Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Surprising Singapore

First, I was brought up short by the serious machine guns worn casually by the security guards at the airport. I had a brief, disorienting flashback to my little run-in with them in Beirut. Then, Singapore turned out to be astonishingly green. Any 12-year-old could have told me it was tropical but I hadn’t given it much thought – perhaps I was just subconsciously expecting blindingly swank towers rising into dehydrated skies.

There was much to be surprised at. The unexpectedness of Tamil announcements in the subway stations, which did not wane even after a whole week. (I often took the train simply to hear “mind the gap” in Tamil and chortle silently.) The improbability of a sit-down dinner in a cable car. One bewildering street of giant malls connected by a calmly logical series of underpasses. A startlingly familiar Dome cafe in a very alien Chinatown. Sudden thunderstorms. Equally sudden changes of ambience with every turning you take.

The famous Underwater World was surprisingly small. The iconic merlion made a surprisingly small impression. But the dolphins were astounding, incredible, extraordinary, fantastic. So was the chilli crab. The zoo came a close second.

There’s an amazing expanse of rainforest in the middle of the city. And it hasn’t been imported. There’s a stunning reservoir running through the zoo and it isn’t artificial. All the people who said “sterile” while describing Singapore to me have clearly never lived in Dubai.

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