Sunday, July 17, 2011


As major cities (and countries, and islands, and island countries) go, I've seen much much worse. But despite all of its lovely angles -- and down by the water (technically, Marina Bay), everywhere I turned there seemed to be yet another one -- Singapore hasn't quite brought me to my knees. Beauty is only skin deep, and Singapore's skin is thin and its charms not particularly deep. What you see is all you get. At least that's where the city and I stood after 24 hours together.

Someone told me that Singapore is a stab at creating a kind of Utopian metropolis. But I like my urban sprawl ugly/beautiful (like New York City, Buenos Aires, Milan, Bangkok, all perfectly imperfect, with the alluring state of slight decay that floats my boat and keeps me coming back).

If everywhere you look, you see the unspoilt and the pristine, they start to lose their value -- and ultimately, my interest. Even Paris, which I've never loved and always compare to a beautiful but boring lover, has its dark and stormy side. For me, Singapore is the gorgeous guy who can't make me laugh and is terrible in bed.

I'm not sure why I came. Singapore was never really on my to-do list. The only reason why it's ever been on my radar at all was because of a major news story from years ago in which a young man from the U.S. was threatened with caning by Singapore's legal system because he committed some minor offense like leaving the lid off of the toothpaste.

Actually, I think it was more like misdemeanor vandalism, or jumping the turnstile at the subway station, but in a country where I've been told it's illegal to chew gum in public, and where on the back of the immigration card there's a CAPITAL LETTER WARNING that reads "DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW," one is immediately aware that it's imperative to be on your best behavior here.

No, I never had any intention of visiting Singapore until one of my friends in Melbourne suggested that I stop by for a day or two since I was going to be in the neighborhood. So I decided to squeeze it in between Phuket, Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I'm headed tomorrow morning. To be completely honest and fair, unlike, say, Athens, Singapore does have its charm. I can understand why someone might be attracted to it. I met a guy from Vienna -- another stunning, sterile city -- who fell in love with Singapore at first sight and decided to move here. Despite its good looks, though, it's just not my type.

Three potential deal-breakers:

1. It's too clean. Upon my arrival, I updated my Facebook status to reflect how underwhelmed I was feeling. "My first impression of Singapore: It's like Ryan Reynolds' face (his FACE, not his abs). Perfectly pleasant to look at but lacking any truly standout characteristics. I did love that my cab driver from the airport was wearing one of those wispy, pointy beards that the bad guys always had in '70s martial arts movies!" I'm all for no littering and cleaning up doggie poop, but when I feel like I can literally eat off the sidewalk and die another day, we've gone past neat and orderly into the undesirable realm of sterility.

2. Where's the local flavor? During my Sunday-afternoon solo walking tour, I met a 13-year-old boy from China who made me guess his hobby.

"Video games?"


"Collecting comic books?"

"No, but close. It's collecting something."

"I give up. Tell me."

"I collect foreign currencies."

He certainly came to the right place then! (And no, he didn't make a buck off of me.)

At the suggestion of my trusted old friend the Internet, on Saturday night, I went to a great bar called Tantric, where pretty much the only thing that screamed "Singapore!" was a drink on the menu called a Singapore Slinger (SP$14, or roughly US$12). I had a lot of fun, and I met some really cool people, but almost all of them came from somewhere else. One of the few locals I met was a girl who approached me on behalf of her friend, also a local. It was the first time I've ever been asked, "Are you a top or a bottom?" by a girl, which might have offended me had I not been so busy laughing.

3. Getting around at night is hard on the heels. The concierge at my hotel couldn't find a taxi to take me to Chinatown at 11pm (the lines of all the companies on his list were busy!), so he directed me to a taxi stand across the street. Though a driver picked me up only a few minutes later, and he charged me a mere SD$7 to take me to my destination (Tantric), finding my way home a few hours later wasn't so easy. After seeing many other people stranded just like me and resigned to their plight because, well, that's just how things are in Singapore, I decided to power walk it back to my hotel. By the time I stumbled through the front doors of the Grand Park City Hall about a half hour later, I'd already forgotten everything I'd seen.

Even Ryan Reynolds' face is more memorable than that!

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