Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I have seen my first live Penguin!
In Singapore. On a short visit recently to the city state, I found these wonderful creatures in a special enclosure built, we were told, at a cost of a million Singapore dollars. Having only seen photos and movies of penguins on the vast scale-less expanse of the Antartica, I had not realised that they were quite small - just about waist-height. And the waddling walk with their chest thrust out of the patriarch tailed by a bunch of youngsters is vividly reminiscent of our pot-bellied politicians with their retinue of hangers-on. Here, for example is a bunch of them having a conclave: And so to Singapore. What can I say of this place that has not already been said before by a thousand, nay a million visitors before me? Its roads and sidewalks are so clean you could eat your dinner off it. None of the 'great' cities of Europe or of the US, Paris, Rome, London, New York can match it in organisation and cleanliness. Not the smallest piece of paper, not a wisp of a plastic wrap sullies its fair face. It helps of course, in this almost police state, to have severe penalties for littering (S$500), for eating in the subway (S$500), smoking in the subway and restricted public spaces (S$1000). Clearly nobody dreams of breaking the law, it seems. In fact even leaves which I noticed one afternoon on the sidewalk had been swept clean by the evening. How often do they clean the streets? Its excellent public transport is another great boon for tourists and locals alike. Singpapore is, of course, a tourists' delight and not just for shopping which is what most Indians seem to come for. (Out of sheer perversity we decided to avoid Little India and the phenomenally popular Mustafa Mall). Their innovative tourists attractions are fascinating for young and old alike -- Night Safari at the zoo, Tram Ride at the Jurong Bird Park where I saw the penguins, live shows with animals in both places, visit to Sentosa Island, keep people in thrall and holidays are for fun-filled family outings and picnics. Its Botanical Gardens and the Orchidarium is truly out of this world. Beats dragging a five year old around the Taj Mahal expecting it to develop an appreciation for Islamic architecture. Singapore is also a foodie's delight, though personally I found the food to be very indifferent at the innumerable Food Courts dotting the city. It's generally better to go to a reasonable restaurant though it's unnecessary to visit five star level places to get good food. The Government (or the People's Action Party which is the same thing) clearly believes that if you keep the citizens happy and content with enough money and things to do, they won't clamour too much for pesky little ideas like multi party democracy. However, one cannot but help admire the fact that the Government provides subsidised housing to all its citizens. As a result every Singaporean has a roof over his or her head. This is not only useful but absolutely necessary. Singapore being a city state has very limited land area available for construction, and so land prices are astronomical and beyond the reach of most middle level citizens. Some private plots in the suburbs are available for the rich and famous and it is here that foreigners are also encouraged to build their houses. We asked one of the guides whether there are poor people and beggars since we hadn't seen any. We were told that if there are, they are usually 'rounded up'. Nobody seemed to have the heart to pursue this line of enquiry any further and find out what eventually happened to the 'roundees'. One particularly remarkable fact that struck me was that in all the days we were there, one saw not a single policeman or a police car ever on the road nor did we ever hear the blare of sirens. This would be unheard of anywhere else. I cannot recall any other city I have been to (and I think I have been to quite a few) which had such a complete absence of the constabulary. How do they maintain the peace - in this high-tech city do they just sit inside their offices observing the citizenry through video cameras? Unfortunately I couldn't find even one in any of the open areas so here is a mystery. A police state without the police!! Or is it that once you have put the fear of god and hefty fines in people, they police themselves! What a great idea! Tailpiece: Singapore has much Indian influence as everyone knows. Here is a Metro Station which is particularly evocative of that fact!