Singa-poor

May 21, 2013

Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore, was visiting Phnom Penh in April 1967, and famously turned to King Norodom Sihanouk, telling him: “I hope, one day, my city will look like this.” Having just spent the weekend in Singapore, I’m sorry to have to tell him that his wish has not come true.

I’d never been to Singapore before, having simply regarded it as a sub-tropical quasi-Fascist hellhole filled with cretinous sheeple. And it was, and it wasn’t. Obviously I was only there for a couple of days, so I’m no expert. But it was, as everyone says, clean, orderly and green. The public transport was tremendous, everywhere was air conditioned, the people were astoundingly beautiful, and there were more shops than I think I’ve ever seen anywhere. I mean, everything was a shop. I tried desperately to think of something I needed, but all I could come up with was a jar of decent mayonnaise, and then I never got round to it anyway.

I had gone to Singapore to meet my old friend Michael: let me say now that it was, thanks to him, a truly brilliant weekend; he bears no responsibility for my slight antipathy to the place, and deserves a thousand hugs for showing me things I’d never thought I’d see. As, I hope, he knows.

Singapore also has one of the best bookshops I’ve ever seen in my life (and I’ve been to a few) in the astonishing Kinokuniya, which is vast and brilliantly stocked. Luckily for me, however, the one book I could think of I wanted was out of stock. I say luckily, because it cost an eye-watering $90.20, which is just a little on the steep side for a 350-page paperback, I thought. (It’s $9.70 on Kindle).

And that’s probably my major complaint about Singapore – the incredible prices of everything. Three rounds of a pair of drinks? $120. That’s a pretty decent local monthly salary in Phnom Penh. An extremely average one-course dinner for three? $350. I’m not going to be looking at my credit card bills for a month or two, I can tell you.

One other thing I noticed about Singapore was the lack of policeman. I’d imagined that there would be jackbooted enforcers on every street corner tasering people chewing gum or having their hair past their collars. But no, there were none to be seen anywhere. Which makes me think that Singapore polices itself, in some sort of grand mass self-delusion, and no one ever does anything wrong simply because no one does anything wrong. Which is pretty odd. I was glad to get home, to the grubby, cheerful, shattered and pungent chaos of Phnom Penh.

And for no particular reason, here is a picture of a cake I saw the other day, and would very much like to eat. If anyone fancies trying to make one whilst I’m back, do let me know.

It's made of Kit-Kats! I love Kit-Kats!

It’s made of Kit-Kats! I love Kit-Kats!

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One Response to “Singa-poor”

  1. Andie Winchester said

    I shall consider that a challenge!! I am now off to bulk buy some Kit-Kat…….

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