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July 17, 2013

Only a one hour flight away, but a world apart, Singapore was almost as much of a shock to the senses as when we first arrived into Bangkok.  The differences were stark between the two Asian countries who, at least based on geographical proximity, should be so similiar but in reality couldn’t be more different.

The city-state – impecabbly clean, beautifully landscaped, with modern skyscrapers and apartments whizzing by, we made our way from the airport  to our “hotel” – actually a youth hostel.  The fact that our driver was both signalling and staying between the lines of the “suggested” lanes was not something we took for granted anymore.

The first impression of Singapore was one of complete order coupled with a remarkable natural and archictectural beauty.  The streets were lined with beautiful trees, intensive landscaping was everywhere, and the extremely urbanized cityscape still exuded an almost parklike feel.  We later learned that they actually have a Minister of Trees and Flowers – earning a cool $1.6 million annual salary – which speaks both to the intensive investment the government has made AND the cost of living in Singapore.  The investment they have made is clear … and it is working….we have never seen a more beautifully developed city which has earned it the nickname worldwide as the “Garden City”.  It also speaks to the wealth of the country – which ranks 13th in the world for per capita income…one ranking ahead of the United States.

They also have a highly controlled set of architectural requirements which has created a rather remarkable cityscape filled with interesting buildings around every corner – from your basic apartment, to the skyscraper filled downtown core, or the art filled areas scattered throughout the city they all have that extra “flair” which definitely affects the overall impression that the city creates.

Another pleasant aspect of Singapore, for us, is that the language of business (and all schooling) is English – so we were able to communicate clearly, and without reservation, with all of the local people.  This was quite a change from Thailand, of course, and we enjoyed have informative conversations with taxi drivers, or being able to expect clear answers to simple questions we had at stores or attractions.

Underlying the beauty are also some cultural elements that we think would make it challenging to live here long term.  All of the taxi drivers we spoke with commented about how difficult it is for the “normal” people to live in Singapore with its high cost of living.  There is also a very clear governmental presence – from the major fines for littering, the complete elimination of chewing gum (as it makes a mess) from the retail stores, to the $80 “admission fee” that all local Singaporians pay to go into a casino (tourists are free) – the intrusion and directive nature of the state is readily apparent and would no doubt feel suppressive to an outsider from Canada.  That being said….the success they have had over the past decades in comparison to their neighbours is remarkable.


*  There Singapore Zoo was simply amazing – and clearly has earned its reputation as one of the top five zoos in the world.  Being blessed to be located very near the equator – they can build their facilities for a year round summer and removes the need to build indoor facilities.  It has also allowed them to use an “open concept” design throughout their zoo.  There are almost no cages …anywhere.  From looking across a small water barrier to watch lions and tigers feed, to physically being able to feed rhinos and giraffes by hand, the difference between a “traditional” North American zoo experience was readily apparent.  Walking through a monkey filled jungle with nothing separating you from the animals has such a different feel to it.  There were also mutliple “shows’ put on for free in the zoo – some rivalling what you would expect at a SeaWorld type park.  It was also here that Katharina fulfilled the life long dream of getting her hand covered by rhino drool – there is one thing that she can strike off of her bucket list.

*  We ended up staying at a youth hostel for our time in Singapore.  We simply couldn’t find a family style accomodation anywhere for less than $300 a night.   Several hours were spent looking before we booked at “The Hive”.  Four bunk-beds (in our own room at least) with a shared bathroom down the hall cost us triple what we were paying in Thailand for our two bedroom townhouse complete with pool.  The girls were excited about the bunkbeds…the parents not so much.  The “free breakfast provided” of loaves of white bread, peanut butter, jam and corn flakes, left us pining a bit for the beautiful breakfasts we were often provided in Thailand.  It was certainly an interesting, if not entirely pleasurable, experience that adds to our memories of Singapore.  The elderly asian lady sitting in the breakfast room loudly humming in meditation as she fingered prayer beads each morning eventually moved from interesting to grating over our five days in Singapore.

*  The downtown Laser Show was amazing.  Over top of a bay, surrounded by a stunning cityscape, they had a very professional high quality laser show on display twice nightly.  Using water mist sprayed out into the air, they created a 3D show above the water…with lasers, smoke, and bubbles shooting out over our heads.  It was a beautiful and enjoyable experience for the entire family.

*  We had continued to monitor the riots in Turkey throughout our last weeks in Thailand and during our stay in Singapore.  With things continuing to be quite violatile in the area, we decided that given that we were travelling with the kids, discretion was the wisest course of action and sought out Etihad Airlines to change our flights.  Dressing our kids up in their cutest outfits, we set off to the Etihad office in person (rather than on the phone) to see what mercy they would show on us trying to change our flight and not fly into Istanbul at all.  Walking in … we met with a very nice lady and indicated that we were concerned about flying into Istanbul with our children given the rioting (queue girls for cute smiles and batting of eyelashes) and wanted to know what other options were available.  We indicated we were VERY flexible and threw out options of Eastern Europe, India, any Mediterrean European country or Morocco.  With an eyebrow arched up very high she looked across the desk at us…then at the kids….and then said she will see what she could find.  Twenty minutes of searching later – we walked out of the office flying to Milan, Italy- with no change fee charged out at all.  Etihad is our new favourite airline …. their service at the office and during the flight was simply amazing.

* Universal Studios gave us another opportunity to test out Lucia’s daredevil personality – we have yet to run into any ride that makes her concerned at all.  The little half inch spider is enough to send her running down the hall in terror, but the Drop of Doom roller coaster is no problem.  It was a fun-filled full day at the park that left us all wishing for more.

*  The Gardens by the Sea are another example of the Singapore focus on being a world class city.  A large natural garden setting that is designed to showcase the Flora from a multitude of climatic zones.  It was only a year into existence when we saw it but it was still remarkable and will be a pretty special place once all of the plants have matured.  The “art installation” of the giant man made skyscraper trees has to been seen to be fully appreciated.  While they could not be fully captured by camera … Katharina certainly tried, over and over and over and over again.


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One Comment
  1. Martin permalink

    Great report again guys. Have fun in Milan! Martin xxx

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