Iconic Singapore Landmarks

As Singapore gears up to celebrate 50 years of independence in August, my country has never been more beautiful, modern or cohesive. Sadly, on the cusp of our golden jubilee, we also experienced the loss of our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew on 23 March. Mr Lee’s death made a shocking impact on our national psyche, with nationwide mourning, snaking overnight queues at his public wake, and a tearful send-off as more than 100,000 people weathered a tropical thunderstorm during his state funeral on Sunday, 29 March.

After unprecedented national mourning however, the rain has stopped and the sky is clear. And instead of grief, we look back in gratitude at our late founding father, and pay tribute to three iconic landmarks that he has helped to shape.

Singapore Changi Airport

Singapore Changi Airport. Picture: changiairport.com

Changi Airport

I love travelling. But no matter how exotic or exhilarating my adventure, the moment of touchdown at Changi airport is always my favourite. The first thing I do is send a message to my family and friends, and it would invariably be the same one – “I am home”. Yes, those words succinctly encompass how I feel about Changi Airport.

It is difficult to explain why even as a global citizen, Changi Airport elicits that kind of response. It could be partly due to the modern architecture, the comfort of being amongst my people, or the tree-lined boulevards that lead the way home.

Mr Wong Yew Kwan, Singapore’s first Commissioner of Parks and Recreation shared that during a 1978 meeting regarding the development of Changi Airport, Mr Lee gave specific orders for the planting of these trees because “when the first plane lands, [he wanted] people to look at planted vegetation, not rank vegetation.” This has certainly contributed to our airport’s famed beauty. That was Mr Lee’s first gift to me.

Singapore Botani Gardens. Picture: Singapore50.sg

Singapore Botanic Gardens. Picture: Singapore50.sg

Singapore Botanic Gardens

I’ve spoken about Mr Lee’s love for nature, and his care for our environment. And this was of course reflected in our City in a Garden. Our roads are lined with Angsana and rain trees, and our urban jungle is speckled with pockets of green – lush verdant parks, gardens and reservoirs.

Of these, my favourite garden has always been the Singapore Botanic Garden, not just for its heritage trees, and diverse fauna, but also because it was one of the favourite dating spots of my parents’ time. In a sense, it provided the seedlings for many of our families to bloom. This was Mr Lee’s second gift to us.

This week, a new orchid hybrid was created by NParks in honour of our ‘chief gardener’. Fondly named Aranda Lee Kuan Yew, it joins Vanda Kwa Geok Choo, the orchid hybrid created in honour of his wife. Both orchids are now an everlasting part of Singapore’s fauna and may be seen at the tribute site at Singapore Botanic Garden.

Singapore River. Picture: Wallpaperist

Singapore River. Picture: Wallpaperist

The Singapore River

My city never sleeps. So even on long pensive nights, it is rarely dark enough to behold the celestial universe. But we have our own stars – the thousand iridescent lights reflected in the Singapore River.

The Singapore River was not always this beautiful. Like many developing countries, it was a trash dump with a particularly pungent stench. How Mr Lee cared for it went beyond the development blueprint. And this is best revealed by an anecdote shared by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

“In 2010, Mr Lee was hospitalised… for a chest infection. While he was in the hospital, Mrs Lee passed away. As soon as he could, he left the hospital to attend the wake at Sri Temasek. At the end of the night, he was under doctor’s orders to return to the hospital. But he asked his security team if they could take him to the Singapore River instead. It was late in the night, and Mr Lee was in mourning. His security team hastened to give a bereaved husband a quiet moment to himself.

As Mr Lee walked slowly along the banks of the Singapore River, the way he and Mrs Lee sometimes did when she was still alive, he paused. He beckoned a security officer over. Then he pointed out some trash floating on the river, and asked, “Can you take a photo of that? I’ll tell my PPS what to do about it tomorrow. I can guess that Mr Lee probably had some feedback on keeping the Singapore River clean.”

That was his third gift to us. And even while recovering from an illness, and losing his life partner, his care and dedication for Singapore was steadfast. He continued to ensure that none of the stars that shined in Singapore dimmed even for a fleeting, moment of grief.

May we do the same for him during this time of loss. So that on the eve of our golden jubilee, we may celebrate SG50 and Mr Lee’s contributions with gratitude, not grief. A beautiful new era is dawning in Singapore. In our founding father’s own words: “Look at the horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it.”


Art Along the Banks of the Singapore River

Singapore River is the lifeline of the country. It was on the very banks of Singapore River that the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, stood in 1819. Since then it has played an integral role in our country’s development serving as one of the busiest trading ports in Asia.

One of my favourite ways to unwind after a busy day at work is to spend time strolling the banks of the river. While it is no longer the busy trading port it was in the 19th century, the Singapore river is now an idyllic destination to eat, work and play. The shophouses along Boat Quay and Clarke Quay that used to be filled with spices, sugar, salt and other items of trade, have now been converted into trendy bars and restaurants – the watering hole of Singapore’s stylish and sophisticated crowd.

Today, during my usual walk down the banks of the river, two particular bronze sculptures caught my eye: A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh and From Chettiars to Financiers by Sculptor Chern Lian Shan.

These sculptures depict life as it was along the banks of the Singapore River in the 19th century.

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

In A Great Emporium, there are four distinct characters represented in the sculpture, a British Trader, a Chinese Merchant, a Chinese Coolie and an Indian Coolie all engaged in trade. Coolie refers to manual labourer, the origins of the word has both Chinese and Indian derivations.

It really brought me back 200 years ago. When life was tough. Many of these coolies, liked the coolies in the sculpture, worked without a thread on their backs. They carried gunny sacks of rice, flour and spices from ship to shore for pittance.  These coolies were indeed the backbone of our society. They built up Singapore. Without them, we could not have developed as fast and as furious as we did.  The sculpture reminded me of how fast Singapore has developed and how grateful I am!

The sculpture to its left, From Chettiars to Financiers, is also a depiction of life along the banks of the river in the 19th century.  This sculpture shows the dramatic change of Singapore’s finance industry.  From simple Indian Chettiars who were most commonly moneylenders with the pig-tailed clerk to a female financier.  How times have changed.

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

The Indian Chettiars originated from Chettinad in Tamil Nadu.  Interestingly, the term “Chettiar” is actually a caste label, not another name for moneylender.  These moneylenders were private financiers who lent money to entrepreneurs and businessman.

I spent quite a while admiring these two sculptures. Indeed, life has changed for us here in Singapore. We have evolved from a small trading port to one of the most stable and secure economies in the world.  As we reap what our forefathers have sowed, we should never forget where we came from.  These bronze sculptures along the Singapore River serve as fitting reminders of our past.

Capella Singapore’s Personal Assistants will be able to share more information about Clarke Quay and Boat Quay and recommend restaurants and bars along the river. If you would like to organise a private tour or book a restaurant, please contact our Personal Assistants at +65 6591 5035 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.