I really wanted to like Singapore. Despite everyone telling me that it was a boring place, I kept my mind open. Surely, the squeaky clean city-state would prove to be a nice contrast from the other grungy Southeast Asian countries I had visited. I thought Singapore would be a nice vacation: a relaxing haven from the touts, honking motorbikes, and dirty streets. Unfortunately, I am not impressed with Singapore. Instead of singing its praises, I will be quoting from author William Gibson’s article Disneyland with the Death Penalty.
Gibson, well known for his speculative fiction novels, went to Singapore and then wrote the extremely controversial article for Wired magazine. It was so controversial, in fact, that the magazine was banned from the country for a while. In it, he says such things as:
“Singapore is a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation.”
I disembarked the airplane, and stepped into Singapore Changi, the most beautiful airport I have ever seen. It had lush carpeting and was really easy to navigate. After getting my passport stamped, I took a bus into the center of the city, in search of my guest house. I guess you could call me “excited.” Upon stepping out into the city’s streets, I received further proof of an insight I had long ago: Airports are not indicative of what a country will be like. Unlike the pretty airport I had just exited, Singapore was kind of ugly.
The country isn’t ugly in the way you’d expect. It is very organized, super clean, and sports citizens from many different cultures. No, the ugliness I’m talking about is its lack of soul. Singapore is so developed that it lacks charisma. The streets tend to all look the same, and the buildings reek of uniformity. The city is “kid-friendly” but in the safest, least personable way possible. Crime is virtually non-existent here, but it’s because of draconian laws. It is illegal to walk around your own house naked, because it’s considered a form of pornography. Importing drugs will result in the death penalty. It’s even forbidden to sell chewing gum, as there are concerns that gum leads to litter. Gibson’s allegation that Singapore is like a giant corporation, seems to be true. Everything here somehow seems skin-deep.
It seems that the general attitude here is one of hard work and consumerism. The country is less than 300 square miles in size, yet has one of the world’s highest GDPs. Basically; you work really hard, and then buy lots of stuff. Repeat. It feels like an Asian version of the “American Dream,” only more buttoned-down.
I’ll finish with the one positive thing William Gibson says about the country:
“The food in Singapore, particularly the endless variety of street snacks in the hawker centers, is something to write home about.”
Indeed, this is true. Food is the one thing I’ve been impressed with. It’s delicious and plentiful, and is actually quite affordable. Singapore gets a lot of grievance for being expensive (at least, compared to other Southeast Asian countries); however, a full meal can be had for $2-5. Being a very diverse country, the cuisine is multicultural. You can find delicious Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Indonesian dishes here (amongst many others).
Ok, so Singapore was not my cup of tea, but I’m not upset that I came here. Honestly, three days was the perfect amount of time for this city, and it has made me more excited for India. Rickshaws and grime, here I come! I've missed you.
I’d be interested to hear from those of you who have been to Singapore. I understand that plenty of people will disagree with me; I admit that first impressions are not always correct. Did you like the country, hate it, or fall somewhere in between?
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.