Singapore – Marina Bay (13.03.14)
Singapore, the ever-vibrant South East Asian tiger, has been on the move for as long as I can remember. Decade after decade the island country, linked to the Peninsular Malaysia’s mainland by a six-lane causeway, has continued to develop both economically and physically. So much so that whole swathes of the island that I first visited in 1984 are unrecognisable today.
Across the island, shining office blocks, fast quadruple lane boulevards and swanky hotels dominate; a strong economy (driven by financial services and electronics manufacturing) is a result of nearly half a century’s transformation from fledgling nation to economic powerhouse. All this has happened since the island’s independence, following its ejection from Malaysia in 1965.
Nowhere highlights this transformation more acutely than the Marina Bay development at the southern tip of the island. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with enormous fat cricket stumps & diving-board shaped bails, is now as iconic an image of Singapore as the pictures of the Formula One first night time Grand Prix, with cars screaming past the Marina’s float platform from 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds. Today the hugely impressive Marina Bay development is a far cry from the traditional images of market stalls in Little India and China Town. Or indeed the legendary Bugis Street, famous for high jinx and hedonistic transsexual gatherings between the 1950s and 1980s.
During the 1980s I travelled through Singapore on several occasions – normally en route to or from Indonesia or Australasia. I remember staying near the Sim Lim building in 1984 and seeing a small hole in the ground outside my window. Less than twelve months later I returned to find the hole in the ground was a forty-storey skyscraper.
My most poignant memory of Bugis Street was on 15th May 1985 when Everton won the European Cup Winner’s Cup against Rapid Vienna. As a diehard Evertonian I was desperate to see the game, which was taking place at 3am in the morning. Having failed to find someone with a TV, let alone someone watching the game, at countless bars, restaurants, hotels, closed-down market stalls and even the local police station, I ended up persuading three Bugis Street transvestites and two ladies of the night (who were watching a Rambo film on a snow-machine TV) to switch channels. Confirming the vital importance of such an historic occasion I promised to buy drinks for anyone who was in the bar every time Everton scored a goal. In addition if Everton won the game I promised I would be leading celebrations through to dawn.
My traveller’s budget soon went out the window that glorious night, as my new found best ‘Blue Nose’ friends cheered to the rafters, with skirts, wigs and eyeliner flying as Andy Grey, Trevor Steven and Kevin Sheedy scored goals a thunder. Thereby winning not only the Cup but also a Bugis Street breakfast banquet for the whole of Singapore’s new-found Everton Supporters Club.
Since then, whilst Everton’s European successes have developed at the same pace of Kigali’s skyline, Singapore has exploded with developments, and Marine Bay is without doubt its modern day flagship.
The whole area is dominated by the Waterfront promenade’s skyline-views, which glisten under the bright midday sun, as much as it shimmers under the clear night skies. New Year’s Eve Fireworks Celebrations, national parades, sporting events, concerts and all manner of activities, festivities and jamborees come and go as the mythical lion’s head and fish tailed Merlion forever sprays water from its mouth into the Marina. In addition the feeling of ancient and modern is upheld by the famously traditional Fullerton Hotel, not far from Raffles Hotel and the Singapore Sling cocktail bar, with a back-drop of sentry-like skyscrapers that make up the Central Business District.
With a short stay, or stopover, in Singapore so easy to arrange I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to this part of the island. The whole area is very accessible – by public transport or taxi – and is always vibrant, offering an array of extraordinary views. Whether enjoying sunset drinks on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel viewing platform, or dining at water level, the feeling is good and the water is calm. Equally, waterfront promenades can be enjoyed at a leisurely walking pace, as can a slow spin on the world’s largest Ferris wheel – the Singapore Flyer.