Ladies and gentlemen,
This time I have so much to tell, I rather don’t waste your time and (probably some companies’ money ) on long introductions.
And so it begins… Singapore and Malaysia. My 10-year Indian visa is such that every 6 months I have to re-enter the country. On an extremely short notice I got my tickets and hotel arrangements and off I went.
My first encounter with Singapore happened in Bangalore, as soon as my encounter with Indian immigration and customs authorities was over. It felt as if someone pressed the switch button and “switched me” from noisy, dusty, full of people and mosquitoes Bangalore to clean, quiet and pleasantly well-organized Singapore. No wonder Singapore Airlines is considered to be one of the best airlines. Many of you know how much I’m always looking forward to flying, but this time it felt like the flight ended too soon. I even wished it could last a little longer…Individual TV sets in each seat, about 60 channels with latest movies, remote control which saves you twisting and turning in your chair to find that right button to reduce the volume or call the flight attendant, a menu with wide selection of alcohol and a la carte for your meal …it all distracted me well enough from turbulent flight. Before landing we had a great bird-eye view of Singapore port and both islands.
When I landed in Singapore, I understood that impeccable Singapore airlines service wasn’t just a demo, and Singapore continued to surprise me with its cleanliness, order and level of comfort throughout my stay there. At some point I even started to analyze what made this city so comfortable and it occurred to me that the key to Singapore success is the fact that everything comes in right quantities, and at right time. It’s really mind boggling, but somehow everything is accounted for in this city.
The first thing which I was fascinated by was public transportation. There’re just enough buses so that one never has to wait for more then 5 minutes, regardless of location, bus number and time of the day (whether it’s a peak or off-peak hour). Moreover, although buses operate pretty frequently, you don’t see empty buses, even during off-peak hours, yet the buses are never crowded like in Bangalore (any time of the day actually). There’re just enough seats for everybody, yet almost no seats remain empty.
The next thing I’ve noticed was traffic or rather ever-lasting absence of it. Needless to say the roads are in perfect condition. Little by little I was becoming aware of small details, pieces of puzzle which kept falling quietly and effortlessly into places, ultimately creating a picture of beautiful and warm city. I must say I didn’t notice all these little pieces at once, since they came so naturally almost as if that’s how things are supposed to be in real world. But here’re just a few examples. Buses move around almost silently, and definitely no black clouds coming out of the place where the exhaust pipe is supposed to be (after all I started doubting this is a part of bus at all). The level of AC is so comfortable, you never feel cold inside any building or bus. Subway stations are air-conditioned as well as trains, and so you don’t have to go from hot to hotter to freezing and back to hot, when you take a subway ride. And of course subway runs underground (just like it’s supposed to do), so no noise pollution. Downtown is filled with skyscrapers, yet you never feel small or insignificant in this jungle of brick and mortar. Why? There’s just enough space between the buildings, to allow huge trees, fountains and wide pedestrian paths. Probably due to the abundance of greenery, the air is very clean and it is surprisingly quiet even in the very heart of the city.
During weekends it seems like the whole population of Singapore goes out shopping. Shopping malls are pretty big (just like in the US), very comfortably air-conditioned, and seem to be a nice choice to spend hot and humid lazy Sunday afternoon. Yet, there’s no crowd in the malls (probably because there’s so many of them).
People tend to eat out, especially on Sundays, and it seems like each mall has exactly right number of eateries, so that you never have to wait in line/or wait for waiter to come, you always have a table to sit down, yet all of these eateries and tables are never empty.
People in Singapore seem to be pretty busy, especially those well-groomed and dressed in business attire, yet whenever you ask them for directions they always find time to stop, smile and give you full explanations. Moreover, everybody speaks English. I bet if I met beggars on street (which of course don’t exist in Singapore), they’d be able to impress me with their English-speaking skills. And since this city is so multi-ethnic, majority speaks few difficult languages like Chinese, Malay and Tamil (this is probably the most difficult Indian language). So English comes like a free supplement to the package. One more word about the crowd in general. I’ve traveled quite a bit already, but I can certainly say that these are the friendliest people I’ve met so far. I guess they’re very proud of their small but rich country, they’ve done a tremendous job of raising their city to the first class standards and like hosts of a beautiful house they enjoy welcoming guests and showing them around.
The fact that Singapore is only 4.5 hours away from Bangalore makes this contrast remarkably drastic. I must say that while coming out of India I wasn’t nearly as shocked by European (let alone American) order and cleanliness, as I was by Singaporean. For example try dropping your cigarette outside of garbage can in Singapore and pay $500 in fines (ok-ok…in USD it’s around $300). At the same time try asking “where’s the garbage can” in India and 99 out of 100 people will point you to the ground. Even more amazing it is to see all and sundry being so adherent to the rules. I think even when messiah comes people of the country where I reside now won’t learn to follow all the rules. But Singapore is a real-life example of the situation where adherence to rules is beneficial for everybody, no matter how harsh these rules might seem. This of course wouldn’t be possible if not for zero-corrupt police of Singapore. Every traffic violation leads to some sort of bribe in Bangalore, because the amount of fine is being established on the spot by the police officer who caught you violating the rule, and that usually depends on this police officer’s mood, the way your dress/car/bike looks and what he thinks he can milk out of you for your violation (and not at all on the violation itself, like some of you might erroneously think). On one hand, it makes you feel privileged for such customization of fines but on the other hand don’t ever expect any type of justice when dealing with police. One month ago a friend of mine was caught driving on red light. He managed pacifying the officer with 50Rs. bill (a bit over $1), before that one even started filling the traffic violation ticket. This violator is Indian and his car is pretty crappy . Two weeks ago another friend of mine was driving on hi-way and got hit by a car entering the hi-way. My friend certainly tried to avoid the collision, but in vain. And so the court verdict was that my friend was driving so recklessly, that the side of his car drew near the one entering the hi-way and hit its front, thus breaking the headlights…The violator had to pay 500Rs. Why? My friend’s car looks pretty good, the guy is white (which means lots of money for Indians), and he can’t argue in local language.
But I’ve deviated from the topic, and to complete my Singapore saga, as always a little story about my interaction with locals. Even though I have a multiple entry visa, I decided to make sure I didn’t need any other stamps in my passport before I go back to India. And so bright and early on Monday morning I boarded the bus near my hotel for Indian embassy. At some point I asked my neighbor on bus, where I’d have to get down to reach such and such street. It turned out my neighbor was going just a few stops further so she volunteered to get down with me to help me find the street and we ended up spending the whole day together. The lady is 68 years old, she’s retired for 18 years (mind you, who dream about early retirement), her daughters live all over the world, and she’s absolutely alone in Singapore. Yet she loves her city so much, she doesn’t agree to trade it for any other place on planet. She told me, that she knows, it’s not a lot of fun traveling alone, and she would give me company, if I didn’t mind, of course. Needless to say, I didn’t mind. After paying a visit to Indian embassy, she asked me what else she could help me with. I mentioned I wanted to visit Malaysia. So granny Penny brought me to Malaysian tourist office where I pretty much put my Malaysian trip together. Now I had to buy train tickets and off we went to the train station. In the meantime Penny was entertaining me with her stories. Even though granny Penny is retired and despite of pretty hot and humid afternoon, she didn’t mind taking a 1-hour walk to the train station showing me around Singapore on the way. After we were finished with tickets, she treated me to lunch, brought me to a great shopping place (of course it was in china-town), and left me only around 5pm when I assured her I was meeting with my Thomson colleague in an hour or so. I’m sure her example doesn’t mean everybody is so incredibly hospitable in Singapore, or that you never meet such people some place else. But you gotta admit it was a pretty nice encounter.
With this I’ll give you some time to digest all the info and in the meantime will start writing the Singapore&Malaysia part 2(Malaysian part).
1. Middle little island which is connected by bridge is considered to be the southern most point in continental Asia, and it’s only 136 kms away from equator. (yes, I still haven’t made it down under)
2. Amazing jelly fish in underwater world on Sentosa island.
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