The Republic of Singapore is a tiny island nation located at the very southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, and it’s actually 85 miles north of the Equator. The heat hit us like a wall. Even Wikipaedia cannot prepare you for the barrage of such heat. Just a few hours before, Crouch End had just experienced its first snow of the year, and we alighted from Singapore Airport into 94°F. Our jeans stuck to our pants and our pants stuck to our bottoms within a nano second. We’d missed a full night’s sleep and the humidity weighed heavy upon us – our eyes red and puffy, our limbs heavy.
Of course, everyone in Singapore spends their entire lives huddled in freezing cold, air-conditioned apartments, offices and cars, so exposure to the country’s extreme climate rarely lasts more than a few seconds. Most of the time you’re indoors, blowing on your hands to keep them warm, and wearing a polo-necked sweater.
We Brits, in the form of the East India Company, first established a trading post on Singapore in 1819, and for years we used the place as a strategic trading post, until it was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. When peace broke out in 1945 it reverted back to British rule, and in 1965 became independent. Now it’s the 17th wealthiest country in the world, despite having a tiny population of less than 5 million.
We took a taxi from the airport into the centre of Singapore, where you can almost smell the money as you walk around in the financial district. The city centre is crammed with glinting silver skyscrapers, and everything looks as if it’s just been vacuumed, waxed and polished. In fact, Singapore is so clean and well kept it’s like the entire city suffers from some kind of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. We got the feeling that if you dropped a piece of litter it would be swooped upon by a cleaner before it even reached the ground. The whole place seemed to embody extreme anal retentiveness.
“This is the cleanest place I’ve ever seen,” I said, as we strolled through the Downtown Core.
“It’s even cleaner than Svendborg!” said Georgina. “In fact, there’s something almost sinister about it. As if someone has just tidied up after a crime.”
“Oh, there’s no crime in Singapore,” I said.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because virtually everything is punishable by execution,” I said. “I’d be careful where you put that cigarette butt if I were you. You’ll find yourself on Death Row.”
Georgina and I were genuinely dumbfounded by the list of fines for doing almost anything in Singapore; smoking, littering, sneezing, walking, not walking, or just simply being in the place. The locals call it a “Fine City”. Of course, the bonus side to all of this is that you feel extremely safe everywhere. Even walking around in a park at 11 pm at night, there is no sense whatsoever of personal danger.
There are 63 islands in Singapore, and the government are busy trying to join them all together into one big land mass. Everywhere you look they’re digging up earth and pouring it into the sea to create some new real estate. In Singapore, the tide doesn’t come in, the beach goes out.