2009 World Cruise – We had a very busy day in Singapore and once again it rained on and off all day.Singapore is a city state on an island of 600 sq. km with a population of 4.5 million. They also have 63 islands as part of the republic but most of them are uninhabited. The leader of Singapore is the highest paid country leader in the world with a 2016 annual salary of $2.32 million. (The US President is second at $527,000 and Australia’s Prime Minister is third at $522,000. Canada’s PM ranks 8th at $333,000.) Singapore also topped the world’s most expensive place to live for the second year in a row. But about 80% of the people live in subsidized state-owned housing and they have good health care. There is an 20% automatic deduction of their salary for medical insurance, to provide retirement savings and to build up a savings account they can access to buy a house; which are very expensive; as are cars because the government wants to restrict the number of vehicles on the island’s roads. Singapore is very aware of emissions and pollution so everything that can be cone in an environmentally friendly manner is done. Even the sewage is treated to the point it can be drinking water.
Singapore is a oil refining and tourism center. The refineries on the north-west side of the island stretch for several miles. It took over 1/2 hour to sail past them as we left island. Oil from Australia, Malaysia, China, Japan, etc. is all sold to Singapore where it is refined and sold back to the countries who use it or export it.
The city of Singapore covers most of the island (it is 23 miles from north to south) and they import 80% of their food. Security going off the ship, and back on again, was very strict. We were warned as well to take no chewing gum, chewing tobacco, cigarette lighters or anything remotely shaped like a gun or revolver – and no drugs of any kind – with us ashore. Littering in Singapore is also heavily fined. It is regularly ranked one of the cleanest cities in the world. There is no graffiti and very little crime. You can walk anywhere in the city day or night without fear of harm. The government is very strict – they practice the death penalty and flogging.
Our first excursion of the day was a “Round Island Tour” and the first stop was a huge wholesale food market. This was not too exciting for us country folk that have seen such things before – perhaps not quite this big, but the concept is the same. However some of the people on the tour were fascinated with all the crates of fruit and veggies and the items piled on the floor or in reed baskets. They even had boxes of Washington apples.
Our next stop was at Kranjii park to see the Kranjii Dam, which is nothing like the large dams we are used to in Canada. This one was about the size of a two or three story wall and not very wide. At the park you can look across the one mile of strait and see the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru. There are two causeways across the water joining the two countries. It is easy to mark the border as you drive across because there is a significant difference in the type of road surfacing between the Malaysian side and the Singapore side. After we walked around the park for a few minutes we went for lunch and then were driven to Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery – AKA Bright Hill Buddhist Temple; a famous Chinese ancestral worship place. The rain began in earnest when we arrived but I didn’t mind getting a bit wet. The complex is beautiful with lots of golden edges, painted ceilings, rooftop dragons and lion statues, covered walkways and temple rooms where people place their offerings. Bright Hill is another one of those places I could have stayed at for hours taking photographs.
But, our tour was not yet done. We went to Changi Chapel and Museum (Changi is a district of Singapore). The museum commemorates the notorious Japanese Prisoner of War camp that was on the site. The chapel is a replica of the one used by the prisoners and no photographs were allowed in the museum or chapel.
Singapore was occupied by the Japanese for almost four years during WWII and 15,400 men, women and children (Malayan civilians and allied troops) were interred in a complex built to house 1200. The conditions were incredibly inhumane and many, many British, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, French, and other allied troop POWs died here. Many died from dysentery, cholera, malaria, starvation and harsh manual labour, as well as other diseases and abuses by their captors. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. The prisoners changed through the last few years of the war as men were sent to other work camps in Singapore and Borneo and Thailand and were replaced with new prisoners. The museum is a record of their experiences and indomitable will to survive. I bought a book about life in the prison at the museum bookstore and it tells a incredible tale of ingenuity and survival.
The last stop on the tour was Kranji War Memorial that was unveiled in 1957 and is the last resting place of many allied soldiers who lost their lives in WWII. The design of the memorial represents three branches of the military: Army, Air Force and Navy. The columns represent the army because they march in columns. The cover over the columns is shaped after the wings of a plane, representing the Air Force, and the shape at the top resembles the sail of a submarine, representing the navy.The memorial commemorates by name 24,000 allied servicemen (191 Canadian airmen) whose bodies were never recovered.The cemetery and memorial are beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We saw at least 7 gardeners at work while we were there. The cemetery contains the remains of 4,458 Allied servicemen in marked graves, 850 unidentified. Kranji was the first large War Memorial we had ever visited and I found the experience incredibly moving. Our freedom was bought at a terrible price. These three graves are placed close together, out of the normal spacing of war graves. They are believed to be the remains of three good friends who were always together so they were buried close together.
After we returned to the ship we had a quick dinner and went off on our second tour of the day: The Night Safari. Singapore is home to the world first zoo purpose built to be viewed at night. It is 98 acres of dense secondary forest through which you are driven in a zebra-bus to view the animals in a tropical jungle at night. They use a subtle-lighting technique so the guests are able to see the 1,000 animals of 100 species in vast natural habitats. It was great. We saw many animals roaming around, but, being on a moving vehicle at night there are no photos to prove it. You can trust me though, right?