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Singapore: First impressions

I can’t even tell you how much I love Singapore right now!

After Nepal etc, firmly back in the first world. Not the Western world – Singapore is plenty exotic, with an interesting mix of Chinese, Malai, Indian and Western culture.

But at the same time, it’s a very rich country, and more importantly a very organised one, where everything just works.

If you imagine every place you could travel to having two dials – one labeled “adventure”, (i.e. how foreign, exotic and exciting is the place), and the other one labeled “comfort” (i.e. how easy and relaxing it is to travel there) – then most of the places I’ve been so far would rate very high on “adventure”, but rather low on “comfort”.

So compared to that, Singapore is like “excitement in easy mode”.

sg signs

Stuff that just works in Singapore: All around, there’s lots of signage not just telling tourists how to get to sights, but for everybody pointing to the nearest metro station, public toilet, car park etc.

sg mrt

Speaking of the metro: Not only does it have fully automatic driverless trains, it also stops exactly in front of the fully automatic platform doors.

sg mrt load

And it has monitors showing you, before the train arrives, which part of the train will be how full.

sg ezpass

You also don’t have to worry about figuring out which ticket you need – you just get one of these smartcards, load a few singapore dollars on it, and then just tap it when entering and leaving the subway, and it will automatically deduct the fare according to distance – usually just a few eurocents per trip downtown.

sg mrt fines

The cliches you’ve heard about huge fines in Singapore are true, though. 1 Singapore dollar is about 60 eurocents – so yes, I was worried I’d drink some water without thinking about it, and get hit with a 300 euro fine. (No fine amount given for taking a durian fruit on the train – I wonder why?).

And yes, your visa sticker does have a big fat “Death panelty for trafficking drugs” on it…

sg four languages

The four official languages of Singapore – Mandarin, English, Malay and Tamil (not Hindi!). Although in practice English and Chinese are by far the most common.

I actually have to remind myself that most people are at least fluent in English, if not native speakers – Singaporean English has some “Singlish” influences, i.e. local slang, and expressions influenced by Chinese and Malay, and accents tend to be pretty pronounced, so when I speak to someone who looks Chinese, and speaks with a heavy Chinese accent, I have to actively remind myself that they probably speak English better than I do, and NOT to fall back into the simplified pidgin quasi-English that serves as the real international language of tourism in non-Englishspeaking parts of the world.

sg coffeeshop whychwood

Speaking of cultural mix: this coffee shop for some strange reason was carrying beers from the Wychwood brewery in England – some of my favourite beers, currently, and hard to get in Germany. A single bottle was like 15 euros, though, so I did without.

sg hawker

Not everything is expensive, though – there are “hawker centers” everywhere – something in between a bunch of rowdy street food stalls, and a mall’s food court.

sg food chinese

Where I got this delicious Chinese (I think) chicken curry for about 6 euros.

food drinks

Speaking of food: here’s the latest in the ongoing series of “trying weird stuff from the nearest convenience store”: The Lemon Barley drink turned out to be delicious and refreshing, the “yuzu” fruit drink to be some kind of citrus fruit, and the package wrapped in imitation banana leaf to be some kind of rice dish with some weird nuts and dicey small fish bits.

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