Singapore packs a lot into its scant 682 sq km of islands in the South China Sea. Like a midget who compensates by pumping iron till his biceps bulge, Singapore’s muscular economy has built a façade of westernization over its glittering modern cities. But dig beneath the surface and one finds a complex, layered montage of constantly transforming cultures.
Scan the scene in a shopping mall in downtown Singapore and the hoard of trendy teenagers feigning boredom might convince you that you’re in the US. But dine at the Metropol Hotel’s Imperial Herbal Restaurant and you’ll taste the difference. There the in-house physician will prescribe the precise meal to cure what ails you – food and health are tightly bound to each other in the Chinese Culture. Little India’s Zhujiao Centre provides visitors with a glimpse into a culture that has been part of Singapore since Sir Stamford Raffles brought Indian assistants and laborers here in the 1800’s. One can buy textiles or fragrances in the Arab district. Uniquely gruesome celebrations such as the Thaipusam Festival and the Kuda Kepang feature performers who submit to ritual body piercing and flagellation. You won’t witness that at the local mall, but you can see it here in Singapore.