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The Rough Guide (thanks Wyn for the gift) says “(Singapore) has sold its soul for prosperity” and that “improvements in living conditions have been shadowed by a steady loss of the state’s heritage as historic buildings and streets are bulldozed to make way for shopping centres.” Somebody must have dialled that one in from elsewhere, for that is not what we found.

Instead we found the most intelligently designed and conspicuously people-oriented city we have visited in our forty plus years of travel. Historic sites have not only been saved, but lovingly restored so that they gleam with classic elegance. Take the Fullerton Hotel, a frequent stop for Joseph Conrad in his many trips through this port, or the even older Raffles Hotel. Both are still very much a part of the architecture of the city, as are the old Parliament buildings and Court House. The new structures that have been build around them haven’t dwarfed them, as happens in so many cities. In Singapore the new buildings are not huge monoliths like the Petronas Towers in KL, or the TD Center back home, but are modest in height and focused on enhancing the existing streetscape both in proportion and beauty.

 The riverfront is alive with little cafes and pubs in a wonderous fusion of traditional ethnic origins and modern kitsch – like The Clinic, with its hospital bed and wheelchair decor – and at night the entire river and esplanade is alive with people and colour, song and laughter. We had two delightful evenings there, and no, it wasn’t that expensive.

During the day we went to some of the city’s lovely beaches, which were refreshingly clean, both on the sand and in the water (we couldn’t resist!), or strolled through the parks, which were numerous and well-kept. The bike paths were full of cylists, strollers and skaters, all out enjoying the breezes which blow in off the Straits all day long. We did stroll along Orchard Road, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, but found none of the anxious bustle of KL. Rather there was a leisurely ease to the crowds and a gentle, considerate attitude which was so refreshing after the rudeness of KL’s crowds.

Even the drivers are courteous here, stopping promptly at the crossings to allow pedestrians to cross, signalling on turns and staying in lane. Odd how quickly that all goes out the window once you cross into Malaysia. The traffic is relatively modest for two reasons: the cost of owning a vehicle in this island is extraordinarily high, and the public transit system here has to be the best in the world.

The subway system is clean, prompt, frequent and efficient. That goes for the bus system as well. We never waited longer than four minutes anywhere. All public transport is accessed by a debit card sytem that charges you just for the distance you travel. No one lines up at ticket booths, the stations are spacious and since there are no 7-Elevens or anything else everyone moves through rapidly and I don’t think we saw a single speck of litter or even dirt.

But that goes for the whole city. It is wonderfully clean, with real attention given to providing people space: parks, walkways, open plazas, trees for sound barriers instead of concrete walls. In short, everything that an intelligent and industrious people could do to make their city a liveable and pleasant place for people has been done. The result is a city that is a joy to visit. We will certainly be back!

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