Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lions and Dragons and Monsoons, oh, my!

November is an interesting time in Singapore. A visitor might expect hot, humid and sunny weather, being so near the equator. What a visitor finds, though, is a bit different. Oh, not the hot and humid part - the weather definitely delivers in that regard.

It's the sunny part that's amiss. During late October/early November, the smog index climbs due to intentionally set forest fires in neighboring Indonesia. The winds carry the resulting smoke to Singapore, blocking out the sun and affecting the air quality.

Once the air clears...Surprise! it's monsoon season. Expect overcast skies and rain daily. This morning it poured buckets. You know, I thought about bringing an umbrella with me. Fortunately my colleague brought a spare.

I have seen sunshine twice since arriving on Sunday. I just checked the long-range weather forecast - it calls for 88 degrees (F) and thunderstorms daily for the next ten days. Really?

On the other hand, Singapore is delightful. Lovely gardens, bustling streets, modern buildings and a striking cultural blend make the city truly fascinating. I love the contrasts here - for instance, the University of Chicago School of Business is housed in a 19th century Chinese mansion, situated in front of a sleek glass and steel office building.

I took a stroll my first day in Singapore and turned onto Orchard Road. It was like walking in Times Square or Las Vegas. Christmas decorations bloom along the street, including a full-sized sleigh and reindeer. Wendy's and Starbucks reside alongside electronics shops, custom tailors and Indian restaurants. Borders and Subway, Hard Rock Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen, Chili's and Marks and Spenser. It's a small world after all.

Ask anyone who has been here and they'll tell you - Singapore may be the cleanest place in the world. Changi Airport is by far the most beautiful, well-maintained airport I have ever visited, all gleaming stone and metal. It is also incredibly quiet, in my personal experience. Of course, arriving after 1 a.m. may have been a contributing factor to the lack of noise.

I hope to explore the island more extensively this weekend, visiting the new Double Helix bridge, the Merlion (or the lion vomiting into the bay, as my colleague says) and Little India. I see shopping in my future, as well as many photo opportunities.

Singapore is a fascinating place, with so much to offer the traveler. I'm glad to be here and looking forward to learning and seeing so much more.