Redesign your life. Travel the world.
Although I have been to Singapore number of times in the past, it was always for business functions or simply in transit to somewhere else. I never really had a chance to neither immerse myself into the local culture nor explore the city in a great deal. This time around, however, I was very lucky to have a few days off to do just that, and without having to think about work and responding to urgent emails.
AT THE AIRPORT
After three and a half hour flight from Manila, we finally touched down at the Changi airport. I was actually quite excited which seemed a bit strange to me because I had never felt this excited in any of my previous visits. I am guessing the excitement is coming from the fact that I am here for a holiday. Who wouldn’t be excited about that? I checked the time, its 9:00 Am, perfect, that means I have an ample time to explore the airport itself before heading to my friend’s condo. I have been frequently told that the Changi Airport is not just an airport but a “destination” on its own. Whatever that means I am ready to find out. By the way, there’s no time difference between Singapore and Manila which is good – no jet lag. And the weather conditions are practically the same too.
After disembarking, I immediately proceeded to the Immigration Halls. I walked fast, thinking that there might be a long queue but to my surprise there were only a few people in line. I instantly find my place in the “foreign passport holder” designated area. The only thing that the immigration officer asked me was “how long are you going to stay here?” After responding to him, he stamped my passport and gave me a free candy – how lovely 🙂 . Everything was completed in less than 15 minutes including waiting time. I was impressed!
The attention to every detail at the airport is overwhelming. There’s an abundance of information desks and a team of customer service consultants. There are small trolleys for hand luggage, airport-friendly baby strollers and play areas for kids. Changi is furnished with super-comfy loungers and reclining chairs – there are even chairs that massage your feet. In the (free) TV lounges, armchair speakers ensure other passengers aren’t disturbed and there are entertainment centers and gaming consoles (PS3 or Xbox360, anyone?), cinemas and music booths.
Even the toilets are something else. All cubicles have ample space for you and your luggage, and there are wall-mounted baby chairs in both the men’s and ladies’ loos. Every toilet is fitted with touch-screen monitors (sanitized throughout the day) that send real-time feedback to service managers. Bad smell? Not enough toilet paper? Dirty mirror? Touch the screen, and your complaint will be dealt within minutes. If that’s not impressive I don’t know what is.
The contrast is particularly striking to someone who, like me, takes off from arguably the world’s worst airport and lands at one of the world’s best. In all fairness, however, I wanted to mention here, for the sake of all the readers/travelers, that recently, the Manila airport facilities are undergoing dramatic improvements. Everybody knows how desperately it was needed.
As I walked my way towards the arrival area, I noticed a sign reading; “Butterfly Garden”, so I went inside and experienced the most wonderful few minutes. It was magical. There were butterflies of all sizes and colors flying everywhere. One even landed on my hand, probably mistaking me for some beautiful exotic flower, LOL. What an Oasis of tranquility and peace, after a long tiring flight. If you ever have spare time at the Changi airport and have nothing important to do, the Butterfly Garden is definitely worth experiencing, even if it requires coming here from a different terminal.
Another place for the nature lover to visit is the Sunflower Garden. With some 500 sunflower plants in a small compacted area, the picturesque sight never fails to bring a sunny smile to any tired face. It had that effect on me too.
The Social Tree is a new attraction that uses interactive technology for travelers to share their photo and video memories instantly and to retrieve them on subsequent visits to the airport. Located in Terminal 1, this giant tree is made up of 64 giant 42-inch high-definition screens where travelers can ‘attach’ their photo onto the colorful and animated crown of the structure. Such a wonderful feature!
Another amazing architectural feature is the moving sculpture dubbed “Kinetic Rain”, located at Terminal 1, Departure Hall. The 1216 copper-plated aluminum raindrops (180 grams each) are suspended by a thin wire from the ceiling. Each raindrop has its own computer-controlled motor able to move it up and down independently, allowing the entire assembly to assume elaborate moving shapes in a fluid motion. The installation is programmed to morph into 16 different shapes during a 15-minute loop. It’s truly beautiful and captivating visual effect you cannot take your eyes off. It’s almost like watching twelve hundred little ballerinas moving gracefully in a perfect unison to a perfectly choreographed ballet number.
There’s also a swimming pool in the airport. But I wasn’t able to experience it – as much as I wanted to dip in the Balinese-themed swimming pool and enjoy the relaxing ambiance, I wasn’t prepared. Who would have thought of a swimming pool in the airport? Pool and Jacuzzi are free for all passengers staying at the Ambassador Transit Hotel while everybody else need to pay a fee of $13.91 to access the pool and Jacuzzi, inclusive of shower facilities, towel and complimentary non-alcoholic drink from the bar. Considering it is Singapore and an airport, the price seems very reasonable indeed.
On my way out of the airport, the plants at the center caught my attention. I’ve noticed that at one point the road becomes very straight and the plants are in pots instead of directly planted into the road-dividing strip. Later, I have learned that this stretch of road was actually designed to serve as a potential emergency airstrip which, so far, has never been used, and hopefully never will. This forward thinking shows how far the Singapore government and the Changi Airport management will go to fully prepared and be ready for any and every contingency, even the most unlikely.
With everything from spas, swimming pool, and movie theaters to themed gardens and an aviation gallery, the Changi Airport’s three terminals are more than just a gateway to the rest of the World, now I can see why some people might see it also as a destination in itself. Choosing to spend some time in this particular airport wasn’t such a crazy idea. I could actually spend the rest of the day there, without getting bored one little bit.
Each time I visited Singapore in the past I used to take a taxi to the city, but today I decided to be more adventurous and try the MRT. I purchased a multiple ride EZ-Link pass card from a ticketing machine. The ticket price always includes a deposit of 1$ which you can reclaim any time after the pass card has been used – you just have to make the effort to return it to the ticketing machine. Everybody does it, thereby simultaneously solving the problem of unnecessary waste and littering. What a clever idea.
I hopped on the train and as soon as I am seated my eyes wander. I noticed a sign on the wall that said: “Eating and drinking are prohibited and punishable by a fine of $500”. Oh yeah… everyone follows the rules here. People get fined for littering, even for chewing a gum… You really cannot buy a chewing gum in Singapore – how uniquely Singaporean is that? The rules do seem to actually work here: Singapore is by far the cleanest and most effectively maintained city I’ve ever visited in South East Asia, and where I felt the safest as well.
I was surrounded by a variety of Indian, Malay, European, Chinese and Middle-eastern descent commuters. It was impossible to distinguish a Singaporean national from a visitor or an overseas worker. Then I realized they maybe culturally different but there are two characteristics they share in common: (1) They always seem to be in a hurry (2) They are all constantly hooked-up to their mobile phones and other gadgets! They are rushing and scuttling away all the time and I can’t help but admire their stamina.
In Singapore, I always feel completely anonymous. People barely acknowledge my existence. I remember being annoyed at how people in India would chase me down the street trying to sell things or talk to me. Here everyone just goes about their own business wrapped in their personal ‘universes’ and oblivious of everybody else around. Such a great cultural difference.
high rise public houses
I switched my attention to the view outside the window. Had the window been open I would undoubtedly look like one of those dogs with their head sticking out of the car window, tongue hanging out and ears flapping in the breeze.
High-rise steel-and-glass modern buildings and more traditional buildings share real estate in the city-state. Each neighborhood has a distinctive architecture reflecting the diversity of its history and the influence of many different cultures on the city. The majority of the residential housing developments in Singapore are government projects. 80% of the resident population lives in such accommodation. These flats are located in housing estates, which are self-contained ‘satellite towns’ with schools, supermarkets, clinics, sports and recreational facilities.
Parc Vista Condominium
After about 30 minutes I’ve reached my destination in relative comfort and for a fraction of the taxi cost. Since the train service is so well managed and easily accessible from the airport, I no longer see any advantage in using a taxi, unless your destination is way off the train lines. I went down the escalator and headed to the other side of the road where my friend lives. The condominium complex is complete with amenities like swimming pool, gym, tennis court, BBQ area and playground for the kids. The rent though is $2500 per month, whew, I know super expensive, but real estate and rent in Singapore is one of the most expensive in the World.
My friend’s two daughters were already home when I came, they welcome me with so much hospitality and true Filipino generosity that I forgot I’m overseas. They’re all grown up, how time flies! I feel much older now LOL! I bond with the kids while waiting for my friend and her husband to arrive back from work.
So that’s what I’ve got to say so far about Singapore and it’s barely been a few hours since I’ve landed here. I decided to start my active explorations of Singapore the next day because I knew that the remainder of the day is going to be spent on catching up with my friends.
I USD = 1.40232 SGD
English is widely use, so you don’t have to worry about language barrier here.
The humidity and temperatures are relatively high during the day, as expected in a tropical country, but windy conditions are expected at night. Bear in mind that spending more than about one hour outdoors can be very exhausting, drinking a lot of water is highly advisable.
The fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get around the city is by using MRT. Buses and Taxis are available too, but can be quite expensive.
Practice safety measures; raise your alertness when you are walking in the crowd. Although Singapore is recognize for its safety, but still there is petty crime here and there, especially in crowded places, so make sure you don’t create the chance for them.
Singaporean food is legendary, with bustling hawker centers and 24-hour coffee shops offering cheap cuisine from all parts of Asia. The food traditions of the different ethnic groups who migrated and live here (Singapore is 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian, and 3% Eurasian) have resisted the westernization of the country and made the Singaporean food truly unique.
The number of shopping malls in Singapore is something unbelievable. They are literally everywhere. And people here like to go shopping and to eat – anytime. Shopping seems to be the national pastime in Singapore, malls are open till very late and even at 10 pm they are still packed with people. I think that the concept of urban decentralization is quite beneficial to the inhabitants since you don’t have to drive to the city center to go out for a dinner or to buy things, which makes the housing estates completely self-sufficient satellite towns. And with the excellent public transport at your doorstep, you have the best of both worlds; your own neighborly Estate and the Metropolitan Center just minutes away.