One. In 2016 I visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Within the first half-hour of my tour, my guide starts talking about how dirty KL is and how clean Singapore is. I think, “Hey, I should have gone there!”
Two. Two years ago I saw Amazing Hotels. Life Beyond the Lobby on Netflix. Their first episode features the Marina Bay Sands Hotel – or MBS, as it is familiarly called. I convince myself I need to check it out. I also make MBS the title image of this blog.
By the way, the white building in the lower left of the title image is the ArtScience Museum, known as “the welcoming hand of Singapore.” I don’t quite get that, but okay.
Three. I will totally admit it. Last year I read the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, much of which is set in Singapore ….
Singapore: A Few Facts
Singapore is an island city-state off the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula. A high-speed rail connects Kuala Lumpur to Singapore in 1.5 hours. Drive time is about 4 hours. Thus, my KL guide’s awareness of the golden city to his south. If you want more KL/Singapore comparisons check out Harith Iskander – Malaysian Stand Up.
The city-state has a population of 5.6 million and covers 280 square miles. By comparison, the five boroughs of New York City cover 319 square miles and have a combined population of 8.6 million.
The population is, furthermore, ethnically and linguistically diverse. The Malay people can claim to be indigenous and are mostly Muslim. Their language, Malay, is the national language and one of four official languages, along with English, Mandarin and Tamil. However, the Malay make up only 15% of the population. The majority are Chinese (76%), mostly Mandarin speakers (but also Hokkien and Cantonese, among others) and mostly Buddhist. The other significant ethnic group are Indians (7.4%), half of whom speak Tamil and tend to be Hindu.
English is the working language of government and education.
Singapore: My Fantasy meets Reality
So, I walk into MBS, and the first thing I see is a big cardboard ad for some credit card spanning more than half entry area. I focus on the pretty display of orchids but I’m distracted by the ad behind it.
You build a fancy-ass hotel and then junk up the lobby with promotions? No. Just no.
I walk on a bit.
And walk on out.
Crowded, noisy. Not for me.
I decide I don’t even want to spend money to go to the observation platform on the ship-like top. I also didn’t stay at MBS, which is the only way you can visit the world-famous Infinity Pool on the top. So here’s an image of the pool and the view courtesy of Anna SE Lundberg :
You’re thinking, “Cheapskate!” And you’re right.
I content myself with the pool scene at the Courtyard Marriott, Novena Square:
Okay, not an internationally recognized selfie spot – but good enough.
Singapore: Orchard Road
With MBS out of the way, I attend to other places I want to see. First up: Orchard Road, which Crazy Rich Asians billed as a super-duper Rodeo Drive.
Sure thing, it has all the luxury brands you can think of, like these:
And then are more, a lot more, but what’s the point of showing you a bunch of store fronts? You know the high-end brands as well as I do. And all of them are mixed in with every mid-priced global brand you can think of … and that are all over Shanghai (and Japan and the US and Europe, for that matter).
I spotted Tang’s department store on Orchard Road with its distinctive entryway, below. I think the name rang a bell from the Crazy Rich Asians books. So I went in …
… and had the same experience I had at MBS. Noisy, crowded, and offering only a version of the usual. Nice usual, to be sure, but nothing to go out of your way for.
Have I been too many places? Or am I just shopping averse?
No, it’s that I’m looking at surfaces. A place is about people and their stories. I have only mine to tell here.
Singapore: Bay and Riverfront
This is a wonderful city to wander around. I’ll take you from the bay to the river.
You start here:
And head west.
Note the white fountain, below. It is Merlion, with a lion’s head and body of a fish, who is the city’s mascot < Malay singapura ‘lion’s city’:
You go under the bridge:
And are now alongside the river:
You follow it around:
You encounter more colonial-era architecture:
Enjoy the river some more:
Then you turn your head and catch an enticing glimpse:
Final note: I can confirm that my Kuala Lumpur guide was correct: Singapore is beautifully laid out, well-maintained and clean, very clean.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen