Early next morning, the view from the plane window reveals to our unbelieving eyes an airport shaped like some futuristic city from an old science fiction movie. The plane comes to a standstill, the jet engines whine and fall silent. Some of the passengers – the tourists – applaud, the rest, predominantly business people, refrain. ‘Thank you for flying with us.’ Don’t mention it. At baggage retrieval, passengers wait impatiently for their luggage. When it finally arrives, they welcome it like an old, long-lost friend and stream for the exit. Waiting for us there is Albert, who greets us with a beaming smile and a familiar ‘Grüezi mitenand’. We immediately feel at home.
Albert drives us along the coast towards the Raffles Hotel, one of the city’s most prestigious addresses, which owes its name to the British explorer and founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The road is lined with lush green trees and brilliantly coloured shrubs. We come to a halt in front of a colonial-style building, bathed in the warm white light of the morning sun. ‘Here we are,’ he says, expelling any doubts we may have had that this exclusive-looking establishment is our final destination. Within seconds, attentive hotel staff are swarming around us, taking care of our luggage and escorting us to our room. Albert has told us to freshen up and meet him again in the lobby for a trip through the CBD Area. We take cool showers in an effort to combat the first telltale signs of jet lag and google CBD Area. ‘Central Business District’, we are reliably informed by the ubiquitous information source that has made the world’s encyclopaedias redundant. Right, off we go.
An itinerary for tourist and tradition-lover alike
‘To start with, I’ll take you through the tourist districts so you’ll know what you’re talking about when you get back home,’ says Albert wryly. ‘Then we’ll take a look at more traditional things. Agreed?’ Absolutely. Albert graduated in Physics before life took him, almost by chance, from Switzerland to the Far East, and we feel that we are in the best of hands. We emerge into the hustle and bustle outside, where the streets are thronged with countless Europeans and Americans. ‘Millions of tourists visit this area every year,’ explains Albert. ‘But real Singaporeans spend as little time here as possible. Many of them work in one of the countless office complexes but live outside the city and commute up to two hours each way.’
Albert describes Singapore as a city in which everything is higher, faster, further and bigger than anywhere else. And it doesn’t take long to find out what he means. The Singapore Flyer is 165 metres high and has 28 air-conditioned cabins, one of which we now enter. When it first opened in 2008, it was the biggest Ferris wheel in the world. A masterstroke of technology, it held the title for six years. ‘And then the Americans went and built one that’s two point six metres higher in Las Vegas,’ says Albert, gently shaking his head in mild exasperation. But his revelation does nothing to spoil the breathtaking view from the dizzying height over the city.