| Larissa Loges |
SINGAPORE (dpa) – Members of the tour group are still wondering how an entire shopping mall can smell of patchouli when their guide, a young man named Daniel, is hustling them along to the next attraction.
“Over there,” he says, with a broad sweep of his hand pointing in the direction of a traffic jam, “the moment you cross that intersection, is where ‘Little India’ starts.”
Those sceptical of the statement are quickly convinced, when they see a huge elephant consisting of thousands of rainbow-coloured blinking light bulbs across the way.
And quickly, the group is immersed in another world, one of stalls selling pashmina scarves, gold jewellery and cushions as they proceed to a small museum.
There, a collection of black-and-white photographs show the beginnings of Little India.
This section of Singapore is one of several attesting to the melting-pot ambience of South-East Asia’s sparkling city-state, with a history going back almost two centuries.
“Life began on the Singapore River,” Daniel says, noting how Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in 1819 to set up a trading post. The British colonial is considered to be the founder of today’s modern metropolis.
“We are all immigrants,” Daniel says with a smile about his fellow-Singaporeans.
In fact, about three-quarters of the city’s five million inhabitants are ethnic Chinese, followed by 14 per cent of Malay origin, nine per cent Indian, and the remaining few per cent of many diverse ethnic backgrounds.
There is scarcely a city in the world where one can experience such a diversity of cultures in such a small area as Singapore.
In the shop windows of the Little India section, there are numerous devotional objects, indicating that a temple is nearby.
There are also mosques and churches nearby. With its densely-populated 715 square kilometres, Singapore affords little space for religious animosities.
The group proceeds to Kampong Glam, the district of the Muslims.
Slowly, the music of Bollywood films fades away, and women in saris give way to women wearing head scarves.
Tailor shops and wellness spas give way to cafes and the air is scented with peppermint tea.
At the end of Arab Street the Sultan Mosque rises up with its golden dome and surrounded by shining minarets.
After the Muslim neighbourhood, the tour of Singapore’s various villages head to Chinatown, replete with an intoxicating scent of coriander.
A golden cat with a waving arm greets visitors at a restaurant. Amid a decor of deep-red walls, gold-framed mirrors, pink orchids and lanterns hanging from the ceilings, a meal starts out with hot-spiced soup.
At the next table, the cook is eating some peanuts and she radiantly offers some to the visitors.
Back outside, the tour proceeds past shops offering everything from cellphone covers to imitation perfumes, from tiger balm to pickled snakes.
The guide now is a Muslim woman named Katherine who sets a quick pace through the neighbourhood and tells the history of Chinatown of the 19th and 20th centuries, a history that also includes murders and opium dens.
Still dizzy from so many sensations, the group now boards a water taxi heading to Marina Bay, where the banks are lined by buildings from the British colonial era hailing back to the time when Singapore’s multicultural history all got started with Raffles.