March 18, 2012 – Singapore
Singapore is one of the places on this itinerary I have really been looking forward to visiting, and it did not disappoint!
We have two full days here and we intended to make the most of them. Our berth was occupied at the cruise center so we had to dock at a container port and be shuttled to the cruise center. The container port was filled with thousands of Toyotas and three huge ships ready to haul them somewhere.
It is a big plus to be at the cruise center because of the availability of tourist services and shops to replenish supplies. As you might imagine, most folks need to buy toiletries etc. by now. During the day, while we are touring, they will move the ship to the cruise center, so we will return there, instead of the container port.
When we disembarked the shuttle, as a group of 5, we engaged a van and driver who was soliciting tourists (very politely) in the lobby. Our guide/driver, Frances had a comfortable 10 passenger van with good A/C and proved to be a wealth of information on the city/state of Singapore.
This is a most unusual country in many ways. It is a small island at the tip of Malaysia (connected by a causeway) which is about 4 or 500 square miles and with 5,000,000 citizens, mostly of Chinese descent. English is very commonly spoken, though Chinese is spoken in homes. Singapore was British Territory, having been created from a fishing village by Sir Stanford Raffles, on commission from Britain, as a trading port – which is its claim to fame to this day. It was occupied, quite harshly, by the Japanese during World War II, and following the war, transitioned to an independent country after being part of a Malay group of nations for a time.
What makes Singapore most unusual, in addition to its obvious prosperity and business activity, in my mind is its unique set of laws, law enforcement and punishments. Fines for littering are quite harsh, with escalating fines based on the number of offenses and seriousness of the offense. Larger size does not necessarily dictate larger fines – a toothpick being harder to pick up than a soda can. A third offense results in 6 hours picking up trash while wearing a sign board which says “I am a litterer”. Chewing gum is illegal. Importing drugs, in excess of $15,000 in value, is an automatic death penalty. Severe penalties exist for graffiti or defacing another’s property – including corporal punishment (caning). Hangings (not public) are held every Friday morning at 4:00am. We saw very few police, as almost all law enforcement is done by video cameras. They had nine murders in 2011, less than Southside Chicago had on St Patrick’s day alone.
This whole subject really created a debate in my American mind, full of human rights, political correctness and such. While this is the safest place I have ever visited (for the first time we received no pickpocket or mugging warnings from the ship’s crew on this port), I am sure the ACLU would never allow such things in the U.S. I am not sure where I will finally land on this debate, but I sure enjoyed the benefit of their laws, and since I had no intention, or desire, to break any of these laws, I guess I am leaning toward the “Singaporean” method.
We first went north, near Malaysia, and visited a memorial and cemetery, Kranji Park, dedicated the defenders of Singapore who gave their lives trying in vain to prevent the Japanese from invading in 1942.
From Kanji, continuing the WWII theme we traveled to Changi Prison, which was used as a POW camp by the Japanese during the war, and appropriately is now used as the main prison for Singapore – full of litterers I am sure. The museum at Changi was filled with items from the British prisoners and stories of their capture and captivity. Two of chapels built by the prisoners have been reconstructed and are included in the museum.
From Changi, we drove to Singapore Barrage, which looks like a park, but is actually a water treatment facility, under construction, to dam the Singapore River and treat and provide drinking water for Singapore. Rather than an eyesore, it is a beautiful park, where families where enjoying picnic lunches and children were playing and flying kites – with the usual Singaporean tidiness.
Our next stop was in town, at the Merlion, a symbol of Singapore, which is the head of a lion on the body of a mermaid. The symbol appears all over Singapore, but the “main” one is shown here, with the Marina Sands Hotel in the background.
Our driver dropped us at the cruise center for lunch and then we caught the Monorail for a ride over to Sentosa Island, which is a sort of “Disneyland” plus a casino on a separate island.
Alighting from the monorail, we walked along the beach path for a while, taking shelter in an open bar when a thunderstorm passed through. He hopped on a tram, transferred at the aquarium, and departed the tram at a huge underground parking facility, underneath the Casino and shopping area. Sorry, no pictures allowed in the casino – we walked through it, observing a few of the normal games you would see in the US, BlackJack, Baccarat, etc, and a few really strange looking Chinese dice games.
The thunderstorm had delayed our ships move from the container port to the Cruise Center which caused a wait of a couple of hours until we could re board, and increased the shopping expenses dramatically. Back on board, and an early bed time to rest up for tomorrow.