Singapore - 22-29/04/15

Whatever you think of his methods, LKY certainly was successful in bringing Singapore into the modern world and creating a dynamic and successful nation, while keeping his dream of a city in a garden, rather than a garden city.

When we last visited Singapore, in the early 1980s, it was a young metropolis, ("born" as an independent country after a disappointing federation with Malaysia disintegrated in 1965), emerging from a colonial trading post under the determined, some might say ruthless, leadership of Lee Kuan Yew.  The Chinese and Indian areas retained their ethnic character, though they never seemed as vibrant and chaotic as in other Asian cities, especially Hong Kong, but a rather bland "Western" city was becoming the dominant feature, albeit mainly full of Chinese people.  Raffles Hotel was still on the waterfront.

Now, Raffles is several blocks back from the waterfront, so much land has been reclaimed at the mouth of the Singapore River, and the land has been filled with superb modern buildings, parks and gardens.  Chinatown and Little India are still there, but compared to their counterparts elsewhere, they seem quite organised.  Lee Kuan Yew has only just died, but he lived to see his dream of an advanced modern city, a big player in the financial world, a state with a high standard of living and especially education, fulfilled.  At what cost in terms of freedom of speech and control of everyday life?  We don't really know, because there's no effective opposition to the government - but, apparently, there's no corruption either, and if things work well, why should people complain?

Enough of politics.  Our British readers will surely have had their fill by now!  The point of all that is that Singapore has changed beyond recognition and is now a beautiful city where even the public housing has brightly coloured balconies and is clean and well maintained.  In our whole week, we didn't see one piece of graffiti - the vast Tampines public housing estate was spotless!  Residents of North Prospect, please note!!  There are many fine sights to be seen, but near the end of our travels, we are becoming very selective and temples were definitely off the agenda.  Of course, we were mainly in Singapore to see Liz's nephew Matty, his wife Midori, their two younger boys, Oscar and Archie (Felix is at school in England) and Rocky the dog.  They live in a lovely house, built in 1936, in a colonial style known as "Black and White", for reasons which will be obvious when you look at the picture.  Whole estates of these houses were built in the 20s and 30s, mainly for middle-ranking colonial public servants and those that remain are delightful, with spacious gardens, big, high rooms and large areas open to the outside.  Inner rooms have now had air-conditioners put in and they are certainly needed, as is the pool. Singapore is practically on the equator and it just never gets cool!  At the time we were there, every afternoon brought a thunderstorm and torrential downpours, which cleared the air a little bit - but not for long.  We got caught out in the rain twice and arrived home like drowned rats, but it doesn't take long to get dry.  After 15 years in the tropics, you'd think we'd know better!

The family lead a very busy life.  Matty has a high-powered job in the CBD, Midori has just begun a course of study through a university in Japan, Oscar is doing his GCSEs and Archie, who is a very talented sportsman, has matches, training sessions and athletics competitions all over the island throughout the week.  But we found time to be together and enjoyed their company and hospitality over some lovely meals and walks with Rocky.  We had two wonderful Chinese meals - one on the street and a Dim Sum lunch at the smart Fullerton Hotel.  What a contrast, but both delicious and another confirmation that there's a lot more to Chinese food than fried rice, noodles and sweet and sour!  On the Friday night a surprise early birthday party had been arranged for Oscar, (his birthday falls in the middle of the exam season), which was a great success, and on the Saturday, Matty and Midori had invited friends and their visiting parents for supper - the friend also being the cousin of other nephew, Alex's wife, Karen.  Got that?  Small world.

For our independent sight-seeing, we mostly used the excellent and easy to navigate public transport system, though a couple of times we took advantage of Matty's early car drive to work (07:00), to get into the city before it got too hot.  We thought that one more war-related item would be enough - Singapore has quite a few to choose from - and decided on Changi Museum and Chapel.  This is a modern construction, close to the old Changi Gaol which, having been completed by the colonial authorities in the mid-thirties was, within seven years, housing them. The chapel is a re-creation of the chapels built in many of the wartime prison camps and is used each Sunday for worship.  The story is told well, without melodrama and, once again, we were moved and made to think about what human beings are capable of.  More than 1,200 inmates, mostly civilian expatriates and British and Australian troops, spent the years from 1942 to 1945 in very harsh conditions and many of the men were sent north to work on the death railway described in our Thailand page.  The luxurious colonial city was reduced to a ruin and it was in the aftermath of this experience that the independence movement grew and Lee Kuan Yew came to power.  At Changi, the focus was on Europeans, but the thousands of captured British India troops, who are often overlooked, were housed elsewhere in the island and were meted out similar, and often worse, treatment.

Because of his recent death, Lee Kuan Yew was all over the place and when we went to the National Museum, we found most of it closed for renovation, but there was a highly reverential exhibition devoted to his life.  It was actually very interesting, but, of course, wholly positive.  We are unused to seeing our political leaders being presented without any element of criticism, so we can't help wondering about the other side of the story!  The only other exhibition on view was called Singapura 700 and it traced the story of Singapore from an insignificant fishing village, through strategic trading post and colonial stronghold, to the internationally important city that it is today.  A good overview, which helped us understand Singapore's history and context.

We had a great day out at The Gardens by the Bay, a wonderful venue with metal trees, world gardens (and a nice buggy ride to take you round them) and two magnificent domes (Eden Project, eat your heart out) - Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.  The Flower Dome does shows what it says on the tin and showcases flora from different climate zones, with demonstration gardens from Australia, Chile, South Africa and the like.  There was also a gorgeous temporary exhibition of tulips.  Many of them were past their best, but it was still lovely, and being interspersed with masses of hyacinths, smelt fantastic as well.  The Cloud Forest is a spectacular artificial mountain completely covered in tropical flora, including great banks of orchids and other flowers, with a huge waterfall cascading down one side.  Every two hours, they set off a fine mist into the air, which vaporises and forms little clouds which float around the mountain and look remarkably natural.  You can go up the inside of the mountain in a lift, and find all sorts of educational displays, coming down level by level on escalators and looking out through the waterfall.  If you are brave enough (Liz was, Martin wasn't!), you can take the aerial walkways to view the whole thing from up in the air.  We returned from the gardens by boat, which, if you like being on the river in a tropical thunderstorm, is a lovely way to do it.

A great way to get panoramic views of the city is from the Singapore Flyer - like the London Eye, only bigger (165m / 541ft). That was another white knuckle ride for Martin, but Liz loved it and managed to take 48 photos in the half hour it takes for the Flyer to rotate once.  Don't worry, you don't have to look at them all.  We've discovered that one of the reasons it takes so long to upload this blog is that we are putting so many pictures on.  There have been sessions well into the small hours!

The logical thing would be to fly west from Singapore, towards London and home - but since when did we do anything logical?  So, after a very happy week, we were off to Japan!

Singapore - with (clockwise from back) Matty, Oscar, Midori, Rocky and Archie.

For our PNG friends, this is where we stayed - Singapore's pre-war equivalent on an AR20 or AR16 for its public servants! Similarities?

The Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay.

Dotted around the site are spectacular sculptures such as this dragonfly.

Supertree Grove at the Gardens by the Bay. Metal structures between 20m and 50m (82/164ft) covered in plants.

Here are more of these intriguing structures.

More interesting sculpture - ants this time.

Gardens from all round the world in the Flower Dome. This is Australia, including ...

.... Kangaroo Paw.

Look closely - it's a swan in flight!

Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay.

Aerial walkways - not for the faint-hearted!

Every couple of hours the whole dome is sprayed, which gives the mountain cloud effect and is essential for keeping the plants fresh and healthy.

Old and new, cheek-by-jowl on the river front.

Empress Place. The best of the old is being refurbished. This is the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

Singapore's river front has been transformed from the hustle and bustle of the 1960s - one the left is the new Supreme Court next to the new Parliament House and opposite the CBD.

This is how the council keeps the river clean. And it is!

Many of Singapore's pre-war buildings have been put to new uses. This was the General Post Office, which is now a luxury hotel - The Fullerton. They serve a delicious dim sum lunch!

Marina Bay Sands Resort. The 2,561 room hotel is topped by the world's largest cantilever deck (1 hectare) and a 146m/478ft infinity pool 191m/626ft above the ground!

The Singapore Flyer, opened in 2008 - the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world at 165m/541ft until beaten by 2.6m/9ft of one in Las Vegas, opened in 2014.

All this is reclaimed land! Looking across the domes of the Gardens by the Bay towards the Strait of Singapore with dozens of ships waiting at anchor to berth, discharge their cargoes and take on exports from this thriving country.

Singapore's skyline.

Changi Museum. This is a replica based on the many chapels that POWs made to comfort them in their times of trial, but ............

..... these are genuine relics from their days of incarceration. Note the nuts joining the candlestick shafts.