Mintel Inspire on tour singapore

Singapore is often viewed as the ‘soft landing’ or entry point into Asia and its culture, but politically it’s a somewhere with an especially hard-line stance. This is somewhere where the “Supernanny State” is watching, where you’re given an immigration greeting card proclaiming “death to drug dealers” and where you can chuckle at signs affixed to walls proclaiming “no resting and no sitting”. Singapore’s mosquito car card was the forerunner of London’s congestion zone, but the culture of state intervention can also be benign, as in the case of smartcards issued to its senior pedestrians that allow them more time at road crossings.

Government warnings extend to ‘don’t feed the monkeys’ at Bukit Timah, a sprawling expanse of untouched rainforest in the northwest. Besides the monkeys, there are flying lemurs, pythons and monitor lizards and the area represents Singapore’s answer to Central Park or Hampstead Heath – a place to escape and unwind in a rural environment.

Factor in the Botanical Gardens and the tree lined entry roads and Singapore is a surprisingly green city. However it’s the iconic architecture that dominates – the Esplanades theatre that mimics the spiky durian fruit and the Singapore Casino that resembles a boat atop a trip of skyscrapers. The cleanliness and modernity of Singapore gives it a futuristic sheen – something that’s accentuated by its utopian mix of cultures and faces, with Singaporeans mingling with Indians, Chinese, Malaysians and Europeans.

Singapore does have enclaves of traditional Asian culture and ‘Little India’ is a bustling area of shops and neon encrusted temples. My visit coincided with the Deepavali (or Diwali) celebrations and the giant neon garlands crisscrossing the streets created a sense of being in a Hindi Las Vegas.

However in Singapore the real religious fervour seems reserved for retail. The mall culture is concentrated around Orchard Street, served by a warren of refrigerated subterranean passageways. These have removed the need for navigation – or actual road crossings – above ground – for locals at least. It was here that I had what can only be described as a ‘Karl Pilkington’ moment – getting hopelessly lost and then being late for dinner with the Inspire team.

Food is something that Singapore excels at and I was glad that I plumped for the carp’s head dish at the Fish Head Steamboat hawkers restaurant at the foot of a housing project. With space at a premium and kitchens and air conditioned kitchens beyond the budgets of many locals, dining out and watching TV shows at the restaurant has become a nightly social focus rather than a treat.

Next: Sydney

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