Singapore’s reputation for kitsch and authoritarianism might justify William Gibson's description of the city as "Disneyland with the death penalty". But the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the squalor of most southeast Asian cities, and if you scratch below the squeaky clean surface you'll find much more than readily meets the eye. It’s one of the few major southeast Asia cities where tourists do not need to insulate themselves in expensive hotels, restaurants, spas and clubs. Following the easing of government restrictions on people enjoying themselves, The Garden City, second only to Monaco as the world's most densely populated country, makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
The food is southeast Asia’s most diverse, only eclipsed by that of one other city in Asia, Hong Kong. Don’t miss the uniquely Singaporean dish, Chili-Crab, the crab that bites back. The whole place is obsessed with food: eavesdrop a table of Singaporeans finishing their lunch and you will hear them discussing what they are planning for dinner. When you visit the Zoo, you may well overhear the locals wondering what the animals taste like, but no, in case you wondered, Singaporeans don’t eat zoo animals, you have to go to Vietnam for that.
Shoppers can happily bust their baggage allowances in shopping meccas like Orchard Road and Suntec City. Whilst Singapore’s reputation as a food and shopping mecca is well established, what is not so well known is that in recent years the government has relaxed its iron grip on the morals of its citizens a bit. Whilst the place is still respectable, it is now somewhere where you can legally enjoy a lively night out, maybe dancing on bar-tops whilst drinking your fill or more of whatever drink takes your fancy.
Just don’t get caught buying chewing gum, as this is illegal. One would think the politicians would approve of the stuff, as chewing it impedes free speech, but they don’t.
You can buy gum, but only by prescription from a pharmacy: what you have to tell the pharmacist to secure your prescription is anybody’s guess. Maybe you need to grind your teeth and plead chewing withdrawal symptoms. Gambling casinos will be opening up in about 2009 as part of Singapore's new ‘Fun and Entertainment’ drive, the aim being to double the number of tourists visiting the Republic.
This new laisee faire attitude was recently demonstrated by the launch of The Tipple Exchange pub-crawl tour by government Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan who, unusually for a government minister, is not a septuagenarian and doesn’t walk around in what looks like his old school uniform.
The pub crawl’s good ales and intelligent conversation made for a great night out, and Singapore Slings were tasted and sometimes not-so-reluctantly retasted in a bid to find the best recipe in the Republic. This walking tour was organized by singaporewalks.com, which also offers other, non-alcoholic walking tours of Singapore’s diverse and worthwhile cultural highlights. Singapore’s spotless streets and courteous drivers make this the only city in southeast Asia where a walking tour can be recommended: in Manila, for example, such a trip would be about as pleasant as chewing on razor blades.
Singapore is by a mile the most pedestrian-friendly city in southeast Asia, although that isn’t really such an accolade, as pretty much all the region’s other city streets leave much to be desired. Pavements and pedestrian crossings in Singapore are in good shape and plentiful, roads are well signposted and, by Asian standards, drivers are usually careful - they have to be as, by law, any accident between a pedestrian and a vehicle is automatically deemed to be the driver's fault. This is a major boon to many a travel-weary tourist, nerves frazzled by the open drains and the psychopaths behind steering wheels of the neighbouring countries’ capital cities. It is with relief that such visitors wander round Singapore’s leafy, tout-free and quiet streets, maybe enjoying a newspaper and a cup of tea on Orchard Road, followed by a spa pampering session and then a gourmet dinner on Riverside.
Malay may be enshrined in the Constitution as the 'national' language, but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every Singaporean under the age of 50 and, by many younger Singaporeans, with much better grammar and vocabulary than it is by most of the original owners of the language. Singaporeans are a pleasure to talk to: their manners are as impeccable as is their English. Republic Taxi drivers always agree to use the meter, are courteous and friendly, and usually know when you would prefer them to keep quiet. It is no accident that so many expatriates settle in this, easily the most livable city in southeast Asia.
The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene in Singapore, with 82 out of the 84 seats in Parliament (over half of which were won unopposed) and with opposition politicians regularly bankrupted by defamation suits. Few Western nations would put up with such undemocratic behavior, but many Singaporeans feel that they have so much ‘freedom from’ (poverty, crime, war, squalor etc) that they can put up with having their ‘freedom to’ curtailed. Societal restrictions have been loosened in recent years, with the government making a successful start in shaking off its staid, if not its totalitarian, image.
Two Italian men and a beautiful woman were stranded on a desert island
- the two fought to the death, one killed the other to have the lady.
Two Thai men and a beautiful woman were stranded on a desert island
- they decided to share.
Two Greek men and a beautiful woman were stranded on a desert island
- they ignored the lady, as they had each other.
Two Singaporean men and a beautiful woman were stranded on a desert island - the two men are still waiting for instructions from the government on how to proceed.
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