Culture Surprises: Singapore (3/3)

Like 'Culture Shocks', this is 'Culture Surprises'. 'Culture Surprises' is my travelogue and peoplogue. Travelogue to discuss about all my experiences in every new place I visit and peoplogue to discuss about all my experiences with people from different cultures I meet. So, it is not necessary that I talk about only cultures here. It's about everything new that I come across. So, purists... please bear with the coinage of the title!

The story continues...
Their general election had just got over when I landed there. As usual, their new cabinet also had a lot of Indian origin ministers. Four out of 15 ministers are of Indian or Tamil origin (I am using the word Tamil because one of them is a Sri Lankan Tamil!). One of the Deputy Prime Ministers is a Sri Lankan Tamil. Just on that day, Lee Kwan Yew, who is called the father of Singapore, had stepped down from his position as Minister Mentor, a position of cabinet rank he held for long time after stepping down as their most successful Prime Minister, in order to give full freedom to the new team. Who will say that in our place? All these made me interested in Singapore politics as well. After reading their newspapers regularly, what I also understood is that their politics is not such a dirty thing like ours. It is a much more decent affair.

The deputy prime minister Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam is not an ordinary person. He is their expert in Economics. His name is being considered for the position of Director of IMF (International Monetary Fund), which has become vacant recently after the controversies created by the current one. Such a big shot! I also heard some of his speeches. Seems to be very sensible too! Like most of our big shots there, he has also married a Chinese woman. So, we can't claim too much pride in his children's success. I just thought for a minute about what would happen if he contests in election in our place. My goodness... I am feeling giddy again. So, what is the moral of the story? If you want to become big, get lost from here!

The advantage of having a city itself as the country is that the administration is easy. They have cameras everywhere. Any crime would be caught by the camera and police immediately. That's the reason why they feel more secure. That's the reason why there is less crime. Heard that you will be fined even if you throw cigarette butts on road. That too, since it is an island, nobody can escape after doing anything wrong. You can only jump into the sea.

Not only in Little India. Food is not a problem for us anywhere in Singapore. All restaurants are making dishes that are close to Indian dishes. Even the Singaporean foods are perfect mix of Chinese and Indian food. Everywhere it's chicken... chicken... chicken... We can also get vegetarian food. In addition, we anyway have our Anjappars, Saravana Bhavans, Thalappakattus and Murugan Idly Shops. Looking at all these, Singapore seems to be the best foreign country for Indians. 

Called a few friends and talked to them, but could not meet them. Could meet some others and exchange some old memories, too. Just like in Bangalore, I also had the experience of bumping into a friend unexpectedly. That is enough to prove that Singapore is our place, right? Besides all these, could see a lot of faces that resemble many of our familiar faces. Many friends have become permanent residents and citizens there. Heard that it was so easy till sometime back. Now after the Indian population raised from 8.5% to 9.5%,  there is a lot of pressure on Government to control the incoming of Indian people. Should all these things happen in my time?! It's my time!

After two days, an American colleague also joined there. I was surprised to hear from him that Singapore was costlier than many parts of America themselves. We walked around the city a whole evening on a holiday. Beautiful city! Beautiful buildings! Can't say beautiful people. It would take some time for us to get used to their faces. Most of the girls and women wear hot pants. They wear it even to office. But, it doesn't look awkward. Once you get used to anything, everything would be alright. Both boys and girls show their affection very openly in public. It doesn't look good when our Indian boys and girls try to copy that. It kind of irritates the eyes. Maybe, mindset problem!

Couldn't go to the beach. But, since I traveled on the beach road everyday, I could enjoy its beauty everyday. There are no sands like how we see on Indian beaches. They are there, but very less! I never thought it was so easy to make parks on beaches. Another passing thought - 'How did Tsunami treat these people who are keeping their beaches so beautiful?'. Inquired about that also and found that Tsunami didn't do anything to Singapore. It's so safely located and surrounded by various countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. If at all there is any earth quake near their shores, then the whole county would be gone. Let's pray that that never happens.

I was thinking that there won't be any accidents in a place where everything is systematic. I saw something in few places that disproved my belief. Wherever there had been accidents in recent past, they had kept a board there saying that there was a fatal accident at that place at so and so time and date. It reminds everyone, "If you don't drive properly, you will have the same end too!". It's a good idea. It could be introduced in our place also. Most of those accidents had happened in early mornings. One good thing was, unlike here, throughout my stay there, I couldn't find the pig faced fellows who just don't respect hand signals nor indicators, stare the fellow drivers for no reason and get into verbal duels just for the sake of retaining their command over the language.

I was thinking that all problems would be solved once I go there. But, I had some lessons to correct my belief. These days, even in India, the cellphone signals are very strong in any place. But, there, once I go into the office, it doesn't work in many places. This one experience proved to me what all those who visited before said, foreign countries are unbelievably better than India and at the same time there are also problems that we wouldn't even have imagined. I have seen what I wanted to see. I have also realized that nothing would change upside down by going abroad. At some point in time, I started thinking of simply keeping quiet and settling in India (settling with whatever I have!) without wasting too much of my energy in thinking about going abroad.

The moment you hear the name Singapore, what comes to mind is the picture of the water fountain from lion's mouth. I was even worried that people won't believe that I came to Singapore if I don't take a snap in front of that lion statue. But, I never got an opportunity for that. I can hear what you are saying, "Opportunities never knock one's door; We have to go after them!". But, my laziness can't understand your philosophy. Another problem is - I am not very fond of clicking snaps in different different angles. Thanks to my laziness again. If I go to my native place, the neighbors whose sons have gone abroad in the second year itself would doubt why I haven't taken those photographs more than why I didn't go abroad even after 13 years. They may even ask me to show the passport to prove to them that I really went abroad. :)

Just to avoid all these, went to the Skypark restaurant, which is in more than 200 meters height in Marina Bay Sands, with the American colleague and more importantly with a camera in hand. It is on the terrace after 57 floors. Took some photographs for the sake of others, had lunch there and came back home (I mean the hotel!). It was gigantic. They have designed in a way that the Marina channel water flows inside the building. There were even boats on that. Couldn't go to Singapore flyer. Will go if there is another opportunity.

OK. Why did Singapore get that name? Searched in internet. It certainly was not because of the lion statue that has the fountain from its mouth. Then? The reason for both the name and the lion statue is - Long long ago... Once upon a time... an Indian king sighted a lion in Singapore islands when he was on a hunt for something else. That's when he named it Singapore (Lion Town). Some say it's Tamil, some say it's Sanskrit and some others say it's Malay. It's correct and it has the same meaning in all three languages. But, it's not Chinese for sure. Singam, Singha or Singa means Lion in Tamil, Sanskrit and Malay respectively. Puram, Pur, Pura means Town in Tamil, Sanskrit and Malay respectively. It's surprising to know that many Malay words also sound very similar to Tamil and Sanskrit.

Wait. The twist in the story has not come yet. That is, after naming the place Singapore and after building a lion statue with a fountain from its mouth, they have found that there was never a lion in Singapore islands.  It should have been a tiger. If it was India, we would have philosophically said, "Better late than never", formed a committee of scholars, spent crores of money to rename the city and celebrate the renaming. We would have passed a resolution in parliament to call the leader who initiated the renaming as Tiger henceforth instead of Lion as we had been calling him for so long. Maybe because unlike Lion, the word Tiger has different equivalent words in Tamil, Sanskrit, Malay and Chinese, they would have decided to continue with Singapore itself. It sounds the same for all and gives the same meaning to all. They would have thought if a wrong name could please everyone and allow everyone to think that it's in their language, let it remain. If it was here, we would have changed it immediately to prove that it's not everyone's word and it's not everyone's place. 

As soon as I landed, I was told, "Buy an umbrella first; It would seem very hot, but if it starts raining, it would rain cats and dogs!". I got an opportunity to see the cats and dogs as well. When we went out on a Saturday, it started. It poured, poured and poured for an hour. I should say, it came down heavily on us! Then, there was sun shine again. Then when we looked around, there was no sign of the rain half an hour back. They have so beautifully designed the city that you can never make out whether it rained that day or not if you come out after half an hour. Chance-less!

Work got completed as planned, saw off the American colleague and I stayed for one more day. Went to Little India - Mustafa Center on the last night and purchased some chocolates for the friends and relatives back home who would ask me, "What did you get from there?". Went to Thalappakattu restaurant and had nice biryani. Have seen that in many places in Chennai. Never had an opportunity to eat in any of them. It finally happened in Singapore. Came back home, packed up my bags and slept very disturbed. Woke up in the morning, went to Bugis shopping area and bought some watches (Heard that they are very cheap in Singapore!). Came to the same Changi Airport and boarded my flight to Bangalore in the afternoon. Bye Bye Singapore! Will come again. But, when I come next time, I won't leave so early.


  1. So good to see your account on Singapore. I live here, and loved reading your posts about the place. Indeed such a nice place to be.

    The symbol or Merlion is a combination of a lion ( as the prince saw ) and a fish ( as singapore was a fishing village).

    And no, there is no black and sky blue line yet :)


    1. Thanks for the visit and the comment, Archana.

      In fact, I was supposed to be back in Singapore for a long term. Things didn't go as planned. Looks like we are in the same field. Are you into Consulting? :)


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