It's only been just over a year since I last went to Singapore, but so much has changed. The main drag, Orchard Road, was beyond recognition, with old buildings looking new and new buildings sprouting up everywhere else.
The overall effect was to make it feel a lot more congested walking along the street - although I wasn't sure whether it was because of the crowds or the towering buildings.
B: If they want to build, at least build something nicer to look at.
Me: There's no spot where you can stand far enough back to see the building anyway.
If you aren't aware already, it's hot and humid in Singapore. This was probably why everyone walked - as B observed for the first time as a Singaporean - so slowly.
As if the heat and humidity weren't oppressive enough, we also now had to worry about the crowds. Perhaps it was the festive season, but I had the distinct feeling that Singapore had undergone a population explosion of some sort.
Among friends, there was talk of the influx of foreign talent, most noticeably from mainland China, and some friction this has caused. I asked a Malay taxi driver how he felt about this. He was very understanding, saying that as they assimilate into our way of life, things will improve. I asked him about language problems, and he seemed to think that the foreigners were making an effort to speak English. So it wasn't as bad as people made it sound.
What I found annoying was the chattering: I couldn't figure out which was worse, the cacophony of human voices as you walked past Lucky Plaza, or the constant wail of sirens circling Soho.
Grumbling (a great Singaporean pastime) aside, we had the usual great food, familiar friends and even found some nice new places to hang out.
It was Chinese New Year season, so much of my time was spent visiting, with much of that time spent eating. There was less gambling this year, at least for me, mostly because people kept thinking I was a bad card or mahjong player and they either stood over me like a hawk watching and interfering, or advised me not to play altogether.
BJ took me to the Marina riverside where some annual festive celebration - and lots of milling among crowds - took place.
With the little time we had to ourselves, B and I decided to go to Sentosa for a bit of quiet. This was just wishful thinking, what with the new Integrated Resort (also known as the casino) having just opened and everyone descending on the island to take a look.
We decided to check out the nature trail and, to our surprise, we were virtually the only ones in it. In the cool of the forest shade we walked, enjoying the serenity that was so hard to come by.