Monday, 15 October 2012

Singapore's Golden Age

I don't know if you've noticed, but Singapore is experiencing its Golden Age. How long will it last?
By Sumiko Tan, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2012

I never realised just how glamorous Singapore had become until I went on a Duck Tour recently.

For the uninitiated, the land- and-sea tour takes place on an amphibious craft.

I'd seen these tourists-filled vehicles but had never been on one. When my niece and nephew were in town, they wanted to go on it and so I tagged along.

The vehicle goes around the Suntec City area then enters Kallang Basin, tours the bay and re-emerges onto land to wend its way around the historic Civic District.

I kept going "wow" during the one-hour journey because, gosh, since when did Singapore become so beautiful, so glamorous, so hip and happening?

The tourists on board were pretty impressed too, judging by their oohs and aahs.

After we passed the Singapore Flyer and the Formula 1 pit buildings, we entered the water. Costa Rhu condominium spread out before us, a postcard-pretty advertisement for waterfront living.

In the distance were the giant glass domes of Gardens by the Bay.

Up the river, Marina Bay Sands appeared on our left like a stunning UFO helipad, flanked by the lotus-like ArtScience Museum and the ultra-hip Crystal Pavilion where Louis Vuitton resides.

On our right, the Floating Platform ("world's largest floating stage", our tour guide said) bobbed on the water.

Ahead, the skyscrapers at Marina Bay Financial Centre shimmered in the sun.

Talk about a gorgeous skyline.

The tempo changed when the craft returned to land. We got a taste of history as we travelled past the Padang, Singapore Cricket Club and the Cenotaph. Even then, history wasn't sitting still. The guide pointed out that grand old City Hall was being turned into a massive art gallery.

The tour left me awed (at how wonderful the city looks), proud (to be a Singaporean) and grateful (to be born here).

Beautiful new Singapore is not limited to the city; it doesn't just serve tourists or the rich people who can afford to live there. You see it in the heartlands too.

When the kids were here, they wanted to go ice-skating, so we headed to the new JCube mall in Jurong which has an Olympic-size rink.

I've always associated Jurong in the far-flung west with flats and factories but, oh my, JCube was an eye-opener. It's big, brash, busy and exciting.

Over at the north-eastern corner of Singapore in what was - like Jurong - once considered an ulu part of the island, there is Punggol.

For the past few weekends, I've been taking my dogs for walks at the Punggol Waterway park. If you haven't been there, you should, because the place is pretty fantastic.

On the road there, condominiums (14 at last count) are springing up like crazy, with billboards screaming the joys of waterside living.

Punggol Waterway is a 4.2km stretch of water connecting the Sungei Serangoon and Sungei Punggol reservoirs. Flanking this is a beautifully landscaped promenade with timber bridges, viewing decks, cycling and jogging paths.

It's a showcase of urban architecture I never knew could exist in Singapore. Quirky features more commonly associated with design-conscious cities like London and Stockholm dot the landscape.

A deliberately rusty steel pavilion houses a public toilet. Timber benches are ensconced in shell-like canopies. Multicoloured fibre optic lights are shaped like lashes of lallang. This is Punggol?

Since independence in 1965, Singapore has strived to be a First World country.

I think that moment has not only arrived, but that we are also now living in what future generations will look back as Singapore's Golden Age.

There are so many things to do, so many places to see. As a colleague pointed out, which other city in the world can offer you a Formula 1 race, pandas and dinosaurs (the latter at the upcoming Natural History Museum)?

Statistics and surveys support how this is a country at its peak. In fact, it's reached a stage where being voted most liveable city or best place to do business or eighth richest country is no longer big news. We've grown accustomed to accolades.

Even though the global economy is shaky, unemployment here is low and opportunities abound. There are multiple ways to make a living and succeed. The Singapore dollar is strong, many households have maids, luxury cars hog the road and many have holidays abroad.

Property is a national preoccupation, but it's not whether you can afford a roof over your head that Singaporeans fret about. It's whether or not to get a second property to invest in.

Singapore must be doing something right if so many foreigners want to be part of the action. And, as my same colleague has observed at his gym, it's no longer older expatriates who come here because they've been posted here. Young, ambitious, savvy foreigners are flocking to work and cut deals here because they see Singapore as the city to be in - at least for now.

There are downsides to progress, of course. The income divide is growing. The infrastructure is groaning. It's become noisier and very crowded. Cultural differences can be a minefield. There's a loss of that proverbial kampung spirit when Singapore was just a village.

There are also Singaporeans who feel increasingly alienated and bewildered by the changes around them. Why do we need Formula 1 or the casinos, they cry. Why spend hundreds of millions to build Gardens by the Bay when we can preserve Bukit Brown cemetery and enjoy nature there? Singapore must slow down so we all can go back to a simpler life, they say.

I prefer progress myself.

Between being a magnetic, magnificent city that has to grapple with the problems of success and a drab backwater town crying for foreign investments and tourists, I prefer the former anytime.

In any case, historians will tell you that the fortunes of city-states rise and wane. Ten, 15 years down the road, who's to say if Singapore's star will still be shining.

I'm grateful to be a Singaporean and, while the going is good, intend to partake of the goodies it has to give.

See you at Punggol Waterway this weekend.

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