It was pitch black in my room and my 3:00 AM thoughts were being intermittently disrupted by explosions outside. Even by Asian standards my bed was humorously small. It was my first time in Asia proper and I was in the heart of Chinatown, Singapore during an incredible lightning storm. 24 hours prior I had sat coach dreaming of adventure. Now I lay wide awake experiencing the real thing.
Unlike my previous long term trips, I did a fair amount of research before moving to Singapore. Here is the 20 second synopsis of Singapore as told by most travel show hosts.
Singapore is a city-state which is located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It has a population of 5.3 million; the majority are Chinese with almost 75% of the total population, while Malays and Indians forming significant minorities. It gained independence in 1965 and has quickly become the shipping, banking, air transport and food hub of Southeast Asia. It leads the world in education, urban cleanliness and millionaire per capita.
From the standard description, Singapore sounds like a utopia. But of course, by the standard description so does Dubai. So what is the country really like? That is the question I traveled here to investigate. Bring it on Singapore, you are now under the Life Listed microscope. Let’s see those wrinkles!
Around Here It Is Written S$
Singapore has a lot of money. Like seriously, a whole lot of money! There are an estimated 70,000 millionaires living on the main island of Singapore. That is crazy talk!
Singapore isn’t perfect but it is the most well put together major city I have ever visited. The money brings forethought and convenience which is expressed through urban design.
Like much of the city, this stadium is currently under construction.
People waiting to board the MRT (subway). Notice that everyone is standing in the red area. They do this so exiting passengers can walk through the unobstructed green area. This simple hack drastically speeds up the boarding process.
Within 12 hours of arriving, I had secured:
- Lodging (Airbnb for the first week and a half)
- Money (In the local currency)
- Consistent and high speed Internet Access (wifi and 3G)
- A local cell phone number (for my unlocked smartphone)
- An office (a very cool and reasonably priced co-working place close to my lodging)
- Two tasty meals (One was free after a local learned I had just landed and insisted on paying)
In Barcelona that list took me a week (and I never got the phone), in Buenos Aires it took me a month and a half (and getting access to my own money never stopped being a problem.)
The ridiculous amount of money generated by the immense shipping and banking industries in Singapore brings a lot of convenience. They also bring high prices. Besides taxis (which have fixed prices) and hawker food (simple street dishes that are ubiquitous, safe and reasonably priced), Singapore is one of the most expensive cities I have lived in.
Price Index: The Important Stuff (Singapore 2013)
|Smartphone Data Package (1 GB)
|S$10.00 ($7.85 / €5.95)
|Ice Cream (two scoops)
|S$6.00 ($4.71 / €3.57)
|Local Beer (1 pint)
|S$8.00 ($6.28 / €4.76)
|Local Famous Pastry
|S$6.00 ($4.71 / €3.57)
|Coffee/Tea (Tall Drip/Earl Grey)
|S$3.00 ($2.35 / €1.79)
|S$3.50 ($2.71 / €2.08)
|S$10.00 ($7.85 / €5.95)
|AirBnb (one night)
|S$50.00 ($39.23 / €29.77)
|Taxi (across town, non-fixed)
|S$30.00 ($23.54 / €17.86)
Swallow Your Gum, This Isn’t A Dumphole!
Have you heard the story about the American who got caught chewing gum in Singapore and as punishment was caned? That story is poppycock!
While the nanny state might have been breathing down the back of tourists twenty years ago, that is simply not the case today.
While here, I have not once been threatened by fines, whippings or canes. In fact, I haven’t even seen a police officer! I could in theory, chew gum, litter or breakdance in the middle of the street without getting arrested. The rumors are overblown. It is a clean and regulated country but it is not run by prison guards. People have a lot of pride in this country and they go out of their way to keep it looking presentable. This doesn’t include, at least nowadays, caning Americans. (Plus, my guess is that guy deserved it. Traveling American males are not exactly know for being quiet and reserved.)
You Lured Me In With A Photo Of Food! Let’s Talk About Something I Can Eat!
I have heard no less than three celebrity chefs refer to the food in Singapore as the best in all of Asia. The money in the country means the locals can afford to ship the best culinary talent and ingredients into their kitchens.
So far, I have to cry foul. I have had the much talked about Chicken Rice (rice cooked in chicken broth topped with sliced cucumbers and a chicken breast). It is good but didn’t floor me.
I have had a Singapore Sling and I have had many helpings of Hawker food and I just can’t sign off as this country providing the best food I have ever had (Hat tip Italy). All of the food is very simple (which I respect and prefer) but you can’t floor me with something that I know I could make myself. I am hoping the best is yet to come.
Enough About You Chef Danny The Magnificent, Tell Me About The People!
My absolute favorite part about Singapore is that I am one of the only white people I see everyday. Everywhere I look is a fantastically diverse population of Chinese, Indians and Malays. I hear multiple languages even when I only ride the MRT (subway) for one stop. I see smiling strangers helping each other and a whole lot of genuine acceptance.
Singapore has the most tolerate population that I have ever seen. Even though I am still on the outskirts of the populous, I feel proud. Genuine tolerance and acceptance is a joy to witness.
This has been the first time in my life when I have regularly felt like a minority. On a day-to-day basis, I am the one with the indecipherable accent. And in this country, unlike most, I am able to enjoy that feeling.
Time To Stop Talking
Singapore has no natural resources, less than 200 years of its own history, is the smallest country in Southeast Asia and with its many successes, is doing a mighty job of making the rest of the world look bad.
Unlike other countries in the region who have had the luxury (?) of investing in war, deforestation and unsustainable fishing, Singapore invested in its people and infrastructure.
It is a bit sad to say, but by having its priorities straight and executing well, it shines as a very rare example of a country on the right path.
Good show so far Singapore! I look forward to learning more about you one upcoming adventure at a time.
P.S. This was my first time experimenting with the Cost of Traveling Price Index. I am trying to create a benchmark for the things I actually spend my money on when traveling. Do you think this is helpful? Am I missing something important?