Despite the fact that this was my first exposure to Singapore and, on the larger scale, Asia, I didn’t do any homework before my arrival. After a good night’s sleep and free breakfast at the hostel’s café, I sought some help at the front desk to plan my next couple of days.
I got some great advice and headed out to the Little India, Bugis and Kampong Glam districts. There are three main ethnic groups in Singapore – Chinese, Indian and Malay. Many other people come to Singapore for work as it appears to be the most prosperous nation in southeast Asia. There are certainly a lot of new buildings under construction, and the city is already full of skyscrapers.
Like many countries where different ethnic groups coexist, people tend to stick together to help perpetuate their culture and language. Singapore is no different. Little India is obviously where you can find many Indian restaurants, shops and Hindi temples. Bugis and Kampong Glam are Malay areas that are influenced a lot by the Malay culture and Islamic religion. However, because Singapore is so small, these areas end up right next to each other. Some may even overlap. In fact, there is a Hindi temple and a Buddhist temple right next to each other. Worshipers visited both temples and offered prayers at each place because the teachings of Buddha are so similar in each religion.
I spent most of the day wandering through small lanes and poking my head into shops. I found that many people mistook me for a local Chinese and addressed me in what is probably Mandarin. Also, strangely enough, even though everyone thinks that Singapore is ultra-clean (people keep mentioning to me the harsh punishments for law breakers), I found that the streets are pretty filthy. Even Auckland’s extremely busy Queen Street or K-Road is cleaner.
Initially, I thought that exploring Singapore alone would be a challenge because I was a bit anxious about catching the bus to and from my hostel. But, in the end, I really excelled at it and liked the freedom that traveling alone offered me. My map-reading skills have improved and I was able to navigate the streets just fine. I experienced a small culture shock just by being in the CBD and maneuvering through the traffic. I guess I had become complacent in New Zealand and had gotten used to all the land and lack of cars. In Singapore, cars, smog and noise pollute the air. All in all though, I liked my new country and couldn’t wait to see more of it.