Before going to India a few years ago my India-phile friend Joe said to my clean-freak wife, “You will HATE it. Hate it. HAAAAAAAAAAATE IT!!!!!”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it is filthy.”
Fast forward to last week.
“You will hate Singapore. HATE it! HAAAAAAAAAAATE it!” My wife said to me.
“Because it is so clean.”
Sometimes in life, opposites attract. My wife loved India; I loved Singapore.
Instead of being put off by the order, I was actually mesmerized by the cleanliness, intoxicated by the organization, and just flat-out impressed with the efficiency of Singapore. After a year in Bangkok, I appreciated a place where crosswalks are more than decorations, stray dogs don’t rule the town, and the air isn’t a miasma of diesel fumes, frying garlic, and fetid swamps.
Aside from the cleanliness, I was impressed with the inventive yet unpretentious modern architecture, the well-preserved colonial buildings and the use of trees and greenery on the highways and buildings. Even more impressive, Singapore manages to be this clean and organized in Southeast Asia! With sister cities like Hanoi, Saigon, Bangkok, Yangon and Jakarta, Singapore is the oldest child who graduated with honors and has a good job while the rest of his quirky family is living a Bohemian lifestyle. It reminds me of this:
Being in Singapore was an adjustment. Pedestrians actually approached intersections and waited until the little man turned green, and cars actually stopped for them! This was too much for me. If I saw space, I went. I put on a master class in jaywalking.
Speaking of roads, they were not jam-packed with traffic! This probably has something to do with the fact that the subway goes everywhere, and modern double-decker buses ply the wide avenues in abundance.
Of course, all this comes at a cost. Dinner with drinks in Singapore costs roughly the same as a 4-year degree from a private university. You have to fill out a credit application before they let you in the door at Starbucks. Even a plate of dumplings, something they practically give away for free in other parts of Asia, set me back 10 USD for 10 dumplings! I will have to cash out our retirement savings to pay the credit card bill next month.
The worst part about Singapore is that it is ground zero for the Smart Phone Zombie Apocalypse. It seems that everyone is walking along mindlessly texting, surfing the web or watching movies on their phones. This is possible in Singapore because the sidewalks are as wide as boulevards and as perfect as an airport runways. If you try this in Bangkok you will either fall in a manhole, step in dog poop, run headlong into a street vendor or break an ankle on the buckled sidewalk, or if you are talented, do all four at once!
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed Singapore, I was happy to return to Bangkok. After all, I didn’t want to get used to the cleanliness and become a clean freak myself. If I did, my wife might get rid of the housekeeper who comes by once a week and I’d have to clean up after myself.
How do you like your cities?