As you may remember, I was in Malaysia, soaking up all the culture, food, and things that make this part of the world so different from mine. I was also soaking in sweat and getting tired of being gawked at and just a tad uncomfortable all the time. So I decided to sandwich a visit to Singapore in between less-developed Malaysia and Indonesia,
I spent three full days walking (and walking, and walking) around the city. It is fantastic. It reminds me of London – very international, excellent public transport, and they drive on the left – mixed with a little bit of Las Vegas. But with SE Asian spice. The majority of residents in Singapore are Chinese Buddhist, but you can find the blend of Malay Muslim and Indian Hindu that seems to be the standard for this peninsula.
But Singapore could not be more different from its peninsular neighbor to the north. Where you cannot go a second without seeing litter in Malaysia, Singapore is impeccably clean. There are plenty of Aussies, Kiwis, Europeans, and Americans roaming about, so I was in no danger of causing pandemonium. Of course everything is more expensive in Singapore too, but I definitely enjoyed all the shiny modern buildings and the fun cultural events and Gardens by the Bay.
I took three walking tours, around the Malay, Chinese, and Indian sectors, learning about the development of this city-state and some of the social support systems they have in place. Most people live in government housing – I forget the exact figure, but it was like 80 percent. However, instead of just living there they buy it from the government (for 99 years) and then can do what they want to it (remodel it, rent it out). The government regulates who can live there, setting income limits and racial quotas for the buildings.
As I learned at the FABULOUS Chinatown Heritage Center, when the Chinese started arriving, apparently it was a small fishing village of a few hundred people. Quite a bit different from the city of 6.5 million it is today. The Chinese, fleeing famine and rough conditions in their own country, set up shophouses and lived in some pretty cramped, unclean “cubicles” (basically 6 feet by 6 feet) in these buildings. Singapore was, of course, part of the British colonies as well until fairly recently.
Very cool place to explore, and I definitely hope to go back. When you visit, be sure to get to the airport early. Singapore has the best airport in the world, and you can easily amuse yourself for hours with gardens, giant waterfalls, shopping and dining. Me personally, I crushed some Shake Shack. No regrets.