Singapore is a case study on how a country, if properly administered, can make great strides in a short period of time. I was fascinated by the story of Singapore and was excited to gain a deeper understanding of the country. It is widely known for its transition from third world to first world in a single generation.
A very small country, Singapore is more accurately described as a city-state which sits at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. The territory was founded as a British colony in 1819, a trading post for the British East India Company. It was invaded and occupied by the Japanese in WWII, then later gained independence from the UK in 1963, initially forming a nation along with Malaysia. Singapore separated from Malaysia two years later for ideological differences.
While lacking in natural resources and an abundance of territory, the economy in Singapore became very powerful over a short period. Many people credit the country’s leader Lee Kuan Yew for the rapid rise in living standards and his emphasis on economic growth, support for entrepreneurship, and tight governmental controls. The Port of Singapore became one of the world’s busiest and is still the world’s second busiest container port. Today, Singapore is a global business and tourism hub and ranked as the world’s safest country and third largest financial center. The city is one of the most expensive to live in and has the third highest GDP per capita in the world. A small country with a population of just 5.6 million, 39% of the population is foreign nationals. It is a true melting pot of race, religion, and nationality with four official languages. Its multiracialism is an important part of the country’s identity and it is known to have the highest religious diversity on the globe.
We had five nights to explore the city and do our best to see as many of the sites as possible. Julie joined us for this leg of the trip after Bali which added exponentially to the fun. We rented a small AirBnB close to the financial center, an apartment in a residential tower which offered sweeping views of the city from its rooftop deck. You could see how the city quickly changed in density amongst different neighborhoods as well as the massive and incredibly busy port that served as an engine to Singapore.
What strikes me the most about Singapore is the mix of eras, cultures, architecture, and nationalities. These elements all form an indelible tapestry that is hard to reconcile unless you see it firsthand. Old British style architecture has been maintained yet painted over with vibrant colors and artistic murals, fitting in amongst the skyscrapers dominating the landscape. In one moment, you are walking next to bankers and could be on Wall Street, then down the road around the corner you are transported to the crowds, colors, smells and language of Chinatown. Down a bit further, you are strolling through a hipster neighborhood offering twenty-dollar craft cocktails in early 20th century British buildings. Turn down the street and you are amongst the bustle of Little India and its vibrant landscape of shop owners hawking their wares to the public – inventories spilling out into the street. Each neighborhood while incredibly distinctive and independent, carried with it the same sense of safety and acceptance I have scarcely felt to the same extent elsewhere. The city is impeccably clean and the people are exceedingly kind. The diversity is what I think gives the city its greatest source of strength.
We spent our time exploring the many different neighborhoods. The first full day in town was spent in the financial center and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel where we enjoyed a great lunch with views of the city. The hotel is perched high atop three connected skyscrapers and its iconic pool allows hotel guests unrivaled views from the water. We made visits to Chinatown and Little India where we enjoyed some amazing meals including the world’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant. We drank in the many different styles of bars and sampled a variety of cuisine from all parts of the world. We capped off the trip with “selfie lattes” and a fancy steak dinner at a restaurant called “Cut” by Wolfgang Puck. It was over the top and completely worth it. More important than what we did was who we did it with. Having Julie with us to share the experience made it all the better and a source for countless laughs and a fresh perspective on the travel experience.
When thinking back on my time in Singapore I am reminded of my first day. We were walking in an old part of the city and I was admiring a mural that depicted an 18th century Chinese street scene. I was reflecting on how great it looked against the white wall of the late 19th century building it was painted on when my eyes were drawn upwards to the impressive high-rise dominated skyline of modern Singapore. This juxtaposition of the old and new, the east and west, is a microcosm of the country and a memory I will always keep with me. We need more places like Singapore. It will make for a safer, cleaner, and much more interesting world. // Jeff