(Editor's Note: In case you have forgotten, Columnist Tom McLaughlin and his daughter traveled extensively throughout the Far East over the summer. He continues his travelogue critiques.)
The place is like walking into a hospital. It is soooooooo clean. There is a hefty fine for depositing a piece of paper or cigarette remains. One cannot buy chewing gum. Drug runners receive the mandatory death sentence.
This is also the place where that American teenager received four strokes of the rotan (cane) for defacing several cars along Orchard Road. They are proud to have stood up to American protests on that one.
It is also so orderly. People walk hurriedly but orderly through new sparkling clean underground trains. Traffic moves easily even through rush hour. Trees line the streets and birds dare not poop anywhere. The place seems populated by robots. When something is supposed to close by 10 P.M., by God it is. Not a minute later.
As one might expect, it is also sooooo boring. There are shopping malls galore but they get old quickly. Jurong Bird Park, the Zoo and other nature attractions can be taken on in a day. The city is a center of entrepot, so one can watch the ships load, unload and re-sort containers for a journey elsewhere.
How boring is it? During two week school breaks which occur about four times a year, most of the population seems to empty out of the city, fanning worldwide. Hotels in Malaysia and Southeast Asia increase their rates during "Singapore School Holidays," much to my consternation. Even on weekends, the population evacuates north to Kuala Lumpur just to escape the tediousness of life in 'Pore.
And it is expensive being the business hub. Hotel biggies can run in the upper 200's. Small family run, but clean and comfortable cost around $100 and more. People are even staying in regulated brothels to avoid the high costs. Conferences, business meetings and international events are hosted here and take most of the hotel rooms. My daughter and I had two hamburgers and two Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel and the bill was over $100.
The saving grace of the place is the food. One does not eat in a restaurant or hotel eatery but moves to the stalls for lunch or dinner. These are areas that are lined with small individual kiosks each serving their own specialty.
One may peddle a specific chicken dish, another a vegetable, while another a pork or fish delicacy. In Chinatown, over 100 line a street with flavors of satay, curry and just about anything else Oriental, and few Occidental dishes co-mingling in the air.
One orders something from one vendor, something form another a drink from a third and pay each one as it comes. You eat at communal tables, most times enjoying the company of another tourist or local. And everything is clean as germs dare not live in this city-state.
Singapore is a dictatorship, regardless how the government tries to spin it. They bulldozed all of the old and built an entire new country after independence in 1965.
Huge complexes, what we would call "the projects," rise everywhere but they have a different concept. Each family owns the unit they occupy and they had better keep it up or out they go.
Yes, they have to pay something but ownership is guaranteed and hence, pride and cleanliness is achieved. This idea was stolen by Margaret Thatcher and implemented in Britain to great success.
The newspapers are censored; Time and The Far Eastern Economic Review are sometimes sued and banned. You can't buy a Playboy, but brothels are tolerated. Go figure on that one. They are building a large casino using "if we don't have one here they will cross the causeway to Malaysia to gamble." Sound familiar?
Don't make it a point to visit here unless you are changing planes and have an over night layover; but make sure someone else pays the hotel bill. The old Singapore is gone; but, in my mind, its still there along with the memories of my youth.