Friday, November 18, 2005


Singapore, the cleanest, most advanced country in SEA. As far as adverts for a city go, this doesn’t sound like much. I had apprehensions about this place and wasn’t sure if I was going to bother coming here but one thing changed my mind and that was Kuala Lumpur.

I tried to give Kuala Lumpur a chance but I decided that I would be better off in the place that it wants to become: Singapore. Kuala Lumpur is a working town with not much to offer for the budget dosser. I believe the name means “muddy confluent” and was developed in the late 19th Century as a mining town. It hasn’t had the succession of invaders that often bring history and most things of interest are post 1950. I do like the idea of setting up a capital in what was basically a swamp, like Washington DC. The power players at the time probably had a good idea of where politicians and bureaucrats deserve to live.

It’s a tad polluted though not to silly extremes like Jakarta. The main reason for this is probably wealth. Money means newer cars, better public transport and heavy industry being replaced by chaps in suits shifting data, having meetings and setting themselves “targets”. This makes for less pollution. I was intrigued by some of the things I saw but these will be better explained when I do my “report” on Malaysia. For the rest see below

The great attraction and showpiece for modern Malaysia is the Petronas towers. These twin towers are squatter than they look in the brochures and for some reason failed to impress me. Nice as they are, the planner for these erections didn’t have the casual visitor in mind upon drafting his blueprints. The public is only allowed a third of the way up to the skybridge and, at that height, you are still way below most of the other buildings of the business area. I reckon the real views are reserved for VIP clients though a part of me likes to believe they have set up an executive shag pad up there. If you’re not going to let the proles near the top you might as well go nuts, pick up design tips form James Bind films, and create the ultimate penthouse for yourself. It’s what I would do.

There is a nice green area to the South East of the city that I enjoyed strolling about. They even have padded lanes around a lake to soften the impact on the joints of the few joggers I saw there. There is an Islamic Arts Museum which was quite impressive next to the mosque but I particularly liked the kitchy Royal Malaysian Police museum. I also had very friendly and helpful guides in the guise of 2 coppers who, I discovered at the end, thought I was plod myself. They were actually relieved when I told them I was a plain old arrestable civvy as I had fired off a lot of questions about Azahiri, the Malaysian chap that got killed in Indonesia and was a bomb maker for the local Al-Quaeda franchise. They were coy about the extremist sitch over here and I think they were happy to find out that my take on their outfit was of no consequence.

Anyways, I have now made it to Singapore and I have mixed feelings about the place. Firstly I should state that the idea that Singapore is western is bollocks. No western city I have ever been in is this clean and orderly. This place make the Swiss look slovenly and carefree. What impresses me about this place is that I have seen some other towns in SEA and I cannot be but awestruck by what this place has become.

You have seen my views on Indonesia and Malaysia’s success does not astonish me that much. What does astonish me is how the hell does a place with less natural resources than Shropshire, an ethnically fractured population and no better-than-the-regional average in terms of education become a place where the Western backpacker feels as poor and scruffy as he really is? The weird thing is they didn’t even want to become a nation. They wanted to join the new Federation of Malaysia but were turfed out, possibly out of racist fears of the Chinese majority in Singapore. They were alone and weren’t too keen on the idea but they more than managed to get by.

The secret of this success is Lee Kuan Yew. This chap is like a local version of De Gaulle except that he was successful and deserves for more praise. He was essentially a dictator that held on to power because he was doing so well. He resigned in 1990 but is still Minister Mentor (I’ll admit that does sound a bit creepy) and a major player in this island’s politics. He used trade to get the cash and installed strict rules for practically everything so as to keep the place cohesive. He wasn’t too keen on self expression or freedom in general and he is the chap that gave Singapore its deserved rep for being slightly oppressive on petty matters like littering.

For all the hype, this place doesn’t feel like a sunny setting for 1984. The rules are easy to observe and done so by common consensus and habit. I’ve been walking around the place for the past 2 days and haven’t seen one cozzer. The youngsters here are a bit on the defensive about their society and its perception abroad. The main source of criticism I have heard about this place came from older people, particularly Indians. I astonished a few of them when I mentioned that foolish Yank a few years ago who went on a campaign to escape a caning. I told them the stupid bastard should have checked up the local penal code before going spraypainting and deserved what he got. A lot of the youngsters believe that Westerners automatically supported his little quest to dodge the rattan.

What bothers me about this place is paradoxically what I admire about it. It’s nice but it’s not my type of place. There is slightly too much focus on trade and success. Shopping seems to be a quasi religious activity here and there are now signs for bloody, bastard, cunting Christmas all over the place. The historical sites are nicely done up but a bit too much. I was trying to find out more about the unbelievable fuck-up that was the fall of Singapore to the Japs in WW2 but the best I could find was some silly interactive “experience” within the old command bunker.

Also, this place is softening me up. It has occurred to me that I won’t be seeing this type of infrastructure and order for most of Asia so I am picking up bad habits such as using tap water to brush my teeth, walking about without a medkit and actually expecting traffic to behave in a predictable manner. The only thing I have to really concentrate on is not chucking my fagbutts away willy nilly. Doing this could result in the best part of my traveling budget feeding the coffers of Singapore’s govt.

Also, this is another place where chubbing up is likely as the food here is very good. This makes the high presence of KFC’s and other big fast food chains all the more bewildering and annoying.

Next stop, Melaka.

Take care,



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