If I had to describe Singapore in one word, it would be "clean." Or "colourful." Or maybe "charismatic."
My day in Singapore started on Orchard Road, Singapore's shopping paradise. I arrived early---too early, in fact, to shop in any of the malls, as none of the stores were open yet. That, I decided, was a good thing. The malls on Orchard Road there for the trendy rich folks, not for a cheap backpacker like myself. I spent some time walking up the length of the road, dipping into some of the malls for some relief from the hot August sun.
I thought about making my way to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, but it was way too hot. I instead took a bus to somewhere in the downtown area and walked around. I was immediately impressed with the city: it was so clean and organized. (Many people describe Singapore as the "least Asian city in Asia"---said negatively---because it's so unusually clean and organized.) The charming buildings were coloured in a rainbow of pastels, looking as if they belonged in the Walt Disney version of colonial America. I noticed a lot of construction, but even that seemed quieter and cleaner than I was used to. Where was the dirt and general disorganization that defeats other cities? Yep, I was already in love with this city.
In the early afternoon, I made my way to the urban planning exhibit at the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The Authority has a display of their Draft Master Plan for the city of Singapore and I wanted to take a look at it. (Now would be a good time to mention that I majored in Human Geography in university. Urban planning is something I studied a lot over those four years---though I imagine visiting such an exhibit is still a really dorky thing to on vacation.)
Basically, the plan has four key aspects: improving the living environment, strengthening the city's position as "global business hub," maintaining Singapore's heritage and character, and adding more parks and leisure spaces. Each region in the city-state has its own plan that encompasses these four elements. Okay, this sounds boring, but it wasn't---at least, not to me. There were videos, models, drawings and photos, and clear descriptions for everything. I spent a couple hours going through it all and really liked what I saw; there was a real focus on nature and efficient use of space and resources. I could definitely see myself living in Singapore, I thought.
When I finally pulled myself outside, back into the sunshine, I walked myself over to the Asian Civilisations Museum near the Singapore River. There was a great exhibit about Vietnam, a place I visited with my brother just six months ago. I joined a tour group and learned a lot, not only about Vietnam, but the people of Asia as a whole.
I finished my tour of the city with a boat trip along the Singapore River, passing by colourful quays and seeing the famous Merlion at Merlion Park. The Merlion is a cultural symbol of Singapore, reflecting the original name for the island, Singapura, meaning "Lion City." The name was given by Prince Sang Nila Utama of the Sri Vijaya Empire, who, upon landing on Singapore's shores, saw a large animal that he later learned was a lion. The fish body represents Singapore's beginnings as a small fishing town.
After a cheap and delicious dinner at a street restaurant, a new pair of Birks and a pedicure to get my feet ready for the beach, and a beer at a Chinese kareoke bar, I was back on a bus, headed back up north to Malaysia.
You can take public transit to get to Orchard Road. Check out this website for info on bus numbers and train stations.
To check out the awesome visit the gallery at the Urban Redevelopment Authority for free Monday-Saturday. It's located near the Tanjong Pagar and Chinatown MRT stations.
The Asian Civilisations Museum is a 5 minute walk from the Raffles Place MRT station.