- Ship me somewhere east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
- Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst
The Little Red Dot, the Light of the South Island, East of Suez, Gibraltar of the East or just: Singapore. A city state that is among the top ranked cities for just about everything. It’s hectic, ethnic and wildly successful all wrapped up in a wickedly delicious package. To get an appreciation for what this place is, let’s take a step back in time.
Like all strategic strongholds on Earth, an Englishman with a fine mustache sailed in and started running the show. This particular gentleman was named Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (is that British enough for you?) and is looked at as one of the founding fathers of modern day Singapore. Through a series of treaties and good old fashioned British deal making, the island of Singapura transitioned from the local Sultan’s control to the East British Trading company. The name was anglicized and Singapore was open for business. The local population became mainly Malay and ethnic Chinese. Due to its location and being tapped into the British empire, Singapore was destined for success. Successful it was and remained under British control for centuries.
Most of the modern world has been shaped by WW2 and Singapore is no exception. The Japanese invaded and the British forces couldn’t hold the island. Singapore fell swiftly and many British evacuated in secrecy leaving the vicious Japanese military to do as they pleased with the remaining civilian population. This was a major blow to the British empire (Churchill described it as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”) and a pivotal point in Singapore’s history. The Japanese occupiers proceeded to massacre civilians (mainly ethnic Chinese). One of the massacre spots was Sentosa which is now a fancy amusement park and beach resort area. The helplessness felt by the locals as their rulers abandoned them, sowed resentment towards the British that would lead to the eventual independence of Singapore.
Singapore arose from the ashes of war and the local population began realizing they needed to be an independent state. Throw in a few decades of civil unrest, the collapse of colonization and a unifying leader and Singapore gains its complete independence and is internationally recognized as a city state. The state is a hybrid between British style law and governance, and high intensity Asian work ethic. In the following decades Singapore is recognized as one of the Four Asian Tigers for sustaining massive growth and modernization. It is a highly multicultural population and the government takes steps to maintain social harmony between races. As a country born from the sea, it has copious choices of food with an eclectic taste range. It remains the most expensive city in the world. It is a powerhouse of financial services and banking. It consistently shatters records on all metrics of modern success. An island with humble beginnings that has turned into a beacon of greatness.
And then there were two hungry Canadian travelers. Burdened by heavy MEC backpacks and suffering from the tropical humidity. Alayna and I arrived in Singapore and made our way to Chinatown where we had booked an Airbnb accommodation. It was more a beacon of disgusting rather than greatness. A rotten start to an interesting city. We rallied by renting the cheapest hotel we could find. Annoyed by the whole experience and the price tag attached to it, we quenched the pain with noodles and beer.
The city is vibrant with a mix of new and old. Small streets are lined with hawkers (food stalls) and all the noises and smells you could imagine. Looking upwards you will see modern skyscrapers and architectural masterpieces. The mix of locals and tourists will keep you busy people-watching for hours. Everyone under the sun and more are all wondering around in stifling heat. Oppressive humidity that leaves your brow damp in moments. Merchants shouting and birds singing. “No Durian” signs posted on every corner due to their pungent smell. Swarms of people all looking for something while shop owners lounge in their stores, shirtless. It really is something to experience.
After living the poor life we decided to upgrade. Sky Park here we come! Well, the bar portion of the Sky Park where drinks are mandatory and cost >20CAD. Sitting 57 floors above Singapore sipping our expensive cocktails (Alayna finally got her Singapore Sling) we started to feel like we had really made it in this city. The euphoria lasted until we squeezed back into the subway and made our way home. It seems the city has something for everyone but is geared towards the rich. Think of it like the wealthy man’s playground; Infinity pools atop buildings, expensive brands in every mall (offering product that looks like a kindergartner went on a shopping spree at Value Village), and Lamborghini’s littering the roads. You’re never really sure who the locals are which gives the city an airport feel. This couldn’t be further from Japan. Whether you come to love or loathe Singapore, one thing is certain: you need to walk its streets and eat its food.