The Very Affordable West – Singapore

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by Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar


Singapore was once a small fishing village, then Singapura (Lion City), then an important settlement in the 14thcentury (evidence from archaeological excavations) and finally “great ruins” by the time the Portuguese came in the early 16th century. Sir Stamford Raffles identified Singapore as a natural harbour with not more than 150 people living at the mouth of the Singapore River and merely a 1000 in the whole island, as he landed in 1819.


The Dutch and Portuguese dominated the ports on the trade route between China and British India levying high tariff. As Opium trade was vital for the British, Sir Raffles planned to replace the dominance of other countries and establish a port in Singapore. He declared Singapore to be a free port and soon traders started flowing in. By 1824 Singapore was an important trading port surpassing the earlier established ones by trade volume and the population increased rapidly to 10000 from being 5000 in 1821 and a 100 thousand by 1871!

 
After the British the Japanese held Singapore for 3 years (1942–45) renaming it Syonan-to. Failing to defend Singapore, the British lost credibility with the public and 1948 saw the first Singaporean elections. Thereafter the Singapore River witnessed a series of political ebb and flow, merger and separation and finally Singapore abruptly becoming an Independent nation in 1965.     


Today for someone travelling out of India for the first time, the jaw drops at the Changi airport and closes only after reaching Little India, where one kind of feels at home, with a wee bit of garbage spilling on the road once in a while. Singapore is sparkling clean, meticulously planned and beautiful, to say the least.


As a budget traveller from India, Little India is the place to stay, with neighbourhood food joints open round the clock and tube stations at every nook and corner. We managed 8 days in less than 65k per person inclusive of all entry tickets, door to door.


India is naturally beautiful, Singapore is decked up. India has variety naturally, Singapore has created many variations. From huge malls stretching across a whole neighbourhood to artificial beaches, roof top pools on skyscrapers to one of the best zoological gardens in the world, every inch has been man-made and man maintained. Not chewing a gum is a little sacrifice to make to visit Singapore; it is a punishable act by law.


Lee Kuan Yew, considered as the father of Singapore, married human discipline to technical efficiency and though they were forced to stay together at first, the consequences of the travail are amazingly spectacular and worth being duplicated.


The roads are pothole less thus the bus ride is smooth and delightful though office times witness a lot of traffic congestion, the Island being populous. The buses have option for having physically challenged individuals on board, which definitely scores very high. Most people use pass and the system runs on trust. SMRT and SBS fleet of buses ply across most areas along with other companies like Go Ahead, Causeway Link etc, yet Singapore majorly runs on MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). An electrifying, exciting, and awe inspiring commute for the first timers.


To begin with the metro is spread through the island nation like a spider web, connecting most of it seamlessly. They are frequent, they are fun, and they are relaxing as one can evade the sun almost entirely cause the stations either delivers one to a mall or to a bus interchange or even to one’s office in some cases. Singapore is hot and it matters to be indoors in a regulated environment. Some MRT stations have multiple lines, say a commuter from the north need to go west, all that is to be done is change levels from the North South line to the East West line and hop on to the next MRT, and “mind the gap!” This seems to be the most used phrase as every door of every MRT has it written and the announcer keeps repeating it at every station before and after the door closes. The last but not the least the trains don’t have a driver!


The zoo, the bird park, the river safari and the night safari, where nocturnal animals are on display, are where an animal lover’s dreams come true. The Universal Studio at the man- made Sentosa Island is a movie buff’s paradise. The SEA aquarium feels like walking through gallons of water amidst a plethora of fishes from around the world. Sentosa is not a day’s job. It’s a destination in itself and definitely needs more than 2 days.


A trip to Singapore is not complete without a visit to The Cloud Forest in the Gardens by the Bay. At its entrance the world’s tallest artificial waterfall creates a mist so refreshing that it immediately transports one to a tropical rainforest. From insectivores to massive cacti it is like the conglomeration of all plant life on earth under a dome.


One of the oldest locations where a Chinese community settled outside China is Singapore. It is known from excavations that these Chinese lived in harmony with the Orang Laut (sea people), the natives of these islands far out in the sea.

After Singapore became a British settlement, people started flocking in from Malaya, China and India. They came to work in the rubber plantations and tin mines. The bulk of the Singaporean population was formed by their descendents, with half of it being of Chinese origin.

In the 1960’s an Independent Singapore was overwhelmed with development activities and work force influx and started facing crime and health issues due to lack of public services, housing, sanitation etc. But within a decade with strict and mandatory laws most of the population was housed under hygienic condition and squatter settlements were mostly abolished.
   
China town and Little India are the only two places where some of the buildings have a character of their own hailing from the Victorian era when the Island was under the British Colony, otherwise most housing societies look the same, most crossings with manicured lawns are identical, and most high rise offices by the bay have a similar demeanour. Unfortunately most of the commuters going to work also look the same, similar dressing style and eyes glued to the handheld screen, possibly the monotony doesn’t hit them as they are not looking!


Nevertheless to compensate for the induced monotony for maximum efficiency Singapore has numerous entertainment spots of all kinds, from nature lovers to pub hoppers; there is a joint for everyone. It is highly recommended for people on a tight budget who wish to have taste of the western world.

Please feel free to get in touch for further details, moutushig@gmail.com            

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