What I enjoyed most about Singapore is the ease of flying to other countries in Southeast Asia. Not that I didn’t enjoy Singapore, but I would have gotten bored had I stayed there the entire month and a half of my trip. Every other week I was off to a different destination: Thailand, China, and Indonesia. Singapore was the tame home base. It was nice to come back to a clean, organized space compared to the rest of the frenetic region. In my first blog post, after being in Singapore only three days, I wondered if there was much beneath the surface. Maybe, just maybe, had I really spent more time exploring, I would have that deeper, culture-rich epicenter. But I just don’t think it’s there.
On August 9, Singapore will celebrate its 48th birthday. Compared to the rest of the world, it’s still a baby. It just doesn’t have an elaborate centuries-old history like its regional counterparts. There’s no shortage of things to see in Singapore, that is hardly the issue. From its bustling pockets of bars and clubs, to astounding views atop Marina Bay Sands — I could stay in that infinity pool forever — to an infinite amount of festivals and events, if staying busy stifles your boredom, then you won’t be bored. But I like a city that’s a little rough around the edges. I suppose it’s the journalist in me that’s always searching for the grittier side of things. On the small island of Singapore, where even street food vendors are regulated, I have yet to see it.
For a country that went from being a third-world fishing village less than 50 years ago to the worldly cosmopolitan city that it is today, its clearly doing something right. It’s simply playing catch-up historically.
Culturally, Asians tend to be unhappier than other parts of the world due to pressure academically and at work. This seems to be the case in Singapore as well. Although it does a good job of hiding poverty, many ordinary Singaporeans work tirelessly behind the scenes while the billionaires reap most of the benefits seen on the streets. If you want to know about what really goes on locally, just ask your cab driver. Most of them are used to silent rides when their passengers are Singaporeans, but once a Westerner gets them talking, they’ll tell you more than you want to know. Singaporeans tend to be standoffish with strangers — basically, don’t expect a greeting or small talk from a stranger on the subway. If there’s a place that will make you appreciate Texas friendliness and hospitality, it’s there.
If I sound like I’m being harsh on the place, I don’t intend to. I really did enjoy my time there. On the last weekend in June I had the opportunity to attend Baybeats, a three-day annual music festival that features local and regional bands. It was set up differently than the traditional music festival out in a field with thousands of people. It featured three different stages integrated into this shopping center/outdoor dining area/boardwalk promenade. The backdrop of the bay and the city was fantastic. I didn’t know a single band going into it, but how else would you discover bands from places like Malaysia to Japan? The music stuck to different genres of rock, some surprisingly good. Nothing to Declare, a post-punk band from Japan, was a crowd favorite that put on a really energetic show. I was able to get into the not-blocked-off photo pit until someone figured I wasn’t with the festival and kicked me “out.” But I managed to get a few shots of some of the bands.
Aside from a few different festivals, Singapore is mainly a stop for international touring DJs in the EDM scene rather than alternative bands. Although the xx played two shows there just after I left. It’s cool to see how a music scene flourishes or flops in that corner of the world.
I’ll definitely be back to Singapore, since my parents just settled into their new place there. If any of you friends want to check it out, or use it to jump to other places in Asia, let me know! I know it’s far from the U.S., and it probably takes a backseat to other bucket list destinations in a region like Europe, I highly recommend spending time in Asia. It’s so incredibly different from Western living, and I can now say that I have a much greater appreciation not only for those cultures, but for the U.S. and Texas as well — yes, really. The 20-something hour flight is a small price to pay.