It’s the festive season in Singapore. Deepavali and Hari Raya Puasa (Eid ul Fitr) occur within days of each other (some dub this “DeepaRaya”), and next month it will be Christmas. To say the least, everything is hectic here with a lot of shopping and generally a lot of people everywhere. Singapore is a country approximately 40km across, and 30km from top to bottom (approximately the size of Vancouver, I think). And it has 4 million people in it! The whole population of British Columbia is 4 million, and it can fit in thousands of Singapores. It’s hot, and very humid - standard fare for being an equatorial country.
I was born here, but left 17 years ago with my family to British Columbia. This is my first Eid back in the old country (but the 10th time I have come back to visit), and on every visit Singapore has changed. It seems that every available space has been taken up by commerce. Even the walkways between buildings have been taken over by shops, there are shops everywhere. On one visit there is an empty field allowing a cool breeze to hit you, on the next visit it has been taken over by a shopping mall. It seems like everything is very dense here, also people’s sense of personal space. I am figuratively swimming in my own sweat whenever I walk outside, thank God for air-conditioning everywhere, even on the buses. My favourite hangout is of course Tampines Mall and Century Square, which is just a stone’s throw away from my wife’s house. This shopping area, on any given day, on its slowest period will rival downtown Vancouver in its peak period. Suffice to say, there are a lot of people in Singapore, everywhere :)
But the food, oh the food – it is a paradise for all types of food, at all times of the day. There are a lot of 24 hour establishments out here. Very, very cheap hawker centre food - the usual Malay, Chinese and Indian fare, if you want it, you got it. It is especially good for me because almost everything here is halal, thus I can eat to my heart’s content. And the prices are so cheap – a hearty dish can be had for the low price of $2.50 usually. Eating out is frequently cheaper than cooking at home! Oh - and also all the visiting of relatives during Eid will not make me any slimmer - they serve you scrumptious dishes of every kind, and there are usually several visits everyday. It is also the last year of the old Geylang Serai, the heartland of the Malay community, which is abuzz every year during Ramadan. They are demolishing the old buildings, starting afresh. I’m glad to catch the old market one last time.
This trip has been very profitable also (exchange rate wise) - one Canadian dollar will net me about $1.40 in Singapore dollars (1 US dollar is about $1.70 Singapore dollars). And I found that software here is dirt cheap - for example, a computer game will cost about Singapore $60 after minimal taxes (they have the GST here too, I think it’s 3%). The same computer game in Canada will cost $60 Canadian, plus 7% GST (Goods and Services Tax) and 7% PST (Provincial Sales Tax) - which will come out to about $69 Canadian. Factoring in the exchange rate of 1.4, that amount will be about Singapore $96. Thus I save (96-60) about 36 dollars - which is a discount of about 40%. I’m sure the game publishers would just love to tie the local prices to the US prices - but this will price the games out of everyone’s budget here – especially if they have the alternative of going across the border to Malaysia and picking up a pirated copy. You won’t find copyright infringing software in Singapore anymore – the government has started enforcing their new copyright law on Jan 1st, 2005.
If you are a Japanese food fan (apparently Singapore ranks #1 in Asia, in Japanese food consumption outside Japan) you must try the Kuishinbo Japanese buffet, located downtown at the Suntec City Mall (Tower 1). Prices range from Singapore $25 to $40 per person, depending on the day or whether it is during lunch or dinner time. I think I had about 30-40 pieces of salmon sashimi that one time I was there - I definitely got my money’s worth. Excellent desserts, beverages, etc – service was very good, and the food was delicious. Every 30 mins or so, they will announce (by ringing a bell, and through the speaker system) that they have a special dish, but it is only available to N number of people at X counter. Sometimes there is a mad rush – like the one time they had lobster. I would definitely go there again, I had a good time.
I didn’t have time to go to any of the neighbouring countries Malaysia or Thailand, but if you get a chance to, you should. Airfares are insanely cheap from Singapore to regional destinations - the pricing is really cut-throat, sometimes air-fares are $1 to go to Thailand! If you love blue waters and white sands – Phi Phi Island and Phuket are superb (me and my wife love those two places). Tioman Island off the east coast of Malaysia is awesome also, I have been scuba diving there.
All good things must come to an end – I have already spent four weeks here, and I have to get back to frigid Canada (brr, its almost winter there). You can bet I will be coming to Singapore again in the near future.