Singapore: Passport!

I’m coming down after three years living in Asia, so dull was my stay that I dubbed Singapore, “Singabore.” The island has also been called “Asia- lite” and “Disneyland” with the death penalty — FYI: you don’t want to do your robbing and graffiti here, the law is the law — but the country should also be seen in the context of where it was and what it’s become. The Singapore of your grandparents’ era was plantations, huts and rickshaws but now those antiquated structures have been replaced with beach resorts, skyscrapers and Mercedes sportscars. The only mud left is on the spa treatment menus.

Singapore likes new glossy, clean and permanent reinvention. You don’t indulge your culture and history fix here unless it’s in a glass case at the million dollar museums but pockets of old Singapore can give a taste of the country’s past.

One example is Haw Par Villa, sort of like New York’s Coney Island without the rides. The 1937 amusement park evokes traditional Chinese culture with a western twist, almost akin to a Chinese grandmother’s ghost stories with vanilla ice cream cones. You are guaranteed a surreal and spooky tour around the peeling park and since Singaporeans prefer their entertainment in a mall, it’s also not far away. The Orchard Road mall is a road with a never ending procession of Gucci and Prada shops.

On a personal note, Singapore is and was a constant lesson in humility for me. If you’re shopping, be prepared for dazed shrieks of laughter when you ask for a medium size in any store. You ain’t medium, honey. If you’re a Westerner, you’re large in this town. As an expat or foreign tourist, even in the hugely developed country with nearly a quarter of the population from overseas, you represent something of a spectacle at times. This is the case especially if you venture out into the boondocks where the real culinary treasure lies buried in Singapore’s Hawker Centres. In these local food markets, the grub is cooked to order and the crabs still squirm in the tanks decorating the eatery, all too aware of their fate. If you head to Singapore, make sure you taste a chili crab on the beach. The delicacy is the island state’s national obsession, eaten with just a pinch of spice. Enjoy!


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