I’m not trying to be funny. Everything I knew about Singapore — the jumping off point for my recent adventure aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express — was what everyone else seemed to know, too.
That American kid who was caned for vandalism back in the 90s: He wasn’t the first.
I had also heard something about penalties for spitting and jaywalking, confirmed by the U.S. State Department. And that the government is just plain strict on a lot of things, ranging from immigration infractions to chewing gum. That’s why I was frankly surprised I didn’t need a visa.
There were more warning bells the moment I got off the plane. Drug smuggling punishable by death, warned signs all around the airport immigration center.
After more than a day in transit, I was a bit jumpy as I waited in the immigration line. I have a tendency to travel light and like to be comfortable. Hence, I never dress up. That attitude played a part, I’m sure, in my luggage being searched twice when visiting Australia. No biggie; my motto is know where you’re going, and obey the laws.
I sucked in my breath as the immigration officer looked at my passport and immigration card. Your flight number, please, was all he said. Seems I’d forgotten to fill in that part of the form. That was it.
Relieved, I decided to take the subway to my hotel. Though I was beyond exhaustion and in dire need of a shower at this point, I couldn’t, as a native Nu Yawka, resist the challenge of a new public transit system.
I was staying near Chinatown, which some might think is redundant because most of this island nation with the British flavor is Chinese anyway. People were friendly; they guided me in the right direction.
The Scarlet Hotel, my hip home for a few short days.
A historic shophouse dating back almost a century, redone with lots of cool touches.
In truth, the real Scarlet is sexy, gorgeous and classy, with a great location and amenities. Here I am, tres unhip, gratefully gulping a bracing San Pellegrino something-or-other, the moment I arrived. Ahhhh.
From there, I was hellbent on seeing a Singapore icon: The celebrated Raffles Hotel. As much an attraction as a place to stay.
It’s said the Singapore Sling was invented at this grand gathering place, a favorite with royals and celebs over the last century.
The secret to great noodle soup — homemade noodles. This lokshen lover was in heaven.
To play it safe, I had neither for dinner. Instead, went to a place in Little India for some fish head curry served on banana leaves once frequented by Mel Gibson (there’s a picture on the wall). Again, I had work to do, so did takeout. (That’s the banana leaf sticking out of the bag.)
That was it for Singapore. Oh, and about those laws. I made sure I only crossed at crosswalks and followed the crowd. Talked to some folks who were divided about the rules. They made fun of the confusing chewing gum situation.
I’ll admit I don’t like those icky pieces of gum stuck under restaurant tables and to my shoes. But a capital offense?
Others defended the caning of the American, saying he destroyed property and deserved to be punished. Still others talked about how the subway shuts down after midnight and party goers are forced to take higher-priced taxis. In fairness, Singapore’s not the only place where that’s done.