Sunday, June 15, 2008

There's a lot to like about Singapore - first impressions after more than 20 yrs

If I remembered enough about my last visit to Singapore to have vivid mental images, there would probably have been another Rip Van Winkle experience, but I did not. As It was, I could simply be newly impressed by the gleaming efficiency of the airport, the way those in charge seemed to have made a special effort to help newly arrived visitors, and the helpful civility of everyone from whom I sought assistance. Some of the contrasts between Singapore and the world’s greatest superpower were striking.

Customs formalities were civil and brisk - no long lines and finger printing for foreign visitors. There was a competantly staffed information desk, and an immaculate shutlle bus that whisked me from the airport to my hotel for $9.00 Singapore - about $6.00 US. Signs in the airport did provide reminders that this is a disciplined society and their is to be no nonsense about following the rules. Drug offenses, an announcement told us on arrival are treated with great severity. Chewing gum and DVD’s were among the forbidden items that are not permitted entry into Singapore.

My ‘two star hotel,’ selected from the internet for its moderate price and proximity to a rapid transit (MRT) stop was unable to provide an ‘early arrival’ room at told me to come back at 2:00. Though I was a bit tired and grimy from a 22 hour flight. I decided my Karma was providing a reality check after the cocoon of opulence that Singapore Airline’s business class had provided - and I had gotten a pretty good sleep. The ‘Fragrance Hotel’ is somewhat less grand than its website might lead one to believe, but ideally located in Singapore’s ‘Little India’ district, one of the few areas that has been relatively untouched by the consumerism and commercialist that pervades many other districts. Thus, while I was in the process of getting lost, while attempting to match street maps with verbal directions to the MRT stop, I felt right at home surrounded by the odors of South Asian spices, streets that could have been found in Sri Lanka’s Pettah district and a 90% perponderance of South Asian faces on the streets - but no beggars. There was even a Hindu temple, complete with drums and a loudspeaker projecting prayers to out to the street - though at much lower decibels than would be permitted in Sri Lanka.

Three more ‘lot to likes’ and then I will conclude for now. Learning a new metro system is always complicated; the ticketing and ground rules are invariable different from place to place. What impressed me was the patience and helpfulness of three different ‘passenger service’ attendants who helped me learn the rules. Two actually left their booths, walked me to the ticketing machines and, pointed out the features in needed to understand and demonstrated. Perhaps the fact that it was relatively early on a saturday morning helped. Then there were the immaculate public toilets in the station. When the New York subway system was first build it, too, included public toilets, but eventunally they were abandoned and, I believed, bricked up. When Washington DC’s new system was built - it is far less high tech, efficient and immaculate than Singapore’s they didn’t even try to include public facilities It was simply taken for granted - by everyone - that this was an impossibility in ‘the capital of the free world.’

The final ‘lot to like’ is something I just discovered when turned on my “Airport” wireless access. Singapore has program to provide high speed wireless access throughout the city, “for the national good.’ Since the Clarke Street Mall is not only open air, but roofed over I will be able to post my blogs and answer emails, rain or shine, while sipping a lemon tea or, later in the day, a wine, while enjoying a dim sung, Satay or perhaps even a roast duck.

As I said, there is a lot to like about Singapore.

PS: Alas internet connectivity didn't work. But the problem lay with my internet service provider, not Singapore's provider.

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