Saturday, December 1, 2007


I arrived in Singapore from Manila and secured a dorm bed in a great hostel for about US $14 per night. I had expected to meet Dave but I checked my email and discovered that he had suddenly delayed his trip overseas by one week in order to leave his work project in better shape. So Dave and I will meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, instead of Singapore.

Public transportation here is the best in the world. With a single card I can ride the subway or the bus and add money to my card at many locations. I found it so easy to get around that I ended up seeing many different parts of the city. Here is a picture of metro entrance near the city center:

Upon arrival I made a beeline for the Little India section of town. Indian food is my favorite and the few times I have tried it so far in the previous three months of my trip it has not been good at all. Well, that was about to change -- the Indian food is great here! I have been gorging myself nightly on it. I didn't mention this in my blog, but I was really losing weight after a couple of months of traveling. I think I may have lost as much as 4 kilograms (9 pounds). Part of the reason, I think, is that I don't snack as much between meals while on the road, I will sometimes miss meals due to traveling, and I am exerting myself with a lot of physical activity (primarily walking many kilometers everyday). So, about a month ago, I started stuffing myself silly at every opportunity and my weight seems to have stabilized. And it is so much fun! ;-) I have waiters ask if I am really sure about what I am ordering -- yes I am and I never leave food on my plate, either!

Here is a street scene from little India, about 14% of Singapore's population is Indian:

In this part of town, I mostly see only Indian men, not Indian women -- especially at night when no women seem to be out but there are hundreds of men milling about. I am not entirely sure why. I asked one of the locals but I could not really understand his response.

Here is the beautiful Clarke Quay area (unfortunately, the gorgeous night scenes did not photograph well on my camera):

I was having dinner down in this area one night and met Rego (on the left), an Indian who was raised by caucasian parents. He sings on the street for a living. We talked for a long time and he struck me as being a very sensible person. Later, we went down to where he sings, and he trains other people in his art (one is pictured on the right), also:

Singapore is a shopping mecca and the Orchard shopping area is where the most high end shops are located:
But these places were actually pretty expensive. For cheaper shopping I toured Mustafa's in downtown Little India. He is an Indian equivalent of Walmart's founder Sam Walton having come to Singapore with nothing and now fabulously rich by providing Singapore shoppers with great retail value.

I was at the Mustafa's money exchange (which is located outside, facing the street) to get Malaysian Ringits. There are several other money exchanges nearby. I looked and could not see one policeman or guard anywhere (in the Philippines there would have been half a dozen armed guards, at least). This is one of the safest cities in the world. There is less freedom here -- some restrictions on speech, gum was famously banned here until recently, smoking/eating/drinking on public transport is banned and subject to large fine, etc. But the system seems to have brought about a great deal of safety for local citizens. There are signs reminding people to: remain vigilant low crime does not mean no crime.

Singapore has been ruled by the same party (People's Action Party) since it gained full independence from Great Britain in 1959 and its first Prime Minister, Lee Kwan Yew, ruled for over 30 years and was Prime Minister until 1990 (his eldest son is now the country's third Prime Minister). Since Singapore declared independence from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, the standard of living has skyrocketed and Singapore has become a center of finance and education for Asia thanks largely to free market policies.

I was also amazed at how widely English is spoken in Singapore -- it is the official language in practice and I would say there is more English spoken here than in San Francisco. I thought that Mandarin and Malay would be more common but that is in fact not the case. In fact, when I visited the zoo and other places where I could observe families interact, I noticed that many parents, whose first language was obviously not English, spoke to their children only in English.

Here is a photo from the upstairs patio of my hostel. I really enjoyed staying in my hostel -- it was the first time on my trip I stayed in shared quarters and I may try that more often now. Hostels tend to have much nicer common areas than hotels and I meet a lot of interesting travelers there. Just before I snapped this photo the call to prayer went out for the mosque in the center of the picture. I love these gritty, colorful urban scenes and with the mosque in the center it is like a scene from the movie Syriana:

Some more pictures of the city center area:

I am really impressed by Singapore. They have the best public transportation, the best airport, the best zoo, the best botanical gardens, some of the best food, the cleanest city, they are trying to be America's most reliable ally, etc. As my friend, Surendra, told me, it is an underdog city trying to be the best in several things and I think they actually succeed.

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