Singapore Dispatch

Published 2006-09-30

Singapore is the anti-Xiamen. Leaving China necessitated two forms, two passport reviews (and stamps) four lines, and more than an hour of waiting and paperwork. To leave. We cleared Singapore customs in about one minute.

Singapore feels a bit like a northern European town transplanted to the tropics. Hyperclean, hyperorderly. English is the language of common currency. People are friendly, helpful, and reserved.

Singapore’s people are a fascinating ethnic melange. I had grown accustomed to seeing hundreds of variations on the same Chinese face in a crowd. Here I have trouble pinning down the exact ethnicity of any random person. Malaysian? Indonesian? Indian? Chinese? European? Arab? Some blend of two or more of the above? And there are many more languages and religions than these.

Only a government like Singapore’s could hold this rough mix together, let alone make it the richest nation (per capita) in Asia. With the degredation of the American federal government (made apparent last year in New Orleans), one wonders if the future of the world is again in the city-state, not the nation state. Seattle is on track to meet Kyoto accords, Boulder is planning for the collapse of its aquifers. And so on. But I wonder: do such city-states require the kind of quiet authoritarianism you feel here?

Remember the cut-scenes in Starship Troopers that revealed the Fascism of the Future? Socially liberal, ethnically diverse, without want or hunger, with at least the veneer of free speech. And yet, still fascism. Singapore is in no wise a fascist state, but it is definitely a state of rules and consequenses. No one jaywalks here.

Weather is gray and humid. Languid. With the hyperabundant greenery it lends an especially fertile air to the city. Yesterday the air condensed and formed an amazing downpour that held for four hours. They call this a rain forest; no wonder.

Money TalksI spent yesterday shopping (along Orchard St.), which seems to be Singapore’s raison d’être. I was really looking forward to this but it was so overwhelming that it quickly lost its sheen. It really was just like the U.S. They even call their currency “dollars.” Yes I had coffee (twice, once at Starbucks, natch), and visited a Borders. But I couldn’t think what to read... Of course, everything here is at western prices, which is off-putting after the cheap-fest of China.

Altogether, nice but...but what? Sinapore lacks China’s zany infectious energy. I could (and would) live in only took one day to realize this. Actually it took about 20 minutes: on the taxi ride from the airport we passed a cyclist on a carbon-fiber bike in full kit. At 1 am. But if I’m having my Big Life Adventure™ right now, I'm glad I’m having it in China. I just wish I were getting rich doing it.

The timing of this trip will only give us two days in Malaysia. Aw crap. I realize all I want is that beach. Well, there’s plenty of shopping to do.