One day, a British gent called Tom sat down before a map of the world. At the very tip of the Malay peninsular he noticed a small, jungle-covered island. Being a genius (a British syndrome if ever there was one), he figured that if he put a settlement there, one day it would be the shipping capital of the world. All ships travelling to and from The Far East and Europe would have to stop there to trade goods or pick up supplies. Tommy Boy convinced the British East India Company to get onboard with his crazy brilliant scheme and thus Singapore was born.
I left the bus (a wave and a glad-to-never-see-you-again smile to Wolfgang the old Nazi, who responded with a ‘Sieg Heil’ as if it was funny… he’s probably at home now putting his cat in the oven) and headed over to Kuni’s place, a short walk from The Golden Mile shopping complex. Hailing from Japan and one of the most well-travelled people I’ve ever met, Kuni has been to a whopping 110 countries and has hosted over 950 CouchSurfers here in Singapore. I would be surfer number 959. What a guy! He should have been in work, but was home waiting for the aircon repair man to come. Good call as a lack of aircon is a killer in a place that is just 1° north of the Equator.
You don’t reach the heady heights of CouchSurf stardom by just hosting one person at a time, and in true CS style, Kuni was simultaneously hosting two other people – both of whom were from Germany. I decided it best to keep my experience with Wolfgang to myself. Ira was from a town south of Stuttgart and was lovely. Christoph was from Hamburg and still asleep. As Ira was heading over to the nearby Singapore museum I decided to tag along.
It was a good walk over to the old colonial quarter. The museum, from the front, was magnificent, built in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. There was some modern garbage around the back, terrible glass cubes of that lazy, unimaginative, internationalist school of architecture clinging onto the side of this otherwise beautiful edifice in a fashion that is tantamount to building rape. It’s re-engineering The White Album so it now features Little Jimmy Krankie on the kazoo. It’s having Han shoot first. How The Powers That Be allow such monumental acts of vandalism is beyond me, but then all modern architecture is beyond me. Everything built in the past 50 years is the structural design equivalent of cheap, nasty, talentless, saccharine, materialistic, autotuned, modern RnB crap – or even worse, the utter bobbins that passes for art these days.
Sometimes I do despair that I’m the only one pointing out that The Emperor actually, really, honestly, truly, I’ve-Googled-It-And-Everything HAS NO FRIKKIN’ CLOTHES ON!!!
Ira and I took the free tour, hosted by a nice British lady, which took us around the museum and gave us the low down on Singapore’s history, from its founding by Sir Thomas Raffles, through to the Japanese occupation (in which thousands of Singaporeans were tortured and put to death), to independence and beyond. Singapore today is, like Dubai, a benevolent dictatorship very much in the vein of Hobbes’ Leviathan. There are fines for jaywalking, chewing gum and drinking water on the Underground. There is no minimum wage, no legislative elections and no real political debate.
This is not necessarily a good thing, yet Singaporeans (on the whole) are doing rather well at the moment and so are unlikely to start demanding free and fair elections any time soon.
In any case, after Greece’s disastrous elections (WHO ON EARTH HOLDS ELECTIONS IN THE MIDDLE OF A NATIONAL CRISIS?!!) resulting in wins for the utter dickheads on the far right and far left, I can’t help but feel a little torn between my love of democracy (and jaywalking) and my desire to see things actually get done. Travel for a day on Singapore’s cheap, clean, efficient public transport system and you’ll be questioning the wisdom of asking Joe Bloggs what he wants (when you know damn well the answer will be ‘to pay no tax, bring back the death penalty and get rid of them bleedin’ immigrants’).
Eek! But, all in all, Singapore is a definite success story, the biggest port in the world with more than 75% of world trade passing through on the way to China and back.
Ira and I grabbed a cheap bite to eat (£1.50 for a HUGE bowl of spicy noodly soupy stuff) and then she pushed off to the airport to continue her journey into the wild blue yonder. Meanwhile, I set about arranging to meet up with my friends in the shipping industry, with a view to continuing my journey back home.
Come evening and it was definitely time to go out for a mooch. Being just north of the equator, Singapore is hot. Bloody hot. I keep saying it would be nice to have a day in which I don’t sweat, but I don’t think it’s coming anytime soon. The night-time brings a slight relief and, well, at least there’s no chance of me getting sunburnt. Michael, the guy I stayed with in Hong Kong, had put me onto his mate Gary would be doing stand-up tonight on Northern Circular Road on the south bank of the river. Christoph, my fellow CouchSurfer, and I set off from Kuni HQ on Beach Road and walked down towards the imaginatively-titled Singapore River.
Singapore is currently holding an arts festival, so there’s lots of zany goings on at night. A rather bizarre dance-routine to The Village People’s YMCA in a fake American-style diner over one way, a grid of women slowly thrashing about in water-filled barrels at the other. Nice! We arrived at the comedy night a little late, but at least my new student card got me a discount on the entry price.
One thing that is interesting about Singapore is its ethnic makeup. It’s mostly Chinese (over 75% of the population), and then Malay (about 15%) and then Indian (around 8%). Technically, the Malays are the indigenous people and the Chinese and Indians were enticed (or forcibly brought over) here by the British. There is admittedly a marked segregation between Chinatown and Little India areas of Singapore, so it was great to see comedians of all ethnicities come on stage and well and truly take the piss out of all things Singapore. Some of the joke went over our heads (I don’t know Singapore that well) but for the main part it was frikkin’ hilarious. Especially when Gary put his large comedy glasses on and became the spitting image of Kim Jong-Il.
Gary’s an interesting guy, not just for his stand-up work: he’s also the director of Singapore’s first zombie movie (a step in the right direction if you ask me). Unfortunately, filming has wrapped so I can’t fulfil my life’s ambition of playing a angry, salivating member of the undead. I’ll just have to leave that to the Newt Gingrich’s of the world. After comedy, Christoph and I headed back to Kuni’s, grabbing some fantastic tucker on the way home. Seriously – if you love Chinese and Indian food, Singapore is the place to be.