by Nuala Murphy
I spent a day in Singapore recently while on my way back to Cork from Western Australia.
The journey home was to be a bit of an endurance event, thirty-two hours in total, including an eight hour stop-over in Changi Aiport, Singapore. Having arrived at Changi Airport, I registered for the free bus tours of Singapore which are offered by the airport to those with long stop-overs. With some time before the tour, I tucked into a nice bowl of braised pork and rice in an airport restaurant, followed by a Starbucks coffee and a donut from 'Dunkin donuts' for good measure!
Fast forward an hour and I'm part of a posse passing through airport immigration with a tour-guide, heading for the bus that will take us around Singapore. The tour-guide points out the toilets before we leave the airport saying that it is our last chance to visit ''the happy room''. The bus feels like the United Nations. There is a friendly Australian couple from Perth sitting behind me and a group of French people in front of me.
The tour-guide introduces himself and the bus driver, then suddenly launches straight into a Ricky Martin song!! He makes some whooping noises to stir up a bit of excitement on the tour bus. He gives us some background to Singapore as we head towards the city. 'Singa' means lion, and 'Pura' means town, so Singapore means Liontown. When Singapore was built, the aim was for a clean, green city. The climate is tropical, hot and wet at the same time and it is indeed a green city. The guide tells us that there are three seasons in Singapore, ''hot, hotter, and hottest''. We are fortunate to have arrived in just the ''hot'' season. Singapore has a population of about 5 million. We hear that Singapore has changed from a third world country to a it's present thriving existence in the space of about fifty years. With a loud ''Woohew'', our guide tells us that home-ownership in Singapore is at over 90% now. Travelling into the city, he points out the high-rise apartment buildings, where you can buy an apartment of about 150-200 square metres for between one and two million Singapore dollars (roughly between 500,000 and 1 million euro). With another loud ''woohew'', he tells us that unemployment is at approximately two percent in Singapore. He points out that jobs have been created not only for Singaporeans but for a vast number of immigrants to the country. There are ten official religions in Singapore and three main languages. I gather that there are four main ethnicities. The aim in Singapore is for mutual respect and a spirit of inclusiveness.
The information on Singapore is coming interspersed with regular cheers and ''woohews'' for all the positive points of the country. The group of French people sitting in front of me don't have much English as far as I can tell, but they join the cheering enthusiastically.
I sit, happy enough to just look out the window at the city. We pass what our guide tells us is the highest swimming pool in the world. It must be a few hundred metres up in the air. We come to an icon of the Singaporean landscape, an enormous lion-shaped fountain which spits water into the harbour. My nose is almost shaved off by the camera of an enthusiastic photographer jumping across the bus to get a better angle.
After a ten minute stop near the harbour, we are back on the bus heading for the airport. Singapore is very near the equator, and at about six o' clock, it is as if suddenly someone turned off the lights of the city. It has got dark in a matter of minutes.
Back at the airport there is a surprise in store for me. The British Airways flight to London has been delayed until the following day due to a pilot in Sydney with food poisoning. It looks like I'll be in Singapore for a little while longer!