I just scanned through the blog posts I sent thus far, and noticed I had been sending way more in September, and have slowed down a lot! But time on the ship is pretty slim these days, and all my classwork is adding up (papers and projects). Things on the ship have just been hectic and really off since we left Viet Nam. But this post is just covering Singapore, I'll write about Viet Nam in the next few days before we pull into Hong Kong.
Singapore was a place I knew very little about. I think I knew it was a city-state, but I can't say for sure. It is that, I think it's only about 24 miles long and not much wider. About 5 million residence, and basically just like a big city in the United States. About 40-50 years ago it was a developing country, now its basically the gateway for the rest of the world into Southeast Asia. It has tried over the years to position itself diplomatically and economically as a country that can act as a middle-man for the world. It's been pretty successful. Don't make more than $75,000 a year? The government puts you in a nice apartment, furnished, resembling a highrise flat in Manhattan or something like that. Nothing like US government housing. Their education system is fantastic, crime is virtually non-existant, and it's a shopping mecca. Literally you leave one mall and fall right into another one. Everything about the city is crystal clean. The highways are lined with neatly trimmed bushes and palm trees and flower beds everywhere. I'm not just talking about one bush lining the road either, I'm talking about a carefully landscaped display that makes you feel like you're driving up to a casino in Las Vegas or a mansion in Beverly Hills.
But this all comes at a price. While voting does take place, Singapore has had one ruling politcal party ever since it's independence. The US diplomat did say it was strange picking up the newspaper and finding out everything was "perfect". You do not talk ill about the government, and it a few of Singapore students on the ship have said it can feel incredibly oppressive, and thats why many of its citizens work abroad. The laws are incredibly strict, you may recall the US citizen who was caned in the 90s for disturbing the peace or something along those lines. Selling gum is illegal, as is eating or drinking on public transit. Cameras are everywhere, and the drug laws are incredibly severe. Most cases it's the death penalty. One of the Life-Long Learners on the ship worked here in the 80s when 3 kids were caught with marajuana. Despite one being a member of some countries royal family, the three were all executed three days after they were caught. So yea, you obey the laws in Singapore.
But I still had a fantastic time.
On the first day a group of us headed out to explore the city. Our ship pulled in and we could see the skyscrapers dotting all over the city, and we made our way into the cruise terminal. From here we walked through immigration and right into mall 1 of 10,000 on this tiny island. The subway system was beautiful, and could get you everywhere in the city, so we hopped on this to first go to Singapore's Chinatown and Little India. These areas really weren't any different from ethnic neighborhoods in the US, and I quickly realized that Singapore's culture was very much a Western culture for the most part. We were in Little India for maybe 10 minutes despite the fact that a huge festival was going on in that area. We all just realized that we were just in India, and we didn't quite have enough of a break to be so quickly dropped back into all of those smells and crowds...haha.
So we headed up to Orchard Road, the big shopping strip in the area. It had all the huge name brands, 5 story tall Gucci stores and the like. We were looking for restaurants and ending up finding one some time later since we didn't want to want to eat at a place that we had back home (all the name brand restaurants were in Singapore). After lunch we headed over to the Raffles Hotel, and went to the bar in the hotel that invented the Singapore Sling. So maybe I didn't know of that drink before I got here, but I know now that it's a famous drink. Unfortunately, Singapore also has huge sin taxes, so this one drink cost me $29!! An average drink on the island cost about $10-15...not cool!!
Anyways we also walked around the downtown area that day, which really was beautiful. There was a rowing competition in the harbor which was fun to watch, each boat had a drummer on it keeping the rythm. The architecture and the planning of the city really was stunning. I had some cool pictures taken of me in front of the Merlion Statue, and behind that the downtown skyline. The Merlion is the mythical animal that is the symbol of Singapore. It's a lion's head and mermaid's bottom. You could see from here the Marina Bay - Sands Hotel, which I really wished I looked more into staying at. It has three skyscrapers next to each other in a line, and on top is connected by what looks like the bottom of a boat, and up there is bars and some beautiful pools, including an infinite pool that goes right to the edge! A picture of this beauty will come at some point. Another cool thing on the harbor was the soccer stadium. At first I though it was some kind of huge watershow stands. You know the boat shows with skiers and everything the have on lakes? It looked like that but with stands on the water that probably hold 15-20,000. Eventually we realized this was a soccer stadium, with the soccer pitch literally floating in the water a little ways out into the harbor! How cool is that?? Like I said, its a crazy modern city.
That night I was able to do the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo (number one in the world) with some friends (thanks Marilyn and Steve!). We took buses up to the zoo, and had some amazing food at this huge buffet. On the buffet was Chinese foods, Indian foods, and Malaysian foods, all delicious. Those three ethnicities also make up Singapore's population as well. But after dinner we hopped on the trams and did the Night Safari. It was great, the animals are in any kind of cage, rather their environments are designed with natural barriers, but a number of non violent animals are free to roam. And since it is night out, the were very active animals! The hyeinas pacing back along with our tram was awesome, as was the elephant getting ready to charge us it seemed and the tigers sleeping 10 feet from us! The other great thing about the night was that this was Halloween night! The entire zoo was decked out, and along the pathway of the tram was a haunted tram ride basically, with people dressed up and popping out of the trees to scare you and such. Some of us dealed with the scary aspect of this tram ride better than others, but I'll just that I could of made that tram ride way more scary than it was ha.
That night we had a fun night out in the city, despite uttering this terrible phrase as we went in one bar. "Nine dollar beers? That's not bad at all!"
I got up early this day to go get some breakfast off the ship since I had an FDP with SAS to do in the afternoon all the way up to on-ship time. We went over to the Sentosa Island, which is basically a huge new development in Singapore with resorts, Universal Studios, and every touristy thing you can imagine (wind tunnels, luge racing tracks, Segway rentals, just a few of the things I saw). We didn't know much about the island, but it was very pretty, and we ended up eating at a restaurant that the New York Times rated as one of the 100 best in the world. While it was only breakfast, I can say that Sweet and Sour Chicken I had was very good, probably the best I ever had! I ran out of time quickly there, and had to head back to the ship for my trip.
My trip was an amazing visit to the National University of Singapore, probably one of the few universities in the world which enjoys huge government support in the terms of funding. The facilities are unbeileveable, the are committed to globalizing and supporting there students, and they basically borrow the best parts of university systems from around the world. It's currently ranked #30 in the world, but I promise you it will move up, they just have some unbelievable things happening there. If I could get in, I'm totally going to do graduate school there (and if they have my degrees).
That was a short and sweet description of that University and that day, but its late on the ship, I have to get up early, and there's just not enough time for everything!
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I'm home in almost a month! Bittersweet...