Kind of like New York, New York, right? I find it confusing when the city and country have the same name! Yesterday was a much-needed sea day. I finally succumbed to the crud that the passengers have been sharing so needed a day of R&R. I woke up today with no voice whatsoever. It’s a good thing the Meet & Greet isn’t until tomorrow!
We decided to have breakfast in the formal dining room, Versailles. We figured the buffet would be very crowded since most people were disembarking this morning. There were more people than expected at Versailles but we scored a table for two right by the window. The service was a bit slower than usual but we had all day so it was not a problem for us. We noticed that the menu had been shortened a bit as well in the interest of getting people in and out more quickly.
The plan for the day was to take the Hop On Hop Off bus, which in Singapore is called the Hippo. They also have Duck tours, but that costs extra and didn’t seem worth the money to us. Though we were not disembarking, we had to join the same line as those that were to go through customs and immigration. There was quite a long, slow moving line just to exit the ship. Then, another line to go through immigration. And finally, another line to go through customs. The cruise terminal here is quite large and very modern, unlike many that we have been through recently. We went up to the second level to ask about the Hippo Bus at the Tourist Information office and to take 20 Singapore dollars from the ATM. The TI said that we would need to go back downstairs and outside to get to the bus. We also stopped in a little convenience store located right outside the TI. I needed more cold medicine and cough drops. We decided to wait until we got back in the afternoon in order to avoid carrying our purchases with us all day.
I had read somewhere that the Hippo bus has to be caught at Suntec Center rather than at the cruise terminal. If there were enough passengers, a bus would be sent to the cruise terminal; otherwise, a person would need to take the subway to Suntec. I think this information was out of date; there is a huge sign painted on the wall of the terminal near where the taxis and buses pick people up directing them to the Hippo Bus. We purchased our tickets for the day (about $28 US each) and hopped on the bus. The bus drove us to Suntec, which is a set of five tall towers designed to look like a human hand. The “thumb” building is the shortest; the other 4 are of equal height. The Duck and Hippo company has its own well-organized area to catch each of its 7 lines that go around the city.
Singapore is the most modern city that we have visited. There are 5.5 million people that live in Singapore (the island); 3.3 million live in Singapore (the city). Despite this, the traffic seemed very light. There are reasons for this, which I learned from listening to the commentary on the Hippo Bus. First of all, a person needs a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) in order to even go car shopping. In order to limit the number of cars on the road, the government only issues as many of these as there are cars that get sent overseas (used cars). In other words, if 200 used cars are sent to other countries to be sold, 200 COE’s will be issued. You must bid for a COE and the cost can run up to $50,000 US. Mind you, you have not bought a car yet; you have only bought the right to buy a car. The COE is valid for up to 10 years, so there are no cars older than 10 years here. The second way traffic is controlled is because the tax on purchasing a car is 100% of its value. Ouch! And, once you own the car, you must pay to drive it. There are ERP controls (Electronic Road Pricing) that charge you for driving through the city (you are electronically tracked and charged accordingly). Most of the streets are wide, multi-lane, one-way streets.
The city is extremely clean. There are steep fines for littering. Chewing gum is not allowed. Do you remember hearing about the American teenaged boy that was sentenced to caning for spitting his gum on the sidewalk? There was quite an uproar about it in the US, but they take their laws very seriously here.
The majority of the populace is Chinese (74.2%), followed by Malay (13.3%), Indian (9.2%); the remaining 3.3% is a mixture of other nationalities. Sixty percent of the population are residents; the remaining 40% are temporary workers from other countries.
We took the “red line” first (a hour-long tour if you don’t get off the bus). This would take us through the older part of Singapore. We had decided to ride the bus for its complete circuit and then if we wanted to spend any time at any of the sites, we would go back later in the day. The first area we drove through was Little India (Mustafa Centre). Given that we had just been to India, we figured a drive-through would be sufficient. No need to get off the bus. Same for the Arab/Malay Enclave (Kampon Glam). Muslim children attend Muslim schools but are taught traditional studies as well as religious studies so that they can transfer to traditional schools later. Girls and boys attend separate schools, of course.
We passed by an area called the Thieve’s Market which in the 1960’s was known for selling stolen goods. Now it is a huge flea market selling used goods from 3 pm on. Since we were here in the morning, there was nothing to see.
The locals here speak something called “Singlish”, which is a blend of local languages and English. At the end of a sentence, you add the word la? Got it, la?
Though we did not see any bugs, I saw this great add for mosquito-proof paint:
We passed by the Sultan’s Mosque. Though we were sitting on the upper level, it was very hard to get pictures of most of the sites; we were too close.
We drove past the Hotel Intercontinental (I couldn’t get a picture) which was famous back in the day for cross-dressing prostitutes. Apparently it was quite a tourist attraction. We also passed the National Library (cool building) that boasts 9,000,000 items (print, audio and video). And, we passed the famous Raffles Hotel (built 1899) which will run you about $700 US/night and is famous for creating the Singapore Sling back in 1915.
We drove through Chinatown and through the Marina area which contains the really cool building that looks like it has a large boat up on top. This is the MBS (Marina Bay Singapore) area and has a 2500-guest hotel and a huge convention center, shopping center, and casino.
By now we were back to the Suntec Center and hopped on the blue line bus. There was some overlap of sites from the red line. We passed by the Esplanade which has a very unique roof. Its purpose has to do with light and ventilation, but it looks much like an enormous durian fruit.
We drove past plenty of other modern buildings. The architecture here is very interesting. Most of the buildings look quite new.
People here are quite healthy; there are only 4.7 deaths per thousand residents. This is the 4th best in the world. There is great medical care here. Medical tourism is a thriving industry as well (especially plastic surgery). We passed several private hospitals that make their money that way. We drove down Lavender Street, a tongue-in-cheek name for a very smelly part of town.
Back to the Suntec Center. Rather than taking another ride around town we headed in to the mall in search of food. The mall was very modern and had all of the high-end brand-name stores one would expect.
We decided to try one more line (yellow line) on the Hippo bus. Again, there was quite a bit of overlap from the previous two lines, but there was some interesting information. Our first site was the Singapore Flyer (like the London Eye).
We drove past the financial district. This area is quite expensive. A 150 square meter apartment will run a person from 4 to 5 million US dollars. Because of the incredible housing prices, 80% of the population lives in HDV (public) housing. The cost for a public housing apartment is a mere $250,000-$300,000. To be eligible, you must be 35 or older. Apparently, an invitation to apply for HDV is considered a proposal of marriage!
The Botanic Gardens here in Singapore are a UNESCO Heritage Site. They are quite famous (and are free to visit). Rio and Singapore are the only two cities in the world to have a tropical rainforest within city limits.
We headed along Rassim Road which is where the really expensive places to live. A condo here will set you back at least $6,000,000 US. The “bungalows” are in the $25,000,000 range. The term bungalow means a single-family home.
Finally, we drove down Orchard Road which is the premier shopping destination in Singapore. I loved the blue and green Christmas reindeer and decorations. I wish we were able to be here at night to see them lit up!
As you may have noticed, we never did hop off the bus! I guess we are officially spoiled. The ethnic neighborhoods mirrored places we have already visited. The modern areas did not appeal because they looked like they could be located in any modern city. Singapore is a beautiful city, but we are looking forward to the more exotic locations we will be visiting soon.
We headed back to the cruise port and were greeted with a huge mess! Oftentimes, when checking in for a cruise, the lines have gone down dramatically by early afternoon. Not true here. There were enormous lines to enter the terminal (you have to go through security scanners). We had our “in transit” stickers on and were able to find an NCL employee that took us to the front of the line so we did not have to wait. The cruise terminal had horribly long lines of people waiting to go through the check-in process. We walked around those and entered the customs and immigration area. The lines here were not that long but they also didn’t move. It seemed to take about 5 minutes per couple to pass through. They scanned our passports and immigration cards and then we had our thumbprints scanned. We could then get back onto the ship.
We were supposed to leave at 6 pm but the captain came over the loudspeaker and announced that we would probably be leaving between 7 and 7:30 since there were still people trying to get checked in. He blamed the holdup on the visas for Vietnam and China that had to be processed as people checked in. I have overheard people saying that it took them up to 6 hours to get all the way through the check-in process.
From what we have seen so far, this is a very diverse group of passengers! Tomorrow is the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet, so we are looking forward to meeting new people there. There are 5 couples that we know of that were on the previous leg of the cruise, too. We will be at sea tomorrow and land in Koh Samui, Thailand the day after.