Ah, Singapore, one of the surprise delights of my trip. I really wasn't expecting much from this small country, but it quickly became one of my favorite places in the world. In general the people here are so nice, and I couldn't believe how clean Singapore was. I mean... people think Japan is a clean country.... well, wait until you get to Singapore. Singapore puts Japan to shame with it's cleanliness.
It's really easy for English speaks to get around. Most people (around 75%) in Singapore are of Chinese decent, varying from the Canton or Fukken areas of China, but there are also Malays, Indians, and Arabs living there. Because Singapore was a former British colony everyone speaks English, and they speak English really well! But you will run into what's called Singlish, an interesting mix of English, Chinese (usually mandarin but sometimes other dialects), and Malay. It wasn't too bad for me though, everyone there can switch to just English, though from my limited understanding of mandarin I could get by with Singlish too.
I arrived in Singapore from Thailand on 11/27/08 and stayed at a Hostel called Service World Hostel. It was run by a delightful man named Andrew Yip (I showed him how to use skype). The hostel was nice, but there are only shared bunks. It was similar to a place I stayed at in Japan. Singapore is not a cheap place to visit, it's quite expensive and Service World was clean and safe, but still affordable. It was located in Chinatown and right next to the Hawker Center filled with delicious cheap Chinese food. Yum!
Andrew Yip is a very interesting guy. You couldn't ask for a better hostel owner. The man knows everything about the city. He knows it's history, it's politics, it's soci-economic situation, and was once Singapore's Director of City Planning. This means he's got tons of stories if you're interested. If you need directions anywhere he knows exactly how to get there. He'll rattle off bus routes without looking any directions up. He can tell you the quickest way there or the cheapest way there, always offering the most economical way.
He also sells his father's breath taking photographs. His father was an award winning photographer who was awarded Honorary Outstanding Photographer of the Century by the Photographic Society of New York. I bought a few for my family. There is a website which shows some of the photos, you can find some wonderful pictures of Singapore there. Andrew's a poet, and writes poetry to his father's photographs. He read me some, and he could tell I was not one for poetry. I had to laugh a little; was it so obvious? I tried to be polite. His poetry is not bad at all; I would simply say that I do not have the capacity to appreciate poetry in general... as in all poetry. =) Andrew's poetry to his father's photographs can be found here.
At this time political protests had exploded in Thailand and the Bangkok Airport was overrun with protesters preventing planes from landing safely. This meant people trying to fly to Thailand were all diverted to other countries. Many of them were diverted to Singapore. I met many Europeans in Singapore. Most of them were quite a bit younger than me, and those that were supposed to be in Thailand were very angry. Some complained that their around the world tickets were all messed up now and they might not be able to get a different flight or refund. Others were, well, spoiled kids. Still I met a hilarious bunch of English and Irish guys. One of them, the brother of a UK Royal Marine told me that the UK marines had a clear shot of Osama Bin Laden and were told not to fire... by the the Americans! I don't know how true that is... it is hear say, but it would be sad if that was true.
I also had a very interesting conversation with a guy from Pakistan. He was a friendly guy, then he learned I was American. At this point, he did not turn violent or anything like that, but he clearly said he did not like America. He said American is bombing Pakistan and innocents are getting hurt. I spoke with him about the issue. I said, America is not at war with Islam despite what the nut jobs may say. Americans do not cheer when a innocents are injured in war, innocents like the children he said that had been harmed by America. Innocents get hurt in war... I don't think there has been a single war where an innocent wasn't hurt, that's why war is hell. Osama Bin Laden clearly attacked America with the events of 9-11, and he has not been brought to justice yet. These radicals are now hiding in your country, and we want them brought to justice. This has nothing to do with the Pakistani people, but rather the the terrorists hiding in it.
I asked him about his views on the attacks of 9-11 and violence in general. He said Islam is a religion of peace, and he did not condone the attacks. Also mentioned was that people involved in suicide attacks are actually paid. They themselves are not paid, as they die, but their families are paid handsomely. These people are usually young, and come from poor families. There isn't much for them to live for, so why not die a martyr, get a hundred virgins in heaven, and allow your family to live in comfort with the money paid to them by organizations like Al Queda? These people are easy prey due to their economic situation and easily manipulated by their religion.
We then went into a conversation about how history has shown that men in power will manipulate those without, and that religion has a long history of having men in power. Even religions like Buddhism, which is viewed as a peaceful religion, once had a history of bloodshed, monks were once an extremely powerful fighting force in ancient China for example. We ended up concluding, it wasn't necessarily the religions that were evil, but evil men using and manipulating religion to harm others.
We also talked generally about why America has the presence they have in the Middle East. It's obvious, it's for oil. And while I think most Americans, myself included, would rather not trade blood for oil as we unfortunately have lately... Still, someone has to sell it to us... so I don't think you can blame the United States entirely for our presence in the Middle East, but I think we must acknowledge that a large portion of blame does fall upon us.
I guess and hope he walked away with a better appreciation of why America is in his country now... even though he does not like it. I hope we don't have to be there long, I certainly would prefer our young men and women in the armed forces be safe than in harms way.
Well, I guess you can get a little hint of the many different cultures in Singapore from this first post... from the Chinese Singaporians, to the Indian Singaporians, to people from neighboring regions like the gentleman from Pakistan I had that conversation with. I loved the melting pot that is Singapore, the people were so friendly and speak English (easy for me to get around), the food is great, the place is clean, what more could you ask for? I originally intended to only stay for a couple of days in Singapore but ended up staying 8 days.
Ok... more info in the next post... and I'll bombard you with pictures of Singapore.