What my experience of Singapore was like.
In some cities the streets are like the hallways of a stiff and sterile government institution. You walk through them with no need to look to the left or right, your focus is straight ahead, intent on your purpose. Everything is clean and white, the floor sparkles, there is little for your memory to grasp onto, there is little to observe, impressions flow in and out of your head like water through a sieve. The people in these places are stiffly dressed and starchy, they are walking fast too, looking straight ahead just like you. Nobody notices anything because everybody’s mind is somewhere else. You go straight to the door you’ve planned to go to, open it, do what you need to do, then leave. You don’t doddle. Sure, you could peak through the tall, narrow windows into the plethora of other rooms, but you assume that you already know what’s going to be in there: a desk, some chairs, a stiff looking, be-suited fellow staring into a computer — so what’s the point? The streets in these kinds of cities are a deluge of monotony, something that most be endured to get from point A to B.
Singapore is not this kind of city.
There are people in the streets of Singapore, they are eating food, drinking beer, sipping coffee, talking to each other. They sit in open air cafes and bars and hawker centers creating social spaces that are easy to meet people in. There is action, little stories unfolding everywhere, and nightlife of the nefarious variety. The people are easy to talk to, and they can respond in an array of languages. They don’t fear strangers here.
Above all else, Singapore is not boring — a fact that’s often contested by the city-state’s residents themselves.
“Singapore is boring.”
“Maybe Singapore is a little boring for you.”
“I think Singapore is a little bit boring.”
These words were all spoken to me by native Singaporeans. As I walked through the streets of the city-state, meeting people, and forming defacto friendships a theme readily emerged: Singaporeans think their country is drastically under-amusing. This is so much so that they tend to look at you like you have no idea what you’re talking about when you try to explain that, on a global scale, Singapore isn’t boring at all, it’s actually incredibly stimulating.
What other country is a mix of five+ very distinct cultures pooled together though still retaining their separate identities? What other city, besides maybe New York, can you decide what culture you feel like interacting with on any given day and go to their district. Singapore has a Chinatown, a Little India, an Arab district, and sections for Thai, Indonesians, Malays, as well as a large dose of Europeans . . . Singapore is the crossroads of Asia, a distinction it’s always held. Singapore is the place where this globalization fiasco comes together, and it could be the place where it all falls apart. How can a place like this ever be boring?
It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a place as much as Singapore. It’s not that the streets are clean, it’s not that everything is orderly, it’s not that the place is as safe as places get, but something much more integral: the people are very open to connecting with each other. There is something about totalitarian countries that I like that has little to do with politics. In totalitarian countries the people fear their government, not each other. They are very innocent places. The people trust each other, and they tend not to fear outsiders. For the traveler, places don’t get any better.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii