Friday, February 05, 2010

Singapore Explorations - The East Coast

Even though there is enough work to fill both days of every weekend, I have decided that taking Saturday afternoons off for exploration is probably good for physical and mental health. The East Coast, along the route to Changi airport, was recommended by an acquaintance I met at the Kent Vale bus stop as a place I should include in my itinerary.

After braving Orchard Road mobs to run an errand I piled into a crowded bus heading for “Marine Parade Promenade.” After a few minutes I was able to get a seat. I was glad of this. Traffic was heavy so the trip was a long one. The only problem with Singapore’s ‘Go There’ bus-route directions that names of stops provided by the system and names printed on the roofs of the bus halt shelters rarely correspond. Thus, inexperienced users must constantly try to count stops and crane their necks, seeking identifiable landmarks.

On this trip, however, there was no problem since “Marine Parade Promenade” seemed to be almost every passenger’s destination. But the "Promenade" was very different than I anticipated - it was simply a long open air shopping mall, adjoining several Housing Development Board high rises, serving needs of the Common People. (I shall hereafter use this Confucian term to distinguish ordinary Singaporeans from high-end Orchard Road shoppers and, since I am living on a very modest budget, include myself among them.)

But where were the water-views that had been described to me? Walking towards the East, beyond the Promenade and public outdoor spaces of the housing complex, what I encountered was not a beach view, but a chain link fence. On the other side was an eight to ten lane highway, with traffic rushing and no apparent way to cross. It appeared that Singapore, like most seaside urban centers, had chosen to use its coastline for transportation, the amenities it could have provided for Common People be damned.

As I walked along the pedestrian path adjoining the chain link fence, however, a tunnel appeared. “Underpass to The Beach Front” was the message on an adjoining sign, pointing to the entrance. Since this is Singapore, there were also signs mandating good behavior and fines that would be imposed for violations ($1000 for bicycling in the passageway, for example). The long passage way was clean, brightly lighted, and filled with pedestrians of all ages, sizes and nationalities, walking to and fro.

When I emerged at the other end, I was amazed to find a many-meters-wide park, with no commercial development, adjoining an unsullied beach, with hundreds of families, couples and individuals enjoying this natural setting. The only improvements were a paved pathway for bicycling and skateboarding and another for walking. To the North - towards the airport - and the south towards the central city, the park stretched as far as the eye could see. In the ocean, a few miles offshore, there were as many ships anchored as I have every seen in once place - ships carrying the wealth and goods of a globalized economy to Singapore and providing tax revenues for Singapore’s government to support parklands such as one in which I was standing and other amenities for Common People that are all to rare in urban settings.

In the evening twilight I re-traversed the underpass, concluding my day with Roast Duck Noodles and Tiger Beer at a hawkers’ stand. Walking back through the Marine Parade Promenade I piled on a crowded bus for the long journey, by bus, MRT and bus back to my Kent Vale apartment. My slow progression up the learning curve regarding Singapore society, especially lives of Common People, continued.

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