smells.
Religious tolerance and acceptance are inherent in Singapore’s multi-ethnic environment. What is surprising is the presence of a body of multi-cultural and multi-religious beliefs consisting of Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists coexisting with ‘free thinkers’ who do not believe in religion. This is unique to Singapore. You would find ardent Chinese devotees in Hindu temples and Indian devotees in the Chinese temples. The sight of a Chinese gentleman kneeling before the altar of Kali is a testament to Singapore’s religious tolerance.
It is awesome to see Indian and Chinese men piercing their bodies with spears to pull chariots for the Thai Pusam festival to please Lord Murugan at the Tank Road Temple. Other celebrations and festive sights worth watching are the lighting in Serangoon road during Diwali, Geylang fare during Hari Raya festival (Ramzan) and Christmas lighting in Orchard road. Chinatown lighting and lion dances during Chinese New Year are extremely colourful to say the least. Takashimaya Complex in Orchard road has wonderful Lion dance displays during this season and many neighbourhood common areas also put up splendid displays.
Accommodation in Singapore
If you plan to live in Singapore for a longer time, it helps to know that house rents are a bit steep and travel expenses might burn a hole in your pocket. It would be difficult to obtain independent housing in Singapore due to scarcity of land. It would help to know that there are flats rented out by the government (Jurong Town Council) for foreign immigrants. You can purchase a house/flat in Singapore only if you are a permanent resident or a citizen.
Traveling in and around Singapore
It would also be a good idea to obtain a multiple entry Malaysian visa to travel during weekends and long holidays. Singapore mainland, being all of 256 sq km, does not offer much in the name of long drives and you may soon get bored when you are done with visiting all attractions and nearby islands. The next best bet is to catch a town bus and go to the nearest Malaysian town, Johor Bahru and get your week’s goodies for almost half the price you would get in Singapore! Similarly, Batam, the nearest Indonesian town which can be reached by a ferry, is known for its cheap beer.
Work ethos in Singapore
Singaporean humor is distinct and not readily noticed. Sooner or later, you would start learning and speaking in Singlish, the island’s version of English, similar to the Indian Hinglish. Singaporeans are tech-savvy and brand conscious. In workplace, punctuality, regular attendance and working hours are expected in most of the organizations. You would definitely miss the vibrancy of India when you stay abroad for a long time. When you do so, it is time for a quick trip back home to soak yourself in its splendor, which you would appreciate more when you are away from it.
Safety issues in Singapore
Some crimes considered petty in India attract a stiff punishment in Singapore. These include littering, firing crackers, vandalism of public/private property, spitting/urinating in public places, and illegal immigration. In spite of the strict laws and excellent governance, the crime rate is still not zero. But if you follow basic precautions, you would be quite safe.
With all its pros and cons, if you ask me whether I would be in favor of sending my own children to live in Singapore, my answer would be an emphatic yes!
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—About our writer:
Balajee has a scientific bent of mind. He has a doctorate in Engineering and likes to experiment with things. His best results are his two kids. Unfortuntaely, he does not have the funding to continue this line of research any more. He also likes to read and write travel articles, short stories and not-so-short stories and of course technical writing.
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