“Singapore is a very fine city,” my tour guide, Violet, said during my first visit to this island city-state. “Fine, because there is a fine for everything. There’s a fine for spitting, a fine for littering…”

Despite the strictness and its seemingly high-strung nature, Singapore is one of my favorite countries. I haven’t traveled much, but I’ve been in this country twice, the last time just half a year ago. There’s something about this country that I like and yet can’t explain. It’s warmer, for one. It’s very diverse. And for some reason, I feel comfortable there.

The Amazing Race heads here this Sunday, and I thought I’d make this week’s pit stop fiver a little more special. Sure, I still relied on the usual sources–that’d be Wikipedia and the forums–but I’m giving it a bit of a personal touch. I’ve got a couple of stories in here, along with a handful of photos I took, all to help you make sense of the race, and the place as well. Trust me, it’s good.

There are no lions in here. Singapore comes from the word “Singapura”, meaning “Lion City” in Malay, although experts believe no lions were ever spotted in the island. Studies say the create that Sang Nila Utama, the founder of ancient Singapore, is a Malayan tiger. As for the Merlion–an imaginary creature, half-lion and half-fish, which serves as the country’s mascot–it was a much later creation: it was unveiled in 1964 and is devised from the country’s past both as “Singapura” and “Temasek” (“sea town” in Javanese), another name given to the country when it was still a fishing village.

It really is multilingual. English is one of Singapore’s official languages, but don’t be surprised if you go there and see signs in four languages, like this:

“Danger: keep out” in English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. Spotted near a construction site along Orchard Road.

While English is prevalent thanks to the country’s past as a British colony, a significant part of the population speaks Mandarin Chinese (as almost 75% of Singaporeans are ethnic Chinese). Malay and Tamil are also spoken by several sectors; the three are also considered official languages. Also, Malay is the country’s national language–it’s used in their national anthem–even if 85% of Singaporeans don’t speak it.

You can chew gum, but you can’t buy it. “Chewing gum is not allowed in Singapore,” my parents told me. This was the very first thing I knew about the country, and obviously the first thing I thought was:  why? Turns out only the sale of chewing gum in the country isn’t allowed. So, I can fly there with a bag of gum on my luggage and it won’t get confiscated. The ban was enforced in 1992, but was lifted in 2004 to accommodate gum with medicinal properties. The ban was reinstated just early this year. Some say it’s to curb gum litter–thus, don’t expect gum under the benches there.

It’s a bit like being on top of the world. I’ve been to Singapore twice but I’ve never been to the Singapore Flyer. Dubbed as the tallest Ferris wheel in the world–it’s at 165 meters–it was opened in 2007 and boasts views of nearby islands in Indonesia in Malaysia in a clear day. If you’ve seen the previews, that’s where Dan and Jordan are seen crawling out of one of the carriages. They’re luckier: when I first went to the country the Flyer was closed after a breakdown. The second time, I couldn’t squeeze it into my schedule.

A personal story: ice cream sandwiches! Singapore is a really humid country–it’s pretty humid even in December, when the monsoon rains traditionally begin. Oddly, ice cream isn’t much of a biggie there (at least according to one Singaporean over at RFF). I do remember having one of their ice cream wafer sandwiches, though. There are stalls in the city center than serve these things: it only costs S$1 and comes in flavors such as taro, durian and sweet potato. Some even use actual (and colorful) bread!

That’s taro ice cream in between wafers. Spotted at the Iluma shopping center, in the Bugis district.

Reading through the forums, there’s some excitement among Singaporeans because this leg, they say, shows more of the country than when the first visited here in season 3–remember when teams had to run around the Fountain fo Wealth at Suntec City? For someone who loves this place, I can’t be more excited.

The header image was taken from the Esplanade Roof Terrace in November 2008. It’s the monsoon season, thus it’s a little dark.

Henrik Batallones

Staff Writer, BuddyTV