We’ve been in Asia for over four years now. Since going home at Christmas 2012, we’ve not been to the “first-world”, so to speak. Since then, we’ve travelled across Western China, the Philippines and Indonesia. We’ve grown accustomed to being in the developing world, and we kind of like it – it’s exciting, different and rapidly changing. However, it’s also become our norm.
If a guy wants to take an entire frozen pig on the metro, then so be it. (Thank you Alexis Joson, for helping me to illustrate my point here – taken on the Nanjing metro, yesterday).
Stuff, that in our first year of living in Asia would have had us go “Wow, that’s mental”, has become somewhat normal.
We’ve been away so long now, that it feels weird being in a rich place, surrounded by white people (except for at work). I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s our reality.
Landing at Singapore Airport in the summer, gave us a bit of reverse culture-shock. The first shock was getting out the airport into a brand new Mercedes-Benz taxi, not something you see everyday in Asia.
Our next shock was walking into a 7/11 convenience store, and being charged £5 for a 0.5l bottle of water, a Mars Bar and a Solero Ice-cream. I was outraged, and shocked. In China, Indonesia and the Philippines, that would have cost less than £1. Welcome to Singapore.
We quickly became acutely aware of how everybody spoke English, everything was in English, and how everything was pristine and orderly. There were no beeping horns, everybody queued up properly to buy their subway ticket, or to get a taxi, and there was no spitting, or peeing / pooing in public. It felt as though people actually respected one another here, not something we feel too often in Mainland China.
There are a genuine variety of ethnic groups that call Singapore home; Malays, Chinese, Indian, Arabs, and Westerners too. Shops were stocked full of Cadburys chocolate bars, Ribena and it felt as though you could buy anything you wanted, provided you had the money.
We stayed with Amelia’s eldest brother and his girlfriend, who had a very swanky apartment overlooking the CBD area of Singapore. This was the view from their apartment.
Walking around Singapore felt like we were walking through an urban utopia. It was almost too perfect. The old buildings and areas were immaculately preserved, and appeared to have been lovingly restored. The architecture reflected the mix of settlers and people who called Singapore home.
From the grand colonial buildings of the British Empire, to the random, yet often striking high-rise structures of the 21st century Asian business hub, to the colourful shopfronts of the old Arab Quarter. As a retired student of city planning, Singapore was beautiful (with the exception of some of the 1970’s/ 80’s apartment blocks).
The green spaces, the night lights, the incredible eateries located seemingly everywhere, packed to the rafters with all manner of people socialising and enjoying fine cuisine on the streets. Four months after leaving, I’m still taken by it. It was just a beautiful, lovely and seemingly perfect place.
Amelia’s brother assured us it was far from perfect, especially in terms of expat lifestyle. The cost of almost everything, was significantly more expensive than anywhere I’ve ever been, probably approaching London prices.
The heat can be oppressive, apparently, although it was moderate whilst we were visiting. We’ve felt far, far worse in the Nanjing summer.
“There’s not a lot happening in Singapore, it’s a bit sterile.”. Yes, we can see why somebody would say that. But there’s still a hell of a lot more going on than there is any British city apart from London, and it’s got miles more going for it than any city in China, in terms of quality of life.
We kind of concluded that if you’re coming to Asia for the first time, Singapore could be a bit of a disappointment. If you want to see the vibrancy and mentalness of Asia, go elsewhere. It doesn’t have the outstanding sights that make Indonesia, Burma, Thailand and other places such well visited destinations. Ultimately, Singapore is a small island with a city built on it. However, if you want to live in a nice place in Asia, with a high quality of life, you’d be hard pushed to beat Singapore. And it’s on the doorstep of all these other amazing Asian places, without a lot of the negatives found in neighbouring places; pollution, corruption, poor sanitation etc…
If you want a relaxing city-break, to chill-out and unwind, enjoy some first-world comforts, I don’t think there’s anywhere better to go in Asia.
We only stayed 3 nights, but as you can see, we were taken with it. A welcome break, and a nice reminder of what the first world is like. We will return.
Note for readers – I did not take all of the photographs in this article.