I’ve enjoyed getting to know Singapore in the first few days of our stay on the island. Orchard Road is the retail and entertainment center of an island, I feel, that is devoted to shopping. It is amazing that every train station we disembarked is basically a shopping mall. These are not small or run down malls, but comparable to the best Japan malls. Stations are a natural place for businesses because of the high pedestrian traffic, but Singapore has taken it to a new level. Besides shopping malls, the other big impression are the numerous apartment buildings. There is a lot of people here!
We are staying in the suburb of Kovan, in the north east part of the island. It is known for the high number of Teochew, 19th century immigrants from southern China. 77% of Singaporeans are Chinese, but I noticed lots of Indians, more so than in Kuala Lumpur. I have not seen as many Malays.
We went to Chinatown the other night (photo above). The traditional shop houses, which are buildings with a store on the first floor and the family residence on the second and third floor, have all been restored. We ate at a nice Thai restaurant, which was once an opium den in the 1800s when it was a popular recreational drug with the Chinese.
It is funny to see the graphic public service announcement signs in the train stations. Lee Kwan Yew’s strict rules are apparent everywhere, with $500 – $1,000 fines for smoking, eating/drinking on the trains, etc. After seeing other south east Asian cities, I see why he needed to be so Draconian to have a neat and orderly city. It is pleasant to walk and move around the city. The wide sidewalks are well-maintained, lots of palms and other trees planted for shade and beauty, and many little “national parks” interspersed throughout. It looks like Florida, but probably a little nicer because the lack of income inequality one sees in Miami.
We escaped the city a bit yesterday afternoon and went for a swim on the far north eastern part of the island near the airport. Changi Beach park was quite pleasant. The amount of planes landing in Singapore from everywhere was impressive. There were several big ships coming through the Johor Straits, the body of water separating Singapore from Malaysia. I imagine between the heavy ship traffic and land reclamation projects, the environment is quite degraded. It made for a nice afternoon. Changi village reminded me a bit of Ada Ciganlija, the inland “sea” of Belgrade.