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Friday July 2nd, 1999 to Monday July 5th, 1999
Skyscrapers in Singapore

We were only in Singapore for about 3 days, but it's a pretty small place, so we figure that we got to see a decent chunk of it. We stayed in a place called the "Green Curtain Guest House;" we didn't see any green curtains, but once we'd seen the place, the curtains the least of our concerns. It wasn't that bad, actually; certainly a little (well, a lot) on the seedy side, but fairly clean, and any unpleasant smell that might have existed was more than covered up by the extremely odiferous 24hr Indian restaurant downstairs.

We went out for a walk and a beer the 1st night, and were immediately struck by the "westernness" of the city, particularly relative to Bangkok; this is perhaps most obvious in the way that people drive (the white lines painted on the road seem to mean something), and in the fact that we were able to walk down the street without having people constantly pestering us to take a taxi, take a tuk-tuk, buy a shirt, buy a Walkman, buy sex, etc. This relief from the relative lawlessness of Bangkok initially struck us as quite pleasant and homey, but a little research proved that the respect for law and order in Singapore is partly due to a heavy-handed 1 party government that frequently applies punishment way out of proportion to crimes committed: for instance, fines of $5000 for possession of chewing gum, and potential capital punishment for mere possession of soft drugs. The fact that the government is currently attempting to legislate the way that the English language is spoken almost renders the "big brother" comparison a little too obvious.

The Sultan Mosque, Singapore

Almost in direct contrast to the strict law and order focus of the society is its cosmopolitan nature, which exists as a result of its history as a major (for a while, the major) South-east Asian port. We spent 2 days wandering through what are reputed to be among the world's most authentic Chinatowns, Little Indias, and Arab Streets. We spent a lot of time in and among 19th century Chinese shophouses and temples, all quintessential examples of Straits Chinese culture. We were also able to visit some very impressive old mosques and other Muslim-style buildings, also from the 19th century. Although we had seen a number of mosques in Morocco, we weren't able to actually enter any; they don't seem to take their Islaam quite as seriously in Singapore, and visitors, even of the female persuasion, are allowed to visit mosques there. Little India was not so impressive in terms of architecture, but was fairly staggering for another reason: we walked through on Sunday night, which is apparently the time when all the foreign workers (mainly from Bangladesh) have time away from work, and so go out in to the street to socialize. The resulting spectacle is pretty amazing: walking down the street was like trying to get out of a stadium after a concert. The crowd is enormous, and is comprized entirely of Indian men: there are virtually no women, and there is virtually no one who is not Indian. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed, and even though we stuck out like proverbial sore thumbs, we felt entirely comfortable as part of the crowd.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

We spent a lot of time in various places of worship while in Singapore — in all, we visited an old Chinese temple, a (very tacky, but apparently world famous) Hindu Temple, a couple of Mosques, and an Anglican cathedral dating from colonial times. We spent a large part of Sunday learning the colonial history of Singapore, principally via the museum of the famous Raffles Hotel. The hotel is located in a very posh, but very typical 19th century colonial building; named after the British explorer who founded modern Singapore at the beginning of the 19th century, it has hosted a veritable bevy of the world's glitterati and illuminati, including Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Ronald Reagan, and countless Hollywood types. The hotel also houses the famous "long bar" where, in 1915, Ngiam Tong Boon mixed the world's 1st Singapore Sling. We could not resist the urge to be tourists and have one, despite the $16 price tag (that's $16 each).

A Chinese temple, Singapore

We spent most of our final day in Singapore at the world famous Singapore Zoo. The zoo has made a valiant attempt to make life in captivity as low-stress as possible for its inhabitants: most of the animals live in pens rather than cages, and moats and other semi-natural obstacles are used rather than fences to keep them penned in. As well, the zoo has recently completed a sort of "jungle biosphere" display which attempts to recreate an entire patch of jungle, including many of the animals that would exist there, rather than isolating the animals from one another. I still have trouble reconciling myself to the whole notion of captive animals on display, but if it has to be done, the Singapore Zoo has certainly taken some steps toward doing it the right way.

We made it back from the zoo to the guesthouse just in time to get to the airport and be back in Bangkok for work the next day.

You might wish to look at the Singapore photos in the photo album.

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