Singapore: Asia for Idiots???

In a quite unflattering, and trying-too-hard-to-be-funny article by Dalton Tanonaka for Jakarta Post republished in Relax, Singapore is described as "Asia for Idiots".

Tried to google that condescending term "Asia for Idiots" or "Singapore Asia for Idiots", and the closest thing I find is "Singapore as "Asia for beginners".

The writer of the article, Dalton Tanonaka can have his illusion of 'soul' anytime at home. It's over-rated anyway.

Singapore is just a 75-minute flight away from Jakarta, closer than Bali or your Kuningan dinner meeting on a bad traffic night.

It’s so efficiently manageable that international visitors refer to it as “Asia for Idiots”.

And its white-shirted bureaucrats have loosened up enough to open a Las Vegas-style casino that includes performances by the local version of the Pussycat Dolls.

So why do I still find the Lion City a weak kitten compared to its Sumatran tiger neighbor to the south?

My most recent visit to Southeast Asia’s smallest country came on the spur of the moment, a last-minute decision for a needed weekend getaway.

I usually seek the spiritual nourishment of the warm sands of Jimbaran Bay, along with the delicious satisfaction of Seminyak’s world-class dining spots.

But I decided to go on my first extended Singapore fling in nearly 10 years.

And I would soon rediscover why it would take so long to get back.

Let’s start at the airport.

After quickly getting through Changi’s painlessly efficient immigration booths, I was bewildered.

And feeling quite alone.

Where were the touts pushing taxis and that “special Rolex” like those who greet you with huge smiles at Soekarno-Hatta?

Is there no hospitality here?

“Sir, line up here for a taxi. Where would you like to go?” asked the elderly Chinese woman who looked like my stern aunt.

I got into the clean vehicle, driven by an elderly Chinese man who looked like my stern uncle.

No chitchat.

No nothing.

But that’s OK, because by the time I realized that flowing traffic is a normal thing in this part of the world, I was at my hotel in the historic Bugis district.

Actually, everything here is “historic”, preserved and promoted appropriately with markers and plaques as opposed to Jakarta’s casual approach to history.

Even the modern is advertised.

Take the retail complex that sits adjacent to my hotel – “Singapore’s first glass-covered, air-conditioned shopping street.”

Are you kidding me?

You mean I actually have to walk without having to keep my senses sharp for falling objects, bottomless potholes and a sudden monsoon rain?

Where’s the fun?

Speaking of fun, I thought for sure I’d find it at the brand-new casino that had just opened the week before my arrival.

The Resorts World Sentosa project, located on Singapore’s version of Fantasy Island, is the first of two big gambling palaces to open this year.

The massive Marina Bay Sands is scheduled to begin operation in late April.

That this conservative, controlled country would embrace gaming is interesting. But morals often give way to business, and this was certainly an economic decision.

Those with foreign passports are allowed in free (Singaporeans must pay S$100), and no shorts, slippers or singlets (meaning sexy bodysuits) get through the door.

The blackjack and roulette tables are there, as are the slot machines (play the “Wheel of Fortune” progressive for the best value).

And the “Maxims Dolls”, made up of mostly regional recruits, strut the main entertainment stage.

But where are the drink girls in fishnet stockings offering free beverages as they do in Vegas and Macau?

And where are the infectious shouts of winning joy that erupt at casinos around the world?

“People in Singapore don’t do things with passion, they do things to make money,” said former resident Elizabeth, now based in beguiling Bali.

Heck, we gamble in Jakarta every time we try to cross the street.

And the nightlife.

I was pleasantly surprised by the impressive St. James Power Station in the Harbourfront district, which has 13 different entertainment venues under one large roof.

I particularly liked the Bellini Room with its classics theme.

But even there, as in the Latin and disco rooms, something was missing.

Even as customers jumped around to the house beat, even as they cheered the birthday boy attempting awkwardly to dance with the Jennifer Lopez body double, something was missing.

And I’ve seen that something back in Jakarta, in the darkness at CJ’s, in the aisles at Immigrant, and especially on the tabletops at X2.

It’s called soul.

“Most people here jump around because they think they’re supposed to jump around,” explained Kalimantan native Indah, who’s now lived in Singapore for nearly 10 years.

I asked if her Indonesian “spirit” had been beaten down during her years across the sea.

“A bit. But I got quite wasted the other week, came home and threw up on my laptop.”

That was a relief to hear.

Indonesians may leave their money in Orchard Road shops and Clarke Quay pubs.

But they will always have their spice and spunk at home and abroad.

From Relax, "Surviving a Singapore fling".


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