The Thing About Singapore

“I love everything about Singapore. It’s so clean [and] modern, yet so conservative at the same time.”

That’s how the Singapore Abuzz! leaflet in my hotel room proudly quotes Shah Rukh Khan, “Bollywood superstar”. Apart from the pleasing implication that “clean and modern” is not normally associated with “conservative,” it’s hard to see what he’s talking about.

After all, the thing that struck me most about Singapore wasn’t cleanliness or modernity (though both are evident), but the many malls. The downtown map lists no fewer than 78 “shopping centres” and the four I’ve visited were each at least six stories. Which I suppose is no surprise when you consider it’s a place with a strong economy and frequent thunderstorms.

So what’s this conservative deal? Everyone I’ve encountered over the past few days has been scrupulously friendly, with the hotel staff ridiculously so (but they may be a tad overzealous at everything — housekeeping actually aligned my toiletries and folded up clothes left on the floor, boxers included.)

True, the arrivals form seemed a tad unsubtle in its boldfaced announcement of DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW. And I suppose there was that whole caning thing — so maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked to see that HBO is edited. (You can determine this quite quickly when they’re showing Snatch.)

Therein lies Singapore’s problem, kids: you can be friendly and clean and warm and safe, and that’s a great accomplishment. But a country where Dennis Farina isn’t allowed to say the word “fuck” is just not somewhere I’m going to want to live.

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