Archives for posts with tag: asia

I travelled back to Singapore last week – a welcome change from the bitter cold of Cork in January. While it was mainly a work visit, I got a chance to do some sightseeing.

Singapore Apartments

Singapore is a tiny island, not much bigger than metropolitan Dublin; but it packs a population of over 5 million people. Because land is not an option, people build upwards. Thousands of apartments dot the landscape. The racial mixture in each block is carefully managed to promote harmony amongst the resident ethnic populations.

Singapore Gardens by the Bay

There are a lot of tourist attractions, particularly around the Marina Bay area. The Gardens by the Bay, shown above, is particularly spectacular at night, with stunning colours and a laser light show illuminating the park.

Singapore Botanic

We did not go to these gardens; instead we went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It’s a gem. I’d love to have spent a few days there. The National Orchid Garden is a must-see. Here are a few examples of the flowers on display.

The Orchard Road area has some interesting street art and artistic gems. Here’s a piece that particularly impressed me. At a distance it looks like a large urn, but when you look closer, the whole vessel is made from just 4 letters. Very clever.

Today I managed to get to see much more of the city, taking in Chinatown, the Harbour Front Centre and the Singapore River as part of an evening on the town. 

Chinatown left an impression. It’s a large district of the town, with a diverse food market in the centre. The sights and smells make it a must see. Talking of smells, I got to whiff the delightful odours of the Durian Fruit today (they make pancakes from it). It’s pretty overwhelming. The fruit is not permitted aboard local trains and busses because of its pungency. We also passed by the Sri Mariamman temple – an amazing building in the centre of Chinatown. Close by is the Buddha Tooth Relic, which contains pretty much what it says on the tin.

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Speaking of trains, the Singapore MRT (Mass Rail Transit) system is pretty amazing. Hyper-clean, efficient and railed off by screens to avoid anyone getting too close to the tracks. There are signs on the floor telling people where to stand when alighting the train. The toll gates instantaneously calculate your fare based on the distance travelled – it’s completely cashless and based on a card top-up process. It’s also one big public service announcement, with signs telling people the fines for bringing food and drink onto the trains, or asking people to give up their seat for people in need. 

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It must be one of the only cities in the world where you don’t see people begging. Maybe I was in the wrong places, but I didn’t come across any vagrancy at all – not even packs of teenagers parading their boredom and weltschmertz for all to see. Everyone seems polite, well dressed and civic minded, even the kids. Added to that I saw no stray cats or dogs. Even mosquitos are a rarity in a country that’s only a few miles from the equator.

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We went to the Harbour Front shopping centre for the evening. Across the strait was Sentosa Island, a theme-park / leisure area for the city. It’s connected by cable car and sky-train monorail. The shops are already bedecked with Christmas decorations. I have to say it’s an incongruous and strange sight when the temperature outside is a muggy 30 degrees. From our vantage point in the Queen and Mangosteen pub, we were treated to a wonderful lightning show – no sounds, just regular darts of electricity illuminating the sky.

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It was also the first time I was able to appreciate the Singaporean accent. To my untrained ear, it sounds a little like the Mauritian accent – a mixture of English and other regional accents. 

Finally, we ended up in a bar on Boat Quay just across the river from the Asian Civilisations Museum. We were all quite tired then, so we quickly made our move back to the hotel – the conclusion of our last night in Singapore.

Still no sign of the phone. I’ve no idea where it might have gone. The hotel are doing an investigation, but I am now doubtful anything will turn up. 

All the pity, because we ended up in downtown Singapore last night but I have no photos to post up. We were in a bar / restaurant called La Terrazo, near Chinatown. The area is full of bars and clubs and there was a buzz to the place. It reminded me somewhat of Chicago. Apart from the low houses in this area itself, it’s all modern skyscrapers. Singapore is a high-rise society. Almost everyone lives in a government funded apartment, the cost of which, even subsidised, can be enormous.

Everyone talks about the government here too. The taxi-driver yesterday morning couldn’t stop talking about the government all the way to our destination. According to the BBC, Singapore tops the tables for so many important things: low crime rate, education, health, low corruption – yet has some of the unhappiest people in the world.

Singapore also is one of the biggest cities for gambling in the world, surprisingly close in annual revenues to Las Vegas. Singaporeans themselves are discouraged from gambling and have to pay 100 dollars per night for the privilege of attending a casino.

Many of the expats I have spoken to here love the place. The reason they commonly cite is its centrality. It’s only a short plane ride from Bali, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. Kuala Lumpur is only a few hours up the road. It’s terrific for those of a certain age who want to see the world. 

Tomorrow is my last day here. How time flies.

ImageI’m staying in a posh hotel near the city centre, and as might be expected, the breakfast was out of this world. Every possible breakfast dish from every possible corner of the world seemed to be on offer. I so wanted to stay and eat and get fat and eat more and get fatter.

The traffic was quite light, even at rush hour. Apparently there is a strict limit on the number of cars in the city, and in any case, you pay through the nose for the privilege of owning one. 

Housing is also highly regulated. Even the ethnic composition of each apartment is monitored, in order to avoid ghettoisation. It’s a curious place. 

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Not a huge amount to report for most of today, as I was stuck in a windowless room for most of the working day. It passed by quickly though, and we ended up eating at Mellben seafood restaurant, not too far from the office. The food was delicious. Crabs and prawns and noodles and scallops and more crabs and more noodles. Scrumptious. You would not want to be on a diet. A sign inside the restaurant told us we needed to keep quiet after 10 am, as the noise was problematic for the neighbours. That was us told. 

The following series of entries is a time-capsule of sorts. Today in 2009 I have many questions that may someday have answers, so  I’m writing these postings to anyone who might be bored enough to come across this blog in ten or twenty years time, i.e. 2019 or afterwards. The list of questions covers technology, economics, politics and space and war. I will lay out some open questions that may be resolved by the time we reach the third decade of the century – well, here’s hoping anyway.

First off: some international politics.

Zimbabwe
Robert MugabeIn 2000, Robert Mugabe began to show his true tyrannical colours when he seized white-owned farms, disrupted elections and intimidated opponents, with the aim of staying in power by whatever means necessary. His actions since then have resulted in an economic collapse of apocalyptic proportions. He won’t live forever, and the suffering that he and his cronies have inflicted will not go unpunished forever. So what will the eventual demise of his regime be like? Will the implosion follow quickly from his death, or will Mugabe and his entourage take flight to Morocco or Saudi Arabia like ruthless dictators of his ilk before him? Will his replacement be worse and more insane than himself? Time will tell.

North Korea

North KoreaThis tiny country, abutting some of the wealthiest and fast-developing countries in east Asia, has long been known as the last Stalinist dictatorship in the World. Ruled by the so-called “Eternal President” Kim Il-sung, and then by his unstable (and possibly now dead) son, Kim Jong-il, this outpost of paranoia has proceeded to develop nuclear warheads and to threaten its neighbours regularly, acting more like a spoilt child than a mature state in its negotiations with other countries. Meanwhile its people starve. Human rights are non-existent, and it is believed that concentration camps are in operation within its borders. This abomination of a regime will some day come to an end. But how? Will it be fast and painless, slow and gangrenous, or could it possibly end amidst the white heat of a nuclear fireball?

Next up:  Space.

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