Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 April 2010
Issue No. 992
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Singapore sling

Amira El-Naqeeb enjoys a bubble bath with a view of Singapore city

Flying to Singapore is an adventure that I have long yearned for. Not only because I have never been to Asia, but also because it's a hub and destination for many high-end holidaymakers and businessmen. Singapore was able to establish its reputation as a truly modern metropolis in only 45 years, after separation from Malaysia in 1965, when it became an independent multi-ethnic republic.

Flying on Singapore Airlines (SIA), which positions itself as the gateway to Asia, certainly makes this destination more accessible; travelling business-class makes it a further delight. In-flight entertainment had something for everyone and left no room for boredom. Meanwhile, the comfortable cushioned seats stretch out into restful beds. I know plane food can be a joke, but not on this trip; you look through a menu and choose your preferred meal, cooked by world- renowned chefs. Within one hour aboard the plane, all my worries about the 12-hour flight vanished.

Upon landing, I was bombarded by different impressions. At first sight, it looks like Dubai but at night it's more like New York; the Singapore Flyer, which is a replica of The London Eye, adds a British flavour to it too. But after spending a few days there, I realised that despite the similarities, Singapore pulses with a creative energy of its own.

My suite at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore on the 26th floor made me gasp. Everything suggested luxury; the beige and golden tones were comforting and the king-size bed was very inviting. A large room with a huge bathroom fitted with an octagonal window took my breath away. My view framed the new glassy towers in the skyline and massive construction sites down below. Except for the scarcity of rubbish bins and tissue boxes, the hotel had thought of every detail.

Art lovers will also find this hotel a gold mine, since it houses 4,200 art pieces tucked in every corner. The collection is considered one of the finest and most prominent of modern and contemporary art in Southeast Asia.

My stay was only for three nights, my schedule was packed and the weather was working against me -- incessant rain almost every day. Nonetheless, I was able to catch a glimpse of what this modern hub was all about. Little India, Chinatown and the Muslim quarter (where you can visit the beautiful Sultan Mosque built by Sultan Hussein Shah). These are parts of old Singapore and are a must-see, with their small neighbourhoods or miniatures of India, Malaysia and China.

Strolling through these streets, you can smell, touch and feel the magnificent blend of people who once populated Singapore. These pockets of past eras are a welcome retreat if you are tired of universal architecture and urbanism. Even after the official separation from Malaysia, and the declaration of independence, Singapore markets itself as "a Muslim-friendly destination," according to one of the Singapore Tourism board's guides.

Singapore is home to many breathtaking parks. There is the 148-year-old Botanic Gardens, the Singapore Zoo with over 3,600 animals, and the Jurong Bird Park. I was only able to make it to the bird park housing over 600 species, but despite being the world's largest bird park it failed to impress me. I could blame the weather, the pouring rain, or simply confess that I'm not a bird person.

A world-class city like Singapore is certain to have world-class shopping malls. The Marina bay area is the site of numerous mega malls and the most popular area, also known as the centre of Singapore, is Orchard Road where ION Orchard mega shopping centre is located. Designer names such as Dolce and Gabbana, Prada and Valentino abound to cater for the rich and famous.

Another destination which is fun for both adults and young ones is Sentosa Island, an integrated resort with a variety of entertainment. My group wandered through their newly inaugurated, one- of-a-kind in Southeast Asia Hollywood's Universal Studios Singapore. Since I haven't been to the original, I can't make a comparison; but walking around the theme park was thoroughly enjoyable, especially one of the shows where iconic movie director Steven Spielberg talks (virtually) about how special effects are made.

Sentosa is host to the "Images of Singapore Museum", which tells of Singapore's founding fathers (Malays, Indians, Chinese and Eurasian) and how they carved its history. It showcases their different customs, traditions and celebrations -- such a mosaic of culture is definitely worth seeing.

If you have already been on the London Eye which is the world's highest cantilevered observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer still is a must-see. From this height, the view of the cityscape and fascinating architecture is awe- inspiring especially when you think that modern Singapore is only 45 years old. The Flyer offers the option of sky-dining or drinking which takes the experience to new heights.

The most impressive aspect of Singapore is that it is very alive. I didn't actually grasp the real feel of this word until I went dining on the weekend at Clarke Quay, sipping the Singapore Sling ,the national drink. It's at the heart of Singapore nightlife and is located upstream from the mouth of the Singapore River and Boat Quay. It is home to many restaurants, bars and clubs, and the fun at Clarke Quay is contagious -- everybody is eating, drinking and laughing.

Personally, I had the most exciting ice-cream experience of my life, when I bought Turkish homemade bozah (ice cream) from a Turkish vendor, who engages customers in a show he performs while making the ice cream.

Despite all the excitement and experiences, my favourite remained going back to my hotel suite at the end of the day for a bubble bath while enjoying the city view.

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