Sunday, March 11, 2007

30 Hours in Disney with the Death Penalty (Now with Pictures)

Our hopscotch through SE Asia ended with a 30 hour layover in Singapore. Plenty of time, according to many here in HK, to see a city dubbed by many to be the "Nanny State" or "Disney with the Death Penalty." When I asked people in HK to give me their impressions of the city the first words out of everybody's mouths was "It's so clean!" Not a ringing endorsement for the city in my mind. I mean Milwaukee and Omaha are clean too, but this does not make them awesome tourist destinations.

All in all, Singapore lived up to its reputation and hype. Indeed it was extremely clean, and it did indeed feel like a giant Disney World. That impression began forming immediately when the immigration officer noticed I was staying on Jeslan Basar street and recommended I visit a computer market near my hostel. Normally you're lucky if an immigration officer responds to your hello, let alone act as a tourist information service.

Once we left the airport it suddenly felt like we had entered a British Commonwealth Epcot with Indians, Chinese, Malays, and Gweilos all represented. It's a very diverse city but, in the interest of keeping things orderly, everybody has their own neighborhood (like Epcot!) where they recreate a touch of home complete with restaurants and architecture.
  • Little India is filled with Hindu Temples (sorry didn't take pics)

  • Arab Street (Yes there is an Arab Street) has mosques,
  • Chinatown (which is the cleanest Chinatown I've ever seen) has a roming group of Chinese musicians and lion dancers.

  • Colonial District has all the old british colonial architecure and western hip restaurants

Yes, many other cities, including Chicago, have ethnic neighborhoods. However it all seemed a bit artificial, a bit too planed and very sterile. Plus we would never name a street "Arab Street"

However there was more than just Epcot!

There was Animal Kingdom in the form of the Singapore night safari, which is incredibly nice and fun but incredibly touristy. The main attraction there is a tram tour where you can see nocturnal animals actually doing something, while the guide narrates in a cheesy way. Thankfully she didn't say "lions and tigers and bears oh my!" but she got damn close a couple of times.

There is the Magic Kingdom in the form of Sentosa Island, filled with modern tourist attractions like a skyride and motion simulator rides, but we skipped that part.

Continuing the Disney theme, the city had an imaginary "mascot" in the form of the merlion (half fish and half lion) that guarded the waterfront and posed for tourist pictures.

After visiting the above sights, I notice that the Lonely Planet Singapore (bought on the streets of Vietnam for US$2) wrote up the GSB's Singapre Campus as a tourist site because its in an old chinese mansion with beautiful roofs. (goes to show how little there is to see huh?) Curious about our campus, I drag the reluctant Spaniard to check it out. For some reason he had no desire to visit the Asian Exec MBA campus for a school he didn't attend. I can't imagine why. . .

Well LP was right, it's a great building with beauiful courtyards and roofs. However, more importantly we both got to check our email and get a couple of drinks for free in air conditioned comfort. Free internet and pops made the Spaniard suddenly glad we made the stop. He even picked up a cople of copies of Capital Ideas and GSB magazine for the plane ride back.

After our stop at the GSB our layover came to an end and we went back to the exit gate of the park, er I mean airport, where we were treated to a bit of Singaporean propaganda. We were flying Tiger Airways, an Asian version of Southwest, so we had to fly out of the "Budget Terminal"(yes that's what they called it). Basically it was an old hanger that they made into a bare-boned terminal with few ammenities. Think old Midway with a couple of layers of bright paint. Despite providing an inferior product, the government tried to work the PR angle by plastering the slogan "Budget Terminal . . . Enjoy the Difference!" all over the building.

It was kind of insulting really. At best the governement thought people were stupid enough to think they were getting something better. At worst they were rubbing our noses in the fact we were flying budget carriers and didn't deserve anything better.

Oh well, I did "enjoy the difference" from HK that Singapore offered, but I was still very happy to get on a plane to return to my more character-filled home of the last 3 months. One can only take so much Disney before they need to leave.

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