0059 What makes Singapore so Special (Singapore 001—new)

Singapore Travel Blog

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Singapore Chinatown

Day 044: 16 hours, 25.4 kms

I wake up eager for what will probably be my last big adventure of this trip:  Discovering Singapore. 

Singapore of course won’t have that same raw, exotic feel as, say, Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.  It’s obsession with cleanliness a perfection, with its stiff anti-litter, anti-graffiti, anti-spitting and anti-jaywalking laws might make it a bit stifling… but it’ll be fun to see a bit of contrast to the grime and squalor I’ve seen in other parts of Southeast Asia. 

And even more so than Malaysia, Singapore is proof that it is possible to create an ambitious, industrialized, efficient, non-corrupt society right smack in the middle of the jungle… and I’m intrigued to find out how that actually works…

So I get on a bus straight from Johor Bahru to Singapore city… off to downtown again, over the bay to a massive immigration control building that processes thousand and thousands of Malays that commute to Singapore every day.

  The process all goes pretty smooth--  but I’m still worried that my bus might leave me, since it’s taking me a bit longer to get through immigration than the others…

And we are in.  Past gleaming skyscrapers and crisp lawns… Past double fenced compounds with signs that warn that guards will shoot anyone who tried to enter… Nope, they don’t screw around here in Singapore…

Contrary to the stereotypical image, most of Singapore is not all skyscrapers.   There’s a lot of forest and parks before we finally reach the big city.  And even Singapore City has a rather green, spacious feel to it with wide, flowery boulevards and splendid British Colonial mansions…

I reach a small bus station and head into town and immediately started to soak in the unique vibe of this city.

Stifling jungle heat and humidity… yet everybody is in classy business attire. Lush tropical greenery… and yet everything is spotless as if I were in Switzerland.  I see Singaporeans from India and China… and yet none of the urban malaise I saw in those countries.

And it dawns on me, as I wait for the torturously slow lights to turn green at the intersections, what the Singapore experiment was really all about.  It was about absorbing and bringing in the good qualities of cultures from around the world and blocking the bad qualities… mixing them all together, and creating a sort of utopia right here in the jungles of Southeast Asia. 

Honesty and efficiency from Europe… Industriousness and good business skills from China… Colorfulness and an exotic flair from India… Natural beauty from the land itself…  It’s truly an amazing thing that has been created here.

And all of a sudden, all of those bizarre laws start to make sense.  These laws are designed to block the less appealing traits of these cultures from being introduced into the mix.  Why have a law against spitting?  Well, I’ve been to India and China, where, well, spitting is a bit of a national pastime… and I guess the leaders of Singapore just didn’t want to see this habit be brought to their country, so they made up some rather severe laws to stop it. 

Not saying that Singapore is perfect--  but I will say that it’s an amazing and inspiring thing to see. 

I see a sign pointing to the YMCA--  which also serves as a hostel.  I know it’s going to be a lot more expensive than what I paid last night in Malaysia, but I figure that in order to really have the full Singapore experience, I need to stay at least one night here.

I quickly drop off my bags and head out again… past some sprawling parks and sports fields right in the middle of town… and then on down towards the beautiful canal that separates the high rise financial district from the rest of the city.  Some of the engravings along the canal show that this was actually a pretty squalid, miserable area back in Singapore’s early days…

I continue on through the high rise area… all the way down to the massive port, where working class folks sit an relatively cheap eateries for lunch.  I wonder if these folks feel they are enjoying a fair piece of Singapore’s prosperity…

Then, on back up towards Chinatown, where I take a break in a shady little plaza to play some music.

 

Singapore’s Chinatown is one of the liveliest, most crowded--  and certainly the cleanest I’ve ever seen… I find a nice little plaza for my first clip with some Chinese structures in the foreground, and skyscrapers in the background… Then I climb up to a park at the top of the hill to try to get a bit better view of the city…

I head on back to take another clip along the canal and then up another hill with a beautiful forested park and the remains of an old fort with plaques telling of the strategic importance of this city to the British Empire--  and the humiliating defeat they suffered when they surrendered to the Japanese in World War II--  considered the greatest defeat in the history of the British Empire…

Overall, I don’t sense any resentment in Singapore to its colonial past… It seems Singapore is eager to cling to all the good stuff it learned from its tutelage under the British.

  You might say Singapore is more “British” nowadays than Great Britain!   The traditional British values of cleanliness, order and efficiency are certainly much more visible here in Singapore than in the Motherland…

I continue on, past a grand old English Mansion with a couple of opera singers rehearsing inside…

Still much more to explore, I now head north to see what “Little India” has to offer.  After a bit of a hike I reach a banner that read “Happy Deepavali!” and purple streamers and banners decorating the whole boulevard.  Welcome to Little India, the most colourful neighbourhood of Singapore.  The whole area is churning with folks shopping in typical Indian markets and shops along the narrow back alleys.  There’s a festive atmosphere everywhere. 

OK, I do see a bit of litter here and there, and I do catch a couple of people spitting… and some of the homes down the narrow alleys border on shabbiness… but it’s certainly cleaner and more orderly than any place I visited in India.   It’s definitely still Singapore…

After soaking in the Deepavali vibe a bit, I head east, towards Arab town to discover yet another Singapore subculture.  There I find a splendid golden domed mosque with stall lined outside selling all sorts of Ramadan break-fast treats… Then on up pleasant Baghdad street with a distinctive Middle Eastern vibe and a lot of cool little eateries…

It’s been a long, full day… I head on back to the Y, drop off my guitar and finish off the day with a long, peaceful stroll down the mall-lined main commercial drag heading west… It’s been a fascinating discovery of Singapore… proof of what can be done if folks work together to create the best society they possibly can…


But quite frankly, I don’t know if I’d want to live in a place like this… It’s a little to perfect, too sterile for a guy like me.  After all, I do a bit of jaywalking, littering and spitting of my own--  so I don’t know that I’d really fit in in a place like this…

Next day I get up and catch my bus back to Malaysia.  It’s a bit funny… Suddenly Malaysia feels like a dirty, underdeveloped country after a day in Singapore… Just a few days ago Malaysia felt like a Modern Utopia when I crossed from Thailand… And Thailand felt like a Model Modern World when I crossed from Cambodia a few days before that… It’s interesting what perspective can do to you…

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Singapore Chinatown
Singapore Chinatown