When I first moved to Bangkok,Thailand I needed to do a visa run (leave Thailand to get a new visa, then come back) and a friend recommended Singapore. I’d never been to Singapore, heard it had good English bookstores and, with a two hour flight from Thailand it was convenient, so I booked a trip. But, two days after arriving in this ‘island state’, I couldn’t wait to leave Singapore and, since then, I’ve never been back. In fact, if you’re thinking of traveling to Singapore on business or vacation, these five big reasons might make you think, like I do, Singapore is definitely a country to avoid.
1. Singapore Is The World’s Most Boring Country – One of the smallest countries on the planet, Singapore has little to do to keep you entertained. Sure, if you like shopping malls, or sitting in restaurants, Singapore has many of them. But other than tacky Sentosa Island with its Universal Studios Theme Park, there’s little else to do except shop and eat.
Half the fun of being in Asia is its lively streets, smells, sounds, street nightlife, food stalls and cities that never sleep. Singapore, on the other hand, is one of the world’s most sterile countries, with all the outdoor food in ‘hawker areas’ (dull, compared to Bangkok), and with none of the street life of most Asian cities. After being in Bangkok, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, I felt like I was sleepwalking in Singapore – it really was that dull. After my second day in Singapore, and a ‘city tour’ that took all of three hours, I was so bored I booked a flight back to Bangkok two days early as I couldn’t stomach one more day in the world’s most boring country. Singapore is a country to avoid.
2. Singapore Is Expensive – Compared to most other Asian countries, Singapore is expensive. With things like taxis, hotels, shopping and eating on a par with America, I saw no point in visiting an Asian country, then spending as much as I would in America, if not more. For cheap yet amazing places to travel in Asia, avoid Singapore completely, and try Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh – basically anywhere but Singapore.
3. Everything in Singapore Is Regulated – A society gone mad with rules, you hardly dare breath in Singapore, in case you do something that’s against the law. Chewing gum is against the law and bubble gum and chewing gum are not allowed to be sold in the country. Forgetting to flush the toilet could get you a fine of $500, if you’re a gay man and discovered kissing another man you could end up receiving a jail sentence, and don’t forget people are still caned in Singapore for some crimes, including that really serious one of chewing gum.
4. Singaporean Culture is Conformist – In other Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia, the culture of the country is fascinating as, with less rules, citizens are free to experiment with ideas. In Singapore, due to the restrictive laws, the Singaporean art scene practically non-existent. Not surprising really as, if you stifle a people’s creativity and imagination as the Singaporean government does, then people are socialized to conform and think within the box and not outside it. Not a catalyst for great artwork, literature or any other cultural experimentation.
5. Singapore Is One of the World’s Most Censored Countries – Censorship in Singapore is rampant. Political, racial, sexual and religious issues are frequently censored, with most TV programs, movies, magazines and newspapers censored by the Singaporean government. Movies have scenes cut from them, certain books are not allowed to be sold, some music can’t be played, cable TV has some shows banned, and newspapers and magazines have to be careful what they publish in case the government shuts them down.
Many people think Singapore’s intense censorship is to keep the People’s Action Party in power, which is done by stopping political dissention and discussion. But, to a tourist or business person thinking of visiting Singapore, why would you want to give your hard-earned money to a country that practices that much censorship and control over its citizens?
The final straw for me though, as a writer, was to hear about the arrest of British journalist Alan Shandrake. Shandrake, who lives in both the UK and Malaysia, was arrested during a book signing in Singapore because of his book “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore’s Justice in the Dock”, a critique about Singapore’s legal system. Now stuck in Singapore awaiting trial, Shandrake will probably be found guilty, if Singapore’s censorship court cases in the past are anything to go by, and could receive a fine and a jail term. All for criticizing a long-outdated legal system and one which has the world’s highest per capita rate of executions.
As a writer, and as someone who travels around Asia often, for the above five reasons plus many others, Singapore is the last place in the world I would ever go back to. Censored, conformist, bogged down with rules, and the dullest place on the planet – Singapore? You can keep it.
British critic unlikely to find leniency in Singapore court – The Christian Science Monitor – * And don’t forget to buy Shandrake’s book, if you’re even remotely concerned about the value of free speech.