For our last day in Singapore, we took a closer look at a couple of the city’s most dumbfounding landmarks. One, weirdly, is a public park, the Gardens by the Bay, built in 2012 at a cost of more than a billion Singapore dollars, and now one of the city’s premier tourist draws. It’s free to enter much of it, but you have to pay to enter the two enormous “biodomes.” One of them, the Cloud Forest, was the most fantastic plant-exposition-space I’ve ever seen.
We got there early to beat the crowds and took the elevator up to the top of the 10-story-tall artificial mountain that’s at the dome’s heart. It’s been planted with many of the rare and beautiful plants that grow at high altitudes in the tropics. From the top, you stroll down walkways that simultaneously bring you close to the exquisite flora while taking in dizzying views of Singapore’s science-fictional skyline.
I was almost rubbing my eyes like a cartoon character at all the beauty — botanical, architectural, sculptural. After we staggered out, all but dazed by it, we moved on to visit the adjoining Flower Dome, which proved to be well done but paled in comparison to the wonders of the Cloud Forest and seemed much more mundane (probably because it showcases plants from the world’s drier Mediterranean regions — like our home.)
We ate lunch at a hawker center within the park then did a lightning tour of Marina Bay Sands, the eye-popping hotel and casino that adjoins the urban gardens. It’s very Vegas (perhaps in part because it’s owned by Nevada gaming magnate Sheldon Adelson).
But we weren’t sneering at it; that’s hard to do. In fact, after returning to our hotel to pack and eating our final dinner (in Chinatown), we returned to the enormous plaza between the Sands and the reservoir (aka Marina Bay). We’d heard that a free, superb sound and light show was presented nightly at 8. When we arrived shortly before then, hundreds of people had gathered in anticipation of it.
I wondered: what do you do to impress a 21st-century horde? I found out that what works pretty well is to puff a wall of fog at several spots along the waterfront, with the glittery Singaporean nightscape behind it. Then with rousing music surrounding the crowd, you project on that ephemeral misty “screen” primal images of human happiness: young lovers kissing, parents gazing rapturously at their babies, children romping in the surf, beaming elders. If incoherent, it also somehow felt magical.
On the roof, we sipped wine and gazed some more at the incomparable skyline, until a few minutes before 8:45, when we descended to take in the free spectacle staged nightly in the supertree plaza. Music began to pulse, and the trees sprang to lighted life — changing color and all but dancing to the sound track, which consisted exclusively of songs from late 20th-century American and British musicals: Chicago, Evita, Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, and more. This was both oddly beautiful and simply odd, and once again I felt ecstatic to be a part of the epic cultural mash-up.