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Trip Report Trip Report: Singapore, Part One

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DH and I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Asia – 5 nights in Singapore and 8 in Japan, mostly Kyoto. This was my first trip to Asia and we had a wonderful time. I will do separate trip reports for Singapore and Japan, and split this trip report into a few sections as it is so long – hopefully not too long!

First, a little background: Singapore has been jokingly referred to as "Disneyland with the death penalty." It is truly lovely, with sleek buildings, sparkling waters, and lush, landscaped tropical greenery and flowers everywhere we looked. It is very clean, partly due to pride, and partly due to strict laws regarding littering. The people are very friendly and English is one of the four official languages so it is quite easy to get around. Public transit is very easy to use and the system is excellent. Taxis are relatively inexpensive, as well. I found Singapore quite “accessible” and totally enjoyed my time there – could have easily spent more.

Singapore is only about 250 sq. miles and has about 5m people, so it is densely populated. It is an economic powerhouse with a very high standard of living. It has a diverse population - predominantly ethnic Chinese, followed by Malaysians, Indians and others. There are wonderful ethnic neighborhoods and differences appear to be respected. There are mosques, Buddhist and Hindu Temples, and churches nearly side-by-side.

One observation, being so near the equator (about 1 degree north) and in early summer, days and nights are almost equal in length and the sun rises and falls rapidly. Our home in Seattle is fairly far north and we enjoy long summer days and much longer periods of sunrise and sunset. Also, as one would expect, being near the equator and at sea level, it was doggone hot and humid.

We started our trip early Friday afternoon in Seattle, changed planes in Narita, and arrived in Singapore late Saturday night (crossed the International Date Line. Time difference from Seattle was 17 hrs.). On the Singapore customs declaration form we were warned that drug traffickers would get the death penalty and it was illegal to import chewing gum for distribution. I got the point and resolved to restrain from both.

We arrived past midnight at our hotel, which was good timing, as we were ready for bed, as you can imagine. We slept well and, to my surprise, I experienced no jet lag. On the downside, I somehow managed to damage the radial nerve in my arm when I slept against the side of the plane, and it was paralyzed for several days. Found out this is called “Saturday Night Palsy.” (I did get it on Saturday night, coincidentally, but not from being dead drunk with my arm slung over the back of my chair….) Fortunately, my hand is slowly recovering and almost back to normal. It was a very weird experience, to say the least.

DH was in Singapore for work, and his work put us up in the fabulous Millenia Ritz- Carlton. The hotel was fantastic and our room was wonderful. We were greeted by fresh fruit in our room and a personal note from the management welcoming us. Service was amazing. The staff knew our names in no time flat and were always friendly. The concierge were always helpful. The lobby is full of Chihuly glass, which was familiar to us as Dale Chihuly is from Tacoma WA, just down the road from where we live.

We had great harbor views from our room, including Moshe Safdie’s new $4.5b hotel complex! It includes 2500 rooms, 3 50m pools, and a casino. Our bath had a great view of the Singapore Flier (big Ferris wheel like the London Eye) and came equipped with bath salts. That came in quite handy as I soaked every evening after sweating all day in the tropical sun. It was wonderful to get a chance to soak my feet!

Our first day, DH had off of work and we took the Singapore Airlines (SAL) hop-on/hop-off bus. We jokingly called it the “hop off” bus, as it left us waiting once...missed coming. This was irritating given our limited time and blazing heat. In retrospect, public transportation would have been easier, but it was still nice to be driven the entire route and get a feel for the layout of the city.

Our first stop was the Asian Civilization Museum to get some background on SE Asia. It is an excellent museum. We lucked out and were able to go on a docent tour, which enriched the experience. It includes information on the different cultures nearby – set a great context for our visit.

In the afternoon, we visited Chinatown. It is amazing, with great sights, sounds, food, and shopping. We visited the “Chinatown Museum Heritage Center,” which gives an excellent overview of the history of the community. It is housed in a real “shophouse” where the early immigrants crowded to live and work. The rooms of the shophouse were restored with information on each of the residents, so you got a feeling for what life was like in the early days, where entire families lived in one room, with many families on each floor.

We had a great lunch in a Chinese restaurant with strange things on the menu, like pig’s intestines and chicken feet. We found things we were more used to and had a feast.

We also visited a nearby Hindu Temple near Chinatown with statues of cows and Gods up the roof.

Stay tuned for part 2, which starts the next day.

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