"Singapore a great place to call home" Singapore by Ekahau

Singapore Travel Guide: 11,464 reviews and 26,731 photos

I am a Native American living in Singapore

What seems like a long time ago, I visited Singapore for my interview. I remember thinking how exciting all this was, and my mind conjured up images of sparkling skyscrapers catching the equatorial sun, Chinese lanterns hanging in the streets, and junks lapping in the harbor. I imagined Singapore to be like Hong Kong, with its distinctive smells, immense crowds and tiny people, and I was almost completely wrong.
Singapore is neither the insane appeal of Hong Kong or, Bangkok: it’s well kind of a Western city in Asia or perhaps an Asian city in the West. I came to think of it sometime in my three years here as simple “Asia Light”.

So is Singapore a city with no soul, as its critics have been heard to say? That's not so easy to answer: arriving from a very boring Reading, Pennsylvania. The sprawling metropolis -- Singapore's soul reached out and mesmerized me, right from my arrival at Changi Airport. As the taxi sped through sparkling lights towards the skyline of glowing skyscrapers and huge neon signs, the taxi driver told me about his workaholic brother who didn't take a holiday for three years, took his accrued time off in one go, and after a week was back at the office, working during his holiday because he didn't have a life outside of the office. This was more than a little hard to imagine after the suburbs of North America. My life in Singapore was my work- work my life. It was lucky for me I had a trilling, satisfying and exciting job.

I travel a lot in the region of South, South East and East Asia. Ya all that geography does sound confusing why not just say Asia. Well after 6 weeks in India and 4 in Cambodia I was back in Singapore for a short stay before China. I had visions of what this short but sweet visit to Singapore might offer me: hot showers, a kitchen in which I could cook, supermarkets*, phones that didn't crackle and hiss, pizzas and burgers... my pupils were probably dilated with the opiate of Singapore.

Yes, Singapore has plenty of supermarkets whose aisles stretch so far that when you look down them, you can see the curvature of the earth. I feel no shame when I tell you I happily spent hours staring at things like loaves of bread, packaged meat, frozen peas and chips, milk cartons, apples and oranges.

The other side of the coin is this-- on returning from 8 weeks in the suburban cultural desert know better as America I could not wait to hit the streets of Asia. ... and one joyous night I was wondering the streets of little India, and I spotted one of my favorites in the hawker food stand Roti Paratee. I scooted up to the plastic table in my little plastic kids chair, cracked a can of sour-sop juice and sat down to the culinary equivalent of well nirvana. As I shoveled in the Roti the curry with fish head sauce dribbled down my bristly chin, I realized that I had unwittingly discovered where advertising agencies get all those winners who appear on TV commercials, sitting at the breakfast table and eating Kellogg’s' new Crispy Coco Frosty Bix, faces lighting up the instant the food hits the mouth, regardless of the fact that the brain can't have processed the taste sensation yet; the sort of people who glare wide-eyed into the lens and say things like: 'All this taste... and it's healthy too!!!!' All the agencies do is find people who have been stuck in a bloody boring American suburb for two months: my face as the curry slid down was a picture, and I could have sworn I kept making those little whooping noises, the ones you make when you finally get to have that pee that's been bursting your bladder for hours.

Singapore has a smell, too: it smells of perfume. If you're in one of the millions of immaculately-manicured parks dotted between the high-rises, the smell of flowers permeates the air; maybe the gardeners, of which there are many (all of Indian descent), spray the flowers with scent, but I'd never experienced a city's gardens in such an olfactory way before. And if you're walking down the street, well away from the parks, the smell is of Opium, Escape, Kouros, Obsession... it's like a nasal trip through the pages of Vogue. The result is a city that smells divine, and reeks of expense. Oh, the smell of the market on Arab Street the curries the spices divine. The best smell of all though and the one I will miss the most is the smell of the tropical earth after it has absorbed the first monsoon rain.

I always felt it was so thoughtful of all the Singaporeans to have leaned English for me. But the truth is English in Singapore is a monument to money and capitalism. Every sign and advert is in the language of business, English, and everyone speaks English too (or, at the very least, the local version of English, known as Singlish, in which 'check book' becomes 'che-boo', I live not at 333 Cairnhill Road but “twe twe twe ken-el od” 'last week' becomes 'las-wee' and so on). The money is printed in English. The street names are in English. The meetings held on the executive floors of the sparklingly phallic tower blocks are in English. There are half a million ex-pats like me living in Singapore - an astounding number when you consider the entire population of Singapore is a little over three million.

The high standard of Singaporean technology is also to blame for hiding the city's character behind closed doors. It's those closed doors that drive home the difference between the plastic world of Singapore's offices and the harsh reality of equatorial life: if you walk past an office block just as the next stock market guru is bursting through the automatic doors, the rush of chilled air that blasts out is intense. Air-conditioning is a way of life in Singapore (Singapore Senior Minister Lee descried the Air Conditioner as the most important invention in the 20th Century) - not a bad thing when the average temperature is 98 degrees f with 98 percent humidity - but being blasted by office blocks is a novel experience. You’ve got to be careful if it happens when there's a crowd about: I swear that if I'd bumped into someone as they strolled out of an office I'd have shattered them into lots of tiny pieces. It really is that cold.

And the crowds are guaranteed at lunchtime. Standing outside an office block at 12.30pm is fatal: millions of clean- suited and perfumed people suddenly appear, whisked by on a breath of frozen oxygen, all heading for the local food market, clogging up the pedestrian crossings and pavements in a crowd scene that makes the Boston Marathon look like a few old ladies out for an evening stroll. It only lasts for a couple of seconds, but it's more destructive than a plague of locusts.

Of course, if this were London or New York, the crowd would disperse into the jammed traffic, spreading out like ink in water. But Singapore is the law and order capital of the world, where jaywalking is just one of millions of offences that will get you a hefty fine; being arrested for jaywalking in the West is simply unlucky, but in Singapore there are even signs everywhere, warning you not to cross the road outside of the glare of the little green man. Other heinous crimes include importing chewing gum (which is illegal in Singapore, though individual possession isn't an offence), not flushing public toilets, smoking just about anywhere and criticizing the government. The result is a wonderfully clean, fresh and clinical city, populated by people who are well organized. You know that feeling in the pit of the stomach when you're at a wedding and the minister says '...speak now, or forever hold your peace', and you think 'I wonder what would happen if I stood up and said something...?' 'Wouldn't it be great if I stood up and told him exactly what we all think of him?': well, I kept getting the same feeling when walking round Singapore, except my thoughts were more along the lines of 'I wonder what would happen if I crossed the street right here?' or 'I wonder what they'd do if I didn't flush'. It quite unnerved me to be in a city where passing wind in a public place probably contravenes the Health Regulation Code of 1984, Appendix C Subsection III. Well I tried it many times and well nothing happened no one looked at me cross, no arrest, no fine.

Well after a few months I really wondered how this all works as I never see any police around. It suddenly dawned on me -- the people of Singapore are behaving this way because they really like it clean organized and proper. In fact it is a peaceful and relaxing place, though, its normal people and not a draconian government that seems to make the place work. Sure the Government desires to make sure everyone is safe and happy - by decree. What’s new?

But, is this place a Utopian paradise or an Orwellian nightmare? Heck if I know. There are true stories of the government that go beyond belief. The birth control programmed introduced in the early 1970s was so effective that it had to be reversed, and now there are tax incentives for the right kind of families to have three children, and adverts everywhere about how wonderful families are: it seems too many Singaporeans are too caught up in office life to appreciate that there's a world out there.

Then there was the government's statement that they are actively seeking more people from abroad to reside in Singapore, because the current younger generation is too damn lazy to push Singapore into the next century: they've grown up with everything, and have no reason to struggle like their parents and grandparents had to. The talented and driven members of the younger generation aren't that interested in staying in Singapore either, many of them want to live in other cultures just like I do so it is an understandable attitude, and they have the skills to bugger off, so Singapore needs to bring in foreigners to help it continue to be a success. And this true story has to be the best summary of Singapore's attitude towards life: when asked to comment on what he thought of the fact that some foreigners found Singapore dull, the Minister for Finance and Foreign Affairs, George Yeo, said: 'We have to pursue this subject of fun very seriously if we want to stay competitive in the 21st century'. Doh!

Still, I find this completely drugless Singapore to be an addictive drug. Cable television, a fridge, air conditioning, swimming pool, nearby shopping malls (millions of them), peaceful parks, no language barrier: and all in Asia it's easy to understand why it is so hard to break away in the end.

  • Intro Written Sep 8, 2002
  • Add to Trip Planner (?)
  • Report Abuse

Reviews (20)

Comments (41)

  • roamer61's Profile Photo
    Dec 5, 2007 at 1:58 PM

    Very nice page Paul. I'd like to go there and visit the Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari.

  • xuessium's Profile Photo
    Jan 25, 2007 at 5:46 AM

    Always refreshing to see perspective from a visitor, albeit a long staying one! Doesn't hurt at all with good concise tips too! Great stuff, Paul! Shiok man!

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Jan 24, 2007 at 5:55 PM

    Paul, I had a good chuckle over the insights in your opening page: then finished up saving most of your tips for a future visit. Great.

  • leonik's Profile Photo
    Sep 11, 2006 at 2:34 PM

    entertainingly hilarious (yet accurate!) perspective of singapore! =) greetings from hawaii!

  • cheekymarieh's Profile Photo
    Aug 20, 2006 at 2:07 PM

    Excellent advice on visiting Singapore. I'm llloking forward to visiting in March.

  • ladyleo0408's Profile Photo
    Aug 9, 2006 at 7:36 PM

    Hey Paul, I looove your Singapore page. It's quite refreshing to see the country through "ang moh" eyes...

  • faridah's Profile Photo
    Aug 7, 2006 at 5:07 PM

    Really really like your Singapore review. : )

  • imstress's Profile Photo
    Aug 4, 2006 at 2:16 AM

    Enjoyed your SG page :) care to join us for a VT Meet at Zam Zam on 31 Aug and we can have Murtabak with soursoup juice?

  • Applelyn's Profile Photo
    Jul 15, 2006 at 6:59 AM

    What a way to describe Singapore....lol!!!

  • arklandtravel's Profile Photo
    May 29, 2006 at 9:15 PM

    I really liked you're comments on Singapore,I guess we share the same observations.I will be there sometime June.Care to compare notes?

Ekahau Used To Live Here!

Ekahau

“""I have a hobby...I have the world's largest collection of sea shells. I keep it scattered on beaches all over"”

Online Now

Male

Top 1,000 Travel Writer
Member Rank:
0 0 2 6 3
Forum Rank:
0 2 1 3 6

Badges & Stats in Singapore

  • 20 Reviews
  • 54 Photos
  • 0 Forum posts
  • 4,188PageViews
  • 0 Cities

Have you been to Singapore?

  Share Your Travels  

Travel Interests

See All Travel Interests (4)