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My wife and I just came back after two days in Singapore, a fabulous city with much to offer the visitor. We first got there after midnight on January 22nd, got some sleep at a nice hotel, and then embarked on a seven day cruise before getting back to the city on the 29th.
On our way to the cruise ship terminal, our cabbie remarked proudly that Singapore is known for being clean, green and safe. “Look around,” he said. “Do you see any police?” In fact we did not and we did not see any in the two days we spent here after the cruise. He explained that most of the police are undercover. You never know who is a policeman. The guy walking behind you on the street. That fellow talking on his iPhone. The shopper looking at the latest fashions.
The Wikipedia article on the Singapore Police Force notes that only 8000 or 20 percent of the force’s 38,587 strong force are uniformed. Additionally, the Volunteer Special Constabulary augments the police. “The VSC,” notes Wikipedia, “comprises volunteers from all walks of life, from businessmen to blue-collar workers, bonded with the same aspiration to serve the nation by complementing the Singapore Police Force. VSC Officers don the same police uniform and patrol the streets, participate in anti-drug operations and sometimes even high-speed sea chases.” And presumably most also are undercover like the cops themselves.
So Singapore ranks as having one of the lowest crime rates in the world. This is not to say Singapore is without crime, but most of it is petty crime – pickpocketing and fraud. Indeed, along one wall of a subway station there was poster after poster warning against various frauds. One of these frauds is to be aware of con artists claiming to be an undercover policeman and telling you to cough up a fine on the spot. Real police will not demand money from you advised the poster.
Also contributing to the low crime rate is the draconian nature of Singapore law. Drugs are strictly forbidden and if you are caught smuggling drugs, you could end up at the end of the hangman’s rope. When you fill out the customs declaration for Singapore, it warns you in large capital letters: DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS. From 1994 to 1999 Singapore had the second highest per capita execution rate in the world, most for drug offenses. The law was liberalized considerably in 2012 with no executions that year or the following. But in 2014 two people were hanged, both for drug trafficking. It should be noted that firearms are strictly forbidden in Singapore and use of a firearm carries the death penalty as well.
Also contributing to the low crime rate is the use of caning as a punishment. While many western countries are outlawing corporal punishment by parents, it is encouraged in Singapore and the country has over 35 crimes that include caning as punishment. As well as some serious crimes, vandalism is also a corporal punishment offence. A notorious 1994 case saw an American teen caned for spray painting a car. Spare the rod and spoil the felon could be Singapore’s motto.
And its cleanliness is no surprise. Littering comes with a fine of up to $2000 and you can be sentenced to community service for littering. Thirty-one percent of littering fines were assessed against non-residents in 2013. And since 1992, chewing gum has been illegal. Jaywalking is also an offence. In fact, there are a lot of things that we accept in Canada and the United States that are illegal in Singapore. Including homosexuality and, of all things, failing to flush the toilet.
So we’ve covered clean and safe. Now on to green. Without a doubt, one of best things about Singapore is its greenness. There is a lot of green space and many parks. Many buildings have green space. And driving along the highway to the airport when we left we noticed stretches of trees overhanging the pavement as well as greenery growing over the metal safety barriers along the side of the road.
When we took a cable car from Sentosa Island across to the main island, we were stunned by the lush forest below us. Greenery was even growing up the tree trunks. And Singapore boasts a botanical garden as well as two of the largest indoor gardens and arboretums we had ever seen. The country is lush by design. Absolutely stunning.
One of the reasons Singapore is so green is that it sits almost on the equator and has a tropical climate. It is always hot and humid. And almost every afternoon it rains for a half hour or more. It rained on two of the three days we were there. Most of the day is sunny with some scattered clouds, but the clouds turn to rain in the afternoon.
A few final notes. Singapore has a Goods and Services Tax (GST) which a tourist can claim as a rebate on purchases over $100. Note, however, that you must go to the GST counter at the place of purchase and get proper documentation. There is a fee for this which is deducted from the rebate owing. You will be given a special receipt which you must present at the GST Refund Desk at the airport when you leave. You must also present the goods purchased. Don’t misplace the receipt as we did or you won’t get your refund.
Singapore has an extensive subway system, but taxis are cheap and plentiful. You can get around to most places from $7-$15. A bit more to and from the airport. But use metered cabs. Their rates are strictly regulated. There are also unmetered cabs, usually limo services, which you can also use. But they are much more expensive.
Singapore cabs have a basic rate, and depending on the time of day, a surcharge for peak periods or off-hours. There is also an airport surcharge. When travelling along in a cab, you will see two metered prices – the basic rate and the surcharge. At the end of the ride, the two are summed to give the total fare.
And Singapore runs on a 220 volt electrical system. Our hotel was an older one and only had one outlet to accommodate 110 volt razors and such. My wife’s hair dryer could not be plugged in because it had one of those polarized prongs – slightly larger than the other. Luckily the hotel had a dryer. But my laptop had a three pronged plug on the charger and I could not recharge it.
That covers some basics to get you around Singapore. Over the next three days I’ll post about specific attractions – Chinatown, the Gardens on the Bay, and Sentosa Island. Following my Singapore series, I’ll write about the cruise. I already covered Kuala Lumpur, our first port of call and will follow up with posts on cruising in general, Penang’s Temple of the Thousand Buddhas, Patong Beach in Phuket and a trip to the sea caves in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand.
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