We landed in Singapore via Seoul 30 hours after leaving Edmonton. We went from minus 200C in Edmonton to plus 300C in Singapore. Our first experience in Singapore was feeling the oppressive heat and humidity. The country is located approximately 1 degree north of the Equator.
After five days in the city, we came away with the sense that Singapore is a beautiful and vibrant city/country well worth a visit. A population of approximately 5 million people live within a 700 km2 area. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. As a result, the city boasts an exceptional public transportation system. We were advised that a high “luxury” tax is placed on items such as automobiles so that public transportation is encouraged. Consequently, cars are a symbol of status, rather than a transportation necessity. The result being that the city has created an efficient subway with trains and buses arriving approximately every 5 minutes or less taking people to every corner of the country/city. To accommodate the population base, high density housing projects have been constructed around virtually every subway stop (outside the main down town core - city centre). Most subway stations are located within or near shopping malls ranging in size somewhere between Edmonton's Kingsway Mall and West Edmonton Mall.
Travel and outdoor recreational pursuits are limited because of the small size of the country; hence most Singaporeans spend their spare time shopping. We learned that their love of shopping is a result of three factors: (1) Wages are equivalent to Canadian wages. Thus they are considered to have good incomes in Asia (2) Children usually live with their parents until they are married. Thus single people have a large disposable income and most importantly (3) Singaporeans are only taxed approximately 5% of their total income. This low tax base is possible since the population base is of sufficient size to sustain infrastructure and other government costs within the small landbase.
Singapore is one of the major gateways to eastern Asia. Every morning we looked out our hotel window to see the harbour filled with boats laden with products. Many of the down town office buildings were named after banks such as Barclays, Bank of Scotland, and Bank of Hong Kong. The size of the city scape certainly dwarfs Edmonton and Calgary and most likely most of Canada’s other cities. Most of the well-paying white collared jobs are filled by Singaporeans while the blue collar labour and service industry jobs employ Malaysians. Many of the Malaysians live in Johore, a large city located adjacent to Singapore, in Malaysia. It is not unusual for the Malaysian workforce to have a 1 ½ hour one way commute since they must cross the border every day.
While in Singapore we visited most of the tourist spots. We went to China Town, Little India, the Botanical Gardens, and the Zoo. Some of the highlights of our visit included:
- The New Year Fire works from Singapore Harbour were SPECTACULAR. We don’t know how many people were on the street to view the fireworks, but we do know that it was CROWDED;
- The food kiosks on the street, especially those in China Town and Little India. The Satay Club located down town was an experience we will not forget;
Rick at the Satay Market with Chicken and Prawn Satay. Check out where we didn't eat.
- Having a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. We were told that this is the place where the sling was invented. It seemed that five or six slings were ordered by the patrons for every other type of drink ordered. We were surprised when our bill for three slings came to $85.00. I guess we should have asked the price before we ordered;
- Travelling to Johore, Malaysia;
- At the Zoo, we had a first hand experience with the daily tropical rainstorms. The rain would come down in buckets for approximately 15 to 30 minutes. People would take cover until it was over and then resume their activities as if nothing had happened. Rick couldn’t get over the water management structures engineered all over the city to minimize erosion. For example, open concrete ditches with water dissipation structures would contain and move water into larger canal ways that finally ended up in the river systems;
- The cosmopolitan shopping along Orchard Road. Lots of the young people were walking billboards for name brand clothes; and
- Going to Sentosa Island so that we could set foot on the southern most point of mainland Asia.
Gail and Rick at the southern most point of mainland Asia.
- One other item that was quite interesting was our visit to the Canadian Embassy. We decided to go there for a visit, see the place, and find out how part of our tax dollars were being spent. After going through two levels of security, we finally made it to the embassy only to be asked “Did you loose your Passport?’ We responded “No”. Then we were asked “Are you in trouble?” We responded “No”. Finally they asked us “What are you doing here?” We told them that we only came to say “Hi” and look around. We ended up chuckling as our look around only consisted of the front foyer, seeing a photograph of Steven Harper and Stockwell Day and signing the “Guest Book”. We knew that our visit was uncommon when the guest book entries on the previous page were dated 1995.
Singapore is noted for being a safe country with a low crime rate. We found it sobering to see a sign at the airport stating that the sale of drugs while in Singapore was an offense punishable by death. A couple of years ago, two youths were caught putting graffiti on a building. One of the kids was American and the other was from Singapore. The American youth received 20 lashes with a cane, while the Singapore kid received 50…because he should have known better. Some people make think the punishment to be harsh, but on the other hand, we didn’t see any evidence of graffiti throughout our stay. Singaporeans jokingly call their country/city a “fine” city. You get a fine for spitting, you get a fine for littering, you get a fine for eating or drinking on the public transport system. The fines range between $500 to $5000, nothing to spit at (pardon the pun!)
We are off to Sydney next! We will keep you posted of our travels on our blog and hope to see you come and visit us once we are in Kadina. For those of you in Edmonton, please phone and invite our Australian Exchange Partners (Shannon and Riang) along on one of your outings or let them know about something you think they might like to see while in Edmonton. We know they would appreciate your Canadian hospitality.
For those of you interested in the price of gas (seems to be a Canadian quirk) we will keep you apprised of gas prices throughout our travels.
- Singapore - January 1, 2010 - $1.71/litre (Singapore $ is worth approximately $0.75 Canadian