Written 6th Sept 2012
The title’s a little unfair, I suppose. You can have fun here, but it’s very controlled, rather commercialised and incredibly clean (see notes on Sentosa). Chewing gum is banned here apparently (UPDATE: The law on this and bungee jumping was relaxed by prime minister, Goh Chok Tong in 2004). Also, drug offences are punishable by death, but a nice, clean, controlled death, which is promptly and efficiently cleared up by a Singaporean automaton.
To me Singapore seems like a county/city/island state that is struggling to find any distinct personality. In fact, according to my Lonely Planet, the first prime minister after the British Empire days ended, Lee Kuan Yew, pushed through an ambitious industrialisation programme and strict regulation of social behaviour and identity, which is sadly apparent.
Their colonial remnants are still prominent in some areas, but contemporary architecture is unsympathetic to it, whereas Kuala Lumpur seems to incorporate it far more fluidly, whilst creating an atmosphere and character that doesn’t rely heavily on it’s period of British colonisation, unlike Singapore, who references (Sir Thomas Stamford) Raffles frequently.
It’s very ordered, which Claire likes and I hate. I am a rather ad hoc kind of person. Claire’s suitcase is compartmentalised. Her clothes for tomorrow piled neatly and everything else packed up. My ruck sack lies semi-packed with scrunched up t-shirts and bottles of Sangsom (Thai booze) wrapped in sundresses wedged inside and the remainder of my belonging unceremoniously plonked on top of it. I’ve lived in this fashion for as long as I can remember and those around me have given up trying to amend my habits.
To this ordered end Singapore has many, many instructions for you, should you not wish to think for yourself, and Singapore would prefer it if you didn’t. They have all manner of signage from the red stripe denoting no sitting on escalators, no durian fruit on the train, no drinks on the train, to the helpful instructions in the toilets, don’t stand on the bowl, aim properly, don’t flick water on the floor, and the stipulation over your mood as I saw one banner reading ‘half an hour stalking your ex boyfriend on Facebook, though it only takes half a second to smile’ followed by some tag line about making Singapore happier. I appreciate the sentiment, but not coming from the council/government. Further examples include a sign for university striking out doctor and lawyer (appalling professions) and highlighting engineering as if that should be your chosen profession and a label in front of some Dairy Milk in the Seven Eleven convenience store reading ‘must buy,’ which felt more like an instruction rather than an option.
I don’t hate this city, but it’s more expensive than it’s other SE Asian counterparts. Though the Merlion emblem and accompanying statues go some way to compensate for this, it’s comedy value does not justify the price tags on clothes, food, tours, etc. though public transport is cheap and reliable.
I’m struggling to identify it’s raison d’être. It doesn’t feel like a tourist mecca, nor a cultural hotspot. It’s perfunctory in providing facilities to do business and I know people who have worked here and earned good money, but I don’t think I’d do well here. I’m not a free-spirited hippy type, but I’d rather not be spoon-fed, my mother informs me I was toilet-trained from the age of two and if I’m not in the mood to throw a cheery expression to my fellow commuters, then I won’t, thank you very much. Can you imagine the London tube riders embracing that?
So, Singapore isn’t for me. Though it has no discerning, unspecified smell like Bangkok or KL, I’d take the assault on my nostrils for their personality given the choice.
One more thing, what is with Singapore commuters insisting on making a nasal hocking sound periodically? It’s disgusting. Get a damn tissue. How has Singapore not legislated against this?