Stickman's guide to Bangkok
Singapore Vs Thailand
By Amazing P
The first thing that struck me was the noise, or rather lack of it. Lying in bed on my first night there was silence. Back in my room in Thailand it is impossible to sleep with my windows open because of the noise outside. The constant roar of motorbikes 24 hours a day is just too much volume for my brain to filter out as background noise. The predominant mode of the transport here is the car and there is a lot of expensive German and Japanese machinery on the roads. Consequently the vehicles are fairly quiet. There are motorbikes but they tend to be typical Singapore status symbols such as Harley Davidsons or Japanese sports bike, not Honda Dreams used by the masses because they are the only affordable transport option.
If you do a lot of walking, which I do, there is another big difference. It is possible to walk along pavements (sidewalks to Americans) for more than 10 meters without your path being blocked by parked motorbikes, cars, food stalls or rubbish. There is also an absence of pachyderms roaming the streets and no gaping holes big enough to swallow small cars. When the green light comes on to indicate it is safe to cross the road it really is safe to cross the road. The pedestrian lights in Thailand, the part of Thailand I live in anyway, mean nothing at all and a green light won't stop you being mown down by a motorbike or a Tuk-Tuk. In general, walking around is a lot safer and not as frustrating as Thailand.
Electronics shopping is a joy here. You have to understand I do not live in Bangkok but in the provinces where a radio with FM is considered hi-tech. Coming from a place where I can find nothing I consider worthwhile buying, Singapore is like an Aladdin's cave.
Ripping off tourists is a lot more sophisticated in Singapore and boy, they know every trick in the book. A Thai might just give you a ridiculous price but then it is a case of haggling. The Chinese Singaporean shopkeeper who you find at places like Sim Lim Square and Lucky Plaza are masters of bait-and-switch techniques and confusion tactics. I always tell people to do some research first before they buy but even if they do the salesmen will offer all kinds of different packages thus confusing even the best prepared shopper. They are masters of the hard sell too and sometimes it can be quite difficult getting away. Not pleasant actually.
The guide books tell us that English is spoken in Singapore. Most of the ethnic groups speak their own languages and dialects among themselves. Then there is Singlish - a form of pidgin that is a mixture of grunts, vaguely English words, Chinese terms, and a sprinkling of Ahs, Lahs and Wahs to give emphasis. I won't go into details because there is so much already on the 'net - just do a search on 'Singlish'. It's a horrible language. Unlike Thailand where sometimes communications break down completely, it's possible to make yourself understood in Singapore eventually but it can be quite an effort.
Singapore is not a friendly place. They are not unfriendly per se but they certainly don't go out of their way to be friendly. For me it's just like being in Europe where I can spend a whole day out-and-about yet not speak to another person except when I buy something. That just doesn't happen in Thailand. The only time I have met friendly strangers in Singapore have been when I've encountered Filipino maids or Asian tourists from Thailand or Korea or somewhere.
I went to the Golden Mile Complex last week to investigate bus prices back to Thailand. Golden Mile Complex is where the buses from Thailand terminate and is sometimes referred to as Singapore's 'Little Thailand' because there is a small Thai community located there. It was a classic example of the differences between the two cultures. The travel agencies were all staffed by Chinese Singaporeans. Talking to them was very business like. They were all busy on phones or computer terminals and would break away just to give me facts and prices. They were their usual industrious selves, efficient but not what you would call friendly.
Outside were a bunch of Thais. Even without hearing them speak I knew they were Thai by their behaviour. Typically they were all sitting on the floor in groups around a selection of cheap Thai food eating communally, drinking beer and Thai whisky. I exercised my very limited Thai by saying a few words in their native tongue and immediately I had the attention of the whole group as they burst into fits of laughter. I was then invited to sit down and offered food and drink. The Chinese wouldn't do this. They would only give me the time of day if they thought there was something in it for them.
Singapore is not cheap. Despite the fact I get free accommodation and many meals bought for me when I visit, I spend more money here than in Thailand where I pay for everything and where I also spend money on Thais. It's necessary to have a job that pays well. The expat community have a good life with their companies paying for everything and still paying them good salaries. A lot of the poorer Singaporeans, the ones not zooming around in Mercedes and BMWs, struggle to make ends meet. My financial model, that of being able to survive in SE Asia on the money from renting out my property at home, holds up in Thailand but would not get me very far in Singapore.
Jobs are available to foreigners with very specific skills that are in demand. The old 'Teaching English' fallback that foreigners use to survive in Thailand doesn't work quite as well. It's a matter of opinion but many Singaporeans will claim they already speak English, therefore demand for teachers isn't as high. English teaching jobs are available and pay very well but employers are picky. They will want relevant qualifications and experience - and they will check up. I wouldn't recommend arriving with that degree and TEFL certificate you acquired from the Khaosan Road last week.
I don't consider Thailand as being unsafe but safety in Singapore is on another level. I would have no concerns being dropped off in the middle of the night with all my valuables about me and getting out my wallet to use a roadside ATM. There are isolated instances of crime but they are very rare.
Singapore has a reputation for being a gourmet paradise. What's good is that food from around the world is available and it is very authentic. Some of the Chinese food is disgusting. People in Europe or North America who say they like Chinese food because they like the food from their local takeaway will be in for a shock. It seems that the Chinese love all the stuff that we would normally throw away - chicken's feet and pig's intestines are favourites. They love frogs and basically anything that walks, slithers or hops is potential food. I find Thai food generally a lot more acceptable but outside of Bangkok the variety of food can be lacking.
(I guess this is what most people want to hear about so I've left it until last.) The predominant race here is ethnic Chinese. The Chinese girls range from incredibly ugly to very pretty. There are lots of very slim, shapely girls and their light skin tone isn't much different to northern Europeans. The proportion of good-looking girls seems a lot higher here than in Thailand. They are almost invariably well dressed and for those men who appreciate the shape of a nice foot the Singaporean girls beat their Thai sisters hands down. Big ugly feet and splayed toes are not seen too often.
The Chinese girls are incredibly stuck up though. As a race the Chinese don't particularly like foreigners and the Singaporeans seem even worse. I get the impression that foreigners are seen just as a necessary evil, good for the economy but not much else. Singaporeans are renowned for their love of money and material things. The 'Five Cs' that is often referred to here sums up their mentality - car, condo, cash, career, credit card. An expat I know who lives here told me that Chinese girls have three questions for potential suitors. What do you do for a living, where do you live, what car do you drive? All money-based questions. If they don't hear the right answers they're not interested.
In all my visits to Singapore I have never had any interest shown in me by a Chinese girl. On the contrary, at times I have been sneered at as if I was a piece of brown stuff they had stepped on in the road. As a tourist passing through you will need to be very fortunate to get lucky with a Chinese girl. If you're living here and have lots of money you might stand a chance. They are obsessed with Manchester United and David Beckham. Looking like Beckham, or having his kind of money, would be a definite advantage.
The Malay girls stick to themselves generally. A lot are veiled. At first I thought that were all quite ugly but then I started looking at some Chinese girls trying to imagine what they would look like in a veil with no hair showing. They too wouldn't be very attractive in a veil. It just goes to show what a difference a girl's hair makes to her appearance. Someone I know dated a 'good' Malay girl and she brought a friend along on every date to chaperone her. Actually, their behaviour is highly commendable. If you were based here and looking for a serious, marriage-minded relationship a Malay girl might be an option but not for a casual fling.
The Indian girls seem to stick to themselves too. I don't know much about them as they just aren't my cup of tea.
Singapore, for a tiny island and a population of just 4 million, has a huge amount of domestic maids - 140,000 I think the figure is. They are mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines. The Filipinas are one sector of Singapore society that I really like. I have met some fabulous Filipino girls working as maids and waitresses and they are a lot of fun. They work hard for a pittance and a lot of them are well educated with degrees but they can't get work back home. A salary of 450 SGD is not unusual and most of this gets sent home. Some manage to get a day off each week but others don't. Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road is the place to find the Flip girls on a Sunday, their day off. This is where a lot of the maid agencies, Filipino shops and bars are located. The girls might not have much money but on their day off they like to have fun and that is exactly what they do. You will find them just hanging around the shops or in Karaoke bars belting out songs in Tagalog. It's possible to find and date them but one of the problems is that they are working most of the time apart from Sunday.
There are a lot of expats in Singapore and although these are mainly men there are some girls too. All I can say is that when compared to the beautiful, slim Asian girls they don't fare very well. To be honest most of them just look like big, ungainly lumps. I think that the 'Ang Mo' girls have quite a shock when they come to Singapore. From being in a position of power in relationships back home they suddenly find that men just aren't interested in them.
I believe that prostitution is legal in Singapore. There are lots of working girls and I can't believe that the authorities in such a regulated country would turn a blind eye if it wasn't legal. Most of the girls are Thai, which unfortunately doesn't help Thailand's reputation for being the brothel of Asia. The famous 'four floors' - Orchard Towers - is still as busy as ever, catering mainly to the expat and tourist communities. Most girls working there are Thai (with a fair number of katoeys) but there are also some Filipino bars. I believe the going rate is around 200 SGD for a Thai takeaway for the night. The girls rely on being taken home by the end of the night so if they are still available at closing time there may be reduced rates.
Geylang is an area full of cheap hotels (many of which have hourly rates posted outside) and knocking shops. The better places have a fishbowl type arrangement where girls can be viewed. Again, the girls are almost exclusively Thai. Activities take place in the girl's room where she sleeps. These places charge 80 SGD to tourists and 40 SGD to locals for 40 minutes of pleasure. People complain about dual pricing in Thailand but this takes the biscuit. I have questioned this policy before and they either lie to you, saying everyone pays the same - absolutely not true - or make up another excuse. One guy told me it was the market rate, or something ridiculous like that. What it actually is is a cartel. They have all got together on this one and no-one will budge. Therefore it is 80 SGD or nothing for foreigners. No-one will break the cartel agreement and offer cheaper rates to foreigners so foreigners continue to pay double. I guess someone needs to pay for the establishment owner's fancy Mercedes parked outside.
Also around Geylang are some rather lower class establishments and streetwalkers. The girls on the street mainly cater to the low paid Indian, Thai and other Asian construction workers. (Well, someone in Singapore has to do the manual work and it's not the Chinese.) I have been offered sex for 10 SGD on the street but she probably had more diseases than an American germ warfare lab.
On the subject of skanky girls, there is a lane running parallel to Desker Road in Little India. There is no traffic so it is possible to walk along and look inside the open doors on either side. What you will see is the worst examples of womankind imaginable. Old, fat, repulsive women caked in make-up sit in the small rooms waiting for business. They must get business otherwise they wouldn't survive but I can't imagine who would pay to have sex with them. Purely for research reasons I asked what the rate was and was told 40 SGD. It's unbelievable that anyone would pay them for sex. They would need to pay me a serious amount of money to put my todger anywhere near one of them.
There are a number of 'Health Centres' in Singapore, some in quite respectable locations. I understand that services over and above the advertised 'massage' are available but have no experience of such places. I recently heard a story about a married couple who regularly visited such a place. The wife would have her facials and nails done while hubby was a few feet away having a massage with just a thin curtain separating them. On one visit he apparently got more massaged than he was accustomed to. I'm not sure if this is a true story or an urban myth.
Singapore suits a lot of foreign people. It is SE Asia (geographically) but pure western world in so many respects. There is probably no safer place on earth, it's clean, tidy and orderly. For me though, the value system in Singapore and the greed for material things at the expense of kindness and compassion is one of the reasons why I wanted to get away from the west. Because it is so safe and regulated I also find it lacks any 'edge' and can be quite boring. As a break from the third world it can be quite welcome but as a place to live or spend lengthy periods of time in I am just not interested. Give me Thailand any day.
When I look at some of the things Thaksin is doing it reminds me a lot of LKY who has been ruling Singapore since 1959 as Prime Minister and now as 'Senior Minister' and who has created a massive dynasty. Some call it a dictatorship and I wouldn't argue. There are significant differences between the two countries though. Singapore is tiny geographically with a service and technology based economy and a majority Chinese population whose culture it is to work hard for material gain.
Thailand is far bigger geographically with a population 15 times larger and an economy more focussed on agriculture. Rice, for instance, will not grow in Singapore. What's more, the Thai people have a different set of values. Being happy, contented and having fun is more important than pure material gain to most Thais. It gives me reassurance to think that as long as there are Thais living in Thailand it won't change too much and I don't think we need worry unduly about Thailand turning into another Singapore. Not in our lifetimes anyway.
Really great comparison. I have to admit that I am a big fan of Singapore, but that my experiences are only based on short visits and have no doubt that living there would be very different.
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