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SINGAPORE
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Disney World with the Death Penalty! That’s what some people call this fascinating place.

We flew there from Zurich on our ‘round the world junket during the month of January. The airport is considered the best in the world and I would pretty much agree with that assessment although the smaller Tampa International is more convenient, by far.

Singapore is an incredible mix of the very old and the sparkling new. You’ll be poking around an old Buddhist Temple and the background for the temple will be a 70 story sparkling glass and steel sky scraper!

Unlike Hong Kong, we found the people of Singapore to be very, very friendly. And the place couldn’t be much safer. We were told that a woman could stroll around anywhere in Singapore at 3am in the morning and never have to worry about being attacked.

If a person is caught in possession of a knife on the street with a blade more than 6 inches long, he or she automatically gets the death penalty! (Bringing knives home from the department store is okay, of course.) I asked our tour guide what happens when somebody is caught with a gun and his reply was: “Oh my, nobody would ever have a gun over here, Sir, but that would be the death penalty too!”

Singapore is the place where that whipper-snapper kid from Ohio was caned for damaging several cars! They’re tough over there. If you’re caught throwing a cigarette butt on the ground it’s a $500 Singaporean fine! Chewing gum used to be against the law in Singapore because they didnn’t want to have to deal with the mess. If you were caught trying to smuggle chewing gum into the country in your luggage, it would have been confiscated! I think Playboy Magazine is still taboo!

Oddly, I asked our driver “Kumar” what the penalty was for prostitution since the place was so straight-laced. He replied: “Oh it’s actually overlooked. After all it is the world’s oldest occupation.” So you're in trouble if you're caught with a Playboy Magazine but sneakin’ around with a hooker is okay. Go figure!??

We stayed at the fabulous Shangri-La Hotel in the Valley Wing. It’s not the biggest or newest or flashiest hotel but it is considered by many to be the best in a city of bests! Our panoramic window had curtains that could be opened by pressing a button at the side of our bed. A butler came with the room as well (shared with other rooms but still neat!). Yes it was expensive but how many 25th anniversaries do you get to celebrate?!

We toured the sights and I asked “Kumar” if he would stop at a plain, old grocery to see what the locals have in their stores. Cindy went to grab her purse and Kumar said “Oh, just leave it in the car. Nobody would ever steal it in this city!” Amazing, isn’t it?

There was a funny news story making headlines while we were there. There’s an island called Sentosa RIGHT off Singapore and it has amusement rides, golf courses, etc., and it seems that monkeys were being a bit of a problem running out onto the golf course and making off with the golfers’ balls!

While most of Singapore has been developed it still has some interesting critters like pythons! And some say the rare Singaporean tiger is still spotted in remote areas of this small country although our guide doubted the validity of those stories.

Singapore has a hot climate being just south of the Equator. Food is most interesting and I’d say the folks of Singapore probably like seafood more than any other single dish.

The national dish of Singapore is chili crabs. They import crabs from Sri Lanka for this dish and we're talkin' live crabs. (Why they import these crabs from Sri Lanka is a mystery to me but there must be a reason and they really do taste sensational!). They take live crabs, chop ‘em up into medium size pieces, stir fry ‘em in hot oil and then add a little catsup or chili sauce, some egg and some other stuff like scallions and then serve ‘em up. They’re messy as all get out but extremely good, especially when washed down the hatch with the local brew---Tiger Beer.

If you'd like to try the chili crabs, the national dish of Singapore, we highly recommend the UDMC Seafood Centre located a short cab ride from the city center.  This is a cluster of seafood restaurants located right on the shore of the South China Sea.  They have nice little walk ways along the waterfront.  Choosing a restaurant is a dilemma but our choice was Gold Coast Seafood and it was excellent and not out of line when it comes to price.  And if you'd like to try and approximate chili crabs at your home, click here for a recipe.

A word of warning about some Singapore restaurants.  They can be rip offs.  After shopping we asked our cab driver to recommend a place for seafood. He dropped us off at a small restaurant on the second story of a small complex.  The place had no menu, which is fine.  We were told to stroll around the live tanks and select our choices.  When we pointed at a very small lobster and they fished it out, they wanted to charge us $60 U.S. for this thing which couldn't have weighed more than 10 ounces.  We left immediately for another place.

Several things stand out about Singapore. Friendly people......extremely old areas of the city and extremely new areas......and everything is hugely expensive!!!!

The lowest priced new car in Singapore (you won’t believe this) goes for $90,000 U.S.!!!!! And this is for a sub-subcompact model that most people wouldn’t be caught dead in! The average price of a new car in Singapore is close to $130,000!!!! And they’re taxed heavily if they keep a car for more than ten years because it tends to be unsightly and leaves oil drops and rust on the streets! I'm also told that now you have to pay $100,000 for a permit just to be able to buy that $130,000 car.  I don’t know how the locals do it. BUT...in return for these incredibly high costs...Singapore residents have one of the highest standards of living in the world and certainly the highest standard in Asia, I would say. Our guide, Kumar, explained that he worked 18 hours a day quite often just to make ends meet. But like most other Singaporeans we met, he was fiercely proud of his country and glad to show it off to visitors.

By the way, Singapore goes back to singa for lion, and pura for city. So Singapore is the Lion City and the Lion is its trademark.

I’m sorry I passed up on an opportunity to sample a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel where it was born. However I did sip one on the Singapore Airlines A-310 on the way from Singapore down to Bali and it was....well, pretty tasty!

Prices in Singapore? A beer at the smallest of watering holes was $8. Breakfast at our hotel was $30 compared with $10 for eggs benedict at the Regent in Hong Kong. So bring plenty of money with you to Singapore. It’s a fascinating place with Chinese, East Indian and Arab neighborhoods.

Currency is the Singapore Dollar. Driving is on the left and crazy! You’ll need a passport but not a visa. Singapore Airlines is the best in the world. It makes most U.S. jets look like garbage trucks! Even the emergency handles of Singapore Airlines jets are buffed to a shiny perfection. And up in first class---the official champagne was Dom Perinon! Not bad!! You’ll need a passport but not a visa.

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