After more than three months traveling around Southeast Asia and India, I returned to Singapore for a short visit. As I disembarked my delayed and crowded flight, I was not feeling too well. However, with my transport card still valid and my memory of the super-clean train network still functional, I was able to easily make my way into town and check into the hostel I had booked. The purpose of this trip was to visit my friend Chyi, who lives in Singapore. As we hadn’t seen each other in several years, we had a lot to catch up on, and we had a nice visit. However, since I’d already seen the main sights in Singapore back in February, I got a more local tour of the city on this visit.
Instead of visiting the downtown area along the Singapore River, we spent most of our time in the residential areas along the northern and eastern edges of the island. As Chyi was in the middle of a “cross-country” move from one suburb to another, I got a better idea of just how small Singapore is and how the residents here live. With just 722 square kilometers (279 square miles) of land, it takes only about half an hour to drive from one end to the other, without traffic. Within that space, 5.6 million people live and work alongside all of the necessary infrastructure and facilities needed to run a country, including water reservoirs, industrial facilities, and military bases. The Singapore solution to managing the issue of space is to strictly control housing development.
Over eighty percent of Singaporeans live in public housing. Married couples or single people over the age of thirty are eligible to buy an apartment on a 99-year lease. These housing developments consist of an array of apartment towers centered around community centers, food courts called hawker centers, and shopping malls.
In between eating huge amounts of food at a variety of hawker centers and wandering through the shopping malls surrounding the train stations – two favorite pastimes in Singapore – we visited a community center in one of the more modern neighborhoods. I was impressed by the size and quality of the facilities. Among other amenities, there were restaurants, a large multilingual library, sports facilities, and four huge rooftop pools. To top it off, the whole building was covered in the greenery that stood out to me on my first visit to Singapore.
This brief weekend trip to Singapore gave a nice change of scenery. It’s is a modern, developed city and seems to be very “liveable” (it is actually ranked 25th in the world for livability in 2018). The city is organized and easy to get around with a great public transportation system – a far cry from the commotion of tuk-tuks and motorbikes in the other countries I have been traveling in recently. But, it was just a short trip, and I was soon back at the massive Changi Airport for my flight to Bangkok. It’s time to revisit Thailand!