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Singapore children waving flags

Leaving Singapore, and discovering certain truths about this famous city state

Date: September 26th, 2011

I forced myself to wake up at 11am today. I obviously didn’t sleep too well after how frustratingly last night ended, but I had no choice but to get ready.

Back staircase Singapore buildings
I had to check out by noon

I had something eat, freshened up, packed and kept my bags in the hostel storage room. I got my deposit back and stepped out to take the MRT to Queenstown.

Queenstown MRT station Commonwealth avenue Singapore
I then took a bus to get to the IKEA store
IKEA Alexandra Singapore
The Alexandra outlet was the easiest for me to get to. IKEA has another store in Tampines.
IKEA lunch food pizza meatball fries Appleberry
I quickly bought everything I wanted and then decided to have lunch at the store itself. Every time I visited an IKEA outlet, the cafeteria was always packed and I never had the chance to try out their food. This time I got lucky as the queues weren’t long. I finally had their famed Swedish meatballs, which tasted alright, but nothing worthy of the hype it gets.
Alexandra road Singapore
I left IKEA
Alexandra road Singapore Hdb flats
I decided to take the bus back, so I could see a bit more of life in Singapore before leaving

The bus rode through what looked like a very residential locality of Singapore. Passing by the many HDB flats, I began to think about what life in Singapore must be like. Most of Singapore’s residents live in subsidized housing, apartment buildings developed by the Housing Development Board – the Singapore government’s public housing authority. I then wondered: “Wow, the government must be really nice here”.

Curiosity got the better of me, and so I began reading more about Singapore’s government, and about the nation itself – a nation so famous for being clean, strict and marketed to us as a ‘perfect’ place. But what I found were certain facts that really undermine that status.

Actually the first ‘discovery’ that kicked things off for me was about Singapore’s media industry. Since I was going to be in the country for over a week, my friend suggested that I at least put up my resume on a few Singapore job sites, so that in case any interview got lined up, I could attend it while I got ready for the F1 weekend. I only updated my resume two weeks prior departure, but I assumed given my experience working at an internet content major, the job offers would come.

I got nothing. Mostly because a lot of the jobs stated one had to be a Singaporean or a Singapore PR (Permanent Resident), which I obviously understand. A lot of the matching job profiles I got were for Mediacorp, Singapore’s largest media company. I was aware of Mediacorp because of Channel News Asia, which airs in India too. I initially thought Mediacorp was owned by Rupert Murdoch, given how much his empire controls most of Asia’s satellite TV business. But it turns out, Mediacorp is owned by the Singapore government, through it’s investment arm Temasek Holdings. The same Temasek who own sizeable chunks of Airtel, Mahindra, Jet Airways and ICICI Bank — some of India’s biggest companies. Mediacorp maybe registered as a ‘Private Limited’ company, but that doesn’t mean it’s free to run or say as it wishes. When you are funded by the government, strings are going to come attached.

Upon further learning, all media in Singapore is regulated by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (or MICA as it’s commonly known). Meaning, they control which publications are allowed in the country, including international magazines. Spending some time browsing their website, I came across their mission and ‘values’:

Singapore Ministry of Information Communications Arts values
What I highlighted in red is what I paid attention to the most

“To create a favourable view of Singapore among Singapore residents and the international audience” is a very polite way of saying “You’ll rarely hear anything bad about Singapore because we won’t let you say anything bad about Singapore!”. Even the largest print company, Singapore Press Holdings (publisher of the most widely read newspaper, The Straits Times) is closely linked to the government, with many of its executives being former bureaucrats.

It makes sense now, why many of us in India perceive Singapore in such positive light. All I ever knew about Singapore prior to my first visit in 2010 was how strict the laws were, the sights I saw from all the Indian films that were filmed in Singapore and travel shows. If there’s one thing Singapore is really good at, it’s marketing itself. Controlling Singapore’s image works, it’s worked for years. India still remains a top 5 market for Singapore tourism.

Another bit of research I ended up doing on Singapore was during the whole ‘Lokpal Bill‘ debate that shook up India last year. For those non-Indians reading this, a massive anti-corruption movement gained pace with a group pushing for a strong anti-corruption bill, which they say would put an end to corruption in India. (I never supported the bill, because unlike the majority of its supporters, I actually read the bill). A lot of noise was made, millions across India supported the movement and obviously, social media was used to create awareness. One of the stupid ‘share this’ messages that I kept seeing on my Facebook wall went something like this:

Singapore Lok Pal bill bullshit on Facebook
This message was copy-pasted by thousands of idiots in India

First of all, I can’t stand those “Re-post post this if you…” messages which upon first read itself, anyone with some common sense can tell the facts could possibly be incorrect! When I kept seeing this on my Facebook wall, I got irritated with the language used and went straight to Google to find real facts so I could dispel this bullshit. What I found was no such bill was passed in 1982. The only bill that was passed in Singapore that year was an ‘International Enterprise Singapore Board Act’. Hardly anything to do with curbing corruption!

Even before I learnt about the tax rates in Singapore, I took a hunch that there surely can’t be many Asian nations besides the oil-rich GCC countries that are truly tax-free. Singapore isn’t rich in resources to be a “no tax” nation. If at all, Singapore is one of those havens for offshore banking, a tag that isn’t often associated with a perfectly corruption-free country.

Another fact I came across when researching on corruption is that Singapore still does not have a law that protects whistleblowers. Singapore does have a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau though, incorporated in 1952, whose role is to investigate and push for prosecution of the corrupt. Does that make Singapore perfectly void of corruption today? No. I’m sure there is some corruption in Singapore. No society exposed to material wealth and globalization can be ‘corruption free’. Greed is a human condition. Where have you seen ‘have nots’ so lazy they don’t even aspire to be one among the ‘haves’?

There will be those who say Singapore has little corruption because their ministers are well paid*.  To them I say, read multiple news sources, there is corruption, you just don’t hear about it too often. Also, the solution to curb corruption cannot always be solved by paying people more. India’s ministers receive lower salaries (comparatively), but like many government officials the world over, everything else is also paid for too — housing, bills, transport, flights, assistants, etc. Can you guarantee paying a corrupt official 50% more will make him give back the millions he siphoned out of government funds for years and has stashed away in foreign banks?

I know it’s not fair to compare a nation of 5 million to a nation of over a billion with a much older history, but the truth of the matter is, Singapore is one of the least corrupt nations in the world. Meaning, Singapore isn’t as corrupt as other nations, especially its neighbours in Asia. Singapore’s government didn’t simply build a flashy central business district to appeal to businesses, while ignoring the rest of the country. Singapore’s corrupt surely can’t be as bad as the corrupt leaders of Pakistan, India, Philippines, or Indonesia.

Which brings me to another fact about Singapore, which I only learnt about recently — the country has been under the rule of a single party for the last 53 years! That party being the People’s Action Party (PAP), and it’s co-founder Lee Kuan Yew was the first prime minister of Singapore… for 30 years. Singapore’s current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son. (Doesn’t sound too much like a democracy does it?)

Singapore political rally park
I saw this political rally in 2010, I don’t know which party this was for

It’s not like there aren’t opposition parties in Singapore, there are a few. But I haven’t researched too much on why the opposition haven’t been able to break the chain of command the PAP has had over Singapore since independence. Could it really be that the majority of Singaporeans still have faith in the PAP? After all, Singapore does hold general elections every 5 years. Could it be the ‘newer’ citizens of Singapore vote in PAP’s favour? Who knows, maybe the PAP’s victorious reign can attributed to the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it” — or just plain ignorance among the populace.

Speaking of Singapore’s new arrivals, I can’t not bring up the Chinese. As in, Chinese from the People’s Republic of China. When I first visited Singapore in 2010, it was during F1 weekend, when thousands of people from all over the world fly in, and given how little time we had on our first trip to Singapore, I never really had the chance to make that observation. This time though, I was here for a week, which was good enough to notice these things.

Now, most of my readers (who aren’t Singaporean) must be wondering: “Wait, aren’t most Singaporeans of Chinese descent anyway?” True, but if you ask a Singaporean of Chinese descent if he or she would like to be called ‘Chinese’ over ‘Singaporean,’ chances are they’ll take offense to being called the former. There are over 1.6 billion mainland Chinese, only a few million Singaporean Chinese. Consider it a status issue.

The ‘PRC’s (as they are commonly referred to in Singapore) have now started to come into the country thanks to global exposure and the fact they are now seeking opportunities outside the mainland. The PRCs obviously speak Chinese**, which gives them an edge in Singapore over every other race of people seeking employment in the country. But going by what I have read and what my friends experienced in Dubai, I’m guessing some Chinese are also willing to work for less too. What my friends experienced in Dubai was their companies losing work to Chinese firms because the Chinese were willing to do it cheaper.

Now, some people willing to work for less is nothing new in today’s globalized economy. American corporations began outsourcing to India because wages in India were lower than that of their American counterparts. In the 1990s, it wasn’t uncommon to see Japanese electronic goods that were assembled in Malaysia or Singapore, before they eventually moved every manufacturing to China (again, due to lower costs). But moving to an expensive country and then lowering the average working standards there, when the other standards (of living mostly) are going up, isn’t going to help the masses. I’m not making a blatant accusation against the Chinese (and only them) for lowering standards, but to those who lose out to the Chinese, that’s how they see it. Reading Singaporeans complain, there is some dissent towards these PRCs these days.

I don’t mind working in Singapore. I could easily fit into Singaporean society given my interests, but I’m not desperate. I would never move to Singapore, the third most expensive city in Asia (and in the top 10 worldwide), unless I was paid well enough to justify the move. In quite a few forums while researching for this post, I came across many who were willing to jump at any chance to work in Singapore. Experienced people from skilled fields, willing to work for salaries ranging from SG$2000-3000 (which may seem okay for certain professions, or for locals who don’t have to pay rent) but I wondered if they even did any prior research before realizing what awaits them in this pricey nation.

As is the case pretty much everywhere else, the biggest expense for everybody is the cost of housing. Real estate on this tiny island is very, very expensive! Land is obviously scarce.

Marina Bay Sands view from skydeck panorama
A lot of what you see at Marina Bay today was built on reclaimed land

Though the Singapore government has done a good job of providing housing to its citizens with HDB flats, opening up the real estate market to international buyers doesn’t help with keeping real estate prices stable, and affordable. Most apartment offerings from private builders in Singapore cost upwards of a million dollars. Ironically, it’s the Chinese who are leading the international buyer list, followed by the Malaysians, Indonesians and Indians. General impression may make those nations look good in terms of wealth, but as someone who knows the corrupt don’t always keep their illegally acquired wealth in cold hard cash, one can easily make the presumption Singapore’s private real estate market has its fair share of such buyers. Like I mentioned earlier, Singapore has joined the ranks of Dubai and Switzerland as safe havens for such ‘investments’.

Browsing through the newspapers in the one week I spent in Singapore, I could gauge what the average price of a decent sized apartment was. In simple terms: out of reach for the majority. Visit any property website, click the drop-down menu for prices, and that will give you an idea. Though there are some affordable flats (by Singapore standards), most new projects are quite expensive.

The world over, real estate prices have risen and fallen, at the same pace, mostly due to cartel-like pricing and speculation (the hype around “buy now or lose out” plays its part too). It’s only recently the Singapore government introduced measures to lower real estate prices. The HDB too have announced new projects to provide ‘affordable’ options to the growing population (although, there is an eligibility criteria for purchasing and even renting HDB flats). Though the HDB flats are labelled ‘subsidized’ housing, I doubt the HDB is losing money on these projects. They just aren’t as luxurious as the privately developed apartments are – or command the huge profits per sale.

After checking out some of these new HDB projects, it irritates me even more knowing just how over-priced (and over-hyped) India’s real estate market is. Take this project for example:

Fernvale Lea HDB flats Sengkang Singapore
A newly launched HDB project that is only a few minutes walk from Thanggam LRT

A 1216 sqft flat in the above apartment complex costs around SG$376,000 (Rs. 1.4crore^*/$300k/€226k). Most city-dwelling Indians know that’s how much one would have to shell out to live equally distant to the CBD in cities like Mumbai and Gurgaon. But those very same Indians also know Mumbai and Gurgaon don’t offer the quality of life anywhere near to what Singapore offers! I don’t have Rs. 1.4crore, but if I did, I would never spend it on flat in India (buying land is another thing). India is a country that now has every luxury imaginable, but lacks the basics. I’m sure the lower income citizens struggle a bit in Singapore, but at least they get their food and shelter covered.

Reading about HDB’s early years also brought up something I thought was ‘nice’. The government introduced a quota system through the Ethnic Integration Policy to avoid groupism among certain ethnicities. In a bid to avoid racial segregation, each block of HDB flats are sold to ethnicities comparable to the country’s average. On paper, it sounds like a great move. But another observation I made on this trip was, despite Singapore’s claim of racial integration as one of its strongest aspects, I still didn’t see many inter-racial couples. Like Singapore Indians with Singapore Chinese, or Singapore Malays – the three main ethnicities that make up most ‘Singaporeans’. I saw them as friends, sure, and even as work colleagues – but not a whole lot beyond that. I guess the Asian sentiment of marrying within your own community is still prevalent even in Singapore.

Singapore children waving flags
Grow up together, but then go your own way (Image source: Google)

All said and done, I’ll still prefer Singapore over cities like Dubai. As a Gulf-raised boy, it felt great when I went back to the Middle East after a gap of 7 years, that too Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I sat in awe the first time I drove through Sheikh Zayed Road, staring at the stunning skyscrapers. Dubai Marina, the impressive man-made marina that’s much bigger than Singapore’s Marina Bay. It was all very impressive to look at. But all it took was a few days to sulk in the reality of Dubai. The tallest building in the world, like the rest of the skyscrapers they built, were all empty. So were the people. There was such a prevalent racial hierarchy when it came to many workplaces. Arabs at the top (even if they’re not qualified to be there), followed by the whites, then the Indians, then Filipinos, Pakistanis/Sri Lankans, and now the Chinese. Some of my friends, those who weren’t working for MNCs (who generally have fairer policies with regards to all this), just accepted it and took the money. I just couldn’t do that.

Dubai from airplane
Dubai has no soul

I like to think of Dubai’s current state as karma. For all the poorly treated, under-paid labourers working in harsh conditions Dubai took in by the thousands, and then got rid off when the slightest of discontent arose. Dubai controls the flow of information too, and it’s illegal to protest. Formation of worker unions are not allowed and worker abuse is commonplace. The same accusations have been made against Singapore as well, like the fact you can’t protest without prior permission, but Singapore is still better off compared to Dubai. For one, Singaporeans are far more well educated. Unlike Dubai’s population, where the Emiratis (the nationals) make up for less than 20% of the population, Singapore still has a sizeable majority who can be called ‘locals’. Though I’m sure Singaporeans reading this will joke/argue that may not be the case in a few years time.

Even though my first visit to this island state was only for 3 days, I still knew I liked Singapore over Dubai. Singapore has more culture than all of UAE likes to claim it has. And a food culture. I’m a fan of both!

Of course, all this is just my point of view, based on my observations. To most Singaporeans, whatever I wrote above would be shrugged off as “nothing new, we know all this la^”. To even get all the facts and find out what the locals are talking about, I had to speak to a few of my readers, hang around Singapore’s forums and read comments on articles (whichever website allowed comments) to get a grasp of what’s really happening there. There was a lot of disdain, racism, complaints from locals about ‘foreign talents,’ foreigners accusing Singapore of being a ‘third world nation pretending to be first world’ – that mostly by Westerners, all the while enjoying the ‘expat life’ (hiring a maid, cheating on their spouses, etc.)

I still felt obligated to write this because there are many who view Singapore as ‘perfect’ nation, Indians included. Because of how it’s marketed here, from all the packaged tours Indians take that only show the touristy side, the view they get is: “Wow, surely everything is better off here”. Compared to most Asian nations, it honestly is. But no society is perfect, that too a globalized, multi-racial, materialistic one.

Some of you who have a problem with interpretation will say what I wrote above amounts to slander. It’s not, but knowing the internet, I’m ready for your comments.

Singapore is a small nation, but it’s still a significant one, especially when it comes to business. A lot of trade passes through Singapore’s port, which is among the busiest in the world. Singapore, much like Qatar these days, also aspires to be politically significant, with the hosting of many high profile meetings and conferences. Its location makes it a great spot for converging, but political significance is never going to be one of Singapore’s strongest aspects. When terrorism strikes somewhere, it’s common to hear from world leaders either condemning it or otherwise. Singapore’s prime minister may give his opinion too, but let’s be honest, that news isn’t going to travel very far.

Singapore likes to make a good impression, and it often succeeds, but the problem with setting the bar high is when you disappoint, it’s made out to look worse than it is. Like when I reached Changi Airport.

Changi Terminal 2 Singapore airport departures
My Singapore Airlines flight was out of Terminal 2

I wanted to get my IKEA purchases shrink-wrapped, but I couldn’t find the machine anywhere. When I asked some of the airport staff, I had to stop saying “shrink wrap” and instead try “plastic wrapping/cover” and only then did one of the staff understand and tell me I had to go to Terminal 1 for that!

Taking train to Terminal 1 Changi Singapore
I was quite frustrated thinking how I had to take the train and go to another terminal just to get a baggage shrink-wrapped. For a multiple award-winning airport, I assumed such services would be available in every terminal.
Changi Terminal 2 Singapore airport departures check-in
After waiting in line, paying SG$15 for the shrink wrapping, I took the train back to Terminal 2
Changi Terminal 2 entertainment deck Singapore airport
After shopping at the Duty Free, which is actually quite good in terms of variety and pricing, I went a level up
Gaming room Wii Changi terminal 2 Singapore airport
Wii room
Sunflower garden open air Singapore Changi Terminal 2
One cool thing though is this open air Sunflower Garden
Sunflower garden Singapore airport terminal 2 Changi
Other than this, Terminal 2 didn’t ‘wow’ me. Maybe with all the hype around Changi, my expectations were too high. Either that or the newer Terminal 3 is the one everyone raves about.
Artificial pond Changi Terminal 2 Singapore airport
But I saw a lot of kids enjoying what the terminal had to offer

As I waited to board my flight, I wondered when to visit Singapore next. I was hell bent on flying again when news broke SNSD would be holding concerts in Singapore in February, but then that got pulled forward to early December. Couldn’t afford to do it then. Oh well, here’s hoping for an SMTown concert in Singapore.

My 2 year Singapore tourist visa expires in August this year, and I’m sure I’ll end up using Singapore as a connecting destination for my other Asian journeys, if not visiting Singapore a third time. This time there was a sense of boredom already. There was little else for me to explore. As it is Singapore doesn’t have much to offer. I only have Sentosa & Universal Studios left to do, as it’s something I had to skip this time due to my hand injury. Plus, I want to see more of inner Singapore, and the middle class way of life here.

Mutton korma rice Singapore Airlines meal
The lamb curry and rice meal was yum

I enjoyed my last few Singapore Slings and… erm… yeah, that’s it. Actually no, I remember now. I was reading the newspapers and particularly about a lot of collective sales happening for the really old HDB apartment complexes. Deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars were being struck buying prime land by the big names in Singapore’s private real estate industry. Older HDB flat owners would get their share of the sale money, which for some deals would net them over a million dollars. It may sound like they struck gold, but with the cost of buying a new apartment today, I guess that newly minted millionaire status won’t last long. Unless they already owned a second home.

Yeah that’s it. I went back to drinking.

Previous posts in the series:

Singapore 2011: Day 7 – Little India, F1 Sunday race, Linkin Park concert and Avalon Club

Singapore 2011: Day 6 – F1 Saturday (Rick Astley, Shakira and Shaggy concerts)

Singapore 2011: Day 5 – Chinatown, F1 Friday (Charice, Seungri and GD&TOP concerts)

Singapore 2011: Day 4 – Marina Bay Sands Casino and views from the SkyPark observation deck

Singapore 2011: Day 3 – Bukit Timah and Singapore Botanic Gardens

Singapore 2011: Day 2 – Jurong Bird Park and… *ouch!*

Singapore 2011: Day 1 – Landing a second time; walking around CBD

*Singapore’s PM commands the highest salary for a Prime Minister in the world – SG$2.2 million per annum (US$1.7 million), after cutting it down recently from  just over SG$3 million. US president Barack Obama’s salary is around $400,000. Again, I doubt both heads of state pay rent.

**I know there are numerous dialects in the Chinese language like Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien, but for the sake of simplicity, I referred to the language as just Chinese

^* 1 crore = 100, 000, 000 or 1,00,00,000 in the Indian numeric system

^ “la'” is kind of like an end-of-sentence slang commonly used among Singapore’s youth. Just like “da” in South India, “ka” in Thailand, but unlike “yaar” (which actually means ‘friend’) in North India, I have no clue what ‘la,’ ‘da,’ and ‘ka’ mean and how they became a trend!

Non-veg meal Singapore airlines bangalore flight

Singapore 2011: Day 1 – Landing a second time; walking around CBD

Date: 19th September, 2011

By landing a second time I meant, this was my second visit to Singapore. Not that the plane failed in its first attempt to land successfully. After all, I wasn’t going to be flying Tiger Airways this time.

I first visited Singapore last year, along with two of my friends. We assumed 3 days & 2 nights would have been ‘okay’ for such a small city-state, and though we did manage to see a lot, there were still many popular attractions left unvisited. Plus, we underestimated just how expensive Singapore is! It was a learning experience, but we all told ourselves we would go back a second time. Unfortunately… due to the circumstances at work (hint: the lack of it), plans changed. Only one of us booked a flight to Singapore this time — me.

I told myself if at all I planned on visiting Singapore again, it would be during the F1 week, and the decision to book early was easy when the organizers announced Linkin Park was going to headline this year! I saw them perform at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November but being the fan that I am, I made no hesitation to see them perform again.

When it came time to make a decision on which flight to take, it wasn’t an easy one. As much as I derided Tiger Airways, the fact they had temporarily stopped flying from Bangalore was a bit of a downer. Because the only option left to fly direct to Singapore from Bangalore was Singapore Airlines — and there’s obviously quite a price difference! I considered other premium carriers such Sri Lankan Airlines, Jet Airways and Air India — but all of them had stop-overs in excess of 2 hours.

I also wanted to try Singapore Airlines, just to see for myself why it’s rated as one of the best airlines in the world. Despite the fact SIA cost more than Sri Lankan Airlines, Jet Airways, Air India and Malaysia Airlines, I still went ahead and booked a direct flight via Cleartrip.com. Using a voucher I had, I got my ticket for Rs. 19k.

Inside Singapore Airlines Boeing plane Bangalore flight
On 18th night, I boarded my Singapore Airlines flight from Bangalore
Bangalore city lights from night sky
The flight left at 11:05pm
Singapore Airlines food menu card inflight service
The first time I ever got a menu in an economy class flight
Singapore Airlines inflight service bar menu
Pretty impressive beverages list
Singapore sling inflight drink Singapore airlines
I had a few of these — the Singapore Sling
Non-veg meal Singapore airlines bangalore flight
The food was good too

I know I can’t even start to compare a budget carrier to Singapore Airlines, but compared to all the legacy carriers I’ve flown so far, I must say I really like the in-flight service in SIA more than Emirates. I don’t know if it’s attributed to the training the stewards receive, but the air hostesses were really good at the whole ‘service with a smile’. They looked upbeat and happy to serve you (at least me), and overall do a good job of embodying the image of the ‘Singapore Girl’ — a concept the airline has been using in it’s marketing campaign for decades.

Krisworld menu inflight entertainment Singapore Airlines
Their in-flight entertainment service, called KrisWorld, though not as exhaustive as Emirates, was still alright
Krisworld inflight movies Singapore Airlines
Quality over quantity I guess
Flying over Singapore night lights
Four and half hours later…

Malasyia Singapore night flight

Landing at Changi airport Singapore
Landing at Changi airport at 6:05am

Overall, I had a good first impression of Singapore Airlines. The airplane wasn’t old, the service was very good, and quality was seen in just about every other aspect of the airline.

Another reason why I wanted to fly a legacy carrier (and not budget) was because I wanted to see Changi Airport. Last year I landed at Changi Airport too, but I wouldn’t call the budget terminal a worthy addition to the ‘Changi’ repute.

Changi airport terminal 2 gates Singapore
But first impressions when I entered Terminal 2 were “Hmm, this doesn’t look that new”
Changi Airport terminal 2 walkalator Singapore
It didn’t look any fancier than, say, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi or KLIA
Singapore Airport Changi Terminal 2 arrivals
I made my way to immigration
Singapore Changi Terminal 2 escalator to immigration counters
I wasn’t WOW-ed by the airport or anything

Singapore Changi airport terminal 2 immigration counters

Changi Airport way to MRT station Singapore
Immigration took a couple of minutes, collected my bag and then made my way to the MRT station

I still had my MRT (metro) card from last year, which still had SG$6 on it, but I bought an additional SGD20 (Rs. 800/$15/€11) worth of credit anyway. I boarded the train and made my way to Aljunied.

I had booked a dorm bed for four nights at WoW Hostel, which after much deliberation, seemed like one of the best hostels right next to an MRT station — which was of absolute importance to me. Last year I stayed at ABC Hostel, though nice, was a bit of a walk to get to a MRT station. But after stepping out of Aljunied MRT station, finding WoW Hostel proved a bit of a challenge.

I first walked into a building which had ‘WOW’ written on it assuming that’s where the hostel was. But I went upstairs to a grumpy woman who woke  up on the wrong side of bed, slamming the door on me after she asked me to look at the address once again.

I did. And tried looking across the road and noticed another sign, this time, saying ‘WoW Hostel’. (As you’ll see below, it’s not easy to notice that sign). I climbed four flights of stairs to finally reach a door. I rang the bell, got in and sat on the couch, tired from all the climbing early morning.

WoW hostel interiors Geylang Singapore
Like many hostels, this was another one of those houses-turned-hostel. I sat on the couch in the living room/reception. They have a big screen TV and a computer for use to the right.

I had to wait nearly half-an-hour for somebody to come and help me ‘check-in’… because everybody was asleep. After the guy in charge of the flat finally woke, I paid up and he showed me to my room.

Wow hostel dorm bed Singapore
Like a lot of hostels, most of the furniture was IKEA
Wow hostel mixed dorm room Singapore
This room had two split A/Cs and included in the price were lockers in the room

The beds were really comfy and you get two fluffy pillows per bed, which was nice. The place was quite clean and I feel like I made the right choice booking a room here.

I stepped out soon after checking in to get a local SIM card (there’s a 7-11 in the same block). After informing my parents about my safe arrival, I then freshened up and caught some sleep. I barely slept on the flight.

I woke up around noon. It had drizzled it a bit in the morning and I was hoping rain wouldn’t ruin my day as I had two important things to do today. First, I had to collect my F1 ticket. Second, I had to buy a camera bag.

Mixed dorm room Wow hostel Aljunied Singapore
Took out the Canon 7D. The lockers are to the right where I was standing.
Aljunied MRT station from WoW hostel Singapore
That’s Aljunied MRT station
Wow hostel hallway rooms Singapore
The hallway just outside my room
Inside the Swissotel The Stamford Singapore
The ticket collection center was located inside the Swissotel The Stamford
Stamford Raffles mall interiors Singapore
Collecting my Zone 4 passes didn’t take much time
Cafe Swiss at Swissotel Singapore
I left the Swissotel. Next up, Funan IT Mall.
Singapore GP preparations work
As I stepped out, work was on-going for this weekend’s Singapore F1

They had cordoned off many roads and diverted traffic as the unique thing about the Singapore Grand Prix is that the race happens on the city streets! The roads were barricaded, meaning I had to walk all along the F1 track.

Esplanade theatres by the bay cbd Singapore
Which meant passing by The Esplanade theatres by the bay
The Esplanade theatres entrance Singapore
‘Richard III’ starring Kevin Spacey and directed by his ‘American Beauty’ director, Sam Mendes, was playing here
The Esplanade theatre domes Singapore panorama
Panorama comprised of 9 shots

Singapore cbd Marina bay bridge buildings

Esplanade Marina Bay panorama view Singapore
Panorama comprised of 7 shots
Esplanade theatres by the bay Marina flyer Singapore
The race track starts all the way there
Marina Bay Sands casino hotel Singapore
Last year, because of rains, the sky deck at the Marina Bay Sands was closed. But I planned to go again.
Fullerton Hotel Maybank building financial centre Singapore
The financial centre looks even better at night
Merlion Park Marina Bay Sands Singapore
I decided to check out the Merlion Park, since I couldn’t go up close due to lack of time last year
Merlion Park statue fountain Singapore
This is the mini-Merlion
Merlion park fountain statue Singapore
This is the big one, the symbol of Singapore
Merlion fountain statue Marina Bay Sands Singapore
Though, now there are newer and more sophisticated symbols in Singapore

Looking around, you could see the bus loads of Korean, Chinese and other tourists from across the globe. Everyone that is, except a local Singaporean! 🙂

Merlion park near Marina bay bridge Singapore
I moved on
Under marina bridge Starbucks Singapore
Walked under the bridge

Marina bay river bridge pillar design Singapore

Marina river bridge F1 track Singapore
The bridge is also a part of the F1 circuit

Singapore river Marina park stepsEsplanade park canopy wooden boards SingaporeEsplanade theatre singapore river quayOverbridge pedestrian walkway SingaporeEsplanade park Singapore

Underpass tunnel Esplanade Park Singapore
See, not everyone follows the rules in Singapore
Singapore financial centre buildings skyscrapers
The murky skies weren’t helping with today’s photography
Old supreme court building Singapore
This is the Old Supreme Court building
Old Supreme Court building dome Singapore
It’s getting refurbished to be turned into the National Art Gallery in a few years time
Singapore Cricket Club ground
The Singapore Cricket Club (Do any Singaporeans besides the Indians even play cricket?)
Singapore GP zone 4 seats track
This is the Zone 4 grandstand seating, right in front of the Old Supreme Court building
Way to Funan IT mall Singapore
The pink building is Funan IT mall
Funan IT mall inside Nokia Samsung Singapore
When I came here last year, I barely got much time to visit all the stores I wanted to. It may be slightly pricier than say, Sim Lim Square, but there’s little of the grey market dealing here.

Since it was nearing 3pm, I had lunch from McDonalds before going upstairs.

Gears of War 3 launch Singapore
Microsoft held a Gears of War 3 launch event. Singaporeans could get their hands on the game a few hours ahead of their Western counterparts.
Gears of War 3 Singapore release Funan IT hall
It may look like a joke to the mainstream, to see young folks sit and wait for a videogame to be launched, but in the world of gaming, being the few to go online first is quite the bragging right! 🙂

Even though I knew which store stocked the bag I had in my mind, I still went to pretty much all the other photography and electronics stores to have a look at the other models before finally picking up a bag.

I saw a lot of camera backpacks, but none of the other stores stocked the bag I had strongly considered – the Kata Owl 272. So I went to John 3:16, and lo and behold, he had it in stock. At SGD185 (Rs. 7k+), it cost Rs. 2000 lesser than it did in India. I checked it out and after feeling quite satisfied with its features, abused my credit card and bought it.

With backpack in tow, I left Funan IT mall after chatting with the sales staff at John 3:16 for a while. I was happy. I finally had a good camera backpack of my own for all my camera equipment.

Gears of War 3 launch party shot from up Funan IT mall Singapore
Still a few hours left

I left Funan IT mall and walked right next door to Peninsula Plaza, an old but famous shopping complex, which also houses quite a few photography stores. But once inside, the place looked more like ‘Little Myanmar’.

Peninsula Plaza interior floors Singapore
(I kept the Canon 7D inside and just shot using the lighter 450D from here on)

A lot of the businesses here were owned by and cater to the Burmese population in Singapore. Restaurants, Myanmar clothing and plenty of money transfer shops. With all the troubles back in their homeland, I’m not surprised to see thousands of them in Singapore, seeking a better life. There was a distinct stench in the air too… I don’t know what it was, but it was like being reminded of the fish sauce stench in Bangkok.

I left Peninsula Plaza because I couldn’t take the smell anymore.

St. Andrews cathedral Singapore art effect
When I was working on this photograph of St. Andrews cathedral, I was playing around with the Levels tool in Photoshop. Accidentally went to the extremes, and then paused when I saw the result. I liked how the right side looked like a painting, while the left looked like an etching.
Suntec city building lights interior Singapore
I walked through Suntec City
Suntec City giant water wheel fountain Singapore
Saw this giant wheel fountain at Suntec

Marina Square mall Suntec building Singapore

Air Asia Lotus F1 car display Suntec City Singapore
Air Asia had their sponsored Team Lotus car on display in another building at Suntec
Suntec city mall stores Singapore
Suntec City is one massive commercial complex: malls, offices, exhibition centres — all right in the central business district

Suntec City mall coffee club Singapore Marina Mandarin hotel cbd SingaporePedestrian walkway into Suntec city mall SingaporeMarina Square mall Singapore

Suntec City expo center lobby Singapore
This is the Convention Hall building
Suntec City library food court Singapore
I love the looks of this food court
Pedestrian bridge Suntec City Singapore
It was past 6pm
Suntec city atrium Singapore
You can spend a lot of time in Suntec City
Suntec City beauty stores mall Singapore
Walked to Raffles MRT
Aljunied MRT station Singapore
This is Aljunied MRT station, and now I’m going to show you how to get to WoW Hostel from here
Hostel building outside Aljunied MRT station
Once you exit the station, to your left is this building. Plenty of restaurants, a 7-11 and other stores on that block as well.
98SG hostel building near Aljunied mrt station
Walking straight up will lead you to this road which is in between two blocks. In the morning, when I came here, I saw the WOW written below the 98SG and assumed this is the right building. It’s not.
Jas Medical WoW hostel building Singapore
Turn around and look for the store named Jas Medical. Walk up closer to those steps you see beside it.
Wow hostel Urban hostel building Singapore
This is how you will arrive at the right entrance to WoW Hostel (and another hostel)
WoW hostel level 3 entrance Singapore
Climb up past Urban Hostel and you arrive at WoW Hostel

Once back in my room, I dumped my bag and decided to roam free while checking out my surroundings.

Chinese procession Geylang evening prayers Singapore
This was happening nearby (Took this photo earlier)
Chinese procession prayers Geylang Singapore
I don’t know what it was about, but the stage looked nice
Geylang road Singapore market evening
There are markets and plenty of restaurants around. Down this road is the Geylang Serai Market & Food Centre — a hawker centre I planned to check out.

I stopped by a supermarket to pick up some water. One lesson learnt from last year’s trip was not to waste money buying small bottles, that too from 7-Eleven, who price their goods higher than most convenience stores. While a small bottle of water at 7-Eleven costs more than SG$1 (Rs.38/$0.77/€0.58), I picked up a 1.5 litre of water from this supermarket for SGD1 and a 500ml bottle for just SGD0.60. You may think I’m just penny-pinching, but trust me, it all adds up in Singapore. The humidity here will see you drinking so much water, you’ll be spending a lot more on water than you think!

Geylang road nightlife Singapore
I was near the bustling Geylang area, famed for its street food and nightlife (This and the below were all taken on my phone)
Khadijah Mosque Aljunied Geylang Singapore
This area has a significant Malay population too
Lor 28 Geylang apartment night Singapore
I kept walking around in the hopes of finding the Geyalng Serai hawker centre, but it looked like it was much further down the road than I earlier presumed it would be
Geylang road night Singapore
This looked like a decent residential area not to far from the CBD

Shell fuel station Singapore

No Signboard seafood Geylang Singapore
Nice name 🙂
Sims Avenue Geylang road Aljunied Singapore
I eventually walked back to my block

I sat down at a Malay-Indian restaurant to have some piping hot prata with some not-so-piping hot chicken curry.

Pokka carrot juice can Singapore
For drink, I chose canned carrot juice

The satisfying dinner cost me SGD5.60 (Rs. 223/$4.3/€3.2), which cost less than the SGD7.40 (Rs. 295) my McDs Quarter Pounder meal cost in the afternoon. (I know you can’t always compare prices in Singapore but, man, nearly Rs. 300 for a McDonalds meal! :-/)

I was satisfied after a productive first day in Singapore. Tomorrow, Jurong Bird Park.


Nest posts in this series:

Singapore 2011: Day 1 – Landing a second time; walking around CBD

Singapore 2011: Day 2 – Jurong Bird Park and… *ouch!*

Singapore 2011: Day 3 – Bukit Timah and Singapore Botanic Gardens

Singapore 2011: Day 4 – Marina Bay Sands Casino and views from the SkyPark observation deck

Singapore 2011: Day 5 – Chinatown, F1 Friday (Charice, Seungri and GD&TOP concerts)

Singapore 2011: Day 6 – F1 Saturday (Rick Astley, Shakira and Shaggy concerts)

Singapore 2011: Day 7 – Little India, F1 Sunday race, Linkin Park concert and Avalon Club

Leaving Singapore, and discovering certain truths about this famous city state

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