With a cancelled flight and not another until the same time tomorrow – I venture into a 24hour layover of Singapore.
The first thing that me about Singapore, after the humidity of course, is the extensive greenery amidst such an ultra-modern and vertical city.
My driver and I get chatting about the current ‘state of things’ and as always the local taxi driver provides as on point analysis as any highly educated foreign analyst. The taxi driver explained that the main concern is the influence China is having on the ‘The Singapore Straights’, a vital 105km long and 16km wide deep water passage that links the rest of the globe to the South China Sea.
He seems to have no reservations with informing me that Singapore’s success in the 20th century and moving forward further into the 21st is and will always be due to it’s geographical position as the transit hub of the world.
After a quick shower and change of shirt, something that becomes redundant after a two-minute walk, it is straight to the concierge to get money exchanged with the Singapore dollar, which is just under parity with the Australian.
Walking out of the hotel and down the heavily tourist driven road dubbed ‘River Valley’, it is clear the Singaporeans, (some local), but mostly white expats, have money. The cheapest place I find will set you back $10 a pint during happy hour and the cost of a meal upwards of $30, it is not the South East Asia that most are accustomed too.
It should come as no surprise however, with Singapore’s GDP ranking at the 6th highest per capita in the world, that there is money to be spent.
Reading the local paper at the hotel buffet, what stands out is the amount of articles written on China and its dealings with Singapore itself and its core ASEAN alliance – Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam.
There is a real sense of unknown in the country, and the belief that the region is entering a new phase not seen since the World Wars. One article interestingly noted the increased rhetoric of the slogan ‘Asia for Asians’, and a move away from the American paternalistic racism of the ‘little brown brothers’.
After breakfast it was back on the exploration, this time however armed with a good dose of local knowledge from a young Singaporean befriended the night before and the ever-reputable guidance of Google.
For lunch I find one of Singapore’s best and well-known hawker markets, it is exactly what I am looking for – hot, busy and only a handful of people who resemble me insight.
After a quick look around I count at least 100 stalls in an area the size of an indoor basketball court. The varied smells combine to make not the most pleasant of odours (think fish sauce and perspiration), but intermittently a waft will come by that gives you confidence that there is something fantastic to be found. However exotic the foods are that surround, I am coerced by my guide into what I am told is Singaporean’s national and most beloved dish – Chicken and rice.
Admittedly I am hesitant at ordering the rather bland and unoriginal sounding combination, but I am assured if there is one thing to have whilst in Singapore this is it.
30 seconds later the food comes out and it is as literally as it sounds, poached chicken with rice and a few added condiments. The bill comes to $3 and is quite a nice surprise considering the exorbitant priced dinner of last night. Combined with a $6 long neck of the local brew it is a fantastic deal, but with such amazing and varied food around I feel a slight missed opportunity.
With my flight rapidly approaching, the heat of the day reaching its peak and probably a few too many $6 dollar long necks under the belt – it is a rather arduous journey back to the hotel. Without overdoing the point, Singapore is very hot and any movement instantly results in a heavy douse of back sweat, the sort that seems to stick to anything and everything.
Whilst walking back to my hotel through the cities business district, I stop and take note of the amazing and varied architecture of the skyscrapers that fill the air. With the most amazing example being the Marina Bay Sands, a triple building built with the appearance of a cargo ship floating on top that has come to define the city’s skyline.
Reflecting in the taxi ride back to Changi Airport I can genuinely say Singapore grew on me in the short period I was there. Like any world city, the key is to get away from the hotel and surrounding bars/restaurants and follow the path to where the locals are.
This can be easier said than done after a long flight and no contacts, but the extra effort and research will pay off in spades if you do.
Next Stop (hopefully): Phnom Penh