Sep 122011

There’s an old Indian parable some of you may’ve heard, about a group of blind men who, after touching different parts of an elephant, offer completely different opinions of what an elephant really is.

One touches the leg and describes it “like a pillar”; Another touches the tail and says it’s “like a rope”; Another touches the tusk, another the ear, and so on and forth.

Lonely Planet cleverly likens Singapore to this elephant – a city capable of leaving vastly different images depending on the part one chooses to touch.

After concluding the Chinatown walking tour and grabbing a quick lunch (at MOS Burger!), I found myself in the Central Business District – right at the start of the Heritage Walking Tour. So despite being considerably tired and sweaty, I decided to push on.

This walking tour provided my first real taste of the elephant’s…um, tusk?

Wait, let me make this easy. To move things along I’ll just show you the rest of my day’s walk (via photos), and utterly plagiarize the LP’s little description 😉

(…Because really, it does characterize what I’ve seen of Singapore almost impeccably…)


“Business visitors passing through for a three-day conference will probably spend their time in the central business district (CBD), perhaps carving out a few hours of after-work R&R on the riverfront. ‘A modern metropolis of gleaming steel and glass skyscrapers, with just enough surviving colonial splendour to give it a historical feel. Really quite Western!’ this visitor may pronounce upon returning home, most likely adding that old chestnut often used to describe the Lion City ‘…and it’s so clean and orderly’.”

“Other travellers, after choosing to spend time around Orchard Rd, might describe the city as ‘A wall-to-wall fashion-junkie’s paradise, and an expensive one at that, steeped in a peculiar West-meets-East culture, similar to some of the more fashionable neighbourhoods of Hong Kong, only cleaner and less chaotic’.”

“Backpackers may find themselves prowling the budget-friendly climes of Little India and Kampong Glam. They’ll come away with tales of a cacophonous, curry-and-cumin-scented city of colourful, low-slung buildings and sari-clad women – and sari-clad men if they stray down certain alleys.”

“Other backpackers will head to Geylang, where on some streets they may encounter a row of Buddhist shrines and temples, and on other streets a row of semilegal brothels and a veritable army of sex workers. (Whichever street they choose, their description of it afterwards promises to be colourful!)”

“And so it goes, from the sterility of Singapore’s seemingly endless housing blocks to the tropical lushness of farms, parks and patches of jungle found on the city’s outskirts. So which of these impressions best encompass the true essence of Singapore? Returning to the parable of the elephant, all of the blind men are equally correct and incorrect: the elephant is more than just what they’re able to glean through a single experience. So it is with Singapore. The Lion City is far more than just the sum of its parts.”

Although I’ve yet to see a few of those areas, I will say that this little excerpt really struck a chord when I read it.

Because even in just this one day spent roaming the city I’d seen quaint little shophouses, glistening steel skyscrapers, red Chinese temples and lush rainforest-like parks. Singapore has everything from handmade wooden stalls peddling phone cards to Raffles Square, modern wealth at it’s most ostentatious.

I know I’ve written a lot recently about all the diversity in Malaysia – but Singapore really is something altogether different. It isn’t as much collection of disjoint little bubbles coming together to form a mosaic-like city; it isn’t clean in one area but dirty in another, modern in one but ancient in another.

Instead, Singapore is one huge city that seems to offer everything all at once. It’s like Japan in its cleanliness, America in its diversity, Germany in its efficiency, and China in its ambition. It really is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.

It is Singapore.

  18 Responses to “The Elephant”

  1. Sounds like you are pretty impressed with Singapore.
    Does it surpass Japan for you?
    ps. I love Botero’s work.

  2. >>Does it surpass Japan for you?

    Not even close! 😉

  3. Mos burger! I had one last time I went to Hong Kong. Saw it after I had just finished lunch, and decided I couldn’t pass it up. My girl and I had a burger, and then another, and then a chicken sandwich…….she is now in love with the Mos too 🙂 Too bad they don’t have many on the mainland. If they ever expand into Beijing, I will be happy

  4. I know, it’s so freakin’ good. They actually have a BUNCH of locations in Thailand too (which I didn’t know the first time I was there), including two within one skytrain stop of where I was living. You KNOW I had about a hundred of them during the month after I found out 😉

  5. Liar 😛 MOS is your second most favorite burger joint in Japan. Freshnessburger is the first. Have you become senile?

    We have Freak Street here in Kathmandu. Yep, it’s a real street name. Plus I found the two cities Aihole and Kalyan in India 😀

  6. Oh, you’re such a stickler for pinpoint accuracy. OK, one of my 2 favorites 😛

    (…Which got me curious if Freshness is International too – apparently they have outlets in HK and Singapore now! Damn, I wish I’d looked that up when I was there!!)

  7. Yeah you’re right 😛 “So maybe my aircraft queueing algorithm is not *entirely* correct, but it works 99% of the time…”

  8. I hardly think one’s favorite hamburger represents as important a level of accuracy as an aircraft queuing algorithm 😛

  9. In a programmer’s world, accuracy is a virtue 😛

  10. When it matters. My code is accurate. My airplane queuing algorithm would be. My top 2 burger preferences in Japan hardly does 😛

  11. Your airplane queueing algorithm would probably focus on speed rather than accuracy 😛

  12. I love the opening elephant story analogy, so great. I’m gonna use it with my clients!

    this place sounds unreal- can you elaborate on your response to your mom on why you still like Japan more?

  13. @Peder: Speed + accuracy, not speed rather than accuracy 😛

    @Rachel: There are a lot of reasons, but that most of it has to do with personal experience. In the same way that a person will usually have a connection to their hometown, Kyoto was the first place I ever lived abroad, the first place I ever truly became part of a foreign culture, the first place I learned to communicate in another language, etc. So the emotional memories that come with those kinds of experiences I don’t think can ever be replaced 🙂

  14. absolutely.

  15. hahaha, mini-merlion. The original is already sad as it is.

    Great pics, as always.

    I preferred the Japanese fast-food joints over the burger places, like Yoshinoya, Matsuya, and etc. Those places were fkn awesome when they had taco rice! Many of my post-party meals in Kyoto were with Andy in a Matsuya.

  16. It’s 1:30pm and I haven’t eaten anything yet. Thank you, the power of suggestion has inspired me to go to MOS Burger 😉

  17. In-N-Out for the win.

    Oh I remember reading about the seedier parts of Singapore in wikitravel. Is prostitution legal?

    If so, what other parts of the elephant did you touch? 😛

  18. LOL!! 😆 I don’t think it’s legal, and while I did read about it in LP, I never actually saw it.

    (PS, Damn you…I miss In-N-Out.)

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