Exactly eight months after I entered Asia, I am finally leaving and I’m going to celebrate with my 100th post! I went to countries I did not expect to go to and I am used to different things now. It is perhaps fitting then that my last stop is Singapore, a fairly westernized city with attitudes and prices halfway in-between what Asia and Europe. Like when I visited Hawaii, I had a moment of “Wait, everyone here is… Asian but they all seem to speak English!” The Chinatown was the cleanest I’d ever seen and the vendors all spoke the best English I’d heard from any Chinatown. I knew Singapore would be clean and efficient but this was still unexpected.
I arrived just in time for my kind of holiday, the Hungry Ghost festival in which neglected spirits come back to collect on missed food in the form of feast like altars everywhere. This meant I saw plates of food in front of incense in front of many homes and particularly large displays in front of restaurants and food centres. One restaurant had a whole roasted suckling pig out as their offering. I’m totally coming back as a hungry ghost.
Speaking of holidays, I happened to be in Malaysia for their Independence Day. This involved Malaysian flags everywhere a week before the big day. This only made me more surprised that at least once a day in Singapore I saw someone wearing an American flag shirt. I do not mean there was a flag on the shirt as much as the entire front or back was an American flag. That would seem slightly tacky even in America, I guess there’s some love of America or American culture out here.
After months in somewhat conservative Southeast Asia, everyone in Singapore looks rather relaxed and casual. Gone are all the men, even in villages, always in button down shirts and the women all in painful looking high heels. After seeing people swimming in their full clothes, Singapore seems so full of exposed skin. My last stop before this was Malaysia, but all throughout Southeast Asia it is uncommon to see the locals displaying much public affection. I’m sure I looked silly and I stood agape staring at all the people just making out or grabbing butts on the metro or on the street. I guess it’s not just reserved for teenagers out here. They even appear to congregate outside on weekends having picnics in what is otherwise the rather feared sun in Asia.
This is a well off and developed country. It feels like what Asia could be if they wanted to be conscientious about their rushed development. Singapore has made a point to have green spaces and to conserve what little resources they have. There are the endless shiny and new malls popping up everywhere like anywhere else Asia. This may be a more food loving country as I’ve never seen so many malls per capita, and never so many food selling areas per mall. I often look at the pets to judge how developed a country is and the cats and dogs here are definitely first world pets. Even the senior citizens are better taken care of then in America, with an extra button you can swipe your senior card at to get longer crosswalk times. Whereas I only saw iPads and iPods in airports in many developing countries, where the rich people were, everyone here had them. They were visible in the subway, on the street as people walked, even in the lower end hawker centers.
It seems quite common in Malaysia and Singapore that young adults speak English as their primary language. However, it may be telling that Malaysian television had a show called “Oh my English!” to correct common mistakes for their native tongue. The Singaporeans seemed to be overall more educated as a country so this meant that they mostly just had a different accent.
It is interesting to compare this country, full of what I consider Western style developments with the rest of Asia. They seem much more conscious of the long arm repercussions of their actions perhaps due to the low resources and tiny size of the country. In China, there may be trash everywhere but they had fancy ads in the subway that you could see as the train sped by. Here there were not these fancy ads but the subway system itself was more advanced and easier to use. You can see the priority of focus and innovation here, it is not as focused on capitalism as many of the ironically communist countries are. It is delightfully refreshing if still a bit oppressive and more controlling than America. Along with the rules about no durians on public transit and no chewing gum, I found out about a few more odd rules. Apparently prostitution is legal in this business man focused city but pimping is illegal. One hopes this encourages prostitution entrepreneurship, however alas I hear otherwise that this is not Europe. A more outdated rule is that Malaysian newspapers are not allowed in Singapore and vice versa. In the age of the internet, this seems like a pointless rule that has not caused the ruin of either country.
While I was in Cambodia I met some Italian expats working in Singapore. He told me that while his job was going well he felt like he wasn’t really living in Asia. It was too clean, too unlike the rest of Asia. I felt it was a tad sterile too without the piss and fire of Western rebellion, only the shinier financial market bits. However as far as places to live go, efficiency and getting things done should never be ruled out. It was not a bad place to hang out for a week or two, to see old friends who could find professional jobs out here unlike most places I visit, and to eat my heart out. It was a good halfway point for me to be in right before I leave Asia for the west. As this quote in my passport says, Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” Thanks, not very gender sensitive passport, I will go west, and I’ll grow up with all the countries I visit in some modern global manifest destiny.