Spiffy Singapore's different thrills

SPEED THRILLS An express electric train heading to the Sentosa island resort in Singapore

SPEED THRILLS An express electric train heading to the Sentosa island resort in Singapore  

There is much more to the island state of Singapore than malls, sun and sand if you care to go a bit away from the touristy round

Hamlet would have felt very much at home in Singapore. Not that procrastination has a place in this super efficient city-state. It is the gloomy prince of Denmark's preoccupation with things that seem that come to mind as you arrive at the glitzy Changi Airport. Even the sea is so well behaved with waves that decorously break on the shore. One feels like one is in Jim Carrey's imaginary world of The Truman Show. "The sea is always calm," one of the guides helpfully explains. And you stop looking for an angry grey green sea topped by restless white horses tearing up from the vast ocean to hurl themselves manically at the shore. That just will not happen.Food is always said to be a problem for vegetarians in East Asia. And just when you are all set to eat greens (which a friend insisted on calling plants to ensure no prawn was added to the salad) and bread the city sprang its next seeming surprise - mock meat!

Veggie abroad

After expressly stating a preference for the vegetarian option, I was totally horrified on seeing plates heaped with prawn, fish fillets and drumsticks. After repeated assurances that the dishes were vegetarian, I hesitantly took a bite to discover that they were all indeed vegetarian! What joy!Mock meat has its roots in ancient China where Buddhism created faux meat out of a need to marry non-vegetarian tastes to vegetarian practice. Made of soya, the food is shaped to look exactly like meat right down to the red veins on the pink prawn. Absolutely delicious, mock meat seemed (ah that word again!) to defeat its purpose. The vegetarian would feel slightly squeamish about eating things that looked like living creatures while non-vegetarians looking to sink their teeth into some high protein would feel woefully short changed.As a member of a media team to cover the Singapore Youth Festival, one got to see a totally different side of the city-state. Just when you thought Singapore was all about shopping till you dropped at the many brightly coloured malls, you get involved in this heavy-duty educational trip - see what I mean by seeming to be?

The right mix

It was all a great deal of fun though with just that right seasoning of facts and historical perspective. So, we got to see the Asian Civilisations Museum with its mission to explore and present the cultures and civilisations of Asia as well as promote awareness and appreciation of the ancestral culture of Singapore. The skilful of marriage of modern technology and heritage will guarantee that even people with the attention span of a fly are bug-eyed with wonder. Touch screen kiosks and virtual hosts lead the visitor through 5,000 years of history within 10 themed galleries where you get to see one of the largest Chinese Dehua porcelain displays in the world and the finest jewellery displays in Southeast Asia among other things.There is also the Malay Heritage Centre in the gracious 162-year-old Istana Kampong Gelam showcasing the roots and history of the Malays in Singapore. Hua Song Museum again is an innovative retelling of the story of Chinese settlers. Literally meaning "In Praise of the Chinese Community," the museum has interactive features and models to tell the tale of Chinese immigrants seeking a fortune in distant shores. Instead of dry text, the history was put in the form of a newspaper, Hua Song Times, which was great fun.

Award-winning show

And if you thought Sentosa Island was all about sun, sand, cable cars and the water world, then a visit to the Images of Singapore will make you do a rethink. The award-winning Four Winds of Singapore show in a replica of a warehouse from a bygone era is a novel sound and light show starting from the 14th Century to the time of the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles through the dark days of the Second World War to the present. Even a visit to the zoo, with the mandatory breakfast with the orang-utan and patting the jolly python, was educative as we were taken to veterinary facility that looked after the health and well being of all the animals, including the cute pygmy hippopotamus.The highlight of the trip, the inauguration of the 40th edition of the Singapore Youth Festival, was a paean to precision and coordination that Singapore is so famous for. Held at the National Stadium with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as guest of honour, the function celebrated the theme of "Reaching Beyond" with an eye-popping demonstration of school display bands, parade, combined school choir and the synchronised kaleidoscope. While the function involved close to 9,000 participants, it speaks highly of Singapore's organisational powers that everything went like clockwork.

Last banquet

And then it was time to say goodbye with the last banquet at a picturesque seaside restaurant. A last time of eating those soya prawns and chicken and looking at the gentle sea caressing the shoreline. And then there is only time for some last-minute shopping at the never-ending lanes of duty-free shops at Changi before you head home with the words of the melancholic Dane echoing in your head: "Seems madam! Nay it is... "MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

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