Somebody let the cat out of the bag. I wanted to slip into Singapore unobtrusively, walk its city streets, ride its river and soak in its atmosphere as just another face in the crowd. I walked the few blocks from my hotel to the Singapore River and was contentedly watching the bum boats ply the waters when suddenly there was a deafening roar. Directly overhead, five helicopters flew in formation, the lead one towing an enormous Singaporean flag to welcome me. As I enjoyed dinner at an outdoor table along the banks of the river, fighter jets thundered in the sky above my head. Really, no need to go to so much trouble! As dusk fell I joined the crowds strolling along the river – families with ice cream cones, young lovers on benches with their arms twirled around one another, corporate types enjoying after-hours cocktails. Spontaneously I jumped aboard one of the canopied bum boats for a half hour cruise down the river.
No sooner had we left the dock than the fireworks began, with stunning bursts showering down from skyscrapers in my honor. The boat reversed direction and motored into a sky full of giant illuminated jellyfish kites, their tentacles bobbing up and down between adjacent fountains and bridges. Really, this is just too much – the extent of your welcome is almost embarrassing!
Seriously, I have no idea what the festivities were all about. It didn’t seem to be a holiday of any kind. I also determined that it was not an everyday event. It felt as if it was being done specifically on my behalf, and perhaps the Universe did arrange it that way. It certainly provided me with a spectacular introduction to Singapore.
I love Asia. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed New Zealand and Australia, but there is just something about Asia – each time I return I feel more and more at home and this city is no exception. It is an extremely modern, clean city with a design that makes it fairly easy to get around. Unlike Bangkok, Vietnam, or India, the traffic in Singapore is sedate and civilized. Prices are higher than in other parts of Asia but still affordable. The people are outgoing and friendly and it is so safe here that you can walk around in any part of town in the middle of the night without worry.
Parks abound, including the lovely Fort Canning Park that occupies the highest hill in the city and provides exceptional views of the downtown. The original gates of the fort that was erected here to guard the harbour still stand, their pink concrete and giant iron doors testament to early British influence.
The city seems devoted to art, with outdoor sculptures dotting the landscape throughout the park, along the river quay and in hidden corners of downtown Singapore.
The Singapore River is the heart of the city and where everyone gathers in the evening.
Along the water’s edge are hundreds of restaurants of every possible ethnic variety. Hawkers stand in the lane next to the open-air tables, gently enticing passersby with their menus. On the other side of the promenade, skyscrapers filled with retail stores glitter with late night offerings. People are everywhere, strolling the promenade, shopping, visiting with friends, or just sitting peacefully along banks on the steps leading down to the water.
One of the more popular riverfront areas is Clarke Quay (pronounced Key), where lovingly maintained old buildings have been painted in a palette of bright colors, their shutters thrown open to the tropical air. Overhead, a series of giant fabric ‘umbrellas’ have been erected to provide shade for patrons in the midday heat. Beneath this canopy, children frolic in fountains and customers sink into outdoor sofas or cushy chairs to sip a Cappuccino and watch the world go by. Where Clarke Quay meets the river, space-age restaurant pods overhang the water, giving patrons a bird’s eye view of the bum boats plying the waters below.
But evening is when Singapore truly glitters, its glass towers, illuminated bridges and neon-lit restaurants casting their colors down onto the river and up into the sky, where the clouds reflect a brick red hue back onto the city.
Sigh! I wish I had more than three days here. But then, I say that wherever I go. So many places, so little time.