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Published: August 11th 2010
Singapore is nuts. Astonishment washed over me as soon as I stepped off the plane. The airport is HUGE, modern and clean. The subway connects the airport to the rest of the city which makes it crazy easy to get into town.
The city itself is pretty impressive. It began as a port city where Chinese, Malay, and Indian traders met and swapped good. It went into a period of decline until the British arrived and claimed the territory over the Dutch. It is now a world class city who has made it riches as a port (the Straits of Malaca are one of the busiest in the world) and through financial services (like Luxembourg or Switzerland).
As far as cities go, its pretty sweet. Insane architecture is on every corner. Almost every building is a work of art. The city layout and plan works extremely well. Roads are wide and tolls are paid for cars to enter the city so traffic isn't bad. Sidewalks are massive. Public transportation is impeccable; the subway criss-crosses the whole city and buses cover the rest. Malls and food courts are everywhere you look. There are 2 whole malls next to each other that sell only electronics, consumer and industrial, from cameras to capacitors. The city is clean, not really cleaner than San Francisco or any other major city, but im pretty sure they deport or imprison all the destitute so the urine content of the sidewalks is way down. Compared to other cities in Asia, it is virtually sterile. It also feels safe, any time of night and at every part of the city that I went to (so does Cuba apparently).
It is also cosmopolitan. English is the primary language (british colony), but the other languages include Malay (similar enough to Indonesia,, the other neighbor), Hindi, and Mandarin. All signs are written in 2-4 languages. There is a huge number of expats living here too so its hard to tell the tourists from the locals(almost).
As with everything, there are downsides to this sparkling city. Shit is expensive! Although the US dollar gets you 1.35 Singapore dollars everything is pretty steep. Food is the exception and you can eat for US$2-5 per meal. We skipped out on one bar because it had a $25 cover only to stumble upon another that was $45! The next bar we went to was billed as a 'fools paradise, a hangout for artist types'. Over half of their drinks were over $60. pass.
Although Singapore is a parliamentary democracy, it is essentially autocratic with a fetish for social engineering. Closed circuit cameras ring the city. Drastic fines for minor crimes($500 for chewing gum or eating on the subway or skateboarding), caning for more serious offenses, and the death penalty for just about everything else. Pornography is illegal and they can search your computer at the airport ($1000 fine, $10000 for piracy) but prostitution is legal and taxed. Gambling is legal at the major casino but Singapore citizens have to pay $100 to get in (to keep the poor from gambling addiction i'd imagine). The city used to be a huge collection of slums but the government can seize property any time it likes so now it is a shiny collection of skyscrapers built by migrant labor for slaves wages (even today). When they decided to clean the river they simply evicted all the people who had lived on its banks for generations. It is a financial success story run by autocratic businessmen who run the city like a business. It works out great for some. Everyone else gets deported.
I stayed with a friend, Tiff (UCSD), so that saved me a bundle. Shes in the process of getting her MBA in this giant financial center so she was working 7 days a week while I was there but we still got to hang out somehow. Singapore National Day was on Monday (so I couldn't get the 60 day visa I needed for Indo) but the event was kinda nuts. Its mostly held in a stadium where they raffle tickets to be bought. There is also parade around some parts of town with a full show of military strength. Im pretty sure the US sells them weapons (we are on better terms with them than China) and they may or may not be in possession of 1 Nuke of American manufacture. Kinda creepy watching a 2 mile long procession of tanks, rockets, artillery, AA guns, and all supporting vehicles snaking through a major city during peace time.
I went to the Night Safari at the zoo where nocturnal animals are opened to the public each night and the Asian Civilizations Museum. The Botanical Gardens were sweet and free. Otherwise I killed lots of time on public transportation and in the malls, just watching people rush around.
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