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Soaring glass and tropical green: a sip of Singapore

THERE is a lot about Singapore that is strangely wonderful, but for me, the most in-your-face example is that it is a pulsating city inside a tranquil park.

It was Singapore's founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015), who said he did not want a park in a city, he wanted a city in a park.

Decades ago, Mr Lee vowed to take Singapore from the Third World to the First. He did not just talk the talk. The mighty man walked the walk, hence today's thriving metropolis, the envy of so many others.

As I walked the 10 kilometres of green open spaces that connect Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Hort Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve, the glittering city kept peeking at me through verdant shrubbery and jungle-like foliage.

It was strangely wonderful to see soaring glass and steel of high-rise buildings through the tropical green of the park.

It was even more strangely wonderful to find a thriving vegetable garden just a few kilometres from the frenzied sound of the city.

Mr Lee proved it possible to build a bustling metropolis in a park and give the people respite from the city tempo, give them a place to stroll, jog, connect with nature - a place where green calm instantly eliminates city stress.

I pondered this strangely wonderful concept later as I joined the throngs in China Town to take a seat on a plastic chair at Tiong Shian Porridge Centre to eat frog leg porridge. (Peppery, delicious.)

I thought about it the next morning over a traditional breakfast of kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, one of the few old-school coffee shops remaining in Singapore.

There were more strangely wonderful shenanigans at Kebun Baru, where hundreds of local bird enthusiasts take their prized possessions in brightly decorated cages to hoist them on long flagpoles high above the trees so the birds can sing and flirt with each other across the sky.

At the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, where locals eat in comfortable chaos surrounded by 100 hawker stalls, it is usually the chicken rice stall that has the longest queue. A Singaporean will always join the biggest queue - all the better the food.

From the dynamic kick in a chilli crab cocktail at Mars Bar at The Duxton Hotel, to the raunchy eggs for breakfast at The Bravery cafe, to the gorgeous young people sipping craft beer on the rooftop at LeVeL33, to the independent fashion boutiques and perfumery in Haji Lane, there was much to contemplate about Singapore's strangely wonderful mood.

A Singapore stopover is always reviving, but you need time to peel Singapore's many captivating layers. There is intrigue and reward beneath every stratum.

The writer was a guest of Singapore Tourism Board.

Must see

 Summer is all year round in Singapore, with the sun rising and setting at the same time. Visit: http://www.yoursingapore.com for events and highlights.

 LeVeL33 - the world's highest urban craft-brewers. Visit: http://www.level33.com.sg

 Southern Ridges parks, 10 kilometres of green, open spaces. Visit: http://www.nparks.gov.sg.


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