Singapore-City-State/Country of the Future…Land of Shopping and FOOD!

During our Christmas break, we traveled to Singapore, where we spent four days visiting this magnificent city-state/country, being taken care of by Singaporean natives, school colleague Joanne Foo, Priscilla (former school colleague) and husband Steve Chua.

Front: Tom, Barbara; Back: Singaporeans; Steve & Priscilla Chua, Joanne Foo

It was excellent to have real Singaporeans show us around, so we got to know what the place is really like.

Singapore, as the map shows, is a large island with a number of smaller islands.  The largest island is about 15 miles wide by 24 miles long.  It has a population of 4.8 million people (Lonely Planet).  “The territory of Singapore covers a slightly smaller area than that of New York City (minus Brooklyn).”((  It became a country in 1965, after splitting from Malaysia, both having been British-controlled.

Singapore had been developed by the British in 1819, by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles of the East Indian Company, because of its location, along the Straits of Malacca, partway between India and China,

Strait of Malacca

and was an important part of the trade route from India to China and back.  Raffles described Singapore as “the navel of the Malay countries.” (Lonely Planet)  You can see from the second map this is true.  This trade route has much to do with Singapore’s  makeup today.  It is a “free-trade” port, meaning no tariffs are paid by ships stopping there.  It ranks as one of the busiest ports in the world (a lot like Eastport…?).

This early trade route and its British control shaped its population/organization of today.  Singapore’s people are a mix of mostly Chinese, Malaysians, and Indians, many brought to the place by the Brits to work.  The city was laid out by the British in quarters, giving each group a quarter, and the Brits the other quarter.

Singapore is almost on the Equator, so it is quite warm, most of the time.  Its average temperature is about 25 to 31 degrees C. (77-88 degrees F.) with 70-80% humidity.  So how do Singaporeans stand the heat? Air-conditioning is important, it is found most everywhere…they also try to keep out of the sun too.  So what do Singaporeans do for fun?  Besides being prosperous and ordered, Singapore is known for two things: great shopping and great eating.   After being in Asia  for 3 years, we are “shopped out,” so we focused on the eating!  Singapore did not disappoint us!

Ice Kacang-a mixture of ice, jelly, fruit, syrup, other things like corn? Great in the heat!

We visited the Indian quarter, or Little India, and purchased some curry cooking spices.

Hindu temple in Indian quarter...maybe needs a little more decoration, don't you think???

We ate some vegetable curry and garlic nan in Little India.

Colorful buildings in Indian quarter

On we went to the Chinese quarter, or Chinatown.

Guide Jo says, "See! We're in Chinatown!"

So much to see! So much to eat!

In Chinatown, you can get fresh fish-bellies...


Tom, duckin' out...(Barbara photo)

Pomelo to go...

a little meat, for a treat...

Another "Where's Waldo?" in Chinatown, Singapore (Barbara photo)

As we ate our way across Singapore, we tried traditional Malaysian dishes like prawn (shrimp) satay and chicken satay, laksa noodles,  other seafood like barbecued sting-ray, blackpepper crab, razor clams, foods with Chinese influence like duck, chicken rice,…we could have eaten non-stop all day long and not had the same thing!  The best place to get these foods were in “Hawker Courts,” large open-air food courts (with roofs overhead as it does rain often), where you could go from stand to stand to find the foods you liked.  “Hawkers” call out their foods that they have to sell at these food markets.

At a "hawker court"

At a "hawker court" the food choices go on and on...

Most people know Singapore as a small island country with many rules and regulations, that is very successful financially.  This is somewhat true, but it is a lot more than that.  It is a microcosm of what urban living and cities of the future will be like.  Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, who helped shape Singapore from 1965-1990 (now his son is the the prime minister), set into motion a model city that has been emulated by other countries, like China in its new cities (where we are living, Suzhou, China, is modeled after Singapore).  It has used its British background to make city planning, education, transportation, and work priorities so its people can live and prosper.

Test/exam stand in a kiosk in shopping mall...showing how important education is in Singapore...get the latest test here! Do you think this would sell in the US?

Lee says that Singapore follows a Confucian belief system that puts the community needs first over the individual.  Does he believe in communism?  Not at all. He is an advocate of socialist programs like health-care, retirement pensions, government-sponsored mortgage programs.  87% of Singaporeans own their own home/apartment.  Singaporeans work hard and save/spend their money wisely.  They are extremely successful and, for a tiny country, have great influence.  There are more millionaires in Singapore per-capita than anywhere else in the world. (

There are regulations/taxes on some rights, like owning a car.  “Car buyers must pay for duties one-and-a-half times the vehicle’s market value and bid for a Singaporean Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which allows the car to run on the road for a decade. The cost of the Singaporean certificate of entitlement alone would often allow one to buy a Porsche Boxsterin the United States. Car prices are generally significantly higher in Singapore when compared to other English-speaking countries and thus only 1 in 10 residents own a car.”(Wikipedia).

Singapore uses electronic cameras to collect tolls.  People driving at rush-hour pay extra tolls for being on the road then.  So there are many rules to be followed.  Probably you have heard there is no chewing gum in Singapore, you can be caned for certain crimes, and drug dealers get the death penalty; making some people think it is a repressed society.  We  did not find this to be so.  People here follow the rules and understand it is part of living with almost 5 million others on a small island.  They even have a sense of humor about all of the rules.

T-shirt you can buy having fun with all the things you can be fined for...

Our friends helped find us local accommodations, as hotels are expensive here. We stayed at the Costa Sands Resort.  It is a complex located near the water, where Singaporeans go to “get away.”

Entrance to Costa Sands Resort: view through the side and up through walk under the pool to enter the complex

What do Singaporeans do when they “get away”?  Well, there is a pool and water park…

there are nicely appointed rooms with air-conditioning, tv, comfortable beds, in “chalets” nearby…

with pits outside for barbecuing…

where you can barbecue with your friends…

there are trails/walks to hike or ride your bike on…all very nice…but the main attraction…


Along with the resort is a complete shopping center with countless shops, movie cineplex, bowling alley, a kid’s section covering three floors with arcade/computer games, 3-D rides, and a full-size Ferris wheel, all inside!

4 girls on "scary" 3-D ride in kids' area

Add to this two large food courts, and many restaurants…why would you need to go any where else?  Which we barely did over the next few days…we found it quite relaxing… and we did not even participate in serious “retail therapy.”  We think the place should be called the “NOT Costa-Lotta,” as we left with many Singaporean dollars still in our pockets!

Serious Singapore recycling outside McDonalds

Singapore was another interesting place where we learned so much, especially by having our friends who are Singaporeans show us around.  We plan on going back there again!


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