Saturday, June 2, 2007

Slacking off in Singapore


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A trash can in Singapore. Click on the photo to see the album.

Although I found it difficult to live in China, it was hard for me to actually leave. I was close to staying in Shanghai for another year. I'd made some awesome friends while I was there and I loved being where all the action was. People read about China in the news everyday, but I was actually living there.

Eventually, I felt it was time to go. I already knew where I wanted to live next. Ever since my visit I had been talking to friends nonstop on how great it was and how much I wanted to go back.

Before I could move there, I had to get a visa in another country before I entered. I went to Singapore because it was exactly what I was looking for: clean, modern and convenient, as different from China as I could get. Flying on China Eastern Airlines would have been cheaper, but I decided to splurge on a flight with Singapore Air. After a year in China, I was going to reward myself with a comfortable flight to a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world.

People say how great Singapore Air is--believe it. I've never had such good food on an airplane before. Japan Airlines had good food too, especially the cold noodles they serve after the main meal. I've heard good things about the Korean airlines too. In general, I'd say the East Asian airlines are far superior to U.S. carriers. Better service, better food, and prettier stewardesses (that's because of discriminatory hiring practices, though). If any of you are flying within China, I'd recommend Hainan Airlines, that was the nicest of the Chinese airlines I used. China Eastern often has the cheapest tickets, though.

The Singapore airport was magnificent! It could have been a luxury shopping center. There were computer terminals offering free Internet access. Getting through immigration was amazingly fast, too. The final surprise was when I got to baggage claim--my bags had beaten me to the arrival area, despite the fast immigration process. I swear, this whole country ran as well as a fine Swiss watch.

The other big reason to go with Singapore was to see my friends there. In Beijing, I'd met a bunch of European students studying abroad in Singapore. They were so cool that I was happy to have an excuse to go visit them.

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Having dinner at a hawker center with Colin and Caroline.

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At a basketball game with Miikka.

I didn't realize how much I'd adapted to China until I went to Singapore. I had major culture shock. Everything's in English! It's so clean! Cars don't try to run me down! The list was endless. I felt so stupid, my first instinct was to speak to people in Mandarin, because many of the people in Singapore are ethnic Chinese, but then they'd speak back to me in English. The problem was, I'd gotten used to Chinglish, but Singlish was new to me. A bastard mix of English with an Indian/Malaysian accent. So although everyone spoke English, it wasn't quite as perfect as I expected. Why do they end every sentence with "lah"?

A pleasant surprise was how affordable things were. Friends had told me horror stories about how expensive Hong Kong was, so I expected Singapore to be the same. Luckily, public transportation was extensive and the food was great. Singapore has "hawker centers," open-air food courts where you can get a meal on the cheap. Chinese food dominated, along with Indian, Malaysian and Southeast Asian cuisines. The roast duck I had at a hawker center near my hostel rivaled anything I had in Beijing. I never spent more than 5 Singapore dollars on a meal.

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Photos of a typical hawker center.


Colin, an engineering student from Scotland, took me to the ethnic enclaves: Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street. I haven't been to India or the Middle East, so I can't say how "authentic" they were. But if the Chinatown is any indication, they're highly sanitized versions of the actual countries. China was way more gritty and real. In fact, Singapore has the only clean Chinatown I've ever seen! Here are photos of Little India, Chinatown and Arab Street:


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I liked how mutlicultural Singapore was. Lots of Chinese, Malaysians and Indians coexisting. Asian countries tend to be homogeneous, where everyone has similar backgrounds. I was glad to be in a place that had more kinds of people. Singapore reminded me of Hawaii in that way.

There's a stereotype that Singapore is boring. I was glad this wasn't true. There's always lots of public events going on, and Singapore has some of the best nightclubs I've danced in. They also recently started issuing 24-hour licenses for clubs and allowed dancing on top of bars, in an effort to make Singapore more fun.

Another friend I looking forward to reuniting with was Aurore, a girl from Switzerland. When we were in Beijing, she was responsible for chartering a bus to the Great Wall. Although I wasn't a member of their group, Aurore kindly invited me to come along with them. In Singapore, I thanked her again and showed her some of my dance moves when we went out clubbing.


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Before, I used to travel in order to see famous places. Now, I travel to make new friends. While it's cool to have photos of world-famous landmarks, it's the people photos that I look at again and again. They're the true reward of the journey.

2 comments:

Rachel said...

Hello Marcus, just read the blog about Singapore and I'm glad you enjoyed it! Indeed if you come as a tourist Singapore will not seem boring to you however if you have lived and worked here for at least 2 years of your life (and I lived here for 21 years before going to China), it is! Hahahaa sure, we do have good food and that is something I love about Singapore as well. Other than that if you love shopping and shit like that yes, this is paradise.

By the way Singlish consists of English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and a bunch of Chinese dialects. It is how we talk here but most of us can surely switch easily. Most foreigners do not understand and that is why I like it as well... we can talk bad about them without them understanding! :P

Anonymous said...

Great that you enjoyed Singapore! I'm in the USA but really miss the island-food, family and all.

Regarding the ethnic quarters, Little India and Kampong Glam (Arab st) are much less-sanitised than Chinatown. Little India is natural and buzzing with life; it even possesses the very un-Singaporean concept of disorganisation! Kampong Glam has a very nice mix of Malay, Arab and Islamic culture in general. For specifically Malay culture (although there are many very good Chinese cafes) go to Geylang Serai.
Cheers!

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