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In Singapore

8:40 PM
Changi Airport, Singapore

As I headed towards the immigration, I was nervous. But, to my surprise I was given visa for 13 days without a single question. For the most part, I have always experienced almost a harassment or humiliation in many of the countries for carrying Nepali (for that matter third world country could be lumped together) passports. Even though, I have entered and existed United States quite a few time, it takes some endurance to get pass the immigration (more difficult is getting a visa at the embassy).

After exiting the immigration and customs, I headed straight to the Singapore Visitor’s Center, where I hoped to get information about visiting the city. At the center, a friendly staff informed me that at the Terminal two there would be a shuttle bus that would take me to the city for free. He gave me a form to fill and directed towards the Skytrain that would take me to the Terminal two.

As soon as I had gotten out of the Visitor’s Center, a lady approached me, with a survey questions. She asked questions like “Was the person at Service Center Helpful?” “Did the person greet you?” “Did he say Thank You?” “Was he proactive?” Obviously, I said Yes. But, I was thinking, “god! If people are after you in such a way, obviously you will find friendly and helpful staff”. At the end of the day, I found Singapore to be filled with people that displayed extraordinary “Customer Care”.

A short Skytrain ride brought me to the Terminal One. At the Visitor’s Center, another friendly Staff Mr. Ee Tan Tang briefed me of my options. He said I could take a free shuttle to the City, where I can find a bus called “SIA Hop On”. A Singapore Airlines passenger can pay S$3.00 for a day pass that goes round the city and stops at 21 places at every half an hour. He also gave a pass that would allow me to take a shower or have a snack, at the airport terminal, upon my return later in the day.

I took 12:00 PM’s bus to the City, which took about 30 minutes. The bus stopped at Sun Tec City plaza and I was instructed to return to the same place to go back to the airport later in the evening. The Sun Tec City plaza boasted five tall office and shopping complex. In the middle was a huge fountain, world’s largest, but unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy its display as it was under construction.

From there I hopped on to the “SIA Hop On”, a bus operated by Singapore Airlines. My first step was Merlion Park. By the Singapore River, the park is a small but beautiful green space where people can take a rest or jug around. Out of the air-conditioned bus it felt hot and humid. I walked along the clean road and passed Esplanade, a performing arts center. I walked up to the statue of Merlion, a half-lion and half fish. According to the legend, prince Sang Nila Utama of the Sri Vijaya Empire rediscovered the island and sighted a beast on shore which he later learnt was a lion. The fist tail of the Merlion represents Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.

After wandering around for half an hour, I skipped the museums and old parliament to get to the bus (the bus came every half an hour). Next, I stopped by temple of Sri Mariaman. This is the oldest Hindu temple built in 1827 and is the temple of Mother Mariaman ( I don’t know what Mariaman means! Never heard of such Goddess must be one of the 3.3 billion Hindu Gods and Godess). Ironically, the temple is in the middle of China town. I walked down the China town and had a lunch of roasted chicken and noodle.

I walked pass a bus stop to enjoy the city, it is extremely well maintained. Everything was marked and to my surprise everything was in English. Public transportations seem to be quiet convenient as one bus after another stopped at the bus stop very frequently. I only saw a little of motorbikes or scooters most of the street was busy with shiny Japanese cars. Buses were colorful working as running billboards; one display struck me, “Our Taxes. Our Nation”.

My next stop was Singapore Botanical garden. This garden seemed like the only green space there is in Singapore. Needless to say, the garden was very well maintained. One major attraction was an Orchid garden. The garden boasted several breeds of orchids and has a major orchid breeding and hybridization program. Some of the hybrids are dedicated to well known visitors of the garden. Some of these dignitaries included Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, and Amitab Bachhan.

From the garden, I headed to the Orchard Road. Until I had come there, I was thinking people in Singapore don’t like to come out much. Orchard road is towered by major shopping malls and hotels. The road was crowded and Christmas shopping season seem to have arrived to the road as it was already decorated and a huge decorated gate wished “Season’s greetings.” I was determined not to spend a penny but I couldn’t resist buying books when I entered this huge bookstore called KinoKuniya. I bought a book on Singapore’s history and two volumes of Lee Kwan Yew’s memoirs both of which are almost 700 pages long.

Again after an hour, I took the bus and stopped at the area called “Little India”. It is a major center for Indians. The streets were lined with stores displaying Indian clothes and jewelry. Hindi songs were booming and scores of Indian were walking or driving. Indian immigrants have been coming to the island for years and make up a significant portion of the population. Despite that fact, the Little India actually resembled India more than Singapore itself. For the first time in the city, I saw streets somewhat littered, saw police guarding there posts and people spat as they walked. It seemed Indian immigrants make a significant portion of manual labor manpower. Almost all of the people, I saw, working by the street on construction or cleaning seemed to be of Indian origins.

Finally, I returned back to Sun Tec City, where I was on time to catch free shuttle back to the airport.

Back at the airport, getting boarding pass and clearing through the security and immigration was smooth. The airport is truly world class, even the couches by the TV areas were fitted with digital sound system.

Right now, I am enjoying my complementary snacks of a coffee and cheese pizza while using my computer at the laptop access area. It is designed specifically for people who have laptops. The desk has an Ethernet and power plug on the desk.

In summary, Singapore is a big shopping mall. A true spirit of capitalism as Milton Friedman would say. This place is filled with malls everywhere and it comes with the service that is exception. No wonder people like shopping here.

It’s about 9:45 PM, I have about an hour for my flight to Sri Lanka.


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