Once upon a time, in a lonely fishing village, the prince spotted a creature that looked half lion and half mermaid now called . The prince and his entourage desperately tried to capture the strange creature ,while he was out hunting, and never could. It was too quick to disappear in the darkness and it moved at great speed. I would have never guessed how the Merlion became a very important icon in Singapore and how it became the Lion City. Although the prince’s narration of the strange creature remained a legend, the Merlion is now more than just a souvenir-spinner. It is a landmark to start your journey, to the beautiful civic district in Singapore. Let me take you to the time where modern Singapore was born. There is no doubt I am a huge fan of this tiny city-state, having been here back and forth for nine years now. Getting around for me has become much easier as I am basically a local, aside from the fact that mobility here is as easy as peeling peanuts. Singapore has a host of very modern and efficient public transportation systems. With many things to see and do, your trip is certainly not complete without a visit to the Civic District. Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, started a master plan in 1822 that would become the best urban planning in South East Asia, with sections along the Singapore River marked for use and new buildings erected for the needs of a thriving trade post.
To me, Singapore is a city that best restores my sanity, when after the chaos and madness of Manila, I am in need of neatness and orderliness. The carefully organized and planned surroundings only enhance this perspective. It’s a garden city with trees all over the island, most have grown from the city’s 51-year old tree planting tradition that was conceived by then Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew.
Upon reaching Merlion Park, I saw the usual presence of white, black, brown, yellow, pale and red. Merlion’s charm never fails to attract people of different colours from all parts of the world. The lion’s mouth opens up into a fountain of water that spits right into the river, splashing and creating a very refreshing, misty feeling. While looking at the beauty of the skyline surrounding it, I took more focus on Merlion. I imagined what if legend was true and how did this sleepy village emerged to be a lion economy in South East Asia. Standing on a ledge surrounding the Merlion, I gazed at the beauty of the Fullerton Hotel, a neo-classical architecture of grey aberdeen granite exteriors and a notable, five star, luxury hotel. The whole area where Fullerton Building stands today is historical being the former General Post Office Building named after the first Governor of the Straits Settlements Robert Fullerton.
Just across the road is another prominent structure called Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay, built at the mouth of Singapore River and adds to the whole skyline constituting Marina Bay. It is known for top-notch arts performances. Locals call it ‘the durian’, for its unique architecture that seems to resemble the prickly fruit. I was checking my watch and I had already consumed three hours of wandering in the civic district and still not done with so many to check out in this beautiful cluster of modern and historical enclaves. I left the park with random thoughts about the famous Marina Bay Sands, a regal hotel of three towers rising to 57 stories and a huge ship-like structure at the top. It is hard to imagine a ship floating up in the skies, or whatever your imagination can take you to. It is nevertheless one of the most stunning structures in the core of Singapore’s greatest skyscrapers. I went further down and reached the old Parliament House, built in 1827 but is now famous to its visitors as the Arts House. Somewhere near the entrance of Arts House, I found a delicate bronze artwork by Brother Joseph McNally, a calligraphic sculpture that spells Chuan, a Chinese word to mean creativity.
Singapore never runs out of efforts to restore its old historic buildings, instead of leaving them abandoned and without a lease of new life. The old supreme court stands proud today as the National Gallery of Singapore housing Asian art, including Singapore arts. The whole part starting from St. Andrews Road all the way to the Esplanade Drive is a bunch of hearty delights to the arts aficionados. This includes the Asian Civilization Museum with its original neo-classical architecture and nearby Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall that was reopened in 2014 after a four-year refurbishment to restore its original looks from 1905.
Through the eyes of many locals here, Singapore has lost its true elegance. Far from being a rather old fashioned charm that was inherited from the Europeans, today’s landscape is merely a facade and has taken much of the appearance of the “great commercial emporium” that its founder Stamford Raffles had envisioned. Modern Singapore stands today as one of the most advanced cities in the world. And through the eyes of outsiders, like me for example, the more important thing is the greatness of this place to induce peace and sanity in my mind, and to differentiate what Singapore is now from the fish and the lion described from the tales of the past.