Singapore

I love walking tours so I found one that was from 1-6 but that meant I had all morning to myself.  I decided it was high time I hit up a museum, so I spent the morning at the National Museum.  I thought I’d only be there for an hour or so (as museums aren’t often my thing) but I really loved this one!  They have an exhibit right now covering what it was like to live in Singapore over the last 100 years that was down right fascinating! I found their Story of the Forest immersive art exhibit a bit odd, but it was amusing to watch children get excited at the moving animals on the walls.

These mystery book vending machines are all over the city and I love it!

I slowly made my way over to the Asian Civilations Museum where my walking tour was set to start.

I found three ‘pay what you can’ walking tours in Singapore but only one was running while I was there.  It was my last pick of the three, as there is a recommended $18 donation, but it was the best walking tour I’ve ever been on! Seriously, if you’re doing to Singapore contact Darren at SneakPeek Singapore.

We started at Cavenagh Bridge and the Singapore River, which is where the city’s harbour used to be.

And then made our way to Wak Hai Cheng Bio Temple, which even the locals don’t know is situated right in the middle of the downtown core.

We stopped to take a look at Singapore’s tallest buildings (there’s a height restriction due to flight paths).

And continued on to the Fuk Tak Chi Museum. It was once the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore and now is an example of restored architecture in Chinatown, and features a model of what Chiantown looked like in the past.

We went by the Tan Hock Seng Bakery, which has been in the same location for 80 years (apparently this is unheard of, as rent gets more and more expensive), where we were treated to some treats! And continued down through Chinatown.  These storefronts are not very wide, as the buildings were only taxed on their width.  So they are narrow but very long.

We went by the Thian Hock Keng Temple, where Buddhists, Taoists and Confucians can go to worship. The building across the street also belongs to the temple.  The temple caretakers used to live there before they realized they could rent out the space for a profit.  So they tore down the homes and built the office building.  However, the caretakers told the architects to incorporate eyes into the building, so everyone would know they still had eyes on the temple. There’s a mural on the back wall of the building, all painted by the same guy.  He was actually there finishing it off which was pretty cool.

We stopped by the Maxwell Hawker Center for an little snack.  Here Darren purchased Chicken Rice, Carrot Cake (a savory dish made with turnips), fried banana, and more so we could try traditional dishes.  I also had some sugarcane juice which tasted like lemonade.  Simply delicious!

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From here we went to the Urban Redevelopment Authority building, to see the Singapore City Gallery.  Perhaps my favourite part, this is where the city planners are and they have two scaled models.  One is of the entire city, and on a slightly larger scale is one of the downtown.  It shows every current building and planned developments in the next 10 years.  SO COOL! In the bigger model some of the buildings are much more detailed than others and that is because for every new development, the contractor must provide a too scale model.  So for condo buildings, this is the model they are using to sell the units so it will be more detailed than others.

We stopped by a public housing unit next, and learnt a little about the housing situation here.  80% of the population lives in public housing, but it is very different from what you’d expect in North America.  Here, as long as you make under USD$12,000 a month (just over $100,000 a year) you qualify.  There are other conditions, but most of the population lives in these.

The Singapore government has legislation in place to promote an ideal society (or what they believe is).  One of their beliefs is a men and women should marry, so in order to qualify for public housing you must be married (to the opposite gender).  Our guide’s sister is engaged, so her and her fiance put themselves down on the public housing list.  It takes about 2 years to get a place, but they must show their marriage certificate to get their keys or they lose their 10% deposit ($40,000).  So they have a saying that you don’t ask someone to marry you, you ask them to buy an apartment. You must live in the unit for 5 years, and then you can sell it if you wish.

If you are single, you can’t put yourself on the list to purchase a unit until you are 35.  At that point the government has given up on your chances of marriage.

Not to say that public housing is cheap.  In one of the buildings we went by a 3 bed, 2 bath unit sold for 1.2 million.  But the same unit in the private building across the street sold for 1.8 million, so people try to get in the public buildings if possible.

Interestingly, the government has a mandatory savings plan which is how many people are able to afford their homes once they get married.  If you make $5,000 a month, 20% is automatically put in a savings account (so $1,000).  This can only be used for down payments, retirement, or education.  Additionally, the employer must put an additional 17% of your salary in the fund each much.  Because they can’t use it for very many things (basically a RRSP and RESP combo account for us), it grows and grows and often people can purchase homes without incurring any debt.

Anyways back to the pictures! One of the public housing buildings has a rooftop patio that anyone can go up (for $6) so we went up to watch the sun come down.

I’m off to Cambodia tomorrow, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in Singapore! It was the perfect gate-way country to my Asia adventure, but I’m excited to see the ‘real’ Asia over the next 2.5 weeks.

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