Singapore bleg for Yana

by on December 4, 2013 at 4:50 pm in Travel | Permalink

Daughter Yana (“Dotchka”), who is almost 24, will visit Singapore (!) for the first time in the second half of December, flying from her current abode in India.  What do you recommend she do and see there?  When it comes to the social and economic dimension, she is interested in market urbanism, economics of infrastructure, Jane Jacobs and Adam Smith, health care management, and civil society more generally, not to mention historical narratives on the regularization of goods and services delivery toward cheapness and reliability.  She has had a good meal or two as well.

Both she and I thank you in advance for any guidance you are able to offer.

1 JT December 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Haw Par Villas, most definitely, before it (sadly) closes. Din Tai Fung for a nice meal. The botanic garden is wonderful.

2 Matthew Yglesias December 4, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Little India!

3 john personna December 4, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Ha ha. Singapore is probably the best for Indian food … for everyone not coming from India. So that broadly leaves Malaysian, Indonesian, and Chinese … I was told “go to any food court,” and it seemed to work for me. I think all the food I ate in Singapore was excellent (including Indian).

4 Jeff December 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm

The MRT (subway) is a great example here of how singapore does things reliably and cheaply to an extent that seems to elude other countries.

Try the relatively new circle line and brand new Downtown line which opens 22nd December. Even during rush hour it’s civilized.

5 Dave Barnes December 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Spend more time in the airport than you normally would. Look at the art.

6 Walter December 5, 2013 at 8:57 am

Plus look at the butterflies in the airport.

7 david December 5, 2013 at 11:59 am

Since the interest is urban planning… the first Lee admin specifically pursued Lee’s vision to have visitors to Singapore traveling from Changi Airport to the city to have a good first impression of life in Singapore. That was three decades ago, since then the unified vision has faded a bit as the PAP became less monolithic. So when you travel from the airport, look out of the window and observe the degree of conscious infrastructure design, then look at the newer additions; those represent newer entrants to Singapore’s political sphere.

The twenty-minute trip is now a (literally!) concrete record of Singapore’s economic miracle and then (somewhat) liberalization.

8 Paul December 4, 2013 at 6:23 pm

You previously recommended Ghim Moh market. It’s not just about the food.

9 The Wobbly Guy December 4, 2013 at 6:34 pm

For market urbanism, I suggest visiting the various malls and tourist attractions. Malls in the residential areas and in the city center (Orchard Road) have some obvious differences. For tourist attractions, there’s Universal Studios, Marina Bay Sands, and the Gardens by the Bay. Try to get in one show at the Esplanade.

For economics of infrastructure, she should go to the URA, HDB hub, and LTA buildings to see a whitewashed/propagandist take on urban planning.

For health care management, she could spend a day at SGH looking around, and another day at Mt Elizabeth or Gleneagles. Feel free to interview people, though people here are usually too busy to bother with questions, but who knows?

For civil society… uhm… we honestly don’t have much. The first thing that comes to mind is AWARE, the women’s advocacy group. For civil society in a broader sense, community centers and the People’s Association are possible places to start.

For a bucket list of stuff to do, here’s one comprehensive source.

10 david December 5, 2013 at 5:24 am

Every developing-world city says they put in walkable parks and trails and such; the difference is that in Singapore, the trail is still operational six months after construction, and the bitumen refreshed four years later rather than left to crack and disintegrate. And it will remain consistently maintained until someone in the Ministry of National Development decides it should be something else. That’s not something you can detect sitting in an air-conditioned NPB office, you actually have to walk along those trails.

Another thing to note is how little-used those trails are, particularly during the heat of the tropical day and the mosquitoes of the evening. Compare to the air-conditioned underground tunnels between malls downtown at those times of the day. Arguably outdoor trails are not really what Singaporeans “want”, it’s what civil servants educated in the temperate West feel is proper for a city to have. Public goods, provided and maintained extremely well and at-budget, but probably still the wrong public goods.

11 The Wobbly Guy December 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

The Bishan-Kallang park connectors are heavily used. I should know, I cycle on them almost everyday! Others though… There remains a social stigma against cyclists, I’ve always felt. Jogging, OTOH, is steadiy becoming very popular – witness the rapid rise of participation rates in running events.

12 david December 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Yeah, it’s a little weird how well cycling is supported, vs how little people actually cycle.

Although the URA/LTA doesn’t really support it, it’s clearly more of an NPB thing. NPB priorities are secondary so there’s no guarantee a route won’t be abruptly shut down for a couple of years for other projects (see the East Coast Park route linking to the city, which got built and then promptly scrapped for the Gardens). The route came back, yes, but still.

Then there was the hilarious example of priorities where someone wrote in to ST to complain about the dangerous old railway bridge people were using to cross from the Clementi PCN to the Ulu Pandan PCN… and so LTA responded by removing the bridge. They only got around to putting in a replacement months later. That was your route? Well too bad.

13 XHY December 5, 2013 at 10:21 am

Besides AWARE, she could also talk to Alex Au, probably the best known Singaporean blogger at CASE is a Consumer Association that has had some success recently in pushing for more consumer-friendly laws, TWC2 and HOME are organizations that seek to advance migrant workers’ rights, well MARUAH is the (a lot more marginal) human-rights organization.

14 david December 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

Should read up on how the lobby groups achieve what successes they have thus far, versus the typical lobbying strategies of a civil-social group in India. Very, very careful choices of lobbying arenas, lots of effort to avoid being seen as a threat/partisan. There’s a division between the bloggers and the established lobby groups, the latter of which want good relations with business groups and the civil service.

Really, studying the AWARE saga in detail is a fascinating demonstration of the dynamics of post-Goh-liberalization Singapore. It’s the “OB marker” form of carefully policed discourse in its full maturity.

15 Jeff December 4, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Another suggestion. Spend the morning at the excellent National Museum – and learn just how much cultural background Singapore and Malaysia share.

Then take a 30 minute cab ride across the border to Johor Bahru in Malaysia and appreciate how utterly different they are now. It’s a living example of what you get with 50 years of good governance.

16 stephen December 4, 2013 at 6:53 pm

At the right time of day, St Andrews Cathedral.

17 Tadd Wilson December 4, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Walking tour for contrast of Little India, Arab Quarter, Orchard Road, Chinatown. Get lost, it’s safe. Don’t buy in a mall. Negotiate everything.

Food: hawker house, try the century egg (maybe); I’ve also had good luck at the villages on the east and south costs (more food stalls). Also, East Coast Seafood Center – chile crab (obligatory but superb) and also try asking the wait staff for anything that’s just back on the menu because a boat has come in (super-fresh).

Odd find – there used to be an excellent Russian restaurant off Orchard Road in one of the retail / office buildings (not a fancy mall). Ask around.

18 BigFire December 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm

1. Do not bring chewing gum.
2. Obey the law.
3. Obey the law.
4. DO NOT bring any recreational drug. And by any, I mean any as defined by them.

19 Rahul December 4, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Those things are especially important when a first world traveler transits from India to Singapore.

Something like marijuana possession goes from you get a slap on the wrist (USA) to no one really cares so long as you are willing to bribe $10 (India) to a noose around your neck (S’pore).

20 Nebulousfocus December 5, 2013 at 12:30 am

You can bring chewing gum for personal use.

21 freethinker December 5, 2013 at 4:54 am

Obey the law. In particular, don’t deface the walls with graffiti. If I recollect right, an American student was canned on his bottom because of his graffiti, the number of beatings reduced by 2 thanks to the intervention of the then US president.

22 david December 5, 2013 at 11:34 am

Michael Fay was almost certainly just going to be quietly deported, then his family got impatient with the State Department negotiating his removal, went to the media, and turned it into a nationalist affair over Singapore’s right to assert its own laws on arrogant Western expatriate’s children, in defiance of the American media criticizing Singaporean society. Hence any caning at all.

23 oblivia December 4, 2013 at 8:27 pm

There’s nothing to learn in Singapore, because the world is almost exclusively composed of countries with large rural populations. Singapore has never had to build a highway system, inter-city railroads, domestic airports, etc. It doesn’t have thousands of islands to provide services to (like Indonesia and the Philippines); it doesn’t have an indigenous population to pacify; it doesn’t have thorny land rights issues; and, of course, the governing family doesn’t have to worry about political opposition. Even Hong Kong has issues with indigenous people (the Hakka) and land rights, as well as several populated outlying islands.

I wonder… is there any other nation in the world that has so few problems to deal with? The Vatican?

Further, my impression from US political debate is that energy independence is an important issue to many people. Well, Singapore has zero independence in anything. Neither water, nor food, nor energy.

Doubtless Bangkok would be much better off if it annexed itself from the crazies in the countryside, but I’m not convinced that this is a useful model for economic development.

24 Carlospln December 4, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Incorrect. Take a tour of the Port of Singapore. You’ll be impressed.
Here’s some more offbeat (well, for Singapore) options:

25 david December 5, 2013 at 4:02 am

Dealing with Malay kampungs and kelongs standing in the way of urbanization was as thorny in Singapore as anywhere else; even more thorny because any mis-treatment would’ve been seized on as Malay oppression by the neighbours. The country has merely dealt with the problem more successfully than Hong Kong has with the hakka.

26 oblivia December 5, 2013 at 6:44 am

Singapore isn’t democratic and doesn’t tolerate opposition or dissent, which means it’s much less sensitive to public opinion — both at home and abroad. I think modern Singapore demonstrates who won that battle. And how easily.

27 david December 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

Hong Kong was a colony and was not democratic, either. For some reason, everyone seems to forget the 1960s bit where the British were using the full force of the Royal Navy to raid, arrest, or shoot Chinese communist rioters/bombers/protesters/etc, shut down leftist newspapers, detained/deported communist leaders without trial, and shut down the communist-aligned high schools – all similar to tactics used in Singapore.

28 jtf December 5, 2013 at 9:59 am

Incorrect, Singapore has an extensive highway (“expressway”) system. It’s just that your definition of a “highway system” happens to be one rooted in the vast and mostly empty expanses of the US. It didn’t have an indigenous population to pacify, it was born with four different ethnic groups living in a cosmopolitan city where they were at each others’ throats. It does have thorny land rights issues, which just goes to show that you didn’t do your research, and the governing family (more like a clique, but whatever) actually spends a lot of its energy defanging the opposition under its potemkin democracy, for example by instituting the GRC system, co-opting opposition politicians and reflexively suing the obstinate ones for libel or slander. None of that would be necessary if they could just put them in jail like they did in the ’60s.

The idea that Singapore had no challenges to overcome is one that can only be expressed if you have zero knowledge of the history of Singapore and that of the Malayan federation that preceded it.

29 Chip December 4, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Well, you saw the important bits but failed to credit them.

Singapore had no food, water or energy resources and yet, it succeeded.

Sure, large countries can be difficult to govern, but sometimes a surplus of easy resource wealth leads to poor decision making with not-obvious downsides.

Singapore can’t afford bad decisions.

30 Rahul December 4, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Does anyone know what’s the happiness index of Singapore? Somehow the people seemed sort of sad deep down, especially the longtimers. Compared to, say, the US.

I wonder if anyone else got that feeling.

31 Chip December 5, 2013 at 12:48 am

True. It’s a fast-paced life on a small island. Plus Singaporeans are culturally kiasu – which means they have a visceral need to be first or ahead of everyone else.

I think it wears them down in the end.

And with the massive influx of migrants recently this stress is increasingly translating into anger and anti-foreign sentiment.

Question is can Singapore survive as a relaxed, comfortable place to live?

32 Walter December 5, 2013 at 9:03 am

Hard to study kiasu in a couple of days. It does wear people down and there is level of hidden mistrust that keeps gnawing away.

33 Adrian Ratnapala December 5, 2013 at 3:18 am

Back when Sri Lanka was a definitely a democracy, Lankan’s and Singaporeans would agree that the latter is much better run — but every Singaporean I met wanted more democracy. Very few Sri Lankans wanted more autocracy (but then they voted for it anyway).

34 oblivia December 5, 2013 at 3:46 am

I haven’t even started. I feel confident in saying that the Lees have inspired would-be autocrats all over South-East Asia to believe in a mythical “Asian” style of leadership, which has basically caused years of corrupt and inept leadership in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and most recently in Thailand. All of the lunatics who have run these countries have praised LKY specifically.

So if you want to know how Singapore-style governance translates to the real world, you need look no further than Asean…

35 Chip December 5, 2013 at 7:57 am

Do would-be autocrats ever need an excuse to be autocratic?

If they can seize power, they will.

Singapore faces an interesting transition away from the Lees. The son has promised to step aside at a certain age and his kids aren’t in politics at all.

The opposition are fools. Best case scenario: a split of the PAP so two mature parties provide voters the alternatives they need.

36 david December 5, 2013 at 11:51 am

I wonder whether the split will happen over the Christian elite and the liberal elite, there were already signs of internal PAP cracks back during the doctor’s evangelism issue.

37 John B December 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm
38 RM December 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm

I would be interested in Yana’s take on market urbanism–or its absence–in Singapore.

39 The Wobbly Guy December 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm

For places to eat, avoid tourist traps like Newton Food Center and East Coast. My recommendations are Whampoa Food Center and Pasir Panjang Food Center, which offers the same variety and standards at local prices. For crabs, I strongly recommend Mellben Seafood, located in the Ang Mo Kio housing estate. The aforementioned places are considered local secrets – tourists would need a local to tell them about it.

40 Ricardo December 4, 2013 at 10:02 pm

For anyone coming to Singapore with stereotypes about how prudish and anti-septic the country is, a visit to Geylang is a real eye-opener.

41 Jonathan December 4, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Notice the details of Singapore. Notice the cleanliness. Notice the incredible mix of cultures from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Southeast Asia.

Talk to a “helper” if you can (live in maid.) Ask them how many days off they get per week. Ask why it took until only 2 years ago for the Singaporean government to pass a law requiring at least 1 day off per week. Ask if Singaporean employers actually give that one day off.

Ask how a country that was so dirt poor managed to become so rich.

Notice How you cannot catch a cab unless you are at a designated taxi stop. Even if its 3 a.m. and you’re alone on the street, 30 feet away from the taxi stop. Even if its pouring at the same hour/ location.

And of course go to the lovely gardens by the bay:


42 freethinker December 4, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Perhaps Yana should visit Singapore to experience:1) the advantages for the economy of an enlightened dictatorship 2) the freedom to walk the streets day or night without fear of being mugged 3) how a non-western country can become as developed and can be run as efficiently as a western country .
She will also also see a world of difference between how we in India maintain our streets ( more specifically, how we go out of the way to ensure they are dirty and chaotic) and how they are maintained in Singapore, and she can reflect on whether it is a cultural issue. I think it is funny for someone from America to visit the malls: what do the malls in Singapore offer which the American ones don’t?

43 oblivia December 5, 2013 at 6:51 am

The difference is that nobody in America cites shopping malls as one of the greatest things about their country.

44 Andy December 5, 2013 at 8:41 am

Be less of an insufferable twat. We’re not impressed by smart-aleckyness in Singapore.

45 Jason December 5, 2013 at 10:04 am

I was a few years younger (22?) but I remember enjoying myself a lot just drinking coffee, listening to The Beta Band on headphones, and eating delicious food on and around Orchard Road. Kinokuniya is a nice bookstore for browsing–it’s a chain, but if you look bookstores, it’s nice to compare/contrast.

I went back a few years later and the Jurong Bird Park was very much worth the while–I had very low expectations (who wants to visit a bird park?) but there were some amazing birds. If you time it right, you can swing from there to the Night Safari–both are kind of off the beaten path–which is a tram ride through a zoo, at night, with no cages or visible barriers. It’s the sort of thing you’re unlikely to see in these litigious states. Finally, and this may be obvious, but the food in and around Boat Quay is really great. Any hawker stand selling satay will do. Spending a late afternoon down there exploring the history of the Quay and following it up with dinner–it’s hard to go wrong.

So, to sum up:

-Orchard Road
-Jurong Bird Park
-Night Safari
-hawker food by Boat Quay

46 liumang55 December 5, 2013 at 10:29 am

If she likes coffeehouses and a great example of industrial gentrification, the area between the Lavender MRT stop and the Farrer Park MRT (centered around Lavender Food Square / Jalan Besar stadium) is worth a visit. It used to be mostly 3-4 story industrial shophouses, selling hardware, plumbing supplies, paint, etc. The past 12 months, shophouse by shophouse it’s been gentrified into cafes (CSHH, Cafe Bravo, Tiramisu Hero, Windowsill in the Woods) and apartments. Plus it’s only a 5 minute walk to the 24hr old-school cheapo mall Mustafa Centre and Little India. Lastly, foodwise, Lavender Food Square has great roast chicken wings, avocado shakes, and frog porridge (the latter I never tried though).

47 Black Death December 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

I love Singapore – been there many times. You can drink the water in Singapore, but never pee in the elevators.

48 Barkley Rosser December 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Something not mentioned so far is the Peranakan food and neighborhoods. These are people who are an ethniic mixture of Malay and Chinese, with a history dating back to the 1500s. They have their own distinctive fusion cuisine, which is excellent, and they also have a distinctive architecture that is very colorful. Downtown is Emerald Hill Road, although this has been partly gentrified and touristized. More authentic are the Joo Chiat and Katong neighborhoods in East Singapore, where one can find better restaurants at more reasonable prices. There is also Peranakan museum, which is quite fascinating.

On a completely different note, and not at all on Yana’s list of preferences, but worth seeing anyway, is the Raffles Hotel, where the Singapore Sling was invented.

I would also concur that the food courts can be quite good and inexpensive as well.

49 Barkley Rosser December 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I might note that while most people think of them as being Singapore Chinese, the ruling Lee family are actuallhy Peranakan in origin.

50 Karthik December 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Talk to taxi drivers to learn about civil society. 🙂 Go to INSEAD, Singapore and meet some cool professors. Eat lots of good food especially at food courts

51 James McCammon December 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I’m not sure if Yana is into dancing, but I would recommend going to a club at least once. I had one of the oddest experiences of my life going to a club in Singapore. Club goers have somehow memorized standardized and pretty elaborate dance moves to a rather large number of songs. Looking around and seeing everyone do the same moves to the same song at the same time for nearly the whole night I felt like I had entered a Disney afternoon special. Very fascinating. This was in 2009, not sure if the phenomenon is alive and well.

52 david December 5, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I’ve seen that. It’s a consequence of kpop music videos.

53 gregor December 6, 2013 at 2:12 am

” she is interested in market urbanism, economics of infrastructure, Jane Jacobs and Adam Smith, health care management, and civil society more generally, not to mention historical narratives on the regularization of goods and services delivery toward cheapness and reliability”

At 24?


I have raised two daughters, both now with postgraduate education and on the paths to quite lucrative jobs, but I cannot imagine them saying anything close to “Dad, I am interested in historical narratives on the regularization of goods and services delivery toward cheapness and reliability”


54 Jonathan December 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I hope you’re still reading the comments, because you won’t regret trying the following restaurant.


A bit expensive, but the most incredible ramen in the world I’ve ever had. Order the cashumen. I used to think ramen was ramen until I ate here.

55 Barkley Rosser December 6, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Oh, this is probably not what Yana wants to or should do, but I shall throw it out there. The sushi restaurant in the Raffles Hotel may be the best in the world outside of Japan, or so some have claimed. But it is very expensive. Better to go to the food courts and the Peranakan joints in East Singapore.

56 Frank Grupt December 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm

My young son and I went on a church/temple/mosque/synagogue scavenger hunt in Singapore last summer, trying to find as many different types of religious buildings as possible. Sectarian divisions counted. We met lots of friendly, informative people along the way and ran out of steam long before exhausting the possibilities.

I’d second the food courts. It was wonderful to hand my kids a few dollars and send them off to find something interesting.

57 Gregor Schubert December 6, 2013 at 6:17 pm

My favorite foods in Singapore:
-Katong Laksa (There is a rich history of different Laksas in South East Asia and it is certainly an example of a cheap and reliable dish that is just stunningly flavourful) – look up online where the best can be found
-Indonesian kueh at Changi Airport – these sticky coconit rice treats are fantastic and there is a store that sells them right at the airport
-Kaya toast with Singaporean coffee – there are small stores everywhere that sell this: sweet coconut jam on a crispy warm toast with salted butter, and Singaporean coffee is very strong and chocolate-like
-Tissue Prata – most Indian Hawker stalls make this but will not advertise it. Think “crispy, winding dough tent, crusted in ghee and sugar” – you then break off pieces and dip them into a rich mutton or beef curry.

Things to do: Walk across the spiral bridge on top of Mount Faber – it’s a great view onto the Industrial harbour and the surrounding city, but also a great wildlife experience as the path goes through the tree tops. There is a gondola that goes down to the Marina Bay shopping center and Sentosa at the end of the path

58 Lucy December 7, 2013 at 1:43 am

I want to emphatically second the bird park! It’s an entire zoo just for birds with several giant walk-in aviaries. I am sure it’s one of the best of its kind in the world. The regular zoo is also excellent especially the unusual night safari section.

Besides that, eat at a variety of hawker centers; they vary in quality and ambience. Visit a random housing estate out in the sticks to get a feeling for middle class daily life. I think most of them have their own malls and food courts which will be good for people-watching.

59 Deane December 7, 2013 at 7:00 am

Singapore is also the best place for Sri Lankan Chilli Crab. If you missed it while here, would recommend.

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