Back in February, I went to bed early whilst on a business trip to Singapore. In so doing, I missed the Grand Opening Night of the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, hearing about it the next day en route for the airport. The climax of the opening was the ‘Wonder Full Show’ billed as ‘the largest light and water spectacular in Southeast Asia’.
‘Using lasers, searchlights, LEDs, video projectors and giant water screens to create stunning visual effects, Marina Bay Sands will present a breathtaking 360-degree sensory experience portraying Light and Water creating Life, choreographed to an inspiring original score. The soundtrack is performed by a 140-piece symphony orchestra’.
Fortunately for me, the Wonder Full Show was set to run ‘until attendance levels drop off’, which in Singapore means it could go on for quite a while yet! So I caught it again on my next visit in April. There are two free 13-minute performances each night at 8pm and 9:30pm, increasing to three at weekends.
I watched the spectacle from the other side of Marina Bay, close to the iconic Merlion which was shrouded in scaffolding and enclosed by a temporary 5-star suite; The Merlion Hotel. This ‘room’ is fully booked for each of the 32 nights in operation (yep … only in Singapore!). Great views across Marina Bay though!
Apparently the MBS Light and Water Show cost US$15m not that that’s a problem for the somewhat controversial Singapore IR, centred as it is on a giant casino. In February, it was reported that in nine months, the two IR’s (there’s another one on nearby Sentosa) had already contributed S$3.7 billion towards the City State’s GDP. Incredibly, this made up almost half of what tourism put into the economy during the same period; S$7.9b. No wonder this building project was controversial and no wonder the MBS owners are already thinking of expanding their operations in Singapore!
Just such a cool view – the Singapore city skyline from the Infinity Pool on the 57th floor of the Marina Sands Bay hotel – and no, I didn’t stay here – honest!
Swim at the very top of the world but don’t look down. If you look closely (at the far right of the pool edge) you’ll see four black shapes; these are swimmers literally on the edge!
Flying to Singapore from the UK presents a number of choices; which airline, which route, which aircraft, what are the seats like, how about the in-flight entertainment etc? As with most things in life, it can simply come down to getting the lowest ticket price. I avoid flying with BA wherever possible as the Middle Eastern or Asian carriers now beat their European rivals’ hands-down in almost every area on this route.
Emirates usually offer lower ticket prices than SIA
Singapore Airlines – in my view, the overall experience is marginally better with SIA
Emirates – two 6 to 7hr legs from LHR Terminal 3 – with a 1 to 2 hour stop-over in Dubai
Singapore Airlines – a direct 13 to 14 hr flight leaving from LHR Terminal 3
Emirates – usually use B777’s with 10-across seating in economy making it feel very cramped. This is the main downside of using Emirates on this route even with the pleasant short break in Dubai.
Singapore Airlines – often uses the latest A380 500-seater double-decker plane on this route. In my view, this is the most comfortable aircraft flying at present – quiet, roomy with lots of space to walk around + a rear stairwell down to the lower deck. If flying economy, try to book seats on the upper deck as this generally gives a superior experience. There appears to be more room around the seats and there is a gap (+ a good floor level storage bin) between the seat and the side of the airplane making it feel much more spacious. I could not use the laptop on the 777 as there was not enough room on the tray but it can be used on the A380 with plenty of room to work, even in economy.
Interestingly, Air France has just announced that it will take on Eurostar in flying the A380 on the short-hop from Paris to London between June and August 2010. Fares are from £80 one way. British Airways do not yet fly the A380 but Singapore Airlines now have 12 such aircraft in their fleet.
Service and food
Singapore Airlines – again in my view, their overall offering is slightly better than Emirates. However, the staff of both airlines offer great customer service and are equally attentive and helpful. I feel that the food on SIA has the edge and is good quality serving up western and regional menus. Both airlines offer good state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment with a wide range of movies and music.
Changi Airport Singapore is – rightly in my opinion – rated as one of the best airports in the world; simply an amazing experience with so much to distract and offer passengers. This time, I discovered the Changi Butterfly House, chocked full of beautiful butterflies and tropical plants – and built inside the airport terminal, truly a delight!
15 hours later, I had the misfortune to land at LHR Terminal 3 which felt grubby, tired and in need of some TLC and a bit of paint + a few wall-hangings!
I’ve experienced two striking contrasts of the impact of Christianity on a nation in the past fortnight as a result of travelling to Wales (on holiday) and then on to Singapore (for business). Proverbs 14:34 says; ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people’ or as The Message rather bluntly puts it; ‘God-devotion makes a country strong; God-avoidance leaves people weak’.
As we toured Wales, it was hard to avoid the towering bulk of the usually grey-coloured Chapels in so many communities. These cavernous edifices often dwarfed the other buildings in the villages. They seemed to particularly dominant the landscape in the valleys of south Wales. These chapels, probably built by the sacrificial giving on the part of the faithful, are now either derelict or have been turned into homes. In the middle of Brecon, the Bethel Square chapel (1852) has been ‘converted’ into a Boots the Chemists shop complete with commercial signage and a glass frontage. I observed only a handful of chapels that remain open as places of worship.
Most of these chapels appeared to have been built in the period from 1860 onwards and, as we know, a major spiritual revival swept across Wales during 1904. I well remember as a boy in the 1960’s being taken to many a Welsh chapel whilst on holiday with my parents. However, life has moved on and now the 1904 Revival is remembered only as an historical event and is totally meaningless in our present culture. As an aside, it was interesting to visit the Christian-run Helwick Lightship, Goleulong 2000 – with its resident chaplaincy – moored in Cardiff Bay, close to the Norwegian Church arts centre and the Welsh Assembly building; www.lightship2000.co.uk.
How different things are in Singapore! This City State has almost 5 million people, living on an island the size of the Isle of Wight, and is home to some of the largest Christian churches anywhere in the world, certainly in Asia. As well as all the traditional denominations, there are two mega-churches; City Harvest Church led by Pastor Kong Hee with 32,000 members, www.chc.org.sg and New Creation Church led by Pastor Joseph Prince with 19,000 members, www.newcreation.org.sg
I felt privileged to attend one of the CHC weekend services and was forcibly struck by the vibrancy, devotion and spiritual intensity of its vast congregation. I felt decidedly old as the average age of the church must be somewhere in the 25–30 age range? I suppose this is not too surprising as Singapore itself strikes one as a very young nation. CHC has four services each weekend held in two locations; two on Saturday afternoon and two on Sunday. The Singapore Expo Centre service which I attended had an estimated Saturday evening congregation of approx 5,500 people! Mind-blowing numbers for those of us from a European background!
The complexities of the logistics in dealing with this number of people is simply awe-inspiring, the technology was as high level as you would find in any mainstream secular production, the worship was stunning and heartfelt, the corporate prayer deafening but above all a very real sense that here were people wanting to both meet with God and to affect their nation and the wider world. In 2011 City Harvest Church, in order to continue to accommodate its ongoing growth, plans a major move to the Suntec Convention Centre in the centre of the city of Singapore.
So I guess that with this background it is not surprising that CHC, together with David Yonggi Cho’s Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea, is the host for the Church Growth International 2010 Asia Conference from 26–30 May 2010; www.asiaconference.org.sg. The speaker line-up includes Kong Hee (Singapore), David Yonggi Cho (South Korea), Rienhard Boonke (Germany) and Phil Pringle (Australia). Crowds of up to 20,000 are expected to attend this 5-day international event at the Singapore Expo Centre, situated close to Changi airport, another huge logistical challenge for the church!
It is hard to escape the fact that God is moving across Asia and that the nations in this part of the world are very, very serious about their role in spreading the Gospel. Christianity has moved east; the spiritual torch has quite clearly passed from West to East. I look back on what God did in history in the nations of Europe – including the likes of Wales – and simply note that God is continuing to move mightily today in other national contexts. God is not dead, the Gospel continues to change lives around the world and we should take heart and realise that as stated in Habakkuk 2:14; ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea’.
The problems that we face in the UK seem to me to be the result of a rather cynical nation turning its back on God and against the Gospel. We would do well to ponder the Biblical proverb as quoted above; ‘God-devotion makes a country strong; God-avoidance leaves people weak’.
I’m just back from a visit to the city state of Singapore. I’ve travelled there seven times in the past few years on business. I’ve come to really like the place. People who know me say that’s because it reflects my personality – efficient, clean, safe and sunny – there you go, just like me!
So if you’ve not yet been there, here are 10 things you should know;
- It’s always hot and often humid – and usually around a constant 30c. There has been little rain so far this year and S’pore was heading for its driest February on record.
- There’s every type of food – everywhere. It’s simply impossible to go hungry – and very hard to diet here!
- Singapore = cranes! Their economy is recovering very fast indeed and 2010 growth predictions have just been revised to 4.5%-6.5%. Singapore weathered 2009 well, coming out of recession in November with just a 2% contraction. However, Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew warned Singaporeans recently that even more productivity and innovation would be needed if S’pore was to continue to grow and prosper – no pressure then!
- A few years ago the Government announced that the S’pore population was planned to grow from 4m to 6m. In June 2009 it stood at 5m – and this is causing grumbles with a public debate raging whilst I was there about too many foreign workers taking jobs and housing away from residents. Now where have we heard that before?
- Shopping, shopping, shopping is the national pastime and, some would say, obsession – more malls continue to be built. You can always browse a new shop whenever you visit!
- Opening hours are very long, often late into the evening – but it makes one wonder how, with quite so many shops, they actually all make a living?
- The new Resort World Sentosa (RWS) with Singapore’s first controversial casino complex has just opened – charging S$100 entry for any Singapore resident, supposedly as a deterrent – its foreigners’ money they want, not the residents!
- Singapore has a number of mega-churches. The largest two are led by Pastor Kong Hee, (City Harvest Church: 29,000 members) and Pastor Joseph Prince, (New Creation Church: 19,000 members). This year, Pastor Tan of the Lighthouse Independent Church was heavily censured by the Government for ‘incautious’ remarks about homosexuality. There is a very firm line taken here on racial and community harmony and no tolerance for anything that might threaten it.
- Most people believe that Asia will recover very quickly this year. The S’pore economy is powered by trade with China and Australia (one of very few countries not to have experienced recession). However, commentators warn that China has a couple of worrying ‘bubbles’ emerging; one of which is the huge growth of China’s currency reserves, a mind-boggling $2.4 trillion.
- Travelling from Europe, what strikes one so forcibly is the vibrant Asian ‘can do spirit’. For example, Asian airlines are just so much better when it comes to customer service. Why would anyone want to use a grumpy and expensive US or European carrier these days? With its young demographic, S’pore is full of pleasant, industrious and smiling people. With their strong work ethic they actually care about what you think about how they are carrying out their job for you! Try finding that in Britain.