Singapore: the Lion City
Singapore is widely regarded as one of the great cities of the world. This nation on an island is widely regarded as an example to underdeveloped nations. An island that has no natural resources (even water is imported from Malaysia) has, by the dint of hard work and an innovative approach to development become Asia’s second country that belongs firmly to the first world. This happened over a period of about twenty years when a city that was no different from Calcutta or Mumbai suddenly rocketed into a developed status, leaving their rivals far behind. It has become a magnet now for professionals from all over the world and is now one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions.
Susmita and I visited Singapore in the third week of August. Changi airport is said to be the world’s best airport and that is what we found it to be. While KLIA seems to be jazzier and is probably bigger, what stood out in Changi was the efficiency. Everything worked perfectly. There was not a single hitch or delay at the Immigration or at the luggage carousel; our tour agent was waiting at the gates and drove us to the hotel. There was the sense of a well run mechanism at work.
The roads are a lot less crowded that in KL. The reason is that Singapore has the world’s best public transport system and you really do not need to have a car. It is also not easy to own one as there are high taxes and it is very difficult to get a permit to own one. The road led past the sea into the city proper. At the hotel too, it was efficiency personified. In minutes we were ensconced on our rooms . Singapore is a comparatively small city. The downtown is walkable and that is what we did,strolling down to the Esplanade in the evenings, to have dinner in one of the café’s that abound. It is pleasant to sit on the riverside, eating Chinese food while watching the world go by. On the Sunday that we were there, there was a cricket match in the grounds of the Singapore Cricket Club . We sat on the lone bench and watched the game for about an hour The setting was reminiscent of pictures I have seen of cricket at a village green , somewhere in Middle England. A lot morte sophisticayed but not really different from sitting on the grass just outside the boundary line at eh Kalighat grounds in Calcutta, eating peanuts while Barun Barman bowls to Ambar Roy!
We did the usual tourist rounds. The Night Safari, which was first started here (there are now many imitators in Malaysia and elsewhere) was excellent. It was possible to get a flavor of the Indian jungle or the African Savannah as we rode on trains, safely sterilized from all dangers. The Sentosa Island was also an eye opener for me. I have not much experience of such large scale amusement parks. Nicco Park was the largest I had ever seen earlier. The dolphin show was amazing, as was the History museum and I loved the laser show, though I must admit that they could have written a better story!
The high point of the visit was for me the INA memorial. This is a memory of the Second World War that all the governments of South and South East Asia want to bury. That large sections of the populations of these countries wanted to take up arms against the Allies goes against the prevailing notion politically correct notion that all these countries were groaning under the Japanese yoke and welcomed the Allies as saviours!. This monument replaces the original (grander) monument that was destroyed by the British. This monument deserves to be much better known that it is. I was glad to be able to pay homage to the INA warriors who almost got us independence quite some time before 1947.
The Roys live there now. Capt P K Roy was our neighbor for about two decades in Nimak Mahal, Calcutta. Today both his sons (Capt Roy has passed away) live in Singapore and we spent a lovely day tucking in to some wonderful cooking and reminiscing about old days with Picklu and Choton as well as Aunty Roy who did not seem to have aged on bit since our Nimak Mahal days.
A lot is very nice about Singapore, but I cannot help feeling a sense of disappointment. The problem, at least to my Indian eyes, seemed to be uniformity in everything we saw. There is something boring about predictable efficiency. In great cities of the world, there should be young people and not so young people arguing in cafes and restaurants. One of the principal attractions of Paris is the cafes of the West bank. There are cafes here, but alas they are full of well heeled tourist and locals, eating and drinking. Politics and sociology are almost taboo in Singapore and nobody argues about how to change the world. Perhaps this is all to the good, it is nobody’s case that we should be , like good Bengalis minding the business of the whole world while our own house stays in filth and squalor.. Even so, to a true blood Indian there is something very sterile in the regimented atmosphere of Singapore. I was glad to visit, but I do not think I would want to live there!
( The picture is that of the INA memorial)