After two months in Indonesia, we traveled north to the small but mighty Singapore. Is it a city or a country? I asked the question but still aren’t sure. Both in one, I think. We were hosted for a long week by the most lovely family, an American-Peruvian couple with two children of the world (not sure I can box them in any nationality… before Singapore they lived in Cambodia, and Mia was born in Malaysia). All four as sweet as Indonesian fruit juice (when you forget to say “no gula -sugar- please!”). We had wonderful days without stress, without mosquitoes, with decent internet and with a shower separated from the rest of the bathroom area by a glass door. Dry bathroom floors! I had forgotten the feeling. Welcome back to the first world.
If you haven’t been there already, I’m sure you have at least read or heard a bit. I still remember some of the Facebook videos my great Tia Tere has shared -among dozens of other ones on the Venezuelan debacle, Francis the Pope and how great President Fujimori was- about how Peru needs some of Singapore’s laws if we want to get rid of corruption and finally get out of … well, out of whichever underdeveloped hole we might be.
Singapore and its strict rules… “chewing gum is forbidden!”… “You misbehave and be sure you’ll pay for it!” … “It’s like New York but in the far East!”… “Oh wow!” Well… it’s all true. Sandra and I had plenty of “oh wow” moments while discovering wonderful Singapore.
Quick example?… that old gentleman working at the metro station, who materialized out of nowhere like Mr. Miyagi, two seconds after Sandra grabbed her bottle of water. He pointed at the “Penalty!” sign we had not seen, explained the prohibition and kindly forgave us because it was obvious, he said, that we were not from there. He either was very perceptive, or saw the big Singapore map I was holding. Food in public transport is a big no-no, one of the reasons it’s kept so pristine. I couldn’t avoid thinking of all the breakfasts being had -and remains being left back crawling out of the trash containers- that I’ve seen while commuting to work in Amsterdam.
Some Random Observations
– Gardens By the Bay, seen from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel –
Singapore is a true feast for the eyes of architecture and art lovers. You can’t escape from filling your memory cards with “postcard pictures”, 4 out of 5 of them featuring the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and/or the big colorful metal palm trees in the Gardens by the Bay -turning chimneys into a country’s landmark… how clever is that?- .
Everything is ultra clean (not spotless, though… we did see some littering here and there), safe, organized, and you mostly see high-educated, English-speaking, easy going people who physically look a bit like mainland Chinese but with access to more expensive clothing and hair stylists. Reminded me of Hong-Kong, only a bit flatter. A lot of cement but also plenty of green. Quite a bit of American-style infrastructure (people living in Condos around a swimming pool and one Shopping Mall every other block) and a 30-year plan by the government, which establishes even how many new kilometers of covered-sidewalks will be put in place, so people can walk more comfortably under the scorching sun.
That is also true… it was HOT. I’m sure there’s hotter (we haven’t been to India or the Emirates yet), but this was hot enough to be called hot, trust me. Our awesome hosts, when trying to organize what to do with us, always considered the time of the day (so that it wouldn’t be too hot to walk outside). We came from Indonesia with a rhythm that was more like: wake up whenever you wake up, have breakfast, get ready -eventually- and then go out and figure out what to do…. which resulted almost certainly in going out at sometime between 12 and 3pm… Here we had to adjust a bit, but it worked out fine. We had a daily alarm-clock (called “Mia wants cookies”) which worked like a charm. 🙂
– Look! Is it a Mermaid? No! … Is it a Lion? No! … what is it then?… the Merlion! (of course) –
It’s impressive to see everything the government does and puts in place for the people (and us tourists, of course). Huge parks and botanical gardens, water playgrounds for the children, a daily light and music show at the Marina Bay garden’s giant metal trees… (you’ll see some of it in the pictures)… well, all of that is for free.
Pretty cool. I mean, it was still hot, but it was pretty cool. True that we were there around the celebration of their Independence, so the government -and everyone else- was definitely extra-active. Take for example the public workout session you can see here below (apologies for the bumpiness):
– Sandra stepped in right after I stopped filming –
The History Corner
At some point I must at least pretend there’s some serious learning taking place as part of this journey, must I not?
Well we did learn a bit about Singapore’s history when visiting some of its musea. I’ll share my top three conclusions, not to bore you with history lessons.
– About to spice-up the trip with some History-
My first conclusion -more of a reaffirmation, to start- was that boy, were these Europeans everywhere, colonizing and “owning” every corner of the world. Take a History book from Peru (or any other Andean country, for that matter) and replace “Spain” with “Holland”, “Great Britain” or “Portugal” -you can choose either, it works with all three-, modify the name of the local aboriginal people/tribes/cultures and there you go. Same story, same start, same end. They saw something they liked… they went there, demonstrated cannonballs defeat arrows and took possession of the lands and split them like pirates split the spoils. The “policy” I “liked” the most? Free lands to whomever wants to come from Europe as settler, with the only condition that you clear the land yourself. Can you clear more? You get more. I use to wonder how rich landowner Families came to exist?.. well there you go.
Second conclusion -a realization, this time-. Singaporeans had a few terrible years under the Japanese occupation and domination (1942 to 1945). Darkest years in their history. However, if I understood it correctly, that occupation helped them realize that the British were not that all-mighty after all, which in turn -after the Japanese had left and the British returned- created space for the thirst of independence to start growing. Interesting.
Third conclusion -a reflection, to finalize- Being Singapore’s past so similar and closely related so that of fellow neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia, it’s truly amazing to see it having become the focus of order, development and quality of life it is today, in such a short time (back in the 60’s it was still merged with Malaysia). It’s like The Netherlands would have been one of the Spanish Colonies, located in between Peru and Bolivia, and now you compare the three. I’m sure its small size has played a role, making it somewhat easier to control and manage, however it still should be a reference for other countries to learn from. Tia Tere, you are right… you can start Googling for videos on Lee Kuan Yew.
And that’s all folks. Smaller country -or was it a city?- and shorter stay come with a more succinct post. As of us, personally? … still all good, fully recharged with energy from those excellent days spent with Kurt, Meli, Joaquin and Mia in Singapore and already exploring Malaysia … but you’ll have to wait a bit to hear about it. 😊
By the way, we decided to come to Malaysia only during the stay in Singapore, and still have no clue about what comes next. Coincidentally, Sandra found this quote in the book she is reading, which I found very applicable:
“It is fatal to know too much at the outcome: boredom comes as quickly to the traveler who knows his route as to the novelist who is overcertain of his plot”. PAUL THEROUX, To the Ends of the Earth”
Oh, how deep, oh. :P˜˜˜
Now the rest of the pic-selection:
Melaka – Malaysia, 2nd of September 2017