Friday, March 14, 2014

Singapore, the world's fastest growing wealth hub

Leaving the Thai Islands and then visiting Singapore was like stepping out of the tornado-riddled Kansas into the Land of Oz.  Whereas Thailand was chaotic, Singapore was orderly.

Upon arriving in Singapore, one of the safest cities in the world, I was quickly struck with its manicured freeways, graffiti-free trains, non-existent traffic jams and lovely green spaces .... such a tidy and orderly society but one of strict social controls.

Singapore has the world's highest percentage of millionaires.  

Long ago it rejected the idea of a welfare system, putting the responsibility on the individual to save for the future, rely on their families, and not expect a handout from the government ... unless you hit rock bottom.  It is a country with little acute poverty. There are programs which aid low-income students, destitute families and unassisted elderly.  There is no unemployment for those laid off, instead they are placed in other jobs or training programs. Singapore is very adverse to idleness!

The country and people fascinated me.  Its society is so different from my own.  Here in America, for example, car ownership is done with ease.  In Singapore, they have made auto ownership quite challenging and expensive, in order to limit traffic congestion and smog.  In addition to the cost of the car and fees attached, the price of a car can range anywhere from $100,000-$300,000.  In addition, one has to bid for a Certificate of Entitlement to drive the car with only a certain number being allocated each month.  It's cost:  in excess of $80,000 and good for only 10 years.   Ouch!

It has been the country's ideals for every citizen to obtain the 5-C's ...  car, condo, credit card, cash, and country club membership.  But there seems to be a shift occurring with the younger generation to change the country's vision a bit and embrace more socially conscious endeavors.

Healthcare is free at government sites.  Private clinics charge very little.  I had the opportunity to experience their healthcare system first hand.  I seemed to have twisted my ankle and the swelling refused to subside so we decided to go to a clinic to make sure no fractures.   My total bill:  Doctor Visit-$10; Meds-$17; x-ray-$45.  $75 total!!!  Amazing.  Here in the states the x-ray alone would have been several hundred dollars!

There were many sites we never got to see but what we did see, wowed us.  
The downtown was clean and sharp and new.

We stayed a couple of nights in the historic Clarke Quay area downtown 
along the Singapore River.  
It was filled with restaurants, shopping, music and entertainment.  
It was quite colorful and lively.

A number of years ago, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (below) was built (with a casino, which is primarily for tourists, because gambling is discouraged for Singaporeans).  It is quite extraordinary with its ship shape viewing platform on top.  It's the worlds most expensive stand alone casino property in the world.

Since we could never afford to stay there, 
I wasn't able to get you a photo of their infinity pool on top.  
Like .... I would've got close to the edge.  Not!
But then, that's what telephoto lens are for.

Just to understand its grandeur, the image below gives you some perspective of its size to Singapore's downtown.   

We thoroughly enjoyed the bay surrounding the hotel.  Gardens by the Bay is an urban outdoor recreation space that includes some amazing conservatories and outdoor space.  Below are some images of our evening visit to the Supertrees Grove, which were tree-like structures that are the homes for exotic plants and flowers.

I added the below image just to give you a size of these structures 
in conjunction with the people. Can you even see the people?

The elevated walkways provide a breathtaking view 
of the gardens as well as downtown Singapore.

But what ended up being really spectacular was the light show
as the evening came upon us.
People brought blankets to lay upon the grass to gaze up
at these tree structures as they pulsed with varying lights
of the music.

On another evening, 
we watched the Marina Bay Sands Hotel laser light show 
from our restaurant on the river.  
It too was spectacular.  

By the way, do you see that ferris wheel to the left in the image below?  That's the Singapore Flyer.  It's the world's tallest operational ferris wheel.  It takes about an hour to make the total trip around.  Each car is air-conditioned and holds up to 28 people.  I was told that people will book a car for dinners or parties.

And last but not least, we had to make the trek to the Raffles Hotel's Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented and where literati patrons frequented over the decades, including Hemingway, Maugham, Kipling and is the place where Joseph Conrad came up with the idea of Lord Jim.  It still exudes a flavor of 'colonial opulence'.

Take a close look at that drink.  At $25, I sipped it very slowly!