When structuring this trip as a 'round the world' fare, there were a lot of constraints that I had to adhere to. One of the key constraints was the necessity to always be travelling west, a restriction of our ticketing of our Star Alliance round the world tickets (backtracking through 'hub' cities allowed). The other constraint was more pace oriented. China was going to be hectic, and was. Bali was intended to have a slower pace, and it was. Vietnam was going to be fast again, and it was. We were going to get sick occasionally, and we did (mainly me, could be due to the fact that I am the only male in this travelling posse, and ate stupid things).
So, when scheduling the trip and anticipating the future, my wife and I agreed that a five day stop in Singapore would be a good thing to put into the schedule. And it was.
I have probably been to Singapore and Hong Kong as many times as I've been to New York City over the past 10 plus years. In the late 90's I had to go to Singapore twice in just over two weeks from the west coast of the U.S., which is the type of travel that I would not wish on anyone. That said, Singapore is a city that is always a pleasure to visit, if one can downplay or ignore the type of weather that exists at 1 degree north of the equator. It is spotless, orderly, prosperous, energetic, and intelligent. Whether Singapore is a country or "city state" can be debated, as the island is about 35 miles by 16 miles in size, and if I remember right, less than five million people (someone else can check the stats).
Changi airport is a benchmark for international airports, modern and efficient. We know it well over the last month or so, as we have gone through it four times! I remember from a prior visit years ago that is was a government goal to have a visitor off the plane, through customs, and in the city in their hotel room in less than an hour, and this goal has been met with every visit of mine to Singapore. This time however , the contrast of Singapore to the other countries we had visited was more staggering than a normal visit.
The kids could read the signs, as everything is in English (the official language of Singapore). Mercedes and BMW's outnumbered the motorbikes. Manicured landscaped highways were the norm. I started it calling it "SingaMall" to my wife and kids on the way in from the airport, and the moniker stuck. The next couple of pix will be different from Vietnam and Cambodia!
I think shopping is the national sport. There are more malls per square kilometer in the center of town than anywhere else I've been. And these are not low end malls, with high end watch or clothing stores, top global brands, everywhere. We went to a mall, Vivo City (www.vivocity.com.sg) which was spectacular in terms of location, stores, merchandising, and restaurants. We watched Spiderman 3 there with the kids in "4K digital", as we were too cheap to shell out the $25 Sing (about 18 USD) for the first class airline type seats with electronic recline, wine and beverage service, etc. Not a bad way to go see a movie.
The following was a photo from our hotel room on the 21st floor of the "Marina District". My wife said that it looked like a postcard, and I guess it does!
I'll probably get into some of my thoughts on democracy vs. rule of law, minimization of corruption, respect for property rights, encouragement of education and government investment in appropriate people, technologies, and infrastructure at the right time, but not tonight.
Singapore is anything but homogeneous, it is a totally heterogeneous mix of ethnic Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, jillions of expats. But it works. It still has it's own share of wacky stuff:
Fish head curry is a big deal in the Indian restaurants of "little india".
The temples were anything but sedate:
And had their own idiosyncrasies! One does not see sculptures like this every day!
Since Singapore marked five plus weeks on the road, it was time for some review. A few comments on "stuff" and packing for a trip like this. Packing for this trip took a lot of forethought. We discovered www.ebags.com, and rapidly became one their best customers, as we assembled our luggage for this trip. Great company, good prices, good stuff. The five of us each got one rolling bag, and one backpack. I got an extra rolling backpack which we named the 'football', short for the case that always follows U.S. Presidents with important codes etc. In our case the 'football' contains all of our key tickets, travel confirmations, a bunch of the electronics etc.
Each rolling bag is kept to 20 KG, plus or minus a few KG, as this is the weight limit on most airlines. Even with this as a limitation, but the time we hit Singapore, we had purchased a bunch of stuff. Not much, as travelling or a loooonnnggg time is a great filter for anything that you might want to purchase, as purchasing means carrying. And carrying is a pain when you are changing hotels every few days, and moving countries every ten to twelve days. Lugging bad, lightweight good. And the Belk's have never been known for 'travelling light' (maybe the largest understatement of all my writing to date). Singapore, of course, caused us to buy some stuff, but not much, and nothing heavy.
So given the one bag rule, and given minimum purchases, we felt way overweight (and I'm not talking about the other weight that has been gained on this trip!), and looked to unload. We discovered that the major express companies all have 10KG and 25KG fixed price fixed size boxes that you can send. Not cheap, but one had to factor months of more lugging, which made it look cheaper rapidly. We sent back 23.5 Kilos of stuff in a 25 KG box. Over 52 pounds of stuff! We all had clothes that we had not worn for the five weeks of travel. My kids had been lugging an amazing amount of stuff that they had snuck along (a box of colored pencils that weighed a pound or two!). We had to ship the Girl's schoolwork back to California (all completed under heavy protest, but completed nonetheless).
So, we shipped the 50+ pounds home. The fact of the matter is that we have gone six plus weeks with one rolling bag and a backpack each. Don't need the closet of clothes, just need more accessible ways to do laundry! We also have watched less than an hour of TV in aggregate in six weeks. I'll have more on this to come, but it amazing how travel can massively alter your lifestyle in ways that you don't really even think about while you are doing it…