Singapore, Singapore

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Where I stayed
Fernloft City, Chinatown

Flag of Singapore  ,
Sunday, March 1, 2009

"I love my country. My country is beautiful. I love my country very much" - Justin Wong, 8 Years Old, Red Swastika Primary School, Singapore.

Singapore: Slick, modern, eclectic, excessively clean, excessively strict. In one corner you find yourself in the midst of Chinese night markets and food hawkers plying their immensely varied goods in the street. Around the next is the spectacular architectural grandeur of the colonial and esplanade areas. A little further and you'll find the bright cloth stalls and pungeant salt-fish aromas of Little India. Just make sure you wait for the little green man. They are always watching.

It's certainly a beautiful country, I'll give them that. Singapore's streets are lined with palms and other tropical-variety flora, providing the perfect foil to the extraordinarily good architecture. Dan points out that while the trees are very pretty, many of them are imported, but... that's sort of the point of Singapore: imported people, imported trees, imported cultures all woven together, under the ever-watchful eye of its (very, very hands-on) government to create a new, unique city-state of a country. And besides, the landscape architects are clearly very talented.

As you land in Singapore you are hit in the face with the fragrant scent of tropical air. It smells just like Roundhay park tropical gardens (I don't know why I was surprised by this fact, which I obviously should have anticipated). Enrich the experience further, if you like, by taking a cigarette break in the designated outdoor CACTUS GARDEN in the airport. Impressive stuff for a country that discourages (by which I mean fines for) public smoking.

Singapore is a slightly surreal place. A short while after we left, and Austrian guy told me that Singapore was based on England, and has been since a governer's visit to Cambridge. They've certainly surpassed us, if that's what they've been trying to do. As we first walked through the city-state's streets, after a ride on the uber-efficient MRT, Singapore felt oddly familiar and yet somehow something was missing. Then it hit us. This is an immensely beautiful city in a European stylee, but...where was all the litter? And, for a Friday night in the second most densely-populated country in the world...where were all the people?

We grabbed a bit of vegetarian food from a vegetarian (yessss) restaurant in Chinatown, went into a weird hawker centre that resembled a run-down shopping arcade, bought a pricey beer  and crashed, vowing to find out where everyone was hiding the following day. The food was amazing, by the way. Mine was a huge lump of tofu that tasted of orange and basil. It was a promising sign of some excellent gastro-tourism to come.

The Esplanade area of Singapore has some incredible architecture to show off. It's all terribly modern-looking, with its porcupine-shaped theatres, gigantic big-wheel viewer (the London Eye, made slightly bigger and called the Singapore Flyer) and Singapore's symbol, the mer-lion, spitting a fountain into the river. There are plenty of signs of colonial times, with bronze statues of Scottish merchants and the like dotted around the general area. Strange to think that a lot of our stops present quite a bit of our own history as well, back when the British used to claim other people's land.

In Singapore, you cannot chew gum (it's illegal), they kill people for drugs and you get fined on the spot for jay-walking. You HAVE to wait for the green man at all times, at all costs (the usual price being a lot of time and patience. It's HOT here). All of this led to a pre-conceived notion that there must be something sinister about the government. If you've played Mirror's Edge, it's pretty obvious after a while here why the lead character of this game based in a dystopian, over-clean Hell is Asian. We've walked into the game. But, it's not Hell. Question the methods, but all of the country's rules (certainly the ones visible to us) seem to be designed with the comfort, health and safety of its people in mind. Children are brought up to uphold steadfast moral values (we know this because the schools advertise this basis in their teaching) and there is etiquette advice everywhere in the street in the form of 'courtesy is...' posters. There's a government ministry for everything from development to manpower. Although, we did spot the development building, and surely a country so small does not need a development team THAT big. Maybe something is afoot, after all....

We did the touristy bit and checked out the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel. It is genuinely the best bar I've ever been in. There are huge bowls of monkey nuts everywhere, with the decorative floors covered in shells. This active encouragement to litter only adds to the sense of opulence as you quaff back a Singapore Sling in its luxuriant surroundings, being fanned by the ceiling fans which are in the shape of hand-held fans. Nice touch. We were glad of those free nuts before long, as the bill revealed that our two lowly drinks amounted to S $54. We're not eating tonight, love. Bloody delicious though. Highly recommended experience.

Aside from that, Little India's a little bit grotty, Sentosa Island is very pleasant but so phoney a resort it could be the Truman show, Chinatown is an excellent little area, bustling with night markets and food stalls (that's where everyone was, by the way) and eating hawker-style is the world's greatest way to eat. Fact. But, the thing about Singapore... it's a little bit too close to home. I didn't fly this far, across all of Europe, India, Afghanistan and the Himalayas for such a European place. Great country to settle in to the continent, but I hoped for a more dramatic change, for something to feel a little more climatic than this... Dan says he feels more like a tourist than a traveller. I sort of see his point. Still - Singapore. Highly recommended destination if you find yourself in this part of the world. And a sudden tropical thunderstorm after a sticky, sweaty day is something everyone should get to experience.

Disclaimer: we in no way believe that there is anything sinister afoot in Singapore.
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