Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

10 Things I Learned About Singapore

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 20, 2005


1. Singapore defines itself as a ‘young’ country. According to our tour guide, its history starts with its independence and its colonial past survives only in the historic buildings. For Australians, this is a bit confronting, because The Fall of Singapore to the Japanese in WW2 is one of the defining moments of our history.
2. On the other hand, they celebrate Raffles as a man who saw the potential of the place as the crossroads of Asia. The plaque on his statue reads ‘On this historic site Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 28th January 1819 and with genius and perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.’
3. It’s an interesting mix of fiercely competitive private enterprise and government intervention. Their economy is based on tourism, finance, trade, biotechnology and education, and it’s a city of merchants, with a tax rate of 2.5%. The government, however, pays women to have babies and offers a $S30 000 subsidy to couples buying a home of their own if they take their parents with them. It also spends a good deal of money painting and upgrading public housing so that it always looks nice and doesn’t detract from the shining clean and modern image that Singapore presents to the world.
4. In a curious deference to world opinion, their Year 12 exams are examined in Cambridge. The rationale is that this gives the qualifications credibility and acceptance all over the world, which they might not otherwise have.
5. Their national language is English, not an Asian language, though children must learn other languages at school. Very pragmatic.
6. Grace Kelly stayed at Raffles.
7. The old Supreme Court Building has a dome like St Paul’s Cathedral. The new Supreme Court Building looks like a space dish.
8. Singapore never stops rebuilding itself. There are always cranes on the horizon.
9. Everyone seems to take great pride in what they do. People with the most menial of jobs – cleaning a glass shelf, for instance – could be seen doing their work carefully and with attention to detail. No surly taxi drivers, no cranky shop assistants or waiters. Their airline service is fantastic. It’s very pleasant, and it’s not just in expensive hotels and restaurants.
10. There are more museums and an art gallery to visit on our next stopover!

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