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Singapore

An article by Mark Moxon, travel writer All rights reserved.


Singapore Cricket Club is dwarfed by the city's towering skyscrapers

What seems like a long time ago, my sister visited Singapore. I remember thinking how brave 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 harbour. I imagined Singapore to be like Hong Kong, with its distinctive smells, immense crowds and tiny people, and I was almost completely wrong.

Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore

Exploring Singapore

Everywhere you look, Singapore is just so tall

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.

When it rains in tropical Singapore, it pours

Law and Order

The colourful Malabar Muslim Jama-Ath Mosque in Arab Street

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 criticising the government. The result is a wonderfully clean, fresh and clinical city, populated by people who are treated like children.

The Supreme Court is just one example of colonial architecture in Singapore

Love or Hate?

The really rather famous Raffles Hotel

But is this place a Utopian paradise or an Orwellian nightmare? Damned if I know, but I do know that in this modern-as-tomorrow city, not everything's as ultra-futuristic as it might first appear. For example, at the supermarket you still have to weigh your fruit and vegetables at a separate counter, as the checkouts don't have scales: I thought this had gone out with Fred Flintstone. And neither the supermarket nor the post office would accept credit cards, unlike almost everywhere else in the city that leapt on plastic like a hungry dog does a bone; I had to cash an extra travellers cheque to mail off my photographs.

The amazing roof of the Veerama Kali Amman Temple in Little India

Leong San See Temple in Little India


1 You'll often see the countries in this part of the world referred to as Asean, rather than Asian. ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, namely Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, so these are all Asean countries. Asian is too broad an area to be useful, so you'll often see this acronym used to refer to the Southeast Asian area.

2 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... and one joyous night I was shopping in the Cold Storage supermarket, and I spotted something on special offer: Heinz Baked Beans. That night, I made some toast, heated up the beans, cracked a can of Coke and sat down to the culinary equivalent of sex. As I shovelled the beans in and tomato sauce dribbled down my bristly chin, I realised that I had unwittingly discovered where advertising agencies get all those plonkers who appear on TV commercials, sitting at the breakfast table and eating Kellogg's new Krispy 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 bloody Indonesia for two months: my face as the beans 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 piss that's been bursting your bladder for hours.

3 It's the monsoon season now and the rains, which might only last for an hour or so each day, are spectacularly heavy, often accompanied by thunder and lightning. One memorable time I was returning from a sodden wander through Fort Canning park, only to discover that the drainage system simply couldn't cope with the sudden downpour, and muddy water was gushing right down the main street, desperately trying to find a river to flow into. It was quite a sight: the buildings are so modern they've got amazingly efficient water-shedding systems, channelling all the rain that lands on them into specially designed drains that take the water down to street level in super-quick time, making sure that not a drop ends up on a verandah or heaven forbid inside any of the condos. Unfortunately some of the condo designers forgot to connect the drains to anything downstairs, and in some areas the water simply pours out onto the pavement: in a storm, that's a hell of a lot of water crashing down onto the pedestrians, who are already pissed off enough by the buses and trucks splashing them from the other side. It's one of the few design faults I found in Singapore, but I doubt anyone else knows about it: they're all probably inside, sitting in moisture-free controlled environments, with virtual fires and computer screens showing sunny beaches. Bastards.

4 Even if the southern hemisphere has far more stars and is a much more impressive sight, there's nothing quite like seeing Orion rising in a cold, clear European night sky. In my very humble opinion, anyway...

5 Singapore is full of stressed executives. Rebecca, in her job for a huge multi-national accountancy firm, had just completed something like thirteen consecutive days at work, during which she'd had to have an operation to remove samples of her stomach lining to discover the cause of her latest acquisition, a stomach ulcer. Philip had just spent nine days in Bangkok and Beijing, staying up until the wee hours to prepare presentations and meetings. Rebecca had to take Friday off work, because she felt absolutely terrible; Philip slept until 3pm on Saturday. It made me appreciate travelling more than usual...

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