Singapore Fling
by Larry
Fenson - with photography by Judi Fenson

In early August, 2003, presumably in order to generate some business following the SARS outbreak, Singapore Air offered a ridiculously low fare ($298 RT) from San Francisco to Singapore. We knew practically nothing about Singapore but we were tempted. We took a quick look at travel information and concluded that Singapore certainly offered enough attractions to make a trip worthwhile. Then we consulted weather charts and found that temperatures are virtually constant year around, with highs around 90° and lows around 77°, so August was as good (or bad) a month to go as any. We did some quick checking and found that hotel costs were surprisingly low in Singapore and that no visas were required. When Northwest countered with a $258 RT fare from Los Angeles, we were goners and we booked tickets for a 5-night stay in late August. We secured a reservation in a 4 star hotel in the center of town for $79 per night including a deluxe breakfast buffet and all taxes. We still knew very little about this city-country at this point. We had learned that the country had been singled out for its early and effective response to the SARS crisis and that was reassuring. One of the hotels did advise us that they would be taking our temperature upon arrival but they did not in fact do so.

Our first flight departed LAX at 3:30pm and landed in Tokyo 11 hrs later. We made a lightning fast transfer at the brand new NW terminal at Narita airport (worlds better than the old one) for our 6 hour flight to Singapore, arriving at 1:00 am. Before leaving home, we had learned that there was a transit hotel right in the brand new ultra-modern terminal so we had booked a room for our arrival night, We didn’t even have to clear customs but rather went directly to the hotel desk and were in bed only minutes after our arrival. Changi Airport not only has 2 transit hotels (one in each terminal), but also a swimming pool, movie theatre, sunflower garden, bamboo garden, heliconia garden, cactus garden, fern garden, orchid garden plus many restaurants and shops. If you could choose an airport to be stuck in for a number of hours, Changi would be a good choice.

In the morning we checked out, cleared customs in about 1 minute and took the metro to the downtown area and found our hotel (Le Meridian). We spent the next 4 days sightseeing and sampling the cuisine. The hawker food courts provided a wide variety of inexpensive delicious meals. While Singapore is hot and humid almost all the time, all buildings (including metro stations) are icy cold so it is possible to get relief from the heat. In fact, it is a good idea to always have a sweater available.


History and Religion
Singapore has an incredibly tangled history. The modern period dates back to its establishment as a British colony in the 1820s. The Japanese captured the city in World War II and reigned brutally until the war ended in 1945. The British then returned and initiated steps toward self-governance. The strife-filled process finally culminated in the establishment of Singapore’s independence in 1965. The Republic of Singapore became a member of the United Nations in the same year.

Singapore’s population of more than 3 million is about 77% Chinese, 14% Malay, 7% Indian, and less than 2% other races. The most prominent religious faiths are consequently Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu. No religion is state supported and religious instruction in schools is prohibited.

The country lies just above the equator. It occupies of the lower part of the peninsula it shares with Malaysia plus a number of small islands. A strait separates the 2 countries, making the mainland an island a mere 26 miles long and 14 miles wide. Imagine a country in which you can travel almost from one end of the country to the other on a metro in about an hour.


While very little primary and secondary rainforest remain Singapore is very environmentally conscious, and a high priority is placed on preserving and expanding greenbelts and parklands. Heavy emphasis on public transportation and environmental regulations have resulted in very low pollution levels (in striking contrast to much of the rest of Asia). The orchid is the national flower and they grow prolifically everywhere.

Singapore is a first world country with a fast-growing economy. Citizens are guaranteed housing, health care, and education. Unemployment is low. There are no unemployment benefits.

Singapore is modern, bustling, efficient, orderly, and commercial. It is a place of soaring glass and steel skyscrapers, gleaming hotels, and modern shopping centers. The prototypic scene in Singapore is a smiling young couple, each looking healthy and slim as rails, walking hand in hand with shopping bags. The one fact that most Americans know about Singapore is that gum is not allowed or sold, though visitors can now bring their own personal supply. (Gum can also be obtained by prescription, believe it or not.) Singapore is indeed an amazingly orderly place. Everything seems to function like it was designed to, from your entry at the airport to the sparkling metro to the flow of traffic. The MRT (metro) is very impressive with meticulously maintained stations, air-conditioned cars, frequent service, and access to most everywhere for about 35 cents for a typical ride. Excluding costs, the whole place is a little like Switzerland in these respects, except you won’t find wild orchids in Zurich or Geneva. Everyone is polite to a fault, including taxi drivers. Tipping is highly discouraged throughout the country and is strictly forbidden at the airport.

Our guess is that Singapore previews the Asia of the future, i.e., a commercially dynamic, affluent, ethnically diverse society. You can practically feel the vitality of the place. Finding its soul is more problematic.

So what’s to like about Singapore?
Asian food halls, bargain prices for food, lodging and transportation, friendliness and courteousness of practically everyone, the physical beauty, the legendary cleanliness, the environmental sensitivity. We found it an interesting and fun place to spend a few days – as one of the faces of the “New Asia”. Singapore Airlines (often voted the world's best) has just inaugurated nonstop service between LA and Singapore, making it the world's longest commercial flight at 18 hours.

What’s not to like about Singapore?
The heat and humidity, the absence of a discernable history and national identity, the lack of a distinctive architecture, the absence of a unique cuisine or at least a specialty – or for that matter, uniqueness of any type, a shortage of charm, the newness of the place – good for a citizen, dull for a visitor.

Attractions for visitors
Jurong Bird Park – excellent
National Botanic Gardens and Orchid Exhibit - excellent
Shopping in Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street
Historic Raffles Hotel & the Long Bar, home of the Singapore Sling
Tailor shops--have something made in 24-48 hours
Electronics galore
Shopping centers--all the famous designers have shops here
River walk area
Excursions to Indonesian Islands

Judi and Larry Fenson

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Sultan Mosque
Orchid Exhibit at the
National Botanic Gardens
Fullerton Hotel on the Singapore River, backdropped by the business district
Raffles Hotel

Making a Singapore Sling

This famous cocktail was reportly
created by Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, sometime
prior to 1910.

Stir gently in a tall glass
filled with ice.

2 ounces of Orange Juice
2 ounces of Pineapple Juice
2 ounces of Gin
1 ounce of Triple Sec
1 ounce of Lime Juice
1 ounce of Cherry Brandy
1 ounce of Benedictine