Monday, July 18, 2011


That's the most common adjective people have used to describe life in Singapore. Convenient, safe, comfortable, and easy.

It's true - I believe that Singapore is the most "livable" city in Asia. Some call it "Asia lite." This is the place to start if you've never traveled in this part of the world before, and want to ease into the culture shock. This is the place for businesses to move when they want to expand into the region, because infrastructure and set regulations. This is the place expats want to work because of the top rated schools and English-speaking population. This is the place you let your daughter take on her first internship away from home, because of the low crime rates (right, mom and dad?)

The public transportation could not be better. The metro system, buses, and taxis can take you anywhere you need to go. They are clean and run like clockwork. Taxis are strictly regulated, and no driver will try to rip you off. I don't believe it is possible to really get lost in Singapore - all you have to do is find the nearest passerby, who is certain to speak at least basic English, and ask them where the nearest taxi stand/bus stand/MRT stop is.

Sure, the weather could be improved, but most of the time I don't even realize it is so hot and humid. Every building, taxi, bus, subway, home, is air-conditioned, and many places are connected through underground malls or pathways. It is easy to get around without ever being outdoors for more than a few minutes.

It is easy to "experience" manageable bits of culture. Want to see what India is like? Just go down two MRT stops to Little India, where there are streets crammed full of small restaurants cooking fresh naan and curry, stands with incense and religious offerings, vendors selling tropical fruits, and boutiques and shops selling knick knacks and cloths of all sorts. There's also a Chinatown, with its own Chinese Heritage Center. The Arab District is also nearby, with mosques and delicious Middle-Eastern cuisine in all price categories. Everything is within easy reach.

Food is convenient here. There is everything from 5-star restaurants to vendors in hawker stands selling 90-cent roti prata and $1 bowls of beancurd. Every cuisine is within easy access - Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Middle-Eastern, French, Italian, Australian, American fast food, you name it.

And the shopping! I have never seen so many designer brands in one place. First of all, Singapore has a mall on every street, each bigger and newer than the previous one. There are stores that you would find in the states, such as Forever 21 and Guess, and then there are high end Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, etc. If you have the money, this city is the shopper's paradise.

It's clean and safe. Singapore is the one place in Asia where I am not afraid to use a public restroom, because most likely it will be impeccably clean. It is also a place where I am not afraid to walk around by myself. People are so rule-abiding that they will not cross the street when the "walk" sign is not green, even if there are no cars on the road. Residents take their "queues" or lines very seriously - never try to cut in line! Rules and regulations run the city - no durians allowed on public transportation, for example.

Travel to nearby countries is cheap and fast. It is manageable to hop over to Vietnam, Malaysia, or Thailand for a weekend for under $200 (or even $100 if you snag a good deal). So if you get bored of the city state, you can quickly pop out for a small adventure.

But Singapore is also a place of transit for many expatriates. Many people I have talked to do not plan on staying here for more than a few years. Why is this, if the city is so comfortable? Maybe it gets boring after a few months. The community is also very small, and maybe it a little too small once you realize that everyone you know also knows each other in various ways. Or maybe people just get used to the comforts and start to take them for granted. After all, everything is relative.

I like this place a lot, after six weeks. Right now, I can see myself living here. But who knows what will happen in the future, and how my perspective will change?

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