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Once More in Singapore

I’ve been in Singapore for a few days now, marking my third time in the city. I was first here in 1999 and was last here during the 2008 Olympics. (Read my previous thoughts on Singapore from 2008.) When I first visited Singapore in 1999 I became fascinated with the city. I read several books on the history of Singapore and Lee Kwan Yew immediately after leaving Singapore and have always kept an eye on the news from the country.

I like writing about Singapore because it is such an oddball country. It is one of the smallest countries in the world. It is one of the most diverse countries in the world. It is one of the richest countries in the world. It has a government that can only be described as….unique.

If someone from a western country wanted to visit Asia for the first time, and they were not an experienced traveler, I’d probably recommend Singapore. It is the only country in Asia where English is widely spoken. All signage and commerce is done in English. While you can often hear other languages on the street (including Singlish), the vast majority of the population, especially younger people, can speak English.

The other benefit to visiting Singapore as a gateway to Asia is the diversity of the country. Here you can find populations of Chinese, Malay and Indians living together. You can find Christian churches, Moslem mosques, and Buddhist and Hindu temples all over the city. In addition to being the most diverse city in Asia, the diversity arguably makes it the best food city in Asia. You can find cheap, good food at any of the many hawkers stands which dot the city.

Singapore is currently trying to build up its tourism industry. Being a small country, there isn’t much to see in terms of history or natural attractions, however. They have ripped a page out of the Macau pagebook and have decided to build casinos. There is currently one on the small island of Sentosa and there is currently a massive one under construction near the marina. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. One casino does not a Macau make, but if there is one country that could pull it off in a classy way, it is Singapore.

The two things people mention right away you bring up Singapore are; 1) the fact that you can’t chew gum, and 2) that American kid who got caned years ago. The caning took place 16 years ago, yet still is one of the only things people think of when they think of Singapore. The ban on chewing gum is technically not a ban on the chewing of gum. It is a ban on the sale and importation of gum. (Technically, if you bring a personal stash of gum into the country, that would violate law, but I doubt if you are going to see the gum police come after you.) The reason for the ban is the same reason Disney World doesn’t sell gum on its property: it is a pain to clean. There is an exemption for therapeutic chewing gum if it is prescribed by a doctor or a dentist.

I am often asked by people if I’ve ever visited a place where I would consider living. Singapore is very close to being such a place if not for one thing: the incredibly high cost of real estate. Being a wealthy country on a small island, prices for rent are very high. They seem to be on a par with what you’d find in Manhattan, London, San Francisco or Tokyo.

I’ll be here the rest of the week, and if you are in Singapore I will also be giving a presentation on Friday, March 5 at Amirah’s Grill, Level 2, No.142 Arab Street Opposite Golden Landmark Hotel. You can RSVP on Facebook.

  • 16 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Keith says:

    Gary – we also really enjoyed Singapore when we were there. My wife has a Singaporean friend from law school that showed us around and we really got to see the city from a local perspective. I also wanted to follow up on a comment I left on Google buzz, you mention that you read a couple of good books about Singapore’s government and Lee Kwan Yew, do you remember the titles of them? I am always interested in getting a book on places I have traveled to. Thanks

  2. Michael says:

    i’m Singaporean. Singapore lifted its ban on selling chewing gum a year or so ago. Completely legal now

  3. Ninja- says:

    Wrong about Singapore being the only Asian country where English is widely spoken. English is widely spoken in the Philippines, even in outskirt villages and provinces

  4. Marie says:

    Singapore Universal Studios is the new attraction added in Sentosa Island, which will be open by June-July 2010 this year

  5. Marie says:

    I visited the country back in 2008 and I will do that again, there are still some tourist spots i missed.

  6. nateniale says:

    I’m living in Singapore now, and I agree with many of the points you mentioned. Singapore is a great place to live in being a modern city state in Asia, but with enough diversity and culture to make things interesting.

    However, for travelers from other parts of the world, I would recommend other countries in South East Asia such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia. You can experience more of the culture and the chaos of an Asian country!

    Here are some of my write ups on the happenings in Singapore with posts on some of my other travels as well…
    http://nateniale.blogspot.com/search/label/Singapore

  7. Adriana says:

    I enjoyed amazing meals in Singapore! loved the diversity as you mentioned. Indian lunch, chinese dinner, every meal had a different cultural flavor. I also found it interesting that Singapore is so tiny, it is a city and a country kind of at the same time ;)

  8. I had never thought of Singapore until I, several years ago, came in contact with a young girl living in Singapore and could read about her life there. It got me curious, so onde day we’ll go there, I’m sure.

  9. Phenom says:

    Great post..!!Singapore truly is a great city to be visiting in Asia. And yoiu very rightly said..”its a mordern but still very Asian city”. There is always so much to do in Singapore. Its an adult as well as a kids friendly place. Great food, great sights, great shopping. Though its quite expensive, but still a great experience

  10. Bryan says:

    Ah…Singapore! One of my favorite places. Nowhere else can you get that combination of ethnic culturalism combined with modern conveniences and history. This really brings back some memories!

  11. Gary, Greetings from Singapore. Welcome here! Fascinated by your website. Check out mine. I might drop by to say hi on Friday. There are also interesting cultural aspects of Singapore little known to non-Singaporeans (and ignored by most Singaporeans). We have many obscure ancient Hindu, Taoist and pre-Islamic Malay festivals with processions and shamanistic rites that are very colourful. Photos and writeups about them here:

    http://weecheng.com/singapore/thaipusam/index.htm
    http://weecheng.com/singapore/9eg/index.htm
    http://weecheng.com/singapore/tanki/index.htm

  12. Babel says:

    @Federico maybe it depends on how you want to start! ;) if you dont want a big culture shock then maybe singapure is better. if you want to jump into the coldest water – bangkok! :)

  13. Federico says:

    Was there a few months ago for the second time, and I do agree with many of the things you comment. it is modern, clean, good facilities, Tiger Airways will fly you to many places at a very low cost. food is not that expensive and there are many cultures as well. However I do not agree when you recommend Singapore as a good city to start Asia with if you have never been to this part of the world. I feel Singapore too “westernized” , lacking some of the charm that SE Asian cities have. Bangkok, for example, is much more chaotic but you deffinitely have a feel for Asia. The good side is that Melaka in Malaysia is only 8 hours away by bus, and Melaka is a must if you are in that part of the world. Just my two cents!

    Federico
    maitravelsite dot com

  14. T-roy says:

    I loved Singapore and found it right as you described it. Yeah it’s expensive compared to most other Asian countries but it has so much to offer and is a great way to break up the trip with a stop there.

    Ddi you notice that a lot of the hotels and hostels offer two pillows per-person? Thought this was unique as I stayed in two places while there for a week and both offered this, which I loved.

    Here are some photos of Singapore that I took while there. Got some really great night shots of those casino your were talking about:

    * http://www.foggodyssey.com/2009/06/11/why-i-travel/
    * http://www.foggodyssey.com/2009/06/11/merlion-park-and-water-front/
    * http://www.foggodyssey.com/2009/06/12/little-india/

  15. Babel says:

    i will make a stop in singapore for a few days on my way to australia. i’m really looking forward to see the country… nice text it makes me wanderlust again! ;)

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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