First impressions: 48 hours in Singapore

While much of Southeast Asia is chaotic, often gritty, and culturally dense, the relatively new country of Singapore appears to be the opposite.

Its shiny exterior is overwhelming: the luxury cars crowding the roads, sleek architecture, and extravagant shopping centers. Driving around the island looks like something straight out of Mario Kart with its manicured foliage and spotless roads. I’ve never been anywhere like it—much less in Southeast Asia.

While I’ve only been in this city-state for some 48 hours—and likely still foggy from the 20+ hour travel time—I can’t help but feel like I’m not getting the full story. When something feels a little too good to be true, sometimes it is. What is Singapore hiding? Who are the people here, beyond the flashy billionaires?

 Large shopping centers with futuristic architecture are seen throughout Singapore.
Large shopping centers with futuristic architecture are seen throughout Singapore.

Singapore seems like an anomaly: a clean, orderly place where people follow the rules and the economy thrives. (Yes, it’s true that the streets are even cleaner because chewing gum isn’t sold here.)

My parents are new additions to a thriving expat community in Singapore, and it’s an easy place to live. In contrast to our former home of Rio de Janeiro, Singapore’s crime rate is ridiculously low. English is one of its national languages. Public transportation is clean and reliable.

Of course not everything in Singapore is picture perfect. It is has often been ruled with a firm hand; homosexuality is still considered a crime and there are harsh punishments for lawbreakers.

But its growth from a developing nation to a first-world metropolis in less than 50 years is impressive. Its hard not to feel like you’re in a sort of futuristic utopia, where a cultural melting pot thrives and business and pleasure effortlessly mix.

 An apartment building seen from an apart-hotel.
An apartment building seen from an apart-hotel.

Despite the glittering skyscrapers, the city refrains from feeling cold due to a large amount of greenery. After emerging from a shopping center filled with designer brands, I’m quickly reminded I’m in tropical Southeast Asia by the surrounding palm trees and year-round humid weather. If you removed all of the shopping malls in Singapore, I’m convinced that there would be only a handful of buildings left. 

First impressions aside, I’m eager to explore Singapore city’s attractions, parks, local food stalls, museums, and whatever else I stumble upon. I love when cities surprise me, so let’s see what the Lion City has up its sleeve.

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