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Singapore – that’s the way to do it.

We arrived in Singapore where passport control was quick and cheerful, they even had a box of sweets on the counter that you could chose from as you got your free 90 day visa (In Vietnam it was $40 for one month). We were met from the airport to be taken to our room in the Little India area. A central suburb with very small cheap rooms and as you would imagine excellent food. Our room was compact to say the least, just enough room for two bunkbeds. Luckily we were only there for one night, they were fully booked after that. The place was a modern backpacker hostel in an old building. The guidebook was said it had a ‘chilled out vibe’ and was a great place to meet people. The place was packed though and you fought for a seat in the comfy lounge area.

We headed out for some food. After Vietnam it truly was a pleasure with the many veritable feasts on offer. It’s like a cleaner, better, cheaper version of Brick Lane in London. South Indian food blended with some local specialities that have evolved to be uniquely Singaporean, such as Laksa or Prata. For a couple of days we ate like kings, or Raja’s perhaps. The most delicious hot and spicy vegetarian food you can imagine. All the joy of eating in India itself, but with hygiene rather than listeria added to the mix. I think we both just looked forward to the next mealtime as much as anything else. Little India is an enclave that feels just like a suburb of Mumbai or Chennai, but without the poverty and pollution. The smell of jasmine and incense, the sound of Hindi music and twenty different conversations within earshot. Hundreds of shops selling all the flowers, fruit and effigies of Shiva you could ever want. On our second night we moved to a tiny room in a nearby hotel. We’ve learnt that if you want a clean, friendly cheap hotel room in Asia look for the Chinese run places that are usually not in the guidebook. We found one of those for £40 a night, which is a rock bottom price for Singapore. The room was just about big enough for the bed to fit in.

Our forty quid shoebox room. CM was well impressed.

CM tries out for a char lady job. They said she was too enthusiastic, they weren't looking for Wishy Washy!

The average wage in Singapore is higher than the UK, it’s a major trading hub and the economy is booming. As with much of Asia the government keeps a strong hand in people’s affairs with regard to political activity and internet controls but it does offer welfare, housing, and very good public transport and infrastructure in return. Some say Singapore is boring and sterile. I half agree, it is cleaner than much of the rest of Asia, cleaner than London. If that means sterile then I’m all for that. It may not offer the exotic thrill of somewhere like Cambodia to the transient traveller, but for locals it ticks all the boxes. Affordable and good housing, great healthcare with fantastic (and cheap) public transport. With jobs aplenty on top, Singaporeans have all the ingredients for a good life. This small island country was formed when it broke away from Malaysia to fly its own flag in 1965. With no natural resources and no standalone economy it was a risky move. But strict and focussed leadership, together with the strong Chinese work ethic, led to the island being transformed. In the 1960’s a manufacturing based economy was created from nowhere, it’s now a major services and shipping hub, and a trade gateway into China. Most people are multilingual and most people speak English to some degree.

Walking along the main street in the heart of town felt like being in some futureworld, especially at night. Giant TV screens, unique and phantasmorgoric architecture well tended greenery and spotlessly clean pavements. Well groomed people in a hurry to get somewhere in their designer clothing. I did feel something of a second class observer to all this. It was a bit like getting to the final round of a TV game show and falling at the final question…’Sorry, but here’s what you could have won’.

An Orchard Road shopping mall

We window shopped and marvelled at the prices. The main street, Orchard Road is a continuous line of high end shopping malls, most at least five stories high, with several floors also below ground level. You could wander through the malls and interconnections for hours without needing to step foot outside. We stopped off at a place on the street which looked like Starbucks (but wasn’t as we don’t go there on principle). A small bottle of Tiger beer cost £6.70p. Probably the most expensive beer I’ve ever drunk. Tiger is a Singapore brand too, the same bottle in Vietnam costs about 50p. Electronics and consumer goods all seemed more expensive than back home.

At night Orchard Road looked great with the Christmas lights on

Raffles Place from the river front

Ground level at Raffles Place, there were dancing girls and all sorts going on.

We strolled around the amazing architecture near the marina, from there you can see a new casino and hotel complex. A giant curved ship planted on top of three massive high rise hotel blocks. It has a swimming pool on the roof that’s the size of three football pitches apparently, you can see the palm trees on the roof from ground level. The noveau riche Chinese have to have somewhere to play. It’s a piece of trophy architecture if ever there was one and certainly was a most impressive feat of engineering on a vast scale.

The three hotel towers and ship shape casino on the top

We visited a couple of museums that were very well put together, one had a high tech audio/visual tour telling the story on Singapore. As you walked up to tv screens playing old footage or interviews your personal headset synced itself with the video on screen and you heard the right soundtrack. It must have all been done wirelessly, all very impressive.

The story of the country is also impressive, a real melting pot of people from across Asia and Europe coming to trade and live on this fairly small island. Apparently for a long time the men out-numbered the women 10-1, and as men by and large could not cook and worked long hours a culture of eating street food emerged. All sorts of dishes from around the world were on offer, cooked up on a wok or hot coals. It was the worlds first fast food, and still today far tastier than anything dreamt up in food technology research labs, where the bland tasteless mass produced fair of the big franchises is regurgitated in different forms. Chicken Zinger anybody? Me neither.

Dunlop street in Little India, a preservation area.

Singapore has nearly five million residents, but only three million are nationals, the rest foreign workers. They need to import people as their birth rate is too low to sustain the population level. Proving again that as people get richer they have fewer children. Apparently 15% of Singaporeans are worth over one million dollars, this small country has the highest proportion of dollar millionaires in the world. Yet it also has free healthcare and housing for those less fortunate. Income tax is also only 10% and it’s ranked as the easiest country in the world to do business in.

We only spent a couple of days here, but it was hugely impressive. Many cities on earth are plagued with problems relating to overpopulation and bad governance. Not so here, when your entire country is just one city on a small island it’s easier to be in control and create what I’d say is the nearest thing to a utopian city that I’ve visited. We both came away wanting to see more and spend more time here. It might be a bit dull for the thrill seeking traveller, but for residents I’m sure they’ve never had it so good.

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