Thursday, January 19, 2012

Singapore is the greatest city I'm supposed to hate

Singapore! What comes to mind? Perhaps a few executed drug dealers? Fines for chewing gum? Canings?

Let me tell you a few more grisly facts about Singapore. Their drug policies are notoriously harsh, including mandatory execution for dealers from any country, sure. Other drug laws include imprisonment for possession, which is nothing new in "War on Drugs" USA, except that "possession" includes in your body. Singaporean citizens can be imprisoned for taking drugs in another country and then coming back to Singapore. (foreigners with drugs in their system just get sent back.)

What else? Well, 2-year mandatory military service, fine. Some "undesirable" activities, ranging from graffiti to skateboarding, are not prohibited, but they're only allowed in one tiny part of the country. (There's a graffiti park.) Another such "undesirable" activity? Public protest. A few people tried to organize "Occupy Singapore" via the internet; they were all arrested the night before the event.

It's illegal to sell chewing gum, yes. Fines for eating or drinking on the subway are $500. The P.A.P. wins all the elections. (This year, an opposition party got an unprecedented 5 seats in the 86-seat parliament.) Oh, and gay sex is illegal.

But for all this utter nonsense which ranges from kinda goofy to downright draconian, there's another side: it really works. It's cleaner than Seattle, bigger than Berlin, safe as Tokyo, and rich as Croesus. Maybe I'm only seeing one side of things after Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Phnom Penh, but I found it really pleasant. You can walk anywhere anytime, the metro is extensive and costs a dollar, and everything is delicious all the time. But more on the food later.

It helps that I had friends. I met Ambreen via Jay, and the three of us hung out in exceedingly posh malls and played Scrabble; I met Carrie via Brian, and she showed me around the best seafood and cocktail bar ("Bar Stories"); and I met up with Yu Hsien from Scotch'n'Soda, and we rode bikes and roamed Chinatown at Chinese New Year time. Wonderful to meet/reconnect with all of them, and one couldn't ask for more thoughtful, expert, and generous hosts. I didn't see a ton of the sights in Singapore, spending instead most of my time with these lovely folks, and I'd have it no other way.

The sights I did see, though, included the most famous ethnic neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street), as well as the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel. Why is there a boat on that hotel? It's fine, don't worry about it.

I got to swim on the roof. I know people. (Particularly, Jay. Thanks, Jay!) This kind of made my month. I don't like flashy things, except when they're as awesome as the pool on top of the Marina Bay Sands.

So thanks, Singapore, for a great long weekend. Politics aside, I really enjoyed exploring a modern metropolis. I haven't done that for a while. No hawkers or tuk-tuks, no piles of trash, no dusty roads, no shady areas. In their place: cool districts to hang out at night, very specialized foods, a clean metro, and walkable neighborhoods.

I kinda can't take the heat, though.

Note: I've got a lot more pictures of Singapore; you can get them from the "photos" link above. I'm in Australia now, and the only way we can find to get connected while paying less than $6/half hour is sitting in on a McDonalds's crummy wifi. Weird when the bottleneck to blogging is inserting photos (that are already in picasa) into a post.

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