Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

“I have lived in Singapore with my family for several years. I hope these notes, prepared from recent experience, will be interesting and informative for tourists visiting Singapore.

The long list of positives:

    The people of Singapore are clean, level-headed, honorable, and disciplined
    Drivers don’t honk their horns, there’s no swearing or arguing on the street, and people rarely raise their voices
    There’s no malice or envy. They see every problem as a task or a challenge, and they’re happy to take it on
    They take healthy living very seriously: nutritious, weekly massages, and meditation are all essential. In every department store, and virtually every hundred meters on the street you’ll find a massage parlor. Many places also offer the (now familiar) tank of dead-skin-eating fish for a foot cosmetic service.
    Public safety in Singapore is even better than in Switzerland. If children don’t want to go home on the school bus, they can simply walk. There is virtually no crime. Nobody smokes on the street. There are no drugs (drug dealing is punishable by death in Singapore)
    In the interests of keeping the streets clean, chewing gum is not sold in shops in Singapore, and foreigners are also not allowed to chew gum – though I’ve never heard of anyone being stopped for it
    Foreigners in Singapore stick together, and the locals are very respectful towards foreigners
    The most commonly spoken language in Singapore is Mandarin Chinese, and my daughters picked it up remarkably quickly. Now we live in the USA, but the girls still often speak Chinese to one another. It’s hard to keep it up at that age, but we’re trying. My daughter Lily often mixes up Chinese and English words – it’s very sweet
    Imagine – when it rained, people held their umbrellas over my head to keep me dry!
    Once, for instance, I went into a Starbucks and ordered a coffee, specifying that I didn’t want it too hot, because I had to drink it quickly. All the same, I was given a very hot cup of coffee. I had to rush somewhere with my daughters, but the barista knelt down in front of me to beg my forgiveness for not correctly fulfilling my order. The next time I went in I got a lukewarm coffee for free…
    In Singapore, punctuality is extremely important, especially for locals. Nobody is ever late. If you call a taxi, they’ll tell you that they’ll be there in 5-7 minutes or 7-9 minutes, and they stick to it
    The locals protect their skin from the sun. It shocks them when they see Europeans sunbathing. They use sun umbrellas to protect themselves when walking in the street. They use whitening soaps and creams and go in for all manner of skin whitening treatments. The whiter your skin, the higher your social status. Street workers are typically dark-skinned
    They don’t eat bread. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all hot meals, usually soups, rice with vegetables, fish, and meat. Instead of coffee, they generally drink chicken broth
    In Singapore, nobody expects a tip! They always give and take money with two hands, accompanied by a slight bow, as a sign of respect. If you don’t do likewise, it’s a sign that you are a tourist
    From the perspective of a foreigner in Singapore, it’s interesting that you can find hotels literally everywhere
    You can order food from home, it’s delivered for free, and you only pay at the end of the month! Everyone takes off their shoes at the entrance to apartments (and churches)
    There is a defibrillator on every floor of every department store
    Want to know what McDonald's is called in Singapore: Máidángláo

Now come to the things I can’t honestly say I’ll remember fondly:

    There’s no real creativity among the locals. The main goal is always to fulfill instructions and execute tasks, even at the expense of quality, or if it clearly isn’t going to work.
    Too many mosquitos.
    ‘Singlish’, the inane creole form of English used by many locals: ‘Can you?’ ‘Can-can’ etc. (awful)
    Squat toilets
    The relentless tropical heat and high humidity, meant we could never bear to be outdoors for long
    The smells
    There are no human rights. If you’re ‘somebody’ you can find a way to get anything done. If, however, you’re some poor laborer from the Philippines, your life means nothing in Singapore. They cram about 40 Filipino or Indian workers into the back of a small truck to take them to a building site. During their lunch breaks, they sleep and relax on the dirty ground
    Small children ride on the back of motorbikes with no helmets. On highways. Children as young as my daughter Lilly ride pillion, with no safety belt
    The taxi drivers aren’t familiar with large parts of the city. Most only know Chinese characters, so with google maps in Latin characters, we have no way of communicating the address. (Only Singapore citizens can be taxi drivers)
    Asians are, as a rule, quite unforgiving. Even of themselves. I heard of several instances where people committed some relatively minor infraction and could see no way of atoning except suicide
    They keep a ‘dossier’ on everyone. Even us. There are plainclothes policemen in the street, and among the taxi drivers, and CCTV cameras cover virtually every inch of the city
    The Pampers and Huggies diapers were of poor quality in Singapore, and not sufficiently absorbent. We used the Japanese brand MamyPoko instead. I only mention this because some of you might be traveling there with small children.”

(Judy, 2016)

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“It’s so annoying that everyone in Singapore ambles slowly down the street. The crowds are big everywhere, and they go so slowly that when you rush to get somewhere, you seem to inspire almost murderous rage in all the other pedestrians. Everywhere there are small altars to the gods, on which beautifully arranged flowers, fruit, and meat (!) quietly rots in the 40-degree heat. They stare – I'm blonde and blue-eyed, so several people stopped me on the street to take pictures. It’s actually a pretty nice thing, but after a while it gets annoying. A mix of cold and hot – Buses and taxis are air-conditioned to about 15 degrees. Outside its 90% humidity and 40-45 degrees, you get on the bus and you can see your breath mist.

I always had a thick cardigan and scarf with me. The bus and taxi windows were damp on the outside. There were times when I was sitting on the bus, it was cloudy outside and icy cold inside – it was like being in Frankfurt on a particularly uncomfortable November day. Then you get off and you’re struck by the tropical heat. Cockroaches - They scamper everywhere on their little legs in the evening, but also during the day when it rains and the canals fill up, they flood the street in swarms, climbing up the walls. Hideous things – huge, brown, hard, disgusting. I always had the feeling that they would start climbing across my bare, sandaled feet. Of course, they don’t climb about on people, but it became a compulsion, and I was always scanning the ground around my feet in terror.”

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“In the richest country in Southeast Asia, everyone’s well-brought-up and well-dressed, while gleaming skyscrapers and beautifully maintained colonial buildings line the wide, immaculate boulevards where even an Audi R8 never exceeds the speed limit. It doesn’t pay to break the rules, the penalties start at the Singaporean equivalent of about USD 220, which is what it will cost you if you’re caught eating or drinking on the subway. And it's hard to hide from the all-seeing security camera system. The city center consists of a shopping mall upon a shopping mall, bank headquarters upon bank headquarters. While new malls and entertainment venues are being created 24 hours a day on sites magically created through demolition. There’s no room left for green areas in the center, so people jog on the asphalt after work.

Prices are quite high compared to the countries in the area, but public transport and street food still cost half as much as back home and are much better. Besides Chinese delicacies and surprising architecture, the world’s best rainforest zoo was a highlight of Singapore for us. Clean, well-organized, with an endless selection of electronic items and an extremely low crime rate, Singapore certainly has some unique and appealing attributes, but we would ultimately be reluctant to live here because of the excessive predictability, sterility, and regulation.

 

Practicals

Transport

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Singapore - metro

Singapore - rickshaws (trishaws) in the Arab quarter

Food

“We spent the afternoon in the rooftop pool, and only went into the city after sundown. The nights are almost as warm as the days here, and Marina Bay Sands are a long way from the Chinese Quarter, which we’d already sought out.

Strolling amid the skyscrapers is no easy task, since in many places there is no sidewalk, and cars can come from any direction. At last we gave up the struggle, and headed instead to the party district on the banks of the Singapore River. Here there are a hundred or so restaurants, some of which specialize not so much in samples of their specialty food, but rather in sampling their pretty waitresses. But there’s an English pub, too, full of British bankers, many of whom stand outside the pub, beer in hand.

So far on our visit we hadn’t been too bothered by aggressive vendors, and there hadn’t been the usual press of people trying to sell us things we didn’t want. These restaurant touts, however, were something else entirely. I understand that there’s stiff competition in this district, but do they really think my appetite is going to suddenly appear when they thrust a menu into my face, and when I say no, immediately start offering me a 20% discount?
By that time, however, we’ve walked into the territory of the next bar, and the staff immediately set to work, hoping they’ll have more luck than the last place. What they don’t know is that I’m actually looking for a currency exchange office, as the Singaporean money in my pocket isn’t nearly enough for a dinner. We don’t find one, however, and I don’t dare let my credit card out of my grasp in a place like this. By this stage we’re exhausted, and our feet are sore. At last we give up, and shamefacedly go to a McDonalds, where at least we know what’s what.” (phica, 2019)

Public safety

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Singapore policewoman assist in bubble piping

Background

Singapore - national flag

Singapore - view

Destination in brief

Size: 721.5 km² (278.6 mi²)

Capital city: Singapore is both a country and its capital.

Population (in 2020): 5.8 million - 74% Chinese, 14% Malay, 9% Indian

Official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin (Chinese) and Tamil - Malay is a symbolic, historical national language, too

Religions: 33% Buddhist, 18% Christian, 14% Muslim, 10% Taoist, 6% Hindu

Form of government: parliamentary representative democratic republic

Singapore became an independent contry in 1965 (indirectly) after 144 years of British rule 

Currency: Singapore dollar (SGD)

Average net monthly salary (in 2020): 3400 USD

Most common surname: Tan





Nowadays

"The perception of the system is also changing in Singapore, as prosperity is becoming more and more natural for those who live here. Older people who went through the dramatic changes, and watched as skyscrapers mushroomed along once insignificant little streets, are more inclined to believe that the “good dictator” was ultimately right, and must be obeyed unconditionally.

Since then, however, there have been generations of adults born in Singapore for whom life has been, materially, a bed of (artificial) roses. For them, that’s no longer enough. I can’t claim to have very extensive experience, but as far as I’ve seen, this doesn’t necessarily mean political criticism, but criticism of the extremely strict family and social relations, which are based on unconditional obedience. But even that marks a change.

If I’m being honest, the hyper-big cities in Asia, Tokyo, and Hong Kong were much more interesting to me – that’s even true to an extent of Shanghai – than Singapore. Taipei and Bangkok, too. Still, Singapore, this world of disturbingly polished sterility, ought to be seen at least once. However, this almost computer-generated perfection, which is the most interesting thing about the place, is precisely the thing that quickly became so suffocating and frustrating that I felt I wanted to break out of here and touch, smell, bite something that is not so sterile and clean, but that simply lives.”

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"In terms of Singapore, we need to talk not only about smoothness and quality but also about bans. Of course, there are quite a few things that are part of everyday life elsewhere, or at least in the tolerable category, but that is banned here. For example, it is forbidden to chew gum (or more precisely, gum can only be bought in pharmacies, for therapeutic purposes), it is forbidden to cross the road except at designated pedestrian crossings, and it is forbidden to litter – violations of any of these prohibitions can result in a hefty fine. Drug trafficking is punishable by death, and homosexual sex by two years in prison.

In Singapore, the current system has essentially been brought about by a single family, the Li family. No wonder they are quite simply referred to by everyone in the country as “the family”. Singapore was formerly a British colony, and following independence, it joined the Malaysian Confederation. Very soon, however, disagreements came to the fore, a significant number of which were due to the fact that the majority of Malaysia's population is Muslim, with substantial Chinese, Indian, and other minorities, while 74% of Singapore's population is Chinese, while only 13% are Malay and 9% are Indian, so there were significant cultural differences and economic conflicts of interest between Malaysia and Singapore from the outset. Singapore became independent from Malaysia in 1965, and from the very beginning the Li family, or more precisely Li Kuang-jao, determined the direction to be followed by the island state. Leading positions have been in the hands of the Li family ever since.

So there is no democracy in Singapore. It is not the people but the elite family that determines what is free and what is not, what can be thought and what cannot. The most substantial criticism leveled against Singapore is that there is no press freedom in the country, with more critical portals simply being shut down. Moreover, there is no freedom of opinion: human rights activist Jolovan Wham, for example, has been prosecuted by the state because he wrote in a Facebook post that Malaysian judges hand down more independent judgments than their Singaporean counterparts in politically motivated court hearings. True, Wham's case is not boosted by the fact that he is assumed to be gay and used to organize small demonstrations. In Singapore, by the way, there are not many large-scale demonstrations, for two reasons. One I will give below, then discuss the other a little later.

Firstly, because the state clearly does not permit them, or more precisely, it sets very narrow limits on any kind of demonstration-type event. In the October 2019 issue of Geo magazine about Singapore, I read that a small green space has been designated in Singapore for those who “don’t like the system”. This place is Ho Lim Park, which was declared a “Speakers’ Corner” by the state in 2000. Those who want to raise their voices or simply hold a vigil for a fellow citizen convicted of drug trafficking who will soon be hanged can gather in this tiny green space. Up to a few hundred people usually gather on each occasion. Social affairs somehow don’t move the masses.

Tourist etiquette

"Every tourist in Singapore’s nightmare happened to me: it was so hot that I didn't even notice, but I was walking along the clean streets with a soda bottle in my hand. In less than five minutes I started to feel really weird: no, not because the passers-by were staring. But because I hadn’t seen a single person around me with a cup of coffee, chocolate, or a bottle of water in their hands. And then it dawned on me: gosh, this is forbidden here. I looked around quickly, didn’t see a police officer — they’ve obviously seen me since there’s a surveillance camera on every other corner — then shamefacedly hurried to a trash can to dispose of the evidence. Welcome to modern Singapore!

Attractions

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Singapore - Little India - Sri Veeramakaliamman temple

Art Science Museum

“The Art Science Museum simultaneously symbolizes all the contradictions of Singapore’s high-tech dictatorship: Opened in 2011, the lotus-shaping building is part of the large-scale Marina Bay Sands, home to artificial supertrees, a covered jungle, a huge mall, and a floating Louis Vuitton store, which shows what the future would be like if we were more environmentally conscious, richer and more aspirational, and opted for Gucci instead of democracy.

Like the entire neighborhood, the museum is awkwardly balanced between strictly 22-degree climate-controlled, ionized shopping mall and futuristic art, so it is still a kind of art.” (2019)

Arab Street

Singapore - Arab Street - j.e. photo

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