Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Singapore Sights: Part 1

I first visited Singapore in 1997 when my dad was working there as an expat. It was my first trip to Asia, and everything seemed so exotic and different. When the kids' school had a mid-semester break last month, I couldn't wait to take them there and show them around. After living in Malaysia for a few months, my first thought upon arriving in Singapore was how much it reminded me of America. I guess it's all relative.

The Republic of Singapore is an itty-bitty city-state at the tip of the Malay peninsula. Like Penang, it was controlled by the British as part of the Straits Settlements for over a century. After gaining independence from the British, it was briefly part of Malaysia before breaking off in 1965. What a difference a few decades has made! Singapore is like the over-achieving sibling to Malaysia. They share the same heritage, but Singapore has clearly pushed itself to succeed.

Whereas Penang has a laid-back island charm, it's also a bit on the rustic side. Singapore is a glittering, big, modern city. All the signs are in English, and it's a model of efficiency. If Disney were to design a country, they would have ended up with Singapore. The mass transit system, both the subways and the buses, were easy to use and clean. After all, this is a country where chewing gum is illegal and a person can be fined for not flushing a public toilet. (I'm totally in support for that second one.)

At the airport - Good to know

Our first stop in Singapore was the amazing Science Centre Singapore where we met up with some school friends from Austin who moved here last summer. Brad and his buddy spent their last few months in America plotting to get together in Asia. I honestly think that having a friend who was also moving overseas immensely helped Brad make the transition.

This hands-on museum is huge and world-class. I really liked the Fire Tornado.

3pm performance right next to the Snack Bar,
perfect for luring in hungry patrons

Afterwards, we went back to our friends' house for dinner. Once again, it struck me how different the expat experience is between the two countries. When I asked the now stay-at-home mom what she was doing with her spare time, she replied that she's working her way through the Joy of Cooking. I was flabbergasted since it seems that I have a really hard time in Penang finding "normal" ingredients I need. She said that in Singapore, you can get almost anything as long as you don't care how much you pay. Also, they were Trick-or-Treating in a BIG way (about 1000 visitors expected to pass by their house), whereas I was still trying to figure out how to put together a little something for our Halloween in Penang.

We hit the Night Safari after dinner. This is the one thing that I loved the most from my last visit, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Singapore. Unlike the zoo visit in Taiping, I did not fall asleep on this tram ride. Seeing the nocturnal animals striding around was interesting, and the guide's informative and hilarious commentary kept the kids enthralled.

The next morning, we made our way to the Jurong Bird Park. The kids were immediately drawn to the penguin house, primarily because it was air-conditioned. After wrestling them out into the heat and humidity, we walked over to the 9-story-high Lorikeet Aviary. For a few dollars, you could buy a cup of liquid food and feed the birds yourself. Maria figures that the family fed almost 40 birds while we were strolling up and down the stairs and elevated walkways.

Polly does NOT want a cracker. She's on a liquid diet.

Next up was Sentosa Island where we rode the luge and chairlift. This is another must-do when visiting Singapore. When he first saw it, Brad exclaimed, "It's like Mario Kart!" Maria must have agreed because she was quite displeased that I wouldn't let her guide the luge up on the side walls of the track.

The upper portion of the track was much wider and without a lane divider.

As darkness fell, we left the island with the Merlion guiding the way. Half-fish, half-lion, the Merlion is one of the symbols of Singapore.

We ended the day at Food Republic. To bring up the Disney comparison once again, if Singapore had its own pavillion in EPCOT, Food Republic would be what the Imagineers would design. Based on the old-fashioned street food hawker centers that are all over Malaysia, this food court elevated it to new heights. I could still get a variety of Indian, Straits Chinese and Malay foods at the different stalls, but everything was so much cleaner and more sanitary than what I'm accustomed to in Penang. Plus, it was beautifully decorated.

Notice the handwash station in the bottom right corner.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Universal Studios and more good eats


  1. Hi Michele! The connection you made between Singapore and Disney had me seriously laughing. I think you are absolutely right! Lol!

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