This week I find myself in one of the chief Asian powerhouses: Singapore. I visited this tiny but hugely influential country fifteen years ago, just after having read another Letter From Singapore in the New Yorker magazine. Back then, the community seemed smaller and the businesses were lots more cozier. Today, the community seems larger, and businesses are still pretty cozy.
Singapore is a nation state of paradoxes. Its small size would not lead one to believe that it is one of the chief trading centers in the region, with container ships constantly waiting to unload. That, by the way, really does seem to be one of the lone constants between now and 1993. The hotel I stayed in then, the Pan Pacific, was one of the taller buildings. Today it is in the shadow of many others.
The city itself is difficult to evaluate this week because of an extraordinary event. They are hosting their first Grand Prix on the weekend, which will be held on the streets at night. It’s a first for Formula 1 and somewhat controversial. What is not in dispute is that when F1 comes to town to do a street race, everything gets turned upside down. Tonight, returning from dinner, with many street closures in order to form the racing circuit, my taxi took me through the connected substructure of many buildings to get me back to the Mandarin Oriental. We needed a residence pass just to do that.
The hotel prices on Thursday night will increase from a seasonal norm of $300SGD to $1800SGD. This means I will be out of here on Thursday.
Singapore sports a cross of many cultures, including Chinese, Malaysian, Bengal Indian, Japanese, British, and yes, some Americans. This intersection leads to a wealth of cuisine entertainment and education options. There is a disparity amongst some of the groups, and to be sure, not everyone here is wealthy, but for a tourist it represents an interesting stop in the middle of the Pacific rim, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, not far off at all, and Australia, an almost reasonable distance.
The people here are extremely gracious and the service has been nothing short of remarkable. More on Singapore in a future note.