Singapore

Arrested for flower theft!
…and six other reasons Singapore is not the most boring place on earth

Published in Alpha magazine, and also missing its layout. Anyway, it’s a good example of how to format information so it’s easier to digest. Or, at least, mildly more interesting.

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1. It’s a country within a country

In the middle of Singapore is an area known as Chinatown, containing Chinese restaurants and temples. Not so odd, you think: there’s a Chinatownin my town where I go to eat when I’m pissed. But in Singapore, over 75 per cent of the population is Chinese; the culture is Chinese. This is like having Australia town in the middle of Sydney.

The reason for Chinatown is because most of the island’s old culture has been replaced by large hotels and convention centres for fat-arsed international businessmen; and by enormous airconditioned malls where tiny Chinese girls wearing stack-heels go shopping in groups of 27.

2. You can get arrested for picking flowers

In Singapore is a beautiful botanic garden, where they cultivate orchids and name them after Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela. I ask the guide what would happen if I picked a couple. She acts like I’d threatened to lock her in a box of wolves. “You must not do that!” she whispers. Will I get a fine? “At the very least!”

In Singapore, minor crime is major crime. The police are housewives with batons – they lurk waiting for you to spit, drop gum (a banned substance anyway), jaywalk or make the place in any way untidy. If – God forbid – you are caught littering, you are fined $500, sentenced to community service and MADE TO WEAR A RED JACKET.

3. You can drop your nuts on the floor

Singapore has invented a drink. It’s called a Singapore Sling, and to be fair, is shit. The thing contains gin, pineapple juice, bitters and cherry brandy, looks like something that makes hyperactive children head-butt walls and tastes like medicine.

The home of the Sling is Raffles Hotel where they charge you 17 bucks for it because you’re a tourist. Raffles is a big old place built in the early 1800s by the first Governor, Sir Stanford Raffles, so the locals couldn’t see him get drunk on Slings and lie in his own sick.

One thing old Sir Stan and his mates loved is to throw their peanut shells on the floor, which despite all the housewives with batons, is something you are still allowed to do today. In fact they actually encourage you to do it, even if you don’t want to. The floor and all the tables are covered in shells. When the shells are up to your knees, the native waiters come round and clear them up for you. This is why the Poms built the Empire.

4. Every day is a holiday

With a native population of Chinese, Malay and Indian, and about a million foreigners on the island, locals can take the day off and celebrate New Year’s Day, Chinese New Year, Thaipusum, Hari Raya Puasa, Good Friday, Hari Raya Haji, Vesak Day, Labour Day, National Day, Deepavali and Christmas Day. We don’t know what some of them are, but if someone offers you the day off for it, get out and start celebrating.

5. Singapore ruined Churchill’s batting average

WWII British prime Minister was fond of making brave statements like “We have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears”, “we will never surrender” and “the Fremantle Dockers are the best team in the world”. Sadly for him, when the Japanese invaded Singapore, the British fought for a heroic seven days before surrendering the whole place and running away.

As a variety of sombre museums, graveyards and memorials testify, Japan’s three-and-a-half year occupation was not exactly characterised by hugs and presents all round. Tucked into the hillside of Fort Canning is the Battle Box, the largest underground command centre of the British Malaya Command Headquarters during the War. The complex is bomb-proof and can recycle its own air supply. Through recently installed audio-visual effects, you can relive the stellar morning of February 15, 1942 when Singapore fell to the Japanese. Churchill described it as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”.

6. The king lives here

The food in Singapore is the best in the world. We know that, because the people at the Singapore Tourism Board tell us it is. But on conducting a small poll, I discover “the best food in the world” can also apparently be found in Sydney, Melbourne, Atlas Kebabs in Dubbo and the Grace of India (“you’ll like our curries”) down the end of my road.

Actually, Singaporean food corresponds to three of the most important food assets: good, cheap and fast. Practically every Asian country you can think of is represented, includingMalaysia,IndonesiaandScotland. Yes, Chinatown’s Singapore Heritage Restaurant is the home of the Porridge King. The King’s recipes “date back four generations”, and include such classics as caviar crab-meat porridge, salted fish porridge, and in fact any other food you like made into a porridge.

7. Singapore snakes can fill you with doubt

In the central hills of Singapore is Bukit Timah, the highest point of the island. From here you can see the busiest harbour in the world (tonnage), a cable car, an empty golf course, old women doing Tai Chi even slower than normal and lots of trees. Of all this, only the cable car seems to be moving.

A man arrives with a basket, puts down the basket, opens the lid and pulls out a yellow and white python. He holds it out like a Christmas decoration with eyes. “Put the snake around your neck,” he recommends.

I don’t think so, I reply.

He gives it to a woman who drapes it over her shoulders. It doesn’t strangle her to death and eat her whole. I put my hand on its back. It feels like warm dry rubber loaded with steel springs. Everyone takes photos and gives the snake handler money. No-one takes any more photos of Singapore.

I wonder briefly if Singapore is really the most boring place on earth.