Stop: Singapore by Elliott Hester
on photos for more images of Singapore
March 9, exactly 4 days before Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
(SARS) first reared its ugly head in Singapore, before schools closed,
restaurants emptied, and more than 1,500 potentially infected locals
had been placed under mandatory home quarantine, I arrived in this
high-tech city-state, unaware of the danger and eager to see the
soon learned that "getting around" was one of Singapore's primary
first stop was the four-star Hotel Phoenix on Orchard Road. For
only $74 U.S., I landed a deluxe room with its own big-screen computer,
high-speed Internet access, and an outlandish 3-speed leather massage
chair that featured rolling, kneading, pointing and tapping actions.
But the most impressive hotel amenity turned out to be the plastic
from the normal function of granting room access, my card key or
"Smart Card" doubled as a Metro Rapid Transit pass. (The Phoenix
claims to be the only Singaporean hotel currently providing this
service). I simply presented my Smart Card at the hotel's front
desk where a $20 credit was electronically applied.
the clerk's directions, I walked next door to the Somerset subway
station and placed the card atop the turnstile's electronic reader.
After a digital readout displayed my $20 credit, the gate retracted.
I then entered what is arguably the world's cleanest and most user-friendly
marble steps led to a polished marble platform where passengers
sat quietly upon polished marble benches. (A sparkling aluminum
elevator delivered elderly, disabled, and infant-toting passengers.)
The station was immaculately clean. Not a single shred of paper
littered the area. No dust, no dirt, no cigarette butts. No discarded
gum wrappers (chewing gum is banned in Singapore). It was like walking
into the lobby of a massive, elegant hotel.
any subway system I've used, the train tunnels here are encased
behind walls of glass and aluminum. It is therefore impossible to
fall from the platform onto the tracks. The walls boast sliding
doors which open in conjunction with those of arriving trains. Beneath
each door, on the subway platform, yellow markings instruct waiting
passengers to stand on either side while alighting passengers disembark.
stood obediently behind the yellow markings as a train approached.
Instead of suffering through the sounds of rattling cars and screeching
metal, I heard only a whoosh of air. Then 3 chimes, like escalating
notes on a xylophone. A recorded voice, British, female, wafted
from the station's P.A. system. "Ladies and gentlemen, the next
train on platform A goes to Marina Bay." The doors opened. Passengers
exited, unencumbered by the masses waiting patiently behind the
quick ride to Raffles Place was an enjoyable one. No one munched
on corn chips or sipped cans of Coke because eating and drinking
on MRT property is prohibited. Offenders are subject to a $500 fine.
(Smokers face a whopping $1,000 fine.)
Raffles Station seemed even more impressive than Somerset. Original
art hung on the walls near the turnstile interchange, where commuters
passed their wallets, purses and backpacks over electronic readers.
Assuming that these folks must have had MRT cards inside, and that
the electronic readers are sensitive enough to scan through leather
and plastic, I placed my Smart Card inside my wallet and my wallet
inside my backpack. Following the lead the woman in front of me,
I dragged my backpack over the turnstile's electronic reader and
looked at the readout. Voilá! My new balance read $19.30.
Seventy cents had been deducted for the journey.
from the Raffles Station, I found myself in the heart of Singapore's
financial district. Bold new skyscrapers, housing the island's numerous
multi-national banks, sprouted from the concrete. Just a block away,
I had lunch at one of the many ethnic restaurants that wind along
the Singapore River. From here the skyline views are spectacular.
day later I rode the subway to the world-renowned Raffles Hotel.
The Writer's Bar, located in the hotel lobby, is where the Singapore
Sling was created. On the wall behind the bar hangs a gold plaque
dedicated to the hotel's more notable guests. It reads: "The Writer's
Bar commends Raffles Hotel's association with great writers including
the novelists Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.
Today it provides a new generation of literary talent with an excellent
and inspiring vantage point." With rooms starting at $350 U.S. per
day, however, today's literary talent may have trouble affording
the Raffles perspective.
rode the subway to the Singapore Zoo. (It required a transfer to
a metro bus which accepted my Smart Card.) Billed as the world's
first "open zoo," it has no bars or cages. Animals and humans are
separated by foliage-filled trenches that give the illusion of an
open plain. The rare white Bengal tigers were a sight to behold.
on March 13, after returning from yet another subway excursion,
I watched the local TV news in my hotel room. Three people had been
diagnosed with a mysterious flu virus. No connection was immediately
made to similar outbreaks in southern Chinese province of Guangdong,
China and Hong Kong. But the following day, 6 more flu cases were
reported in Singapore. Two of the afflicted were hospital staff.
Singapore had its first SARS cases.
leaving Singapore for Bali, I watched a movie in my room at the
Hotel Phoenix. As God is my witness, the featured film was Outbreak,
starring Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman. The plot involves a
deadly, contagious virus that infects a small U.S. town and threatens
the broader population. It's an eerie example of "life imitating
art" that hit home as I rode the subway to the airport.
person on the train wore a protective surgical mask. Today, hardly
anyone rides the subway without one.
here for more images of Singapore
stop, Bali, Indonesia.
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