I spent two days in Singapore for visa purposes this week. It was a hard come back to civilization. The noise, the trains, the people wearing shoes and office clothes and all, the frenzy of purchases, the prices, everything.
But also, I have discovered my first Asian city that is nothing like what I have seen in Asia so far. Before this trip my only experience of Singapore was their airport, which rates pretty high on my personal list of airports. But this time, two days in the city. So clean. So polished. Almost nothing going out of its way, nothing looking broken or dangerous, nothing where you think "but what the f**k is this organization?". No. Everything smooth, everything at its place, everything running like a Swiss clock. People crossing when the little man is green and waiting in line to get on the tube.
How is that possible? Because Singapore is the place where fun has a stroke as soon as it enters the country.
For starters, alcohol is overly expensive. Getting drunk with your friends will cost you an indecent amount of money. So I guess people just don't. Or maybe they do if they can afford it? Anyway, any public gathering of more than two people is illegal after 10pm. So well, if you were going to go out and get drunk, you can only take one friend anyway.
Sex toys and magazines with naked ladies are classified as "obscene" and punishable by jail and/or fine.
I am not even going to go on the drugs topic, which can lead to you to jail, caning and death, one of the hardest set of laws in the world on the subject.
OK, so no booze unless you're filthy rich, no drugs, no kinky sex.
Then plenty of other stuff are punishable, I discovered. Like not flushing the public toilet (this is not a joke), spitting in public (OK that one is sort of nice given the percentage of Chinese around here), being naked if people can see you (including in your own house apparently, if you don't shut the blinds properly), having firecrackers, smoking in a non-smoking area (which is pretty much anywhere), etc. There are signs everywhere warning you about the fine you could get if you get out of the right way. Like eating or drinking on the tube, 500 bucks. Yeah, 500.
Sounds like a fun country, uh?
I am not quite sure what else they do apart from shopping. This is the biggest concentration of shopping malls I have EVER seen in my life, designed so that you can spend the day there, food courts, toilets, entertainment, everything. Other than this, I didn't see the sun for 48 hours, covered in smog and clouds. But there are also some good sides to this place. To start with, the food. When living in somewhere a bit remote when food variations are down to rice or noodles, getting there and find indian, chinese, european, lebanese food and much more was amazing. Also, the melting pot of people here is nice to see, all skin tone variations from pale to really dark with every shade in between. Going into Little India for a walk was like traveling a little bit. In a way, it reminded me of London. People are short in average, which is always nice for me so I don't feel left out.
Other things: not been bitten by a mosquito once. They must have been eradicated. AC everywhere litterally dehydrated me and my skin. Everything is expensive. But then a fair share of the population is rich (who would be all these bloody malls for otherwise??). Not that I have studied their income stats, I checked what I know about, the cars on the street (I guess you dont erase 10 years in the automotive industry in a blink). All pretty recent. A lot of Japanese ones, mainly not small. Massive numbers of German ones and not the small models either, like series 6 and class E and above. And a very fair number of Porsche and Maserati, no less.
Day 1: I am overwhelmed with everything. I get in at 10am but cannot check in until 3, so i try to get stuff done from my shopping list. There are malls every 10 meters, anywhere that is not the street is freezing cold thanks to blasting AC and I spend the whole day with jumper and scarf on. Noise, traffic, people not smiling and all staring at their phone on the tube, I am not liking it a bit. No pretty sights either so far. Only consolation: the food. Awesome curry in Little India, cakes, nice coffee. Within a couple of hours, I wanna go home to Lembongan. Instead, I go to a room which makes me feel like a rat in a cage. Single bed, just room to open the door, but of course I went " cheap", still about 50$ a night...
Day 2: decided not to let the city win, I wanna go explore and see what I can find to reconcile me with Singapore. So I do what I like doing in cities I don't know, which is jump on a bus and get off when I feel like it. In the morning, I see water and I jump off the bus, I've been away from the sea for two days. Water doesn't smell like the ocean though, it smells of car pollution and it's grey. Without knowing, I end up in the financial district for breakfast. Sitting next to me, a couple of pretty boys in suit and shirt are discussing "climbing the company's ladder". I was having those sorts of conversation a couple of years ago. It seems like a couple of decades ago.
Walking around I end up in Chinatown, which looks just like every other Chinatown in big cities: food stalls, cheap plastic stuff to buy and chinese signs everywhere. Then I try to find the harbour front by following the signs...and it is just a little pathway in between the water and another huge mall. I walk my way back slowly for the next two hours. I walk past a couple of parks but that's about it for the nice views. And more malls.
Overall, you would have guessed by now, I didn't like Singapore very much. Even though maybe being in Indonesia for 6 months before this trip and mainly in remote areas didn't help. I found no charm to it. All big cities are noisy and busy, but they have their own soul: the energy and the skyline of NYC, the charms and architecture of Paris, the mess and smiles of Bangkok, the ancient/modern mix of Tokyo...Singapore in two days just seemed boring and grey, really.
I am of course willing to reconsider, since I have to go back in September. Any addresses, suggestions and all are welcome!
And to conclude this lovely trip, the plane back was delayed, I missed the last boat home and I am stuck in Bali for an extra night, booooh!