Thursday, December 14, 2017

Singapore: A City That Wears Its Cultural Heritage Proudly

If you have never been to Singapore before, you are in for a real treat with this amazing city nation. Singapore is like no other: it is big and brash with enormous skyscrapers reaching high into the clouds and yet it is also green and vibrant with parks to stroll around and relax in. Once a British outpost, and occupied by the Japanese in the Second World War, Singapore gained independence from the UK in 1963 to become part of Malaysia. However, after just 2 years, Singapore left to become a sovereign nation in 1965, due to ideological differences. It developed as an Asian tiger economy and now has the 3rd highest GDP per capita. It may have been a bumpy journey up to now, but Singapore has well and truly found its feet.

To really get under the skin of such a dynamic and changed country, you need to stay in Singapore for a while. This means that your typical package holiday probably won’t cut it, though if you are just looking for a taster it could still be worth considering. There are some truly beautiful hotels in Singapore that cater for all sorts of people and offer a great starting point for the rest of the city.

The country is remarkably safe and though the police here are almost never seen, when there is trouble, they seem to appear from nowhere to sort things out. Perhaps part of the reason for this is the severe penalties for breaking the law in Singapore, but if you are a law-abiding citizen, you have absolutely nothing to worry about! Do be aware, though, that you must show respect to all the religions here as this is one of the cornerstones of Singaporean culture.

The best way to get to know a place is to live like the locals while you are there. If you can find a room to rent in Singapore, then you are certainly advised to take it. Learning about a place isn’t just in eating at restaurants or ambling around museums (though this is also recommended), it is about learning new rhythms of life and discovering how people really live, what the subtle differences in culture look like. Besides, if you are a fan of cooking, you will need a good kitchen to make the most of everything on offer here in Singapore.

Eating, Dining, and Cooking

Like Malaysia, Singapore has a diverse range of flavors and ingredients in its national cuisine, reflecting the diversity in the population. Based on classic Malaysian flavors with influences from China to India and even a little bit of British and European flavor thrown in, Singapore wears its cultural heritage on its plates and any visitor is much richer for it.

To start with, Chinatown in Singapore will provide you with some of the best Chinese food outside China and you can be assured that Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is worth a visit for its world-famous chicken and rice dish. But, if it’s a Michelin star you are looking for, you might want to have a swing by Summer Pavilion, which offers a fine dining experience that will greatly exceed even your high expectations.

If you are looking for street food, the Maxwell Food Centre, where you have already enjoyed your Chicken Rice, is an ideal spot for finding new flavor sensations. Similarly, the Tiong Bahru Market is the perfect place for wandering around taking everything in and trying lots of new flavors. Here, the steamed rice cakes with radish and chili are a must, as is pau, a steamed bun filled with barbecued pork. For foodies, you can’t get much better than eating your way around a market and your appetite will insist that you stay all day long.

Visit the Most Iconic Buildings in Singapore

As a city-state, Singapore has a very small landmass to occupy and yet it holds a large population - their solution? To build up. And not just build up but build some truly incredible buildings that you really can’t miss. You don’t have to be a fan of architecture to be amazed by some of the buildings you will see.

One of the most recognizable buildings in Singapore has to be Marina Bay Sands with its three towers acting as pillars for the most amazing skypark. At the top, an infinity pool reaches to the horizon, giving spectacular views across Singapore. The new years eve party here is second to none but there are plenty of opportunities for fine dining experiences and luxury holidays throughout the year.

At the opposite end of the scale, the Esplanade building is neither the tallest in Singapore, nor is it a glamorous hotel. In fact, this beetle-like building is entirely different to those surrounding it and contains a theatre. If you thought that the food was the only place you can get to grips with Singapore’s mixed cultural heritage, you will be pleased to hear that the performances at the Esplanade are just as diverse and fascinating. If you can find time to book in for a performance in theatre, dance, film or any other visual arts, you will not be disappointed.

Singapore is truly a city of contrasts and while much of the architecture here is made up of modern, glassy-type builds, the Fullerton Hotel, with its grand entrance and Art Deco interiors harks back to previous incarnations of this ever-changing city and gives a unique depth to the cultural landscape. Clearly influenced by the British, this building stands out at Boat Quay against a backdrop of skyscrapers.

Must-See Attractions in Singapore

The Botanic Gardens are right at the heart of Singapore, offering a surprisingly tranquil space, filled with the most beautiful and rare plants from across Singapore. Home to Vanda Miss Joaquim, the national orchid of Singapore, the Botanical gardens also host over 1000 species and 2000 hybrids in their Orchid Garden. The Vanda Miss Joaquim is yet another example of how Singapore embraces other cultures and nationalities as this particular flower was named after its Armenian breeder, Agnes Joaquim who arrived in Singapore in 1893.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday without a spot of shopping, and Singapore has the most amazing answer. In direct contrast to its many markets, Orchard Road offers high-end and designer goods in the most incredible location. Full of life, this road offers shopping mall after shopping mall, with everything you could ever want or dream about within a short walking distance. Have your wallet ready to do some pretty serious spending!

With yet another twist in the tale of your first trip to Singapore, you will be delighted to discover that this tiny country is also home to 4 national parks. At the heart of Singapore’s mission, is to create a green city and these parks are only a piece of the overall design prospects here. Skyrise greenery intends to make the most of every opportunity to bring plant life and diversity to the forefront. This includes vertical gardens, rooftops covered in greenery and the conservation of the parks they still have. It is incredible to see a country with such a small amount of land and yet such an incredible economy give so much back to their environment and it would be amazing to see other major cities around the world taking a leaf out of Singapore’s book.

The Joy of Singapore

It is clear, from the moment you step out into the incredible heat of Singapore, that this nation is very different to almost everywhere else in the world. Not only is it able to sustain an incredibly diverse population, it also celebrates each aspect of its cultural heritage with great joy and respect. If you are not enjoying a dish that takes flavor and inspiration from a number of different places, you are sure to see it in the theatres and in the architecture that abounds here.

Though Singapore is a relatively new nation, it feels comfortable in its own skin, as though it was always meant to be this way. Perhaps this is because rather than force assimilation, Singapore actively encourages integration, allowing people to celebrate their own cultures freely as well as that of others. This means that all of the religious identities, cultural identities and everything in between are given the space to flourish on their own terms and given equal rights.  

While the preservation of each identity provides roots, the economy brings the opportunity for change and growth. This is where buildings like Marina Bay Sands have come to define the progress of Singapore as a nation and indicate the new and incredibly high standards afforded to the people here. And, it is also why as a tourist you may miss some of the depth that Singapore has to offer unless you live here for a while. It is only then that you will begin to realize the subtleties and the incredible beauty of what Singapore is trying to achieve.