Singapore... it's like Shanghai, but not

Trip Start Sep 17, 2009
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Trip End May 06, 2010


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Where I stayed
A Beary Good Hostel

Flag of Singapore  ,
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

UPDATE: 
Mike posted a video on Youtube of the drift car practicing on the Singapore F1 track. See it HERE

 I'm sitting on a train to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, trying to figure out what to say about the near one week we spent in Singapore. The place is tricky. When we first arrived in Singapore, I thought it was civilized paradise. It's like Shanghai but without all the downsides. Or so I thought. 
 
It's clean, urban, extremely civilized, well organized, efficient and just overall pleasant. The diversity of people is great and seems more unique than Shanghai's european diversity. Singapore is a mix of Malays, Indonesians, Filipinos, Thai, Indians, and lots of Chinese. Then there's the typical minority mix of white westerners, just as in Shanghai. The average westerner probably likes Singapore more than Shanghai. There's none of those random spots of horrible smell, people spitting everywhere, or child beggars. Basically, the crude underside of China is more or less missing in Singapore. This makes for far less culture shock and a more pleasant time wandering around the city (if peak civilization is your cup of tea). So initially, I really liked Singapore. I even wondered why I had spent so much time living in Shanghai when I could have been living in Singapore. The year round warm weather and lack of visa issues are icing on the cake.
 
But then we discovered "the rules". Apparently, Singapore is a slick civilized city held together by a vast number of rules and regulations, meant to keep the population in check, given its diversity and potential for conflict. I suppose when you've got Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus all living together, you may need to keep a lid on things so everyone gets along. But what I don't like about Singapore, besides the pettiness of some rules (no chewing gum?!), is how sneaky and inconspicuously the rules are enforced. Talking with some locals, I learned that besides the heavily armed police force which walks the streets, the rules are also enforced by undercover agents who can fine you or haul you into the nearest police station if they see or hear you breaking any of "the rules". This has led to a series of joking t-shirts being sold in the city's street markets saying "Singapore is a FINE city", followed by a number of icons showing what things you can be fined for in Singapore: no chewing gum, no dancing in public, no spitting, no urinating in public, no political speech, no religious speech, no jaywalking, etc. Some of the rules make sense, but particularly the ones regarding freedom of speech seem very out of place in such a civilized, seemingly westernized city. Some might compare this to so-called "communist" China and its control of the media and freedom of speech, but at least when I go to China, I *know* it's communist and there's no sneaky, underhanded attempt to fine or imprison me if I say the wrong thing in a local cafe. Call me crazy, but China feels more free. I don't remember ever seeing police standing around the streets of Shanghai with automatic weapons across their backs, as there are in Singapore. After a few days of pondering this, I said to someone that Singapore is like the movie, "The Truman Show". Turns out I'm not the first person to make this comparison.
 
Anyways, besides the technicalities of the current political/legal situation in Singapore, I did like the place. Visiting Fort Canning Park, I learned an enormous amount of WWII history that I never knew and suspect most Americans also don't know. The fact that Singapore is the only place Britain has ever surrendered in time of war was very surprising. In the Philippines, there's this WWII nostalgia of "the Americans saved us", yet in Singapore, it's "the British let us down". Strange but fascinating. As in China, when the Japanese took over Singapore, driving out the British, all sorts of unspeakable acts were committed to the prisoners of war. This has led to a strong dislike of the Japanese by Singaporeans, similar to what I've heard in China.
 
As for Singapore nightlife, it's pretty darn good... if you've got enough money :-) Beer here is more expensive than anywhere else we've been in Asia. In convenience stores, beer costs about S$8+ (~$5.70) and in bars/clubs it's double that or more. Somehow, we still managed to party a few nights in a row without completely destroying our shoestring budget. Clark Quay is the prime night life spot, full of posh euro clubs, a Hooters, and more bars than you can count. 

Singapore is well-known for its food and for good reason... "hawker" centers are everywhere in the city. Giant food courts with tons of small walk-up stalls serving the full range of Singaporean dishes, along with Chinese, Indonesian, and other types of food. Almost all the meals fall in the S$2-5 range ($1.40-3.50) and they're all equally interesting. I tried as many signature Singaporean dishes as I could and only the fish laksa didn't agree with me very well. The food seems similar to Chinese food but with more spice, a seafood twist, and lots of dishes incorporating pineapple. 

Our stay in the shared dorm room at A Beary Good Hostel in the chinatown area was great. We made lots of new backpacker friends and had a blast partying with fellow travelers. Highly recommend A Beary Good hostel as it's very clean, in an excellent location, and the staff is super friendly!

Now on to Kuala Lumpur in the heart of the Malaysian peninsula! 

Mike's thoughts (and many, at that):

3/9/10
Time for our flight to Singapore. We had to wake up at 5:30 AM to catch a 7 AM bus from Manila to clark. The bus was 350 (~$7) pesos. From Clark (after we paid the 600 peso ($12) airport tax), we got took Tiger Airways to Singapore.
We arrived in Singapore around 4PM and caught a bus to the train terminal. We decided to check out a hostel in Chinatown (Beary Good Hostel -- $20 Singapore Dollars / night). We are staying in a 10-person dorm since Singapore is so expensive. Pretty nice place though. No hot water, but it's hot here already...
After setting out things down, we went to check out a hawker stand. A hawker stand is a place where there are several vendors behind little storefronts sell food. They story goes that originally they were street vendors, but the city brought them all in together. They rate their cleanliness with a A through F system. I haven't seen anything lower than an A so far...(edit:  Saw B and C)
There are tons of vendors in these hawker things. I would say that each one has at LEAST 20. They are all over the city. In the one in Chinatown, I ordered something with chicken in it (forget the name). I was searching for Hiananese chicken (a local favorite), but I couldn't find it on this day. The food was pretty good, but a bit spicy. I had a mango shake to help put it down. They also have Muslim food at these hawker places...
3/10/10
We decided to head to Fort Canning Park and check it out first. We went on a tour of the Battle Box, which was an old military bunker that was built in the 1930s. It was here that the people decided to surrender Singapore to the Japanese. Pretty cool tour with a lot of history. The bunker itself is about 8 meters underground.
More impressive that the bunker is the park itself. Some really beautiful nature/flowers/trees that I have never seen before. Took lots of pictures...
After the park, we headed toward Little India to check that out. Along the way, I saw some Chinese guys wearing some fancy pants. I decided to ask them where they were headed, and they told me that they were going to be doing some line dancing at the Public Library. Coolness.
We headed to Burgis St market first. I have never seen more cheap watches in my life -- most of them are around $5. We didn't have much time to check it all out before the line dancing, so we decided we would head back after...
The line dancing turned out to be pretty cool. There was a drummer, 4 guys with cymbals, and then two guys that put on a lion suit and acted like a lion. You have to see the video to understand...
After watching them perform for about 30 minutes or so, we headed back to Burgis St., where we spent most of the night. We also got some food at a hawker stands there. I had some noodles and shrimp and fish. Very good, but again pretty spicy.
After Burgis St., we headed back to the hostel. We also learned some about the crazy regulations in Singapore. Apparently it's illegal to talk about politics, religion, or race; it's illegal to jaywalk; to spit; to import gum; etc etc. Ridiculous.
Still, the city is pretty beautiful, clean and very modern. The weather has been slightly overcast so it has not been too hot. 
We chilled out at the hostel with a guy from Singapore, Malaysia, and a Lithuanian until 3 AM talking about traveling and a bunch of random history stuff.
3/11/10
Woke up around 11:30 and headed to Singapore Post to send some stuff back to the US. Mostly some winter clothes and some souvenirs. It was rather expensive -- about 66 Singapore dollars total. Still, it will free up a bunch of space in my back. The lady at the post office was a total bitch -- I guess she didn't like that I was trying to do something out of the ordinary. Who knows...
After McDonalds, we headed to Clark Quay to check out the riverfront and Singapore River. That area is packed with restaurants/bars/club. They even have a Hooter's. From what I gathered, it's supposed to be an expensive area. We have heard that there is a club there called Attica which is where a lot of the locals hang out. One of the guys at the hostel told us that they paid 10 SGD for one beer. Crazy.
After Clark Quay, we walked all the way along the river down to the coast area. They have some pretty cool buildings down there. There is one building (which we found out later is going to be a casino) that has 3 towers with a big boat-like thing on top. Looks like a roof-top bar. They also have a big ferris wheel that takes 30 minutes to go all the way around. You can actually have dinner in the carts that rotate. Very cool looking. We will probably check it out tomorrow (Singapore Flyer).
Walking around the same area, I ran into some guys that were drifting on a track around the area. It's either an F1 or F3 track. Pretty cool. Judging by the sponsors on the car, the guy looked to be a pro. Also, it seems that part of the track extends out into the street. Perhaps they shut down the street when they race.
After leaving, we headed back to Chinatown and had some more food at the hawker places. This time, I found a place with the Hainanese chicken. With teriyaki sauce. Good stuff and not spicy. I also had a sugar cane drink. Pretty good. Not as good as the mango shakes in the Philippines!
We hung out at the hostel for a while again before deciding to check out the nightlife. We headed over toward Clark Quay, but we decided against going there since it is so expensive.
Instead, we went to Chamber 82, a random place that we just kind of found walking around. Inside, it was a KTV combined with a pool table and two dart boards. It wasn't like the typical KTV, however; it looked more like a regular bar with a couple of microphones going from table to table.
We stayed around and played a game of darts. As we were starting to walk out, we ran into a couple of girls that were singing. Not really sure how we ended up joining them, but we did.
They were singing a lot of Lady GaGa, but we also sang some Black Eyed Peas and some Akon. And a bunch of Chinese songs. One song was obviously beautiful and emotional since the girls became very serious when the song came on.
As closing time came around, there were still several drinks on the table that they wanted us to help them finish. A guy came over and introduced us to a game called Ling Ling Chi Bang Ah. Basically, Ling Ling Chi = 007. Bang is like shooting someone, and the person being shot says 'Ah'. It reminds me of a game of slaps.
One person can also bang the ceiling, which means that everyone has to put their hands in the air and say 'Ah'. One person says Ling, next says Ling, next says Chi, then next Bangs. The person on both side of the person banged has to say 'Ah'. Fun game.
After we left the bar, we were sufficiently liquored up and decided to videotape ourselves breaking a bunch of laws in Singapore. It started with spitting on the sidewalk, urination off of a bridge, littering, dancing in public, and then talking about politics...
We ran into this Hindu guy on the way home, and in accordance with our law-breaking etiquette, I started asking him about George Bush. He then asked us if we wanted to go to some clubs...oh lord, more drinking coming...
We ended up at some Hindu club that he got us into (not even sure if we were supposed to be there). One girl came up to me at some point and asked me how I knew the guy. I told her I didn't.
The dumbass ended up ordering us a pitcher of rum and coke (like we needed more). The place was pretty uneventful though -- just a bunch of smoke guns and very few people dancing.
Time to crash -- near 6 AM when we finally went to sleep.
3/12/10
Wake up at like 1:30 PM and go to the Hawker center near Chinatown to get some grub. We didn't do hardly anything besides walk around a few of the shops in Chinatown and do our laundry. Expensive -- Like $15 Singapore Dollars to wash and dry.
Then we drank some more with the people at the hostel -- Lithuanian guy, Polish guy, American guy, 2 German girls, and an Irish girl. We all ended up heading out and going to Screening Room, which is basically a place for foreigners on the rooftop of a bar near the end of Pagoda Street.
Since I had made plans to meet up with one of the Couchsurfing girls, Scott and I took off around 12:30 to head to Clark Quay to meet up with her. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find her. So where did we go...back to Chamber 82! Haha...
We played some more darts at Chamber 82. We ended up meeting some guys from Singapore there (all engineers). They invited us to share the beer tower with them. We also played the Chinese dice game and some poker. Never lost so bad at poker. I had to drink a lot.
After getting sufficiently liquored up, we all hopped in their car and they drove us to a Thai bar in the center of the city (Sing Thai). The place was pretty big, and we were ushered to a table in the front right next to the stage.
The whole time we were there, the band on the stage kept coming over and getting free drinks. The guys bought several bottles of whiskey and rum. I'm sure they paid a pretty penny for all of that.
3/13/10
Sleep in forever again. Since the weather wasn't the greatest, we just went to the hawker place to get some food and basically chilled out.
When we came back, some of the people staying at the hostel wanted to all go somewhere. I had told them how we drank for free the night before, so they wanted to get in on that. 
We headed back to Chamber 82 again, but it was kind of dead. We ordered a tower and sang a few songs before heading over to Clark Quay.
Clark Quay was packed. Tons of people. Most of them were just sitting along the Singapore River. We decided on a place called Zirca, which was $25 SGD to get in but included 2 beers. Place was packed, but mostly with a bunch of guys. It was actually 3 clubs in one.
That's all I'll say about that night...
3/14/10
Everyone woke up around 12:30, so I did the same. We had plans to head to Sentosa Island, but we were debating it since the weather was shitty again -- rainy and overcast. Scott and I got some food at the hawker stand and decided to go anyway.
We took the metro to Harbour Front and then caught another monorail to the last stop on Sentosa Island. We walked along the beach a bit, but then it started raining. We had some New Zealand-style icecream while we chilled out and waited for the rain to stop. Unfortunately, it didn't let up. We decided to do the Luge there anyway.
The Luge is basically a small cart with wheels that you can ride down the hill. There is a ski-lift type thing that takes you to the top, and you can ride down twice for $16 SGD. It was ok. At least the views from the top were pretty decent.
I don't really like the touristy places so much. There were a ton of people there, and the place looked like Disney Land. They are even building a Universal Studios there with a bunch of fancy hotels, theme park rides, and overpriced food and drinks. I am tired of the same ol' over-commercialization. Near the beaches wasn't such a pretty sight since there were a ton of huge freighters and factories across the way.
After the luge, we headed back to Chinatown and our hostel. Some people wanted to go out for St. Patrick's Day, but then a guy had to move out so we cancelled it. I am pretty tired anyways -- got maybe 3 hours of sleep last night.
Walked around the area near our hostel for a bit and got a shotglass and a couple of magnets. Going to take it easy tonight and plan for our trip to KL tomorrow.
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Tera on

Oh scott... when you get locked up in a foreign country what will we do? Do you have twitter so we can follow that adventure?

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