Singapore, an island state measuring just about 25 x 15kms (16 x 10mls) off the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia, is essentially a world transport hub. It’s the stopping off point for a huge amount of the world’s cargo vessels and, of course, long-haul passenger flights. I think most visitors stay for just a few hours, maybe a day, but few for longer. Being there for over a week made us a little unusual, I think. Perhaps as a consequence, we learned a few interesting snippets from taxi drivers as well as from our very helpful hosts.
Singapore richly deserves its enviable reputation for cleanliness. You’ll never see any graffiti on any walls, nor will you see any litter. As a westerner from a country where our own mindless lowlife toss Ronald McDonald boxes, plastic bottles and empty beer cans out of their car windows complete disregard for their/my environment, the cleanliness is unreal. That 5 million citizens are all capable of behaving this well is simply unbelievable to us – well, it is to me. I’ve just been there and I still can’t believe it. 80% of the locals live densely packed into high-rise tower blocks, too, so blaming our high-rise blocks in inner city areas is far too simplistic.
Singapore also has an enviable reputation for [very] low crime. Perhaps that not surprising given the above. There are always warnings along the lines of low crime doesn’t mean no crime but there is nowhere that we felt threatened or unable to walk. We never saw a single person that looked in any way threatening. According to one taxi driver, carrying a small knife in public will get you in serious trouble; a large knife will get you the death penalty. Vandalism – keying cars, for example – is dealt with severely, even for American diplomats unruly offspring. Maybe such laws, that some would call Draconian, have more to do with good behaviour than living conditions. Maybe – here’s a radical thought – Singapore still educates and instils such values in its citizens.
The climate was interesting. Being just a spit north of the equator, 1.3°N, Singapore’s maximum and minimum temperatures really don’t vary very much. 23°C is about the lowest it falls to, even overnight, and the mid 30’s is about the highest. Strewth, our summers hardly ever reach such heights. It’s quite wet and humid, though. We were there at the tail end of the north-east monsoon season and we frequently had a downpour/storm in the late afternoon. I think of myself as hating rain but, oddly, in Singapore I didn’t mind it. Perhaps that’s because the rain is warm and you don’t get ice-cold drips running down your neck. Even when it rains/thrashes, you’re still comfortable in shorts and a lightweight short-sleeved shirt with an umbrella for protection. The storms can be heavy enough to be spectacular and thus entertaining, too. Maybe I’d tire of it after a longer period but on this trip, it wasn’t a problem.
Above all, Singapore is unquestionably the most expensive place I’ve ever visited. Our first jaw-dropping shock was cars, which cost at twice their UK prices courtesy of enormous import taxes, the real killer is the COE [Certificate Of Entitlement], your permission to own a car, which is purchased on the open market. At S$75K-S$80K ish (£40K – £45K) for 10 years. After 10 years, go buy another COE. That basically doubles the price of your already doubled small family car. Buying a car in Singapore is a bit like using the doubling cube in a game of backgammon. A workaday 1.4 VW Golf will set you back over S$180K (£90K/$140K). Ouch! Fortunately, the public transport system is both reliable and very reasonably priced. Oh, and there’s no eating or drinking allowed on MRT trains or in MRT stations. I know now but I didn’t know then and got ticked off for swigging from my water bottle. Good job I’m not in Changi prison.
It will come as little surprise that Francine and I like to share a bottle of wine a day … or more. Now this really is unfair; even a modest bottle of wine in a supermarket lightens your wallet by S$25 (~£14/$22). Realistically, though, you’re more likely to be into S$30 a bottle. Even 6-packs of 330ml beers cost S$15-S$20, and at 25°C they don’t last long, either. It’s enough to make you tea-total.
So, basically we enjoyed Singapore as a place to visit, especially with a dragonfly fetish, but, living a western lifestyle, I couldn’t afford to live there. The pension would run out too quickly. Oh, and I don’t believe Singaporeans really get pensions or much in the way of social help, either.
In our week and a half in Singapore, we visited only about half the places on our Bukit List. Even so, our final Odonata species count is 40, nine of which are down to the guidance of our very friendly dragonfly-photographing soul mate, Anthony. Some people wondered what we’d do in Singapore for that long but we may have to go back to finish – when we can face the 13-hour flights there and back again. 😉