I went to Singapore recently, a business trip to establish banking relationships for my broker dealership businesses in Bahamas and New York. While I was there I thought I would take in a bit of the city-state. I know Singapore as the trade and economic gateway to the east – in fact it even boasts a skyscraper duo named The Gateway in homage to that legacy – but I wanted to know what goes on when the people of the city aren’t running the well-oiled machine that is the Singaporean economy.
Much of Singapore’s reputation precedes it. As promised in guidebooks, I found some of the most pristine streets and public spaces I have ever seen, especially for such a densely packed city – the soaring, and futuristic skyscrapers tell a tale of heavy crowding.
The city defies all that we Americans believe about freedoms and quality of life. The draconian laws – no chewing gum, no spitting, no littering, on pain of heavy fine, public caning or jail, and a harsh and consistently enforced death penalty for drug transportation or distribution – have not seemed to hinder Singapore’s progress socially, technologically and certainly not economically. In fact The United Nations rated Singapore the happiest country in the region this year in their World Happiness Report, and a soaring GDP, high life expectancy, and some of the world’s lowest corruption seems to support this.
Singaporeans and the many expatriates (expats) in the country do not allow these strict rules to dampen their good times however. There is a reason the country has had a drink named after it for almost a century, the cloyingly fruity Singapore Sling.
The vibrant night life reflects the nation’s position as a long time destination for businesspersons and tourists alike, with bar and club scenes for all tastes. It is as if at sundown, the ever-so-efficient city breathes a collective sigh of relief for a workday done and pours forth crowds of businessmen and hardworking students into Clarke Quay and Club Street, ready to loosen their ties and let their hair down. Work hard, play hard.
If you thought Singapore noodles was the extent of Singaporean cuisine you would be sadly mistaken. The food in Singapore reflects its position as the proverbial meeting place of south Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and the west. What is now known as Singapore has been an important stop for trade for centuries, controlling passage the Singapore Strait since the days of the original Trans Indian Ocean and Spice trades.
Today it remains a mosaic of cultures with strong expat communities from India, Australia, Europe, and North America adding to the naturalized Cantonese, Thai, and Indonesian populations and the indigenous Malay. The result? A cuisine scene so rich and diverse in flavors and styles there are very few cities in the world to rival it.
However, the part of the Singapore that stood out most for me would perhaps surprise you. My all time favorite part of Singapore was Universal Studios on Sentosa Island. Now, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a coaster head, in fact it had been years since I last set foot in a theme park despite living in Florida AKA theme park Mecca. However, in Singapore I was lucky enough to be traveling with someone who is a huge fan of park rides and managed to get me out of my comfort zone to have what happened to an all around awesome day.
Now I know, Singapore isn’t exactly known for its theme parks, but frankly it should be. Universal Studio markets its Singapore Park as “one-of-is-kind” within Asian with seven themed zones allowing you to visit New York, Hollywood, Ancient Egypt, The Sci-Fi Future, Jurassic Park, Madagascar, and the enchanted world of Shrek. Going on ride after ride made me feel like a kid again, except that this time around I had a Universal Express Unlimited pass allowing me to skip lines, whiz through the rides and circle back to all my favorites. That’s over 15 rides and many more attractions in one day. Exhausting, but worth it.
Ultimately it is no wonder Lonely Planet named Singapore its best country to visit in 2015. With a long history of catering to diverse populations and excelling in efficiency and quality (which clearly includes tourism) there is something for everyone in Singapore. Whether you like the thumping club scene or lounging in a quiet bar; the bustle of the teeming, cosmopolitan city, or the sandy beaches on the surrounding cays and isles; the spicy flavors of the east, the sumptuous elegance of European cuisine, or the casual comfort of American and Australian food, you can find it somewhere in Singapore. And if you are lucky you will find many things you don’t realize you love until you get there.