In part 2 of Robert and Christina Woodroffe’s travelogue of their 3-month tailor made Ffestiniog Travel tour of South East Asia and Australasia they arrive in Singapore and share some interesting facts and thoughts on this small, pristine country while enjoying its hospitality!
Singapore – a City and Country - neat, tidy, safe (crime rate last year 0.01%) helpful and expensive . It is rather like a large Milton Keynes! There is no litter and surprisingly little motor pollution though the roads are packed.
Driving a car is very expensive. First you have to bid for a certificate of entitlement, valid only for 10 years. Only a certain number are available each month. Half your bid is taken from your bank account as deposit. If successful you can then get your car. Then you import the car and there is a government tax of 41%, registration fee £500, and when first purchased a 150% tax of the car's market value. Thus a Volvo 940 Estate could set you back £90,000. Then there is road pricing, emission fines and so it goes on. If caught by a bus inspector on film driving in a bus lane expect to receive a brown envelope demanding $500. (2SPD = £1.00)
Property is likewise expensive. 80% of Singaporeans live in Government built flats, administered by the Housing Development Boards. These are cheaper than the ordinary retail property. However they will only sell to a married couple, a divorced woman with children or a single person over 35 years. Most young couples save up for at least 10 years or so then get engaged and apply for a property.
The population of Singapore has grown from 3 million to 5 million in a very short time and is predicted to be 6.3 by 2020. Consequently there are building works everywhere.
There is little crime, but then punishment is harsh for offenders. Capital punishment for murderers and drug traffickers.
The country’s army demands males serve two and a half years National Service. On completion you are called back every year for 1-2 weeks for fitness training/assessment. Employers have to agree to this. If you pass there is the incentive of a pay bonus. If you fail you are summoned every weekend to increase your fitness. This will carry on until you are 40! Consequently most of the population is reasonably fit.
Education, though of a high standard, is deliberately very competitive. Only the top 5 from each school can go to Junior College, the fast track way into university. Consequently, the pressure on children is enormous. From quite a young age they have a long day as school is followed by extra tuition, homework and then by music lessons etc. PE is not part of the academic curriculum but is part of the extended curriculum after hours.
We arrived at Woodlands station on the Singapore/Malay border early at 10.00am. After immigration formalities we disembarked and were soon speeding into Singapore with Adrian who met us and took us to our accommodation, the Orchard Hotel, on Orchard Road, right in the heart of retail therapy excess.
This station is temporary. Apparently the main Singapore station is still owned by Malaya. However an agreement has just been reached to swap the ownership of the station and give all the tracks as far as the Malay border back to the Singaporean Government in exchange for two plots of real estate by the sea.
At check-in we were upgraded to an executive suite for our stay. The luxury continues. A lovely room with the added extras of complimentary afternoon tea and hors d'oeuvres in the executive lounge. As I write this I am enjoying my cucumber sandwiches, with the crusts cut off of course.
After a bowl of noodles - getting to grips with the chopsticks again was fun, we headed out. Christina was on a mission to find a silk dressing gown. This was duly accomplished in Chinatown. Your scribe was tempted into a regal purple gown with a tiger motif on the inside back panel. No comments please.
Rehydration took place at Clark's Quay and then the bus back to the hotel. The public transport system is efficient. It has to be as the government is trying to force the cars off the road.
The mission this morning (Friday) was to locate William Slee (the uncle of a good friend of ours, also William Slee) who was shot by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore in 1942. First stop was the Kranji war cemetery. We had our instructions and William was soon located. Row 414. A beautiful, serene cemetery, with manicured grass and flower beds. A credit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the gardeners who tend it. The main memorial was designed by Colin St Clair Oaks. The thirteen columns represent the army, the roof in the shape of an aircraft wing for the airforce and the submarine conning tower like structure, the navy. A magnificent memorial for all nationalities and religions. No hierarchy here. Generals buried alongside privates.
Then onto Changi, the notorious jail. Immediately adjacent to it is the Changi museum and we went round the audio trail, listening to tales of immense bravery and courage. Very humbling. A visit to the records department has produced some more paperwork about W Slee.
After all this we needed a reviver so headed to Raffles for a Singapore Sling in the Long room and a bite to eat. Christina had the" Long Room Slider" and I had some lovely Chicken satay skewers with a marvellous peanut dip which did not do my trousers any good at all!
After hors d'oeuvres courtesy of the hotel we decided to slum it at Newton Hawker Centre. Dining on the street and it was magnificent. We tried sugar cane drink which was a first - green and slightly bland. Grilled stingray, sweet and sour chicken, chicken satay and fried rice. The food, drink and taxi fares totalled up to about a tenner each.
Not being inclined to spend the next day indulging in retail therapy or trailing round the Botanical gardens or Bird zoo we opted for a leisurely day by the pool on the 4th floor. Very quiet and pleasant and a chance to revive the vitamin D levels, though we already take Vit D3, 20,000 units weekly as advised by David Grimes, who has researched the subject for years. So if you do not then you should start.
We decided a repeat of yesterday was called for tonight. Hors d'oevres followed by street food in preparation for tomorrow when we will have brunch at Kum Da Tat, 200 metres in the sky before heading for the airport. Newton Circus, stall 16 & 14 is where to go. Tonight freshly squeezed Mango juice and Chilli Crayfish. This is the life - living like Kings on a pauper’s wage!
Se la mat jalan.