The Republic of Singapore sure has gone far from a sparsely populated fishing village without a trace, to an economic powerhouse of Asia- the fourth wealthiest in the world GDP in terms of per capita. Obviously, Keynesian principles are working and should be adapted. Singapore is a country of true and natural fusion as a pit stop for East-West trade, with contemporary culture of strong Malay, Chinese, Indian and British Influences. This is as close to East-meets-West one can get- a microcosm of Asia some say, but quite arguably. In the absence of traditional cultures, Singapore is basically a stage where world cultures are performed, and a buffet table where all world eats are splayed out. The novelty of this country is in its tight observance of cleanliness, order, and regulation. And while it is not exactly drug-or crime-free, as per Tony Bourdain’s claims, what he might be getting at is that people strictly adhere to the laws and the constitution. Gum is just as equally revolting as drugs, for this is that country with the ban-a seriously sensible one. A lazy Friday, skimming through the news, but the news is lazier in this city state.
Seriously, nothing bad relatively happens here. The bulletin talks of more jobs in demand, world-renowned musicians to mentor young prodigies. Where else does that happen? Singapore is 100% urbanized, thus absolutely close to none natural resources, and yet it is squeaky clean. It has an economy that relies heavily on immigrant labour. The near-invisible dark side of Singapore reveals issues of servitude and slavery, horrible treatment of people, particularly labourers not their own such as maids, and classic racial discrimination based on skin lightness. But racial and culture variety and fusion is basically the “pride” they always talk of in the first place. That being said, behind this ultramodern and chic-city-state-facade, there are scores of exciting things in Singapore hidden to the traveller’s eye that require personal experience and discovery.
Singapore (1 22 N, 103 48 E) is a wee little 704 km2 territory, one of the smallest by size in the world, is 5 times smaller than Rhode Island, but has increased landmass since being only 581.5 km2 back in1960, and will continue to get bigger by demand of industrialization and population to an estimated 100 km2 more in 20 years. The Singapore Strait is the small nation’s lowest point, and, rid of most of its original terrain, the highest elevation is Bukit Timah, 166 metres-high. As aforementioned, Singapore consists mostly of low rolling lands that contain very minimal forest cover nature preserves (23%), most of which have been eliminated. As possibly the most globalized country in the world, industrial pollution is a major concern, limiting its only natural resource, freshwater and fish. Land reclamation projects also decrease their water resources, and just recently, haze from forest fires in Indonesia is causing some health problems with the normally sterile nation.
Singapore is hot and humid with sweltering and steaming temperatures ranging from 22-34°C, the latter, in the hottest months of the year, May and June, with a tropical rainforest climate with no distinctive season onset or end. The climate, though, has generally two distinct monsoon seasons, the northeastern monsoon from October to March, and the southwestern monsoon from June through to September. The wettest months are November and December.
Singapore, the second most densely populated in the world after Monaco, is modest set of islands home to almost 5 million people of diverse racial and cultural origins, almost 50% of which are foreigners. There are more or less 3 million Singaporean citizens or “residents”, making it the 6th country with the highest percentage of foreigners as well. The Chinese are the most predominant population, locals and foreigners alike with 74.2% of the population, Malays, 13.4%, Indians 9.2%, and the remainder 3.2% are Arabs, Eurasians, and so on.
Singapore is kind of like a miniature Hong Kong, similarly without the religious identification. Nonetheless, Buddhism is the primary religion of the state owing to the large Chinese demographic, 42.5%, while Islam has a strong hold on a little less, 14.9%. Christianity is practiced by 14.6% of the population, Taoism, 8.5%, Hindu, 4%, and a tiny 0.7% are devout to some minor religions, while a solid 14.8% choose to remain strictly unaffiliated.
MANDARIN, is inarguably the official language due to the large Chinese enclave in the country with a demographic of 35%, while ENGLISH is just as well an official language. MALAY or Bahasa has 14.1% of speakers, and TAMIL has 3.2% of Indian descent. The majority that are the Chinese speak, besides Mandarin, other dialects that constitute 23.8% of the population.
The main attraction of the city state is the city itself-its shopping malls, parks, entertainment centers. This year alone 2010, the Integrated Resorts, which are two colossal casino complexes in Sentosa and Marina Bay in goals of increasing by 100% the 10 million of annual tourists visiting and possibly boom the population of the permanent residents. But if nature’s your flavour, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, probably the only primary rainforest reserve left, is a wonderful spectacle. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 67.3-hectare botanical garden that is home of the National Orchid Garden blossoming with over 3,000 orchid species. It is still the ethnic enclaves that give the country its flavour. Singapore also boasts of a collection of fauna, but in a zoo. The Singapore Zoo is the closest the traveller will get to the proboscis monkey or animals, in general, as well as the Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park. The zoo is a great place for kids, but better for people with time to kill.
Singapore is generally perceived as but a bizarre sterile community perhaps like those in futuristic movies. It is ultramodern that its advancement may take 20 years for New York to pull off. But 23% of forest and eco-parks is quite good. And regardless of water pollution and mammoth-scale wastes of a dense population in a small slab of land, Singapore deals with their environment with bravado. There are other non-touristy options to enjoy the nature and nurture of people of Singapore like visiting art expos at the Asian Civilisations Museum (free admission for kids 6 and younger) or learning a thing or two on history at the Bras Basah area east of Orchard Road or something physically challenging like trekking, cycling, and water sports at Sentosa’s beaches or somewhere on the East Coast. Tail a local who will always be a delighted to give some unsolicited advice and time.
Singapore is a country with a determined food culture- the only culture Singapore boasts to have that is central to their identity. The Singaporeans are a not merely foodies, but food addicts and are food specialists in their own right. Singapore is an ethnic triad, and this manifests nowhere else than on the table where the traveller is sure to enjoy the best of Malay, Indian, and Chinese specialties. And the Hawker Centres, like Maxwell Road Food Centre and Golden Mile Hawker Centre, are an institution and major aspect of the Singaporean food culture is where it all comes together-the cultural crossroads. Even from blocks away, the aroma of fresh, savoury and robust prawn soup base and stir fries would have the visitor’s salivary glands and stomach acids on overdrive. This is perhaps one of the scant few places in the world where fast food is good for you, and where a too much of the good stuff, is good. We’re talking a haven of dish specialists who perfected their signature dishes for generations, for decades. These are the hawker centres, very cheap and easy to find, and the perfect introduction to Singapore. Besides these cuisines, traces of Western traditions, Middle Eastern, and Thai gave the local cuisine more depth.
Singapore is the best place on earth for the chicken rice, the national dish that is very much notorious in these parts. Singapore also packs a mean fish and chips, prawn noodle soup hae mee, chilli crab, satay, and roti prata. There are also delicacies like the bone soup swimming in sauce of red dye 5. Ethnic specialties include char kuay teow, curries, tandoori, nasi goring, and nasi lemak, while cross-cultural fusion dishes like laksa and satay bee hon . Malay-Indonesian desserts dominate the sweet scene like the cool ice kacang and red rubies. At the same time, Western treats are also delighted by the Singaporeans like gelato. Simple reminder: Chinatown for Chinese delights, Kampong Glam for Malay pleasures, and Little Indian, obviously, for the ultimate Indian culinary indulgence.
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