The Singapore Option
Previous submissions have dealt with the viability of Singapore as a permanent base in SE Asia as opposed to Bangkok. With the current volatility of Thailand, the tiny city-state of Singapore must be looming ever large on the list of possible escape routes for long-term ex-pats. Then there are newbies who have enjoyed their SE Asian holidays and are looking to move to this corner of the world permanently. I have taken upon me to share my viewpoint on this, after only a few months of living in the place and having had a few trips to Thailand, all memorable ones. I will concentrate mainly on the living aspect of Singapore as it is really not a genuine holiday destination for more than a couple of days.
Let me start by comparing Singapore to the west. Why would somebody want to move here, anyway (locals often wonder about this, truth be told)? Actually, Singapore is a really different place from what you would expect, given its reputation. It is certainly not the Switzerland of the East as many claim. I have not seen a lot of rats and cockroaches freely running around in corner coffee shops in Switzerland. Admittedly, this is less common than in (say) Bangkok, but I do come across the pests fairly regularly, located as I am in the HDB (public housing estate) heartlands of Sing-city.
It is true, that the commercial centre of Singapore is squeaky-clean, no small thanks to hordes of underpaid Bangladeshi blue-collar workers who toil away for 400 dollars (2 euros, 3 pounds, 1.5 US dollars to the Sing dollar) a month, often sleeping 10 to in a room or just taking a far-flung corner of your favourite air-conditioned underpass. Without them, this place would be a bloody mess. But just venture a bit further afield and you'll find plenty of garbage, cockroaches, rats, open sewers to remind you that despite appearances, you are in Asia. The government does try bloody hard though and has largely succeeded in breaking the local populace into following western (and I don't mean UK, sorry) standards of cleanliness. This involves installing UDDs urine detection devices into every elevator and strictly punishing lapses back to old Asian habits of public (un)cleanliness. You can currently witness the same kind of re-education effort in Beijing, where the government are trying (and succeeding) to force people to break old habits of spitting, queue jumping, publicly urinating, ahead of the Olympics. The parallels are there for a reason, the way of running things in Singapore is exactly the same as in one-party China. Basically, if you want to see where China will be in a few decades, just visit Singapore, the only place in the world where one-party socialism really works.
Coming from the ex-socialist paradise of Hungary I can really see how the Singaporeans managed to create a socialist utopia by staying pragmatic about business and economics. They realized many decades before the Chinese (well Singaporeans are Chinese too, really) that you can have a successful and wealthy economy paired up with socialist one-party rule that doesn't give an inch to democracy and free speech. Truth is, the Chinese really don't give a rat's arse about democracy and free speech, as long as they're allowed to make money. And who would blame them? I certainly don't. In fact I think the Chinese (Singaporean as well as mainland) have been a lot smarter in transitioning their economies to a true capitalist one than many of their Eastern-European counterparts. Ok, enough of that, but hopefully you're starting to see my point about Singapore being no Switzerland. Still, as a foreigner, you can piggyback on the concessions that locals needed to make in order to become (reasonably) wealthy, as you really won't be involved in local politics.
So back to comparisons with the West. Forget liberalism. You're going to get fried if you ever have anything to do with drugs. You will NEVER smoke a joint in Singapore. Ever. No exceptions. Don't even think about hard drugs, the thought police will kick your ass. Oh shite, I shouldn't have let that one slip out. This one's NEW. Then there's alcohol. It's expensive. I mean it IS more expensive than in Ireland. It is probably more expensive than in Sweden. You can get drunk, but bring a bottle of whiskey from Malaysia, before you enter the country, or you'd better be on a dream ex-pat salary package.
Ok, now that I've scared off 90 percent of readers (99 percent for UK and Ireland 100 percent for Scandinavia), those that are seriously interested in Singapore, read on. Here come the good bits. You can find a job in Singapore, and you'll be
paid well. Apart from alcohol, and perhaps accommodation, life's gonna be cheaper than back home. Food's excellent, and you can get almost everything you had back home for the same price. If you don't fancy Asian food, you'll
have plenty of other opportunities. Weather's great, mostly hot and sticky, but never unbearably hot. You can always hop over to nearby SE Asian countries, including Thailand for the price of a return train ticket from London to Brighton.
And Brighton really doesn't compare to Phuket, let's face it. You can have a career in Singapore, with good companies and you can draw a decent western-sized pay check. If you have skills, your lifestyle will not suffer a drop as opposed
to old Blighty or the United State of Arrogance. English is the main language in this country, so if you read this website, you'll have no communication problems. This might be a life-saver when it comes to women. More of that later.
Time to compare Singapore to Bangkok then. Well, BangCock is certainly more exciting than SinghaBore, no doubt. However, there's less rats and cockroaches, few stomach upsets, you can actually eat from the pavement in the CBD, hardly any traffic jams, lots of well-kept green space, clean air (apart from the annual haze drifting over from Indonesian forest fires), a wonderful public transport system, reasonably well-behaved drivers and VERY safe streets. Crime is something rumoured to happen to Singaporeans abroad, but almost never at home. No power cuts, no delays in schedules. Any schedule. Everything works and runs smoothly. There is first-rate healthcare (ok, so BKK is not too shabby either), education, sanitation, etc…
And Singapore is a really beautiful city. The skyline, especially after dark is stunning, an evening walk by the Singapore river is always pleasant. Bangkok simply doesn't compare. I mean, yeah the royal palace and the temples are kinda nice, but you have to pay an entrance fee to get in, and once you've seen it, you won't be going back.
Bangkok simply doesn't have a pedestrian-friendly city centre as Singapore does. In this respect Singapore has a particularly European, dare I say Mediterranean feel about it. The old adage about the Lion City being the Gibraltar of the east is so true. It really does feel like an oversized Gibraltar, and the similarities are numerous. Both cities have an indelible Britishness about them, despite being located in different parts of the world. They are little islands of prosperity, surrounded by much larger and poorer neighbours, who hate the locals' guts for being richer than them. They guard the entrance to the world's two busiest shipping routes and their mere existence is no small thanks to their geographical position and benefits from trade. Finally, their wealth is largely thanks to a British legal, educational and governmental structure, plus the locals' fluency in the English language. I cannot stress enough, how British Singapore really is. Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, is revered almost like a God, even though he only spent a few years in the place.
Despite decolonization, not a single place name has been changed. Most streets bear the names of long forgotten British Indian Viceroys, British army generals and the likes. There is a Victoria theatre, Queenstown, Raffles Place, Fort Canning park, etc… The city has a very large white ex-pat community, mostly from Britain and other English-speaking countries, whose lives are mostly as privileged as it would have been in colonial times. Most of them live in the best parts of town, have a maid, send their kids to foreigner's schools, and pay ridiculous amounts to be part of their club (British, American, Australian).
As in the rest of Asia, premiership games are all the rage, and locals wouldn't miss an England game for anything. I could go on, but you see my point… As for the girls, they're every bit as pretty as BKK ladies, and certainly prettier than any bargirl you can find in BKK. Those are goddamn ugly. I mean you really have to look very hard to find a decent-looking one these days. And some guys go really low, so much so that I feel sorry for the balding 50-something Farang guy who had the misfortune of pairing up with such an ugly one. You can see an obvious grin on the girl, who clearly thinks she got lucky for getting such a handsome guy. How relative is beauty! Of course this goddamn ugly Isaan girl is still oh-so-beautiful compared to the hippo-sized (ex)wife back home. (hint: keep looking, don't take the first one just because she falls into your arms).
Then again, Singapore will only suit professionals. Retirees and gap-yearists will find it too expensive, and will probably find that they are less appealing to local girls than in Thailand. Professionals might do better on the girlfriend/wife front in Singapore though than in Thailand. Greater effort is needed to meet the girls, but nothing like in the West. The quality of wife/GF material is really outstanding, most women are very intelligent, well-educated and really take care of their looks. They are also fundamentally Asian in thinking, they will not expect you to cook and clean in exchange for sexual services as seems to be the norm in the west nowadays.
Also, if you find Chinese-Singaporean girls too hard a nut to crack, there are hordes of foreign Asian babes in this city, who can at times be rather aggressive in grabbing an Ang Moh (local term for farang) boyfriend. These girls tend to come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and mainland China. They're usually less educated, often work as maids or even bargirls and the pitfalls in dating them are often the same as with Isaan girls.
Then there is the fabled SPG (sarong party girl), local term for Singaporean girls, who crave and imitate everything western. These girls will not even speak to local men, can only be seen in the company of westerners, have gone through a number of angmoh boyfriends and sport a fake foreign accent. They are rumored to be sexually liberated, prefer to be seen in revealing black mini dress and sunglasses, are artificially tanned (compare this to Thailand, where locals long to be white) and like to reveal their (relatively) ample bosoms. They prong well-known ex-pat hangouts in search of moneyed angmoh men. Their prime motive is not always money though, often it is simply seen as chic and fashionable to date westerners and some wealthy ladies will even maintain an angmoh gigolo purely for fun. As in the rest of Asia, local men are not exactly gods in the bed as we all know. The best known SPG is MissIzzy (www.missizzy.org), who gives her reasons for dating only white men in her blog. A bit unfair to the local guys, I found, but who can blame her? We all want the best partner we can get our hands on.
As for naughty nightlife, Singapore does have a fairly lively scene, but prices are way too high for what you're getting, although the quality and beauty of the girls on offer is miles better than in the farang bar-areas of Thailand. Good news is,
that you can take a 45-minute ferry ride to the Indonesian island of Pulau Batam, where prices and experiences will be similar to Thailand's red-light areas. Singaporean men regularly get into the same type of mess as their Farang counterparts
in Thailand, every once in a while a local man loses all his possessions and (common sense) by falling in love and marrying a batam bar girl. Sound familiar? It seems men are the same all over. Foreign brides are also popular with local men, as
an increasing number of girls opt for white boys, leaving local guys with no one to choose from. Fortunately they can get a willing bride from Vietnam or China through marriage agencies, although they too can get burned.
All in all, Singapore should be on top of the list of many SE-Asian affocionados looking for a permanent base. It won't suit everyone, that's for sure, but for certain types it is just what they were looking for. I'd say Singapore is a fair compromise between the lures of the east and the comforts of the west. As an Eastern-European, I plan to focus more on differences and similarities, advantages and disadvantages between and of Eastern European versus Asian babes in my next submission. Stay tuned…
A really nicely written report on a place I have always been well impressed with. I thought you covered all of the important stuff really well. I have two friends, one an Aussie and one an expat Kiwi who spent time in Oz, who have both been living in Singapore for a while – and both are VERY happy there with no plans to move back to NZ / Australia. To me, that is really saying something.