Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Sunday, Mar 23, 2008



Where eagles dare


Watching Singapore go about its daily life from the heady heights 
of the Flyer is an uplifting experience.

A panoramic vista

It is 10.20 a.m. and I’m staring at the Merlion. The creature is
 framed by fat droplets of rain that is furrowing its way down
 both sides of the spouting statue. I stare harder… is that a faint
 mist, wreathed like a wispy crown on its head? I have to admit,
 it makes for an unusual picture.

I’m on the Singapore Flyer, inside one of the sleek, teal
blue-with-steel-trim glass capsules (there are 28 of them,
each able to hold 28 people), along with a family of four, the
 kids zooming around the capsule in great excitement, a
young couple, and a group of radio journalists; altogether
 a motley crew. It’s raining outside but it’s definitely not
raining on our party…this lot is checking the 360-degree
 Singaporean vistas by rain quite happily.

Bird’s eye view
10.30 a.m., and the sea is one huge ripple of grey, shot with
silver where pellets of rain hit the surface. I can spot vessels,
big and small, but all through a thin fog, straight out of a pirate
 movie. And then, the rain suddenly stops and I glimpse a red
 ferry packed with people, cheerfully chugging its way just below
 me. I fancy that I can hear its motor, all the way up here, if I
 listen hard enough. The young couple and I do the space dance
… manoeuvring for space for the perfect shot, that is! I ask and
 they answer: yes, they wanted to be among the first to ride the
 Flyer and no, they aren’t too sure if they are having the time of
 their lives. Just across from us, a trio of Aussie men overhears
 and grins. “Should-a brought some wine and had a party,”
says one of them, gesturing to the silk-draped table in one corner
of the capsule. I blink, think about reminding them that it’s just
gone ten in the morning, then refrain.10.50 am, and the golf
 green is drying, a carpet of brilliant colour with golf carts 
already tootling about on the narrow paths. I can see 
someone’s swanky white yacht not too far out at sea. 
The two little girls who make up the infant population of
 the capsule are busy posing for their indulgent father, and
 I get into conversation with their mother, also named Sheila.

“We’ve been on the smaller wheel in KL,” says Sheila. “This one is
much better, the capsules are so compact, the views are great.
 We can grab a bite after the ride, the girls can make their own
teddy bears at the Build-A-Bear workshop, it will be a good day
 out.” I reflect that the ticket queue had been almost entirely
composed of young families, when I’d walked in; indeed, after
 the novelty wears out for the tourists, not that that is going to
 happen all too soon, it may well be the kids who are going to
 keep the Flyer rolling. In the interim, though, several themed
 events, cocktail and champagne packages, class gatherings,
 corporate events, wedding parties, are all on offer.

                              PIC: YAJ MALIK

Typical high-sell
The build-up to the Singapore Flyer (“new tourism icon”, it was 
dubbed) was typical of new attractions in this tourist-driven 
city-State; there were discounts offered, contests galore 
where you could win tickets to go aboard the wheel. On the
 anvil are a Greek theatre, an Asian rainforest, a waterfront 
dining promenade. And a whole host of shops. Of course.

Rumours are that China is building a bigger wheel but that does
 not seem to worry David Beevers, Managing Director of the
Singapore Flyer, one bit. “It’s not the Flyer in isolation,”
he explains. “We have a lot of things to offer the visitor,
a total entertainment experience. It’s going to work out well.”

10.55 a.m., and the golden domes of the Sultan Mosque shine
 in the light of an emerging sun. The skyscrapers of Shenton
Way, the Business District, look freshly washed. There is a
wide swathe of road being cut just below me, along the
waterfront; it’s for the F1 track, I realise. The radio journalists
 corner me: Am I having a good time? It’s a 30-minute ride
and not one of us sit down on the benches in the capsule.
We are too busy moving from glass pane to glass pane,
staring like committed rubber-neckers, taking a hundred
 photographs and yes, exchanging complicit smiles with others.

The Flyer sits on Marina Bay, cost US$ 170 million, and opened
 formally on March 1. At 165 metres (42 storeys), it is the world’s
 tallest observation wheel, affording views of the sea, sundry
islands of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia on a clear day,
 skyscrapers and golf greens, the whole Marina Bay area.

                                     PIC: YAJ MALIK

Good citizens
So, it’s spring and all is well with Singapore. The tai-tais are still
 tucking into foie gras at haute eateries. The venerable Minister-Mentor
 Lee is talking sanguinely about bar top dancing. Everybody and their
cousin are still trawling the malls with diligence, integrity and
 dedication. Life as we know it is doing its usual thing in this
 small island.

Ah, but the Singapore Flyer is quite the newest thing in town.
 There it sits, its outline lit up in electric blue, sometimes pink,
 virtually defying you to not go aboard. Come September, it
 will be another story, with the F1 cars hitting town. As of now,
 though, all eyes are on this huge observation wheel that turns
 slowly, inexorably.

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