Singapore: a bustling metropolis, population 5 million, crammed into a space smaller than the size of L.A., or New York City. Efficient, clean, fast – Singapore is an impressive city, in both its face and its structure.
As soon as one sets foot in the airport, the distinctions are perceived. Shorter lines, faster baggage claims, clear signage. It seems the city wants you to know first off that here, everything works like clockwork.
The MRT stations are air-conditioned, orderly, and sparkling white. There are ticket machines everywhere, and your ticket is a plastic card that you can either recharge with more money, or return for a $1 refund. You tap it on the machine, rather than letting it eat the card temporarily and spit it back up. And the trains are smooth, not too crowded, and once again, fast.
As you step into the tropical sunlight, and the wave of heat and humidity hits your skin, you are greeted with buildings that scrape the sky. But it is not a noisy city – no taxi cab drivers yelling at one another, or honking their horns. For all intents and purposes, it is remarkably quiet for a city of 5 million.
Making your way to your hotel, you might notice that there are no beggars, no street vendors, everyone is well dressed, and all shops are indoors, off the street. And there are restaurants everywhere.
Perhaps the most eye-catching is the diverse, creative architecture. Every building is different, though all tower off the ground, several stories high. One mall is distinctly lit up with two-foot white squares that blink on and off at random intervals, transforming the building into a piece of art.
Another is oddly shaped – who would have guessed that a 20-story building could be a half circle, or cut in sharp geometrical angles?
And then there is the casino – two straight sky scrapers side by side, with nothing less than a boat sitting across the tops of both, where one can either dip into the sky-scraper pool, or have your choice of dining.
Everything seems to catch your eye.
Not only is Singapore diverse in architecture, but also in culture. There are four main languages here: Malay, Mandarin, Hindi, and English. Preserving its cultural heritage, Malay remains the national language, but everyone knows English – for even the school classes are taught in this world-renown common tongue.
On one block resides a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, a Mosque, and a Catholic church. (The Evangelical Christians must “hide” their fellowship inside industrial and commercial buildings, for there is not enough land designated for religious purposes available). Though the nation is 54% Buddhist, it is estimated that less than 20% are practicing the religion – and these are mostly the older generation.
Arab Street houses the Muslim population, but Little India is just a few blocks away, so the South West side of the city is filled with women in Saris and Burkhas, and Muslim and Indian dining are equally prevalent. Brilliantly colored silk is for sale anywhere you go on this side of town, and the souvenir shops are not scarce.
Closer to the heart of the city, Orchard Road houses the most expensive shops. Most tourists and Singaporeans alike can only afford to window-shop here. And yet the streets are bustling – this is the happening place for youth.
And in Singapore, there are a lot of youth. It is a young city, and the youth are smart, hip, and intellectual. They start school at age 7, but their learning stays parallel to Western primary schools, and surpasses the West when their college career begins.
Singaporeans work hard, stay busy, and compete fiercely to rise above the next in excellence. And this beautiful city is their trademark. They are proud of their city – if you were to ask a Singaporean about their ethnic origins, they might tell you their heritage, but first and foremost, no matter whether they are Indian or Malay, Chinese, or British, Singaporeans are first and foremost Singaporeans. That is their identity.
What is in the future for this Asian hub? Where will their tenacity and modernity take them? Will it be time or history to tell us the next chapter in the story of this progressive metropolis?