Just got back from our trek to Poon Hill with two friends. Here are a few pics. A moving farewell to this astounding landscape and the sacred Himalaya. It was a long climb. On the day we got to the top of Poon Hill and began our descent we walked over 25,000 steps. But the ascent through lush green valleys with clear streams was one of the many highlights. I took first prize for a spectacular crash, flying through the air and landing unhurt in a bush, my fall partially broken by my backpack. Apart from many leach bites and bloody socks we suffered only a few aches and pain. Our trip was led by Ruk, a wonderful fellow, with three (two shown here) porters. They looked after us every step of the way, cared for us and Ruk was most concerned about my sugars.
From the spine of the ridge looking to the south fields of clouds nestled up against the distant blue hills. To the north a vertiginous swoop into the Kali Gandaki gorge, the deepest in the world. Towering beyond it the white peak of Annapurna South, crumpled rock, evolving mountain raised upwards from the seafloor by the active earth into the breathless depths of deep blue sky.
At the viewpoint a crowd of people, Asians, flavours of Europeans and Americans chattered in wonder, a diversity of languages blending into the thin air. Climbing up the steps into the united nations of tourists came a tall white man, the temples of his sunglasses decorated with bling. Reaching the viewpoint he stopped and looked down at his phone. On the front of his farm boy red cap embroidered in white letters: Make America great again.
Grand Prix day in Singapore. Met up with Ewan’s Falls Church friend, Andrew, who lives and works here. Went on the bridge between the Super Trees.
Once there E was pounced on by two Singapore sweeties who, when asked if they would like pictures with either Andrew or myself declined.
View from the viewing deck of Andrew’s apartment block. The straight over the bridge, about a third of the way along on the left was our grandstand.
Pano from the straight seen above.
Andrew, me and Ewan. So glad we got to see him.
HAM flashes by finishing third at the end of a memorable race. A Scot and his son sat in our row. The name of their son was Ewan.
An unforgettable four days in an unbelievable city with my tolerant, patient and one of my two wonderful sons.
Crikey. So much has happened that I am struggling to remember if I experienced them today, dreamt them or experienced them months ago. Slept in until late and travelled into town in an Uber (free because Ewan recommended me) and went to the Art and Science museum in the Marina Bay area and an exhibition on Big Data which was interesting but resulted in serious brain fade and neural overload. One thing was quite clear, Singapore is a huge producer and consumer of data, working towards a complete 3D model of the entire city (anonymised as E pointed out).
A rather splendid and serene Anish Kapoor greeted us alongside the pool. It is most interesting that Singapore seeks to combine art and science – very special. The reflection in the concave shape is of the extraordinary art/science building.
The into the lion’s den of the mall in the background.
Falling into the middle some of the time is the water from this large feature on the pavement above cascading down into the mall below, quite hypnotic.
Then we met an old schoolfriend of E’s (works here for Uber). It was a delight to see him. We had lunch in a cheap but characterful street place with a bit of heritage attached to it and a lovely old clock that struck the quarter hours up in the turret.
Then architecture, curtain walls that moved in the wind. the picture doesn’t capture it, but the silver portion of the Marina Bay Towers is covered in thousands of mirrors that move in the wind.
Then off to the circuit (phone battery dying so no more pics. However, a wonderful Quali, a great prospect for a fascinating race tomorrow. I left E with his friend to watch Queen and made my way home on the MRT (with the help of an incredibly helpful policeman on the station) walked the fifteen minutes up from the station, feeling quite at home, safe and comfortable, if a tad hot and sweaty.
The Uber driver this morning was full of information. All citizens are entitled to ownership of an apartment. English was chosen over Chinese as the national language because it was international. He knew E was involved in computers because of his “hairstyle.”
E’s friend confirmed what I thought I heard over the PA on the MRT. “Happy happy step on platform.”
I am extraordinarily fortunate to be having such an experience and to share it with E and my next door neighbour in the grandstand, Michael, who has a similarly nerdish love of F1.
Tomorrow is the race and then home to KTM on Monday. So much has happened already it feels like I have been here for a month. At 8 pm tomorrow it’s Lights Out and the race through the streets of this city begins.
It’s difficult to make an objective judgement about Singapore, given where I have come from. It is like stepping into the future, from dysfunction to function, from human to a touch dystopian, from material poverty to wealth, from colourful chaos to logistical sophistication, order and the policing of order.
I like things that function consistently as they do here. A kindly employee on the subway said that they have problems – it’s a mechanical system after all and things breakdown – but the problems are fixed, the trains are soon running again, all through spotlessly clean, litter-free halls with fast moving escalators and power that stays on. Our Airbnb host has seen the country grow in fifty years ago when she was girl and there was a rural Malaysian village at the end of her street to what today is a dynamic, modern, functioning, clean and well maintained city. I took pleasure in seeing a young school girl crossing the road, on her own, with her pink backpack, free and safe.
One complaint is that it is sterile. The only local shop in the area we are staying seems to be in the local gas station, so residential areas seem to be well separated – the majority living in high-rise complexes. It does mean it is quiet, safe and kept beautifully clean where we are staying. People and cars separated by pavements with no motorcyclists driving on them. At the circuit last night there was a huge crowd of people. I spotted one piece of litter on the ground amongst the tens of thousands of race goers and Kylie Minogue fans.
Public transport is a gem as it should be in any forward looking city. Singapore is a successful place where friends like to come for a day of spa and nail treatments, where consumerism is sophisticated and accessible – shopping malls blend into subway stations where, yesterday, someone dropped a piece of litter in the crowd and myself and other people stood looking at it on the ground in amazement, but did nothing to pick it up. It almost felt like a sacrilegious act.
All this wonder comes at an environmental, and I am sure some would say, a political cost. The first president of Singapore is quoted as having said: “If Singapore is a nanny state, then I am proud to have fostered one.” I don’t think laissez-faire capitalism would have got this city state so far, so fast for the benefit of the vast majority of the people, propelling it from a state similar to the one where I currently live, to where it is now.
The main racial groups: Singaporeans, Chinese, Malaysians, Indians and Europeans mix with apparent harmony. There must be economic selection but even in a fancy little mall we visited, all those ethnic groups were present as customers. It is homogenous, at least to my very superficial experience of it, but there are, without doubt social structures (and with those unfairness) that occur everywhere. A worker at the gardens was struggling with a delivery of boxes and as we passed her she looked at me and I knew that look. “Lucky for you,” it said, “you are fortunate walking in your lovely clothes while I work in this heat. Where is the fairness in this?”)
The British heritage has not been ditched but absorbed. As with all intelligent nations with a colonial past the best has been taken from it, education (a lot of Catholic nuns early on) being the rock on which the society has been structured. A taxi driver was certain to make sure I understood it is a deeply secular nation.
I sit on the deep and comfortable verandah, in a wealthy (17% of the population is worth over a million dollars) neighbourhood. The fan is hushing, power supply constant, water from the tap is potable and the trash has been picked up, again. Buses, subway, beautiful botanic gardens, and incredible efficiency and good humour from the thousands of people who are working at the circuit looking after us. From security to those that show us to our seats, I am seeing the best Singapore has to offer. I am a visitor after all, and we like to have our house in order when we have guests and offer them a huge variety of different cuisines from around the world.
I have little doubt from my position of supreme ignorance about this country that the human and societal cost of this remarkable experiment in material progress has come with significant cost to sections of the population and it’s culture – how could it not? I suspect, though, that were you to ask a random selection of people if they would prefer what they have now, to say, the situation that our Airbnb host grew up with, the answer would be clear. Education, health, sanitation (astoundingly clean Portaloos at the circuit) and electricity are the markers of a productive, functioning, industrious society.
I have barely scratched the surface of this place, but the surface is polished and beautifully maintained, and my scratch will quickly be covered over and re-polished until it has vanished.
Travelling with E means life is electronic. He is already on Uber (and now so am I) but this morning we took the subway into town. What a system. Clean, frequent trains, wide, spotlessly clean carriages open all the way from one end of the train to another.
We arrived at the Botanical Gardens which turned out to be a World Heritage site, stunning, informative and beautiful. A wonderful Evolution Garden, that laid out the journey of plant life on this planet. Must be a wonderful experience for school children. It was for me.
We then had a nice lunch at an Italian place outside the gates of the garden, got on a subway train and went to the circuit. I confess we saw Kylie Minogue (much enjoyed by the gay contingent) on the main stage at the end of FP 2 tonight and heard but couldn’t get to see (the outside stage was too packed) KC and The Sunshine Band. While we were watching FP2 Ewan streamed parts of it through a new FaceBook feature that allows for that. He picked brilliant seats for us. The cars come screaming over the bridge and slow around the 50 metre mark – it’s the slowest part of the circuit, but we are very near the cars. It’s fascinating listening to the different driving styles, how the various drivers change down through the gears. It promises to be a very exciting race on Sunday. Then we caught an Uber home. I got $10 Singapore Dollars off as it was my first ride, and someone shared it with us, so we ended up paying $7.00. Another hot, humid and wonderful day, my mind whirling with impressions and memories of the delightful, helpful, friendly people we met and the enduring pleasure of being here with E, who makes life so manageable and is so competent in a modern world represented by the city of Singapore and the diverse people who live here.
Being in the middle of the city with all the buildings is surreal, it feels almost like a film set.