After my Bollywood dance intro to Singapore, I got a late start on my first full day. On arriving at the Prince of Wales Pub, I had called Trang, the old friend from Mackinac Island whose invite had set me on course to this island nation. While I was there, she happened to be swamped with work. But she agreed to meet me for dinner this night.
No guide to my first city-state? Not a problem. That left me with the rest of the day to explore on my own.
One highlight of the city that I wanted to see was the Asian Civilizations Museum. I say ‘wanted to’ because I overshot the subway route and ended up closer to the coast than I intended to. Of course, I didn’t know that at first and continued the wrong way along the waterfront esplanade toward where I thought the Museum was.
Off in the distance across the water was the famous Merlion monument standing guard to the clustered skyscrapers of Singaporean citadel. The Merlion is a strange symbol due to its ‘lion’ nature. The city’s name, even more so.
Singapore comes from the Malay Singapura, which is based on a Sanskrit word meaning “lion city”. This can be seen as a common trend through other parts of SE Asia, too. The Khmer citadel Muang Sing near Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The Laos town Muang Sing. Both these mean “lion city” in the Thai/Lao language as well.
The curious part of this, though, is that no lions have ever lived in Singapore. Or in the Malay Peninsula. Or anywhere in Southeast Asia. A species of lions, called Asiatic lions, once existed from Eastern Europe into Western India. Although they barely cling to existence these days in SW India, they were never anywhere near SE Asia or Singapore.
Putting the Merlion conundrum out of my mind for the time being, I continued along the waterfront. Just walking through the few parts of the city I had seen and it was certainly a far cry from the cities of Thailand and Malaysia I had already been. While Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and George Town had a character in their roughness, Singapore had character in a much different way. Everything was pristine. It was well-planned, seeminly perfectly constructed, and well-maintained. Sure some of the outer areas got a bit more gritty, but even they were worlds above Bangkok.
I never came to the Asian Civilizations Museum, but saw plenty to keep me interested.
Looming over everything was one of the strangest architectural buildings I had ever seen. At first glance, it looks like a ship being held up by 3 skyscrapers or a spaceship landing pad. This building was actually the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino. And I was moving ever closer toward it.
The eastern side of the waterfront (where I was) has a good number of things to see. A floating football field, an amphitheater, and the tallest Ferris wheel in the world called the Singapore Flyer. It was becoming obvious as approach the Asian Civilizations Museum’s closing time that I wasn’t going to find it. Still, I didn’t mind so much.
There way across the Marina Bay was stretching in front of me. The Helix Bridge, the world’s first curved bridge constructed in a way so that it resembles a DNA strand. Sequenced lights in 4 colors, representing the 4 base pairs found in DNA, complete this theme.
The Helix Bridge led me directly to the foot of the outlandish Marina Bay Sands towers. Across the street from the hotel was a shopping center. The exterior of this mall didn’t do its inside justice.
The entire mall was navigable by an interior canal-boat, as the whole mall had a Venice-esque riverboat system running through it. Among its stops are most of he highest-end mall stores that I have ever heard of, and quite a few I never had. And while I didn’t take this mall canal, a tunnel from its beginning led me under the main street and into Marina Bay Sands.
In the underbelly of Marina Bay Sands Resort, I very quickly I found the elevator to the SkyPark observation deck, and its S$20 entrance fee. However, I’d thought I’d try to be crafty . . . or maybe just cheap . . . and find an elevator to the roof from the main lobby. This turned out to be a failed attempt when I found out that all elevators were by card-access and only went to certain floors.
$20 later, and I was looking out over Singapore’s dusk in all directions. To the south was the Pacific Ocean’s Singapore Strait dotted with the lights of dozens, maybe hundreds of tankers and freighters. To the north, the city lights of Singapore’s downtown reflected off Marina Bay as an imperfect mirror.
The Marina Bay Sands SkyPark’s Observation Deck was a fairly limited area of its whole roof, which stretched far to the west. The Deck was multiple levels, containing a bar and a restaurant above for those interested, and the perimeter surrounded by glass paneling for those there to take in the view.
Being the closest I had ever been to the equator, twilight was faster than I was used to. By the time I had taken in the view for only a few moments, the sun was already past the horizon, leaving only the city lights to illuminate the landscape below.