HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Singapore 101

Here comes another post that has nothing to do with Vietnam. On December 26th I'm taking a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, which sits about 5 hours away, just off the southern tip of Malaysia. Singapore is one of the smallest nations in the world, and it has interested me for years. As soon as I decided to move to Vietnam I knew I would have to visit the city-state at some point. A wealth of cultural influences has turned the city into a top dining destination, and its striking skyline catches my eye every time I see a picture of it. (If you don’t know by now, I love photogenic skylines.) Right now I can only afford one night in the most expensive city in the region, but I plan on seeing a lot in that short time period.

Singaporeans don’t have much of an ethnic identity, because the country didn’t exist as an independent entity until 1965. Over the centuries the island was ruled by various Javanese and Malay leaders until Thomas Raffles, a British trader, landed on Singapore’s shore in 1819. He negotiated a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah that allowed the British East India Company – one of the most influential organizations in history – to develop a trading post and settlement on the island. In 1824 Singapore officially became a British colony, and it more or less remained one until it gained full independence on August 9, 1965. In the 45 years since becoming an independent country, Singapore has developed into one of the most modern nations in the world.

Thanks to creative leadership by the political party that has ruled Singapore since its creation, the country now acts as a major hub in the global economy. Its strategic location near the Strait of Malacca, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, means Singapore sits on some of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes in the world. Therefore, Singapore’s port is one of the busiest in the world, handling oil on its way from the Middle East to China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and Asian exports on their way to markets in Europe, for example. Changi Airport, a massive display of modernity, serves as an international gateway for flights traveling from East to West, or vice versa. The economy’s focus on advanced technology has attracted some of the largest corporations in the world, and many high-end electronics are manufactured on the island. Singapore is also the world’s fourth largest foreign exchange trading centre after London, New York, and Tokyo. That’s an impressive laundry list of accomplishments.

The city-state has also turned into a top tourist destination, thanks to the huge inflows of money coming in from the economic assets mentioned above. This is what interests me. Thanks to the influence of British, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, and a host of other cultures, Singapore boasts an amazingly diverse cultural scene. The melting pot of food and entertainment options that the people of this nation have created is extremely alluring and, as with Kuala Lumpur, I plan on spending a lot of my time in the city eating. Another major attraction is the ridiculously opulent Marina Bay Sands resort, which will host Singapore’s first casino and is sure to draw hundreds of thousands more tourists. The Sands cost $8 billion and isn’t even completely finished yet, but I am definitely going to check it out. Google it or wait for my pictures, because it looks incredible.

All of this tourism and international business calls for modern infrastructure, and Singapore delivers with a world-class subway and light rail system. It will be nice to have highly efficient public transportation at my disposal after spending time in Phnom Penh, where that phrase is unknown, and Saigon, where there are public buses but they look horribly chaotic. Singapore is also regarded as one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world, probably thanks to some of the bizarre rules of its government. It is in the area of law that Singapore’s leaders exhibit a rather authoritarian bent in some very strange ways: for example, selling or chewing gum is illegal, as is peeing in an elevator (what’s wrong with that?), walking around your house naked, or participating in oral sex unless it is part of foreplay. I’m not kidding. These are humorous, but the rule of law in Singapore can also be extremely brutal. Rape and drug possession carry the punishment of a caning, in addition to jail time. If you’re into drug trafficking definitely avoid Singapore. What is the consequence of getting caught while trafficking, you may ask? How does a mandatory death sentence sound? Again, I’m not kidding. One rule I can appreciate is the ban on smoking anywhere on the island. Hooray!

Luckily I never got into drug trafficking, I don’t chew gum, and I’m not bringing my computer, so any porn will stay in Saigon. Therefore, I think I should be able to avoid seeing the back of any Singaporean prison bars. All joking aside, I’m really looking forward to my short visit to Singapore. This will be the most developed city I’ve stayed in since I left the U.S., which will be nice, and I can’t wait to dive into the food scene. More on that when I return, dear readers.

P.S. Just as an FYI, my posting will be irregular for the next couple of months. I'll be working a lot more these next two weeks, then I have my Malaysia/Singapore trip, followed shortly thereafter by a visit from a friend from the U.S., followed shortly thereafter by a 10-day trip to Thailand during Vietnam's Tet holiday. By mid-February I'll be back to my normal schedule.

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