It’s a small, small world that Sophie Lioe discovers when traversing the exotic and eccentric land of Singapore
Singapore is a real-life Disneyland. Picture this: streets so clean you could probably eat your dinner off them if you were so inclined, each building lining the harbour painted a different colour – think Balamory, but Eastern – and each tree trimmed to perfection. All that’s missing is deranged happy people in ridiculous costumes.
Getting into the country itself, however, is a less delightful process due to the strict border control and the fear that you might accidentally be smuggling banned chewing gum in your back pocket from months ago. The four-hour bus ride from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur crosses the connecting causeway between the two countries but you may as well be hopping on a long-haul flight to the other side of the globe: the difference between the two on a cultural level is extraordinary.
After Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, the country developed unrecognisably and is now considered one of the economic and academic leaders of the world. It’s also one of the wealthiest countries in the world, attracting huge businesses and ever-present tourists alike. Not bad for a country which measures just 25km by 48km.
However, the city itself initially gives off a slightly strange impression, appearing somewhat fake. In its attempt at being a cultural, historical place, this eventually gives way to a sense of security and ease. The longer you stay there, the more you never want to leave. Who wouldn’t want to live in a beautiful, safe, clean city?
Although Singapore’s crazy laws such as no chewing gum and no eating or drinking on or near public transport may indicate a country so obsessed with perfection that you’re scared to put a foot wrong, you’re soon distracted by the extraordinary architecture, charming streets and numerous tourist attractions, such as its very own Universal Studios.
The main harbour area, Marina Bay, and the affluent Orchard Road (Singapore’s answer to Fifth Avenue) offer not only traditional Chinese and Malay food, but any Western delight you could want – from Hooters to fine Italian cuisine.
After travelling around China and Malaysia for the weeks leading up to this, a bit of a reminder of home was somewhat of a welcome relief. The harbour’s nightlife area (such as Clarke Quay) is buzzing with Latino bars where you can Salsa dance into the night, to Irish pubs to try out how well Guinness travels.
You can even see what it’s like to sit in a fake wheelchair and drink brightly coloured cocktails through a drip, surrounded by hospital screens and being served by staff in scrubs and masks in the Clinic Bar. Slightly bizarre, I know. But in a word, that’s just what Singapore is.