Celebrating in Singapore
I like Singapore. It is the best of Europe and Asia combined - good food, good manners and a smooth intermingling of different cultures and races. Like NYC, you have to become a world citizen since you are living, working and walking next to immigrants from every other part of the world. Every single public sign in Singapore is translated into English, Chinese, Hindi, and Malay. It is clunky but somehow charming.
Unlike NYC, the subway system is a clean, streamlined dream of constant, updated information and the Orchard Road Malls make Fifth Ave look third world. Most of our time was spent among the older sections of Little India and Chinatown which are definitely authentic and not tourist attractions. Coincidentally, a number of important celebrations fell during the week we were there.
The night we arrived I thought, how strange, all the Chinese merchants are having BBQ’s in front of their stores. Finally I realized they were celebrating the Hungry Ghost festival. Each year they protect their businesses from , angry or jealous spirits by giving them money or gold. Fortunately for their business, pesky ghosts only need the essence of such treasures not the real thing so each family would burn a whole stack of paper money and other paper luxury items like Rolexes or Louis Vuitton suitcases in order to appease the "hungry ghosts".
The next day was August 30th which happens to be Hari Raya - the last day of Ramadan. This is the holiest day of the Muslim year. We saw crowds of men and boys dressed in their best, proudly going to mosque. I suppose the women were at home preparing the massive quantities of food that are inhaled at family celebrations. Although Singapore is not a muslim nation, Hari Raya is a public holiday and considered as important as Christmas in the west. The museums are all free and there were lines outside most of them.
Finally in the midst of all these other celebrations, Singapore was up to its teeth in decorations for the Mid Autumn Festival. These is basically an occasion for families to get together and eat many, many moon cakes. It has no religious affliation, more like an asian Thanksgiving with emphasis on cake instead of turkey. Every storefront seems to have some variation on this pastry for sale and they can get quite elaborate with their packaging. Singapore gussies up it's waterfront and Chinatown with lots of festive decorations and lights. It looked so pretty but there was also a distinct Hello Kitty element to it. They had huge lighted zodiac figures like this Rooster which predicts this is the year for love (for roosters). It is wonderful how Singapore blends this various cultural and religious diversity
I am happy to report that despite this being a metropolis of consumerism we managed not to buy anything. I think our secret was sticking mostly to little India and Chinatown. Ok, ok, full disclosure - we did buy some comics & mangas. That Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya has a damned fine English section!We were just too busy, a week is not nearly enough time to fully explore all of this city state's corners. Of course our explorations were mostly kid directed - Singapore is heaven for kids. The science museum, the zoo, the bird park, the night safari and most important - Snow City! Fun Fact - most of these places have their own water parks, seriously, the museum has a place you can strip down and get soaked. So always wear your bathing suit under your street clothes. This is a scene at the zoo....
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Writer, producer, editor
Writer, producer, editor