Sunday, August 9, 2009

Singapura, City of Merlions

About three months ago while sitting in Pingyao, China, we looked at map and decided we would be able to travel from Beijing to Singapore (2,769 miles, as the crow flies and we did not fly like crows) in that amount of time. I was a little skeptical at times that we would make it, but I am glad we did. I had no idea Singapore would be so awesome.

Prior to this trip, I am not sure I even knew where Singapore was - who knew there was a tiny city-island-nation stuck on the end of peninsular Malaysia?! Awhile ago I saw Wong Kar-wai's 'In the Mood for Love,' which is set in Hong Kong, but the main character moves to Singapore, then goes back to Hong Kong, and he complains about how hot and exotic and foreign Singapore is. That, plus vague rumors about chewing gum bans and indoor skiing, was about all I knew about Singapore until about five days ago.

Now I know this:
  1. Singapore is most certainly hot, but coming from San Francisco, it was strangely comfortable and we felt at home there. Yet, Singapore's mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indian culture is tantalizingly exotic. Every sign is in four languages!
  2. Singapore has top-notch, but cheap food: in each neighborhood they have moved the street food vendors under a roof called a food centre. Although I am not sure Malay-Indian-Thai-Indonesian-Chinese food courts really exist in the US, I have a new appreciation for food courts now.
  3. Singapore has impressive architecture, both new and old: the colonial and the turn-of-the-century Peranakan terrace architecture of the Chinese immigrants are beautiful and well-preserved, but then half a block away, Singapore has put an amazing amount of effort and ingenuity into its mall architecture. I am not a huge fan of malls, but...
  4. Singapore does shopping more magnificently than any other country I have visited, and here I thought Bangkok was the paragon of shopping. Ironically, the only thing I bought in Singapore was an American book at Borders, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I must read as a part of my upcoming Graduate Student Instructor responsibilities. So far it seems depressing. This is why I read fiction.
  5. To round out the shopping, Singapore has world class museums: we almost broke our feet walking around the Asian Civilizations and Singapore Art Museums.
  6. And Singapore's zoo is rumored to be THE BEST IN THE WORLD. This has been a zoo-ful year for us: Bolivian zoo where monkeys climbed on John; San Diego zoo, a contender for best in the world; Zoo Lipis, in Malaysia, contender for world's worst zoo; and Singapore zoo, where they have an 'Fragile Forest' walk-through exhibit with not just birds and butterflies, but mammals inside: mouse deer, tree kangaroos, flying foxes, lemurs, sloths all whiz past your head and get underfoot and hang from the trees and bite your finger (if you are John and you put your finger near a tree kangaroo's mouth) as you walk through, plus they have free-ranging Orang-utans!
The downside to Singapore might be getting lost in a mall. Singapore is also expensive relative to its neighbors, but I am pretty sure it was still cheaper than San Francisco. All in all, I was sad to leave, which is the ultimate measure of how much I have enjoyed the cities we have visited.

Now we are back in Malaysia, sweating in Melaka. I am happy to see street cats again, which are entirely lacking in Singapore, but we ate at a food court and it just wasn't the same. We forgot that the best street foods are still sold on the street in Malaysia.

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