When I first mentioned to people I was excited about going to Singapore, the normal reaction I got was one of surprise. "Singapore? Why do you want to go to Singapore?"
The list of things wrong with Singapore were as follows: it's expensive, boring, uptight, soulless, and really expensive.
And you know, maybe it is all those things. But if soulless means I can cross the street without fearing I'll be run over by a moto, and boring means I'm not clutching my purse afraid it's going to be ripped off me by a motothief, well, then a few days of "boring" and "soul less" is exactly what I need. If uptight means there's an efficient, air-conditioned subway networking the entire city, I'll take it. And if it means spending a little bit more to indulge in it, I am happy to open my wallet.
For whatever reason, the idea of Singapore has always appealed to me. Maybe it's because in my mind I always envisioned it with some kind of exotic allure that I have for all the old outposts of the British empire or maybe I've just seen one too many ads in airline magazines for things like fancy high rise condos and restaurants, but for whatever reason, visiting Singapore has always been on my list of must-see destinations.
And it is not a let down. Not at all. If anything, I was so set up to land somewhere truly boring and soulless (a giant Walmart? a town in middle America with nothing but a giant Walmart?) that instead my expectations have been greatly surpassed. I love the glittering high rises, the old Colonial architecture, the mind-boggling mix of cultures everywhere. Today a French girl from my hostel and I wandered around Little Chinatown, Little India and the Arab Quarter. I went to the bus station today near my hostel to buy a bus ticket to Malacca (my first stop in Malaysia) and discovered there was an entire newsstand selling Thai newspapers. Near my hostel in the Arab Quarter, not only are there very smart, chic boutiques that would be at home in the trendiest neighborhoods of Paris, London or NYC, but also dozens of rug shops and fabric stores, plus some yummy Lebanese and Turkish restaurants (also a welcome relief after six weeks of predominantly Cambodian and Vietnamese food to choose from. Don't get me wrong, both cuisines are delicious, but I enjoy having some culinary variety).
OK, so Singapore is not dirt cheap like its SE Asian neighbors. You can't get a dorm bed for $5 a night, or a decent hotel room for less than $20, or a plate of good street food for a buck or two. It's not quite as expensive as San Francisco, food-wise, but it's close. I can see why it's not a major "backpacker" destination, at least not among the super-duper-frugal backpackers who tend to be in their early 20s and are on very limited budgets per day. But does that mean it's boring? Uptight? Soulless?
Yes, there are high rise condos. And no traffic jams. And blissfully cold air conditioned super clean shiny shopping malls filled with every brand you've ever seen. And after six weeks Cambodia and Vietnam, I'm glad to see it. It's like a little breathe of fresh air, of something familiar and normal, a place where I know I can go buy a few things I need without a lot of hassles. I can get around independently, without the hassle of hailing cabs or manuevering though thick motorbike traffic. There's not the overwhelming sense of pollution coming from the thick exhaust mixed with the thick air.
Everything that's "wrong" with Singapore -- that it's basically the antidote to much of the SE Asia experience -- is what I think is right about it. Besides, it's a vibrant, cosmopolitan city filled with a variety of cool cafés, clubs, restaurants and shops, from literally every corner of the planet. It's just missing trash on the sidewalks and endless car horns honking (looking at you, NYC).
It feels easy here. Like I'm on ... vacation.
That's what this is after all. A vacation. And having a moment to collect myself and get ready for the next countries coming up on this big, old extended vacation won't be a bad thing. Besides, I need to buy soap.