I love Singapore to death. I would move there in a heartbeat if given the option. Even though guidebooks view it as a two-day-and-under starting point for more exotic Southeast Asian travel and anyone who knows anything about the orderly island believes it to be authoritarian (I think the only association many Americans have with Singapore is that Michael Fay caning incident) and sterile.
I love it because I love rules (not that I actually follow them) and orderliness. While much of Southeast Asia is smoggy, smothering chaos, Singapore is as easy as (durian) pie. It’s Asia in cuisine but everything is in English and communication problems are few. Air conditioning is in abundance, and everything is spotless; no touts, no street beggars, lots of malls–even the occasional homeless cat is well behaved. Hawker stalls spell everything out for you, almost always in English and often with photos. I think that’s why intrepid foodies sing the tiny city-state’s praises. Calvin Trillin and Tony Bourdain immediately come to mind.
As I’m researching dining for my second Thailand trip, I’m reminded of how intimidating it can be to face a menu lacking a single English word (minus the baffling “T steak”), even on the Coca Cola logo. Even Beijing and Shanghai weren’t that opaque. Five years ago when I first visited, I was underemployed and actually had the free time to listen to Thai language tapes and attempted to learn a few characters. I’m not so delusional this time. I’ve been formally studying Spanish for over a year and still have the vocabulary of a dimwitted toddler.
But Singapore is not all magical chili crabs and happy bowls of laska. There is a dark side. I’ve found my new cheer-up Flickr pool, Ugly Singapore. I’m frequently petty, it doesn’t take much to set me off or ruin my day. NYC can be exhausting and loud and soul crushing…and then I see people in Singapore genuinely upset about Oreos left in the frozen chicken section at a grocery store and everything is put in perspective. Ok, I’m not uptight at all.
If one stray bag of garbage on the side of the road is enough to set them off, imagine how they’d take the perpetual trash bag heaps in New York or street couches. Now, if they would just spend more time making babies instead of documenting society’s ills…
Thai menu photo from ImportFood.com