Singapore – colour & culture without character

It’s not often that we come away from a place feeling as though it’s been a bit of a disappointment. This time, sanitised Singapore is just that for us.

We’ve been to Singapore on several occasions. It’s always been a model of cleanliness and order – almost a textbook example of what the Orient could, perhaps should, be like; instead of the normal shambles to be found in many Far-eastern countries. But we think its gone too far – bring back some balance.

It’s taken us a while to recognise that it’s the very fact that you don’t always know what you’re eating, what you’re doing or when to do it, when to speak, gesticulate or walk away; that you have to watch where you’re going, what you’re buying and what you’re paying for it that makes the Orient – and many other foreign countries – the exotic, exciting, out of the ordinary places that we love to discover.

Permanently retired

Singapore…gone are the cycle rickshaws and old boats in the world’s busiest harbour. The streets are as sharp, smart and clean as the skyline. The cultural enclaves of Chinatown and Little India seem like virtual reality creations, rather than the character filled corners of a vibrant city – even Little India has level unbroken pavements and clean litter-free streets!

It’s not to say that Singapore hasn’t got a thriving, thrusting personality of its own – but its all a bit benign.

If you relish the idea of going to the Orient without all of the attendant facets that for us bring it alive, then Singapore is for you.

In the same way as watching India on TV, or in the cinema, gives you all of the colour, charm and detached enjoyment of the country without the risk – so Singapore provides you with a living breathing reality that you can immerse yourself in, without the frisson of fear in getting dirty, ripped off, or even diseased!

Surely, life without risk is a life without reward? It’s vital of course that with ever-escalating tourist numbers that any ‘experience’ is manageable and sustainable but Singapore seems to have dialed out the character as well.

For us, Singapore has sadly become a sanitised, anaesthetised edifice drained of personality.

Shinytown Chinatown – a colourfully cloned presentation of once ramshackle shophouses

In the rush to compete with the Marina Bay Sands hotel, it’s almost as if the rest of Singapore has upped its game to spruce itself up.

Marina Bay Sands hotel with its skyline pool linking three towers

As we write in 2018, even Raffles is currently closed for a complete makeover.

So, no doubt the dog-eared architectural edges, the slightly tired décor and the faded glory of colonial charm that has always epitomised this grand dame of imperial excellence, will all have been eradicated to bring it up to date with 21st century expectations.

Presumably even iconic Raffles will lose its endearing dog-eared charm?

Little by little, every country is ‘progressing’, which makes it increasingly difficult to capture the individual essence of a destination – the differentiators that encouraged us to travel in the first place; since man took to the seas and skies.

We had to hunt for the scruffiest street in Little India

We don’t like plastic flowers or fast food – nor do we like the uniformity of soulless international high streets with identical chains and brands throughout.

We deplore the loss of individuality and a bit of grit.

As interesting, innovative and effective as they may look at dusk, the metal trees of Marina Park in Singapore somehow epitomise the loss of the natural in favour of the cleverly contrived.

Yes, progress is all well and good but not at the expense of true character and the patina of history that made these places what they were in the first place.

Is the sun setting on Singapore as a vibrant destination?

Singapore? Not for us again in a hurry we think – until we’ve exhausted ourselves and the choices in trying to see as many other destinations as possible; before they too ‘modernise’ to attract the ever more demanding and risk-averse traveller.


Cherrie's Notes

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