A Singapore Fling

Singapore is one of those strange places that only exist in the movies. It’s a perfect city in the sense that the standard of living, public transport, public parks, safety record, policing, sightseeing, architecture, theme parks, multiculturalism and so on, it’s got it all in spades. If you are caught with drugs it’s the death penalty. In fact the entry Visa to Singapore states that on it too. There are no beggars looking for money, it’s just forbidden. You will see the occasional old person in the subway stations selling little packets of tissues. It’s the closest you will get to any form of begging. There is no rubbish left anywhere, the parks have running tracks, bicycle tracks, with markings on which side to walk on. Barbecue pits for anyone to use at any time (no drink allowed). High rise apartment blocks and buildings are everywhere with swimming pools galore. Universal Studios have set up a theme park on Sentosa Island, the zoo is open plan with a night safari train ride. People are super friendly. We were approached (not to be confused with asking for help) three times by locals asking if they could help us with directions. No scam intended, just a willingness to help. It’s like the perfect society with Muslim, Hindu, Christian and the rest living side by side with no ills. Chinatown, Little India, English widely spoken by pretty much everyone and glorious weather. The population is predominantly Chinese with Malaysian, Indian and European thrown into the mix. 5.5 million live here of which around 2 million are foreigners. Poverty is rare in Singapore. The government has no welfare system, stating that each generation must earn and save enough for its entire life cycle. One in six households are millionaires. We had seen the poorer of society selling tissues instead of begging but even these are means tested getting between SGD 400 and SGD 1000 per month, free medical care at government hospitals, money for children’s school fees, rental of studio apartments and training grants for courses. Singaporeans are proud of the city and rightly so. What makes it unique also is the fact that it is a city state. It’s quite small sitting at the end of the Malaysian peninsula. It’s super clean. Before we arrived, we had heard tales about the smell of bleach everywhere and chewing gum being illegal. True some of the public transport systems did actually smell like bleach but they were constantly being cleaned. I don’t know how much weight can be attributed to the legality of chewing gum but none of the shops sold it!?
This might sound a little odd but there was something slightly unsettling about this place. It’s almost too perfect. A few years ago we were in Berlin and as someone with a huge fascination with history (especially when I visit a place as I think it’s important to understand why people behave as they do when you are a guest in their country), I read a lot about Hitler’s Third Reich and the plans for the Germanic Empire. As bad as World War II was, the idea to build a perfect society with perfect housing, education, public transport etc looked impressive on paper. A Utopian society is all well and good and many Sci-Fi movies explore the topic. I am a Sci-Fi fanatic and love the concepts but there is always one flaw. The rich live the Utopian lives, they drive the fancy car, have the big house, the perfect beautiful children, the highly paid job and live amongst the clouds. The Third Reich destroyed Europe and will go down in history as an evil bunch of individuals who corrupted an entire country. In Sci-Fi movies, the hero is always on the outskirts, looking in and it always comes crashing down. Singapore reminded me of these things all the time. It’s a truly beautiful place, the people are lovely, the roads, buildings, restaurants, bars, walkways are all immaculate. Everyone seems to be living a high-end existence. It’s a Utopian city, if ever the world had one. Where’s the catch?
After travelling from Cambodia, we had left a little bit of our hearts there with the people. We arrived at Changi airport, jumped on a 36 bus (this does a loop into the city and is the best option other than a taxi to get around) and made our way to meet one of Denise’ oldest friends Helen, who has lived and worked in Singapore for the past number of years. There are hundreds of high rise apartment blocks and the view from inside Helens place was outstanding. Don’t confuse these with the run down shitty apartment stacks in some European countries. There is no graffiti, no junkies and no boarded up windows here. It’s pristine, safe and security guard protected at all times. We had a nice few days with her and she showed us a few cool places that we would never have taken in as just tourists. After our first day climatising to the different pace of the city after the laid back Otres Beach in Cambodia, we had a nice evening with a few drinks with our hostess. Next day Helen was heading to Australia for her own holiday and we headed off into the city to see a few of the sights. Singapore Zoo was great (I like zoos where the animals have loads of space) and the amazing Gardens of the Bay was like a scene straight out of Avatar. Our time here was brief but enjoyable. The Chinese New Year celebrations are gearing up so China Town is awash with colours and smells. If travelling here I recommend a few days is plenty, blitz the sights and enjoy it for what it is. Trust the people, they are really trying to help! And don’t worry about being scammed. This might be South East Asia but Singapore is it’s own little world. …And the catch is, it will cost a pretty penny. Some things like public transport, attraction entrance fees are not really much more than other countries. Food and drink (especially alcohol) will rip into the wallet. Some places quoted SGD 12 to 20 for a mid level glass of wine and beers aren’t too far behind. It depends on what kind of holiday/trip you want really. Hotels too are crazy prices so shop around. The prices reflect the wage that the inhabitants earn to be fair, but might not suit all who visit. We liked our stay here, once we settled, it was lovely to catch up with Helen and it was a change of pace from the rest of the trip, considering the standards of living etc, but we were happy to move on too. Back to the airport and onto Indonesia to visit Bali – Island of the Gods.

About Lee Kelly

Just a normal guy who loves to travel with my wife!
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