Singapore: The Changi Delusion

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but Singapore was so jampacked by endless activities that I barely had a single moment to rest/write. I attempted a couple of times but failed on every occasion. I’m actually in Delhi now, and have been for a few days (in fact I’m actually leaving Delhi on a bus to Jaipur as I write this), so I’ll try to write retrospectively about my time in Singapore; five days of non-stop fun.

First things first; I love Singapore. When the time comes that I have to hang up my travelling boots and return to England, I’ll be compiling a list of all the places I’ve visited ranking from best to worst – a list which Singapore will sit very near the top of. If you’ve never been to Singapore, you must go. And that’s not a general ‘Oh you must go because it’s nice’, it’s a ‘you must go because there’s nowhere else like it on Earth’. Singapore has all the charm, weather, food and culture of Southeast Asia, but also has one big weapon in its arsenal that separates it from all the countries surrounding it – it’s filthy rich. Singapore can afford to flaunt its amazing cuisine and rainforest-like landscapes while also having universal access to clean drinking water, an excellent subway system and absolutely pristine streets.

In fact, that’s one thing that really sticks out in a slightly odd way – everyone knows about Singapore’s OCD approach to cleanliness, but it’s not until you’re there that you realise just how insane it is. It’s kind of unsettling walking around an entire city without seeing a SINGLE piece of rubbish, or a blocked drain, or an overflowing bin, or even a piece of dirt. Singapore’s government obviously goes out of the way to not only lumber its city with incredibly strictly-enforced anti-littering laws, but to power-wash every square inch of pavement, wall and road to oblivion. Everything is so shiny and neat. I know it makes it sounds kind of inauthentic and fake, but it’s really rather thrilling to be somewhere so tidy. It even makes Western Europe seem shabby. And I know the city’s level of cleanliness is brought on by a kind of bizarre draconian way of deterring offenders, but in all honesty I don’t care.

Singapore is a libertarian’s worst nightmare. There are jail sentences, fines and other punishments for just about everything within its tiny borders. Spitting on the street? $1000 fine. Smoking in public? $5000 fine. Drinking or eating anything on the subway? $1000 fine. Smuggling or supplying drugs? Mandatory death penalty. Everything is regulated, everyone is watched. It rings a little bit of a police state from the outside. I mean, to put it into perspective, chewing gum – a totally harmless little product – is banned nationwide. It’s genuinely illegal. Which is kind of mad. Yet, Singaporeans are so happy. All locals I met were at once proud of their little country, tolerant and welcoming to outsiders, and also just seemed genuinely thrilled to wake up every day and realise they’re Singaporean. It was awesome. I guess coming from one of the richest nations on Earth probably has something to do with that.

When I referred to ‘other punishments’ earlier, I’ve got one in mind that really sticks out. Taken from Singapore’s WikiVoyage page:

“For some crimes, most notably illegal entry and overstaying your visa for over 30 or 90 days, Singapore imposes caning as a punishment. Other offences which have caning as a punishment include vandalism, robbery, molestation and rape. Having sex with a girl under the age of 16 is considered to be rape under Singapore law, regardless of whether the girl consents to it, and would land you a few strokes of the cane. This is no slap on the wrist. Strokes from the thick rattan cane are excruciatingly painful, take weeks to heal and can scar for life.”

I mean… what the hell? There’s so much wrong with that one paragraph that I can barely choose where to start. First, how on Earth does Singapore believe rape and molestation are on the same level as overstaying your visa? Also I’m not a big fan of caning for illegal entry. That’s like saying “How dare you try to come to our lovely country, we’re gonna deport you straight back to your home country, but first we’re gonna smack you with a cane a bunch of times just for the f*ck of it’. Yet perhaps the most troubling thing there is Singapore’s definition of rape. A 16 year old what? Girl? What about boys? Does this law not work both ways?

But rather than dwelling on the negative, I should concentrate on the positives of a wonderful little city-state tucked away in Southeast Asia. I’ve never been anywhere so colourful – all the buildings are painted in lovely vibrant primary or secondary colours, and are lit up tastefully at night. I met a bunch of people from the hostel to hang out with for pretty much the entire time I was there. We did some intensely hot jungle trekking, went up the absolutely enormous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, went on a scooter tour, saw two light shows, and of course, drank the original Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. This was quite an experience, it must be said. After trekking around the city in blistering heat all day, we headed toward the hotel to cool down. After asking a local for directions and my friend then hilariously telling said local that he spoke very good English (Singapore is an English-speaking country), we found the hotel, went upstairs and found an enormous queue of Chinese tourists, led by a loudmouthed little tour guide who kept shouting at us to go away to the back when we attempted to look inside. We get it you crazy midget, we’re just having a look. Don’t you be telling the English how to queue.

After waiting around for about 20 minutes, we got a table by the window. This place was awesome. Obviously extremely colonial in architecture and decor, the walls were lined with a dark brown mahogany, and we sat in ornate little armchairs. I was told by one of the group that the Raffles Hotel is the only place in Singapore where you’re allowed to litter openly, which was highlighted by the shell casings of peanuts literally all over the floor. And I’m not talking the odd peanut – I’m talking you’re literally kicking piles of them out of the way as you walk around. With our drinks we were handed a big bag of nuts ourselves, and somehow made it through the entire thing, culminating in being sat knee-deep in peanut casings for the rest of our time there.

We also went to Singapore National Museum, which was thorough and informative – I personally learned soooo much stuff about Singapore that I never knew before. Obviously we all know about its war history, and that we were forced to surrender it to the Japanese because we ballsed up our defence of the island. But I certainly didn’t know that in 1963, Singapore merged with the Federation of Malaya to create a new nation; Malaysia. Then, after two years, they split again, leaving Singapore and Malaysia as the two separate nations they are today. The merger brought into light too many cultural, religious, ethnic and ideological differences between the two nations, and Malaysia decided, following severe race riots in Singapore in 1964, to expel their new compatriots. This entire plan was the brainchild of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore following its full independence from Malaysia in 1965, and we were shown a recording of a speech he made on national TV following the failed merger, which was absolutely stunning – one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. It was so heartfelt and apologetic, and so filled with disappointment and genuine guilt, yet at the same time it was laden with hope and optimism for the future of a solo Singaporean nation. I actually clapped at the end. I looked like a mental case.

And so after five days of awesome food, awesome weather, awesome sights and some much-needed history lessons, I flew to India. On the way out of Singapore, I coined a term that highlights one of Singapore’s great flaws – The Changi Delusion. Changi Airport, Singapore’s only airport and one of the busiest in the world, constantly wins just about every award going. Any award that an airport can win, you can bet Changi’s won it, and numerous times too. Look online and you’ll see it’s got a swimming pool, a gym, a flower garden, a butterfly walk, a games station, a football viewing area and just about any shop you could ask for. Actually go to the airport and you’ll realise that’s all bullshit and none of it works. It is simply the most overrated, shittiest airport I’ve been to, and I’ve been to some seriously shitty airports. The wifi doesn’t work, the games don’t work, it’s ridiculously expensive, the pool and gym are only available to some sort of membership card holders, and the staff are utterly retarded and some of the rudest I have ever met. Balls to that airport, I hope a plane crashes into it.

I will report more from India when I’ve recovered from my 3 days in Delhi – arguably the biggest shithole on this planet. Piles of human waste, dead dogs lying in the street and the smell of cancerous pollution have been ever-presents since I touched down here, which is why I’m leaving for Jaipur as we speak. Will report more later.

Gabe

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