New images: Singapore
Singapore is known for its strict laws. At the immigration check point, signs warned of the automatic death penalty for drug smugglers. The warning was also repeated in red characters on the immigration form. By contrast, the penalty for bringing in chewing gum (banned everywhere in Singapore) is a mere one year in jail. Upon arrival at the bus station, we jumped into a taxi. Although Singapore has a population of more than 4 million, thanks to the car ownership regulations, we enjoyed fluid traffic in the streets, unlike in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. After wandering around for a bit, we located a sign pointing upstairs to the Bugis Backpackers Hostel, where we checked in for the night. The place did not have its own wireless network, but provided guests with credentials to log onto a Singapore public network which apparently is free for residents.
Because of torrential showers, I scrapped my plans for walking around Chinatown, wandering instead the alleys of Bugis market, crowded and full of cheap goods like the other Asian markets I had seen during the trip. As the rain eased in late afternoon, I took the Mass-Rapid-Transit (MRT). It was as clean as the streets. In fact, when I pulled out a snack, before I could take a bite, an officer quickly approached me to point out that eating is prohibited. I latter saw a sign warning of a hefty S$500 fine for that offense.
Upon exiting the MRT at Raffles Square, I felt propelled to a different world. The square is totally surrounded by sleek skyscrapers. I walked around Marina Bay at sundown, rushing to take advantage of the brief moment when the sky took on a blue color, and the building lights were balanced with the ambient light. Despite the cloudy weather, at night the cityscape shone brightly. One side of the Bay was lined up with the forest of skyscrapers from the Central Business District. The recent Esplanade buildings laid on the other side. The most striking new developments were on the third side: the three towers of the Marina Bay Sands resort, topped by a 340-meter long platform. By coincidence, a few months before my visit, I had watched a TV program that highlighted the unique engineering challenges – and cost – of that project. Out of curiosity, we checked the Marina Bay Sands casino. Just to get inside, Singapore residents have to pay a steep $100 per day. I assume they can afford it, as the GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world (3rd or 4th in 2010 depending on who counts). Fortunately, we were carrying our passports, which allowed us free entry.
In that trip, which was now nearing its end, I traveled successively in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. It is as if I was moving along time, as each of the country could be seen as the future of the previously visited one.
View more images of Singapore