We arrived in Singapore at about 8AM and took some city photos from the ship at breakfast. Here, there are 100 year-old buildings from colonial British rule mixed with very avant garde modern skyscrapers and unusual architectural-style buildings. Singapore became independent in 1959 and is one of the smallest nations in the world. Sitting at the bottom tip of the Malay Peninsula, the island nation is only 15 miles wide and about 25 miles long. It is lovely, modern, and clean. Everyone speaks English (it is compulsory in school) and also their native language. It may be Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Arabic, or Indian. There are ethnic quarters of Chinatown, Arab Street, Little India, and Malay quarter. There are two mosques for the city’s predominately Muslim population, including the spectacular Sultan Mosque.
We left the theater for our excursion at 9:30, but we needed to have a face-to-face meeting with immigration agents upon leaving the ship, even though we would only be there for 6-7 hours. This took an additional half hour, so even though we were in bus #5, it took almost a half hour before all of us got through immigration and boarded the bus. We began about 10:30 and toured until after 2:30. The bus took us first to Clarke Quay, where we boarded a battery-operated boat and proceeded down the Singapore River to the city center at Marina Bay. The scenery of modern buildings consumed most of Mac’s photographic time. There were also some preserved older buildings, which were the earlier trading centers along the river. We left the river boat and walked to the 8.6 meter high iconic statue of the Merlion with the head of a lion and body of a fish. This location will become the identity of Singapore, much like the Statue of Liberty is to New York and the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Mac took some scenic photographs with Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background. We walked over the Jubilee Bridge toward the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, strange domed buildings shaped like armadillos. At night, we were told, they look like giant microphones when lit up.
Our bus was waiting for us at the end of our walk and our guide, Iris, pointed out city landmarks in her flawless English. We drove by the Governor’s Residence, which used to be a nutmeg plantation, and is now the home of Singapore’s first female president. We saw the 1887 Raffles Hotel, named for Sir Stamford Raffles, who established this area for the British East India Company in 1819 (200-year celebration next year) and is currently being renovated. It is on Beach Street and used to be next to the beach until massive filling took place to claim needed land from the sea. The beach is now almost a mile away.
Our next stop was the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, built in 2010, consisting of 3 towers with a ship-like formation on top, including an infinity pool and lovely gardens there, only for guest use. We took an elevator to the 56th floor observation deck and got some breathtaking views and pictures of the city. We had about 30 minutes at the top, plenty of time to see everything. On the ground floor, we walked most of the 800’ length of the lobby marveling at the vastness of the interior, as we descended underground to the bus area. There we saw a miniature floor cleaner washing and vacuuming the road surface in the garage. It must be the cleanest and shiniest vehicle road anywhere.
Returning to the bus, we toured some of the ethnic areas. We went through Chinatown and got to enter the Thian Hock Keng Temple. This was fascinating. Mac got some pictures of the shrines and architecture. Next, we walked through the Arab Quarter, specializing in spices and textiles. We walked up close to the Sultan Mosque, a beautiful building made entirely from donations from the Muslim population. Since they wanted poorer Muslims to feel like they contributed, they were asked to collect used ketchup bottles that would bring a few cents each when recycled. The architect decided to use the bottles instead, and cut off the bottoms and worked them into the black band under the gold dome. We could actually see all the circle of the bottles. This way everyone felt ownership.
We returned to port and browsed around the local mall. We stopped at a Pizza Hut for a late lunch.
Singapore is a lovely city and the few hours we had there didn’t do it justice. It should definitely have been an overnight port. They have very strict rules here, though. Drug dealing is punishable by death; spitting, gum chewing, littering, etc. are all heavily fined. That is why the city is jokingly called “The ‘Fine’ City.” Every little transgression has a fine associated with it. I guess that’s one reason the city is so clean.
Almost 300 new passengers embarked today. We already met Ann and Stan, our next-door neighbors. I think the block party will be tomorrow night. Also, late last night, we stopped by the lounge to say a special good-bye to our favorite wine steward, Carla. Her four month contract was up and she was returning to her family and 2 year-old son in the Philippines for her mandatory 10-week vacation and awaiting her next ship assignment.
Tomorrow we will be in Kuala Lampur, capital of Malaysia.
Yours in travel,
Pat & Mac