Nature thrives in urban Singapore

Coming upon a striped hyena or an anteater in the dark can be scary even for animal lovers. But it’s an altogether exciting encounter — and perfectly safe — when it happens in the moonlit Night Safari in Singapore.

And avid gardeners searching for exotic orchids and a lush rainforest are richly rewarded by the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
These wonders of nature can be found only a few kilometres apart in the city-state of Singapore. This island off the tip of Malaysia is only 42 kilometres (26 miles) wide and 23 kilometres (14 miles) long, a densely populated urban republic. It’s also a peaceful and tasteful oasis, a delightful and unexpected surprise.

Minimum culture shock
For North American travellers touring in Asia, Singapore is a comfortable starting point. Culture shock is minimal. Of all Asian cities, Singapore is probably the most similar to its North American counterparts. P>

This tropical island is cosmopolitan, modern, clean, controlled and enjoys the highest standard of living in Southeast Asia. Singapore is made up of 77 per cent Chinese, 14 per cent Malay, eight per cent Indian and one per cent other ethMalay is the national language. However, everyone speaks English.

In fact, Canadians are welcome as teachers in Singapore because we have “no accent.” The literacy rate in Singapore is 93 per cent. But even more impressive is the literacy rate in two or more languages: 56 per cent.

And, the five “Cs” that form the credo for success in North America are the same here: cash, condo, credit card, career and car.

Controlled urban space
The rumour that life in Singapore is controlled and efficient is true. The government has eliminated the potential for anything deemed distasteful or dangerous.

Littering and eating on the mass rapid transit, the MRT, are subject to hefty fines. And the rows of potted bougainvillea along the highway into the city centre from Changi Airport can be removed quickly to allow easy access for emergency vehicles.

This kind of control, including the planning of green space, is essential in an urban area that is home to more than four million people, 90 per cent of whom live in apartments.

Singapore launched its green policy in 1967. Today, the department of parks and recreation maintains 4,868 hectares of parkland and 856,000 trees, including the ancient Banyan tree and rows of umbrella-shaped raintrees.

Next page: Blending many traditions

Blending many traditions
In a multifaceted civilization, achieving harmony is essential. The people of Singapore have figured out just how to make living together work, blending century-old traditions, cosmopolitan habits and ethnic tastes and sharing it all in their food courts, wet markets (farmers’ markets) and shophouses (family stores with living quarters upstairs).

The harmony is evident in the steel and glass skyscrapers that nestle amicably alongside the shophouses of Chinatown and Little India. Indian mosques, Hindu temples and St. Andrew’s Cathedral stand within blocks of one another.

Harmony is also found in the delicious blending of culinary offerings, such as the various styles of Chinese cooking; Malay cuisine, which combines Indonesian and Thai flavours; and Peranakan food, a blend of Malay and mainland Chinese cooking; not to mention both southern and northern Indian cuisine with their curries and fluffy naans (pita type bread).

National Orchid Garden
The same harmony is evident in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a 52-hectare tropical park where a primary jungle is surrounded by manicured gardens, home to gorgeous flowers such as the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera).

Most prestigious among the manicured gardens is the National Orchid Garden. More than 60,000 plants and orchids, including the VIP orchids named after such visiting dignitaries as Margaret Thatcher, swoon delicately in the humid breezes over stone and wood sculptures.

Not surprisingly, the orchid we consider a rare and delicate treasure for special occasions, such as proms and weddings, is Singapore’s national flower.

Exotic animal safari
At the Night Safari, exotic animals from Asia, Africa and mainland China live as harmoniously as Singaporeans, provided of course that the moats, fences and other natural barriers between their habitats remain intact.

The Singapore Zoological Gardens is considered one of the best in the world with 3,000 mammals, birds and reptiles—including the world’s largest captive group of orangutans.

The Night Safari section is the world’s first open-concept zoo for nocturnal animals.  Visitors can get close to elephants, rhinos, giraffes, leopards, anteaters and many indigenous, exotic animals.

Singapore is a leader in communications, electronics and shipbuilding. It’s also the financial and transportation center of Southeast Asia.

But its true worth is in the goodwill of its people, the hospitality they show visitors and the peace and pleasure offered in their green spaces.

Definitely worth the trip to find the perfect orchid.