Hi. My name is Danny. I’ve been touring with bands for some time and want to tell you about some of the places we’ve been. I know, I’m missing some important things from these cities but this is just what I’ve had time to see. If you have suggestions regarding where to go in your beloved hometown the next time I’m hurtling through in a van filled with drunk people, please let me know.
At the end of last summer Singapore celebrated its 50th anniversary. Singapore’s most famous export, Tiger Beer, decided to throw an epic party and invited the band I work with to come play. Our show was scheduled at the beginning of August. The band was already back home in Australia so we agreed that I would fly over from Texas and greet them when they arrived.
I’d seen the Anthony Bourdaine episode on Singapore but besides that had no idea what to expect. My knowledge of Singapore consisted of a place where financial matters are conducted and people are thrown into tiger pits for chewing gum.
From DFW it took me like thirty-three hours, a layover in Hong Kong, a layover in Kuala Lampur, and hundreds of miniature bottles of vodka to reach Singapore. I’m sure you can find a faster route but I was working on a rock n roll budget. I didn’t care. I was excited. As long as they kept serving me drinks I would have flown in a kennel and I may have at one point. I’d say the highlight of that portion of my trip was getting on Malaysian Air in Kuala Lampur and being issued a newspaper featuring a blown up airplane identical to the one I’d just boarded. Did I mention I suffer from crippling flight anxiety? Finally, finally, I landed at the spaceship looking airport in Singapore and was picked up by our local guide, Shane.
One of the best parts about touring countries outside America, and the UK, is that the promoter or someone they appoint acts as your local guide. They also have a budget to blow on your entertainment. Once formalities had been exchanged I got straight to the point. I wanted to talk turkey. I asked Shane what had been on my mind the last 30 hours in that kennel.
Me: Do people actually get killed for having drugs here?
Shane: Yes they do.
Me: What do you think of that?
Shane: I think it’s good. We have fewer drugs here.
Me: Do people get lashed for jaywalking?
Shane: [laughs] No… but don’t do it.
Me: And gum? What happens if I chew gum?
Shane turned to me and said words I never thought I’d hear.
Shane: Are you a gum chewer?
Me: No. Well, sometimes yea. Yea, occasionally I like to chew gum.
Shane: It’s no big deal but you can’t buy it here. You need to go to Malaysia. Maybe you will get a ticket.
I decided to lay off gum smuggling and drug dealing for the next five days. They don’t sell gum but they sell cigarettes. Interesting. Don’t let any of this deter you from visiting Singapore. Unless you show up with drugs you are not going to suffer the fate of Claire Danes in “Brokedown Palace”. If someone at LAX asks if you’d like to mule their cargo to Singapore just say, “Not this time”. Singapore is a super modern, super rich, teeny tiny little city-state that wants to make a buck. Everything is geared towards that end and it is an unapologetically capitalist state. Even their national logo, the Merlion, has no connection to Singaporean mythology or lore… it’s just a badass corporate logo.
Since we happened to be there during the countries anniversary I heard a lot about Singapore’s history, a subject glossed over in Texas public schools, and it added some much needed context to my experience. Lemme break it down.
Fifty years ago Malaysia kicked Singapore out of Malaysia. Singapore’s now deceased leader, Lee Kwan Yew, got on TV and told the nation they were fucked. Every time I heard this story it was emphasized that he cried. But then Lee got all eye of the tiger and vowed that they would push on. There are paintings and photos of Lee Kuan Yew everywhere. He was, as Shane put it, “a great guy”. To deal with the shitty cards they’d been dealt Singapore focused on makin that money. Now it’s a financial capital of the world. Singapore started from the bottom now they hea.
Singaporean’s are proud of the countries ascent to affluence, and they should be. My only complaint is that it’s a bit sterile. If you want cool underground clubs and avant garde art this isn’t the place. This is the place that finds cool underground avant garde artists and pays them lots of money to design a space age statue.
Something interesting. I didn’t see a large disparity between rich and poor or any impoverished sections of the city. Maybe they pulled a Giuliani and sent all the poor people away, I don’t know. I know there are housing projects (that look nicer than my apartment) but also from the looks of it, and this is a very superficial observation, race did not seem attached to social class. If you have any thoughts on this I’d love to hear them.
What they lack in art they make up for in food. That is what you do in Singapore; you eat. And you eat. And you eat. And you eat. And when you are finally full a bowl of noodles will appear before you and you will eat that. And when you are done with those noodles… you will realize you’ve been sitting in a bowl of noodles the entire time!
Singapore strictly controls what cars are on the road. For example if you want to get a car you need to pay approximately $100,000 to get a certificate to drive that car… If you live in Singapore and want a car it’s a shitty policy but if you’re a tourist and hate traffic it’s a great policy. Hop in a cab and head to the Park hotel Alexandra. It’s relatively cheap, like $150 – $200 a night. We also stayed in the more famous Swissotel but I preferred Alexandra. Skip the buffet for breakfast and go next door to Toast Box. Toast Box is a chain in Singapore that serves a bunch of stuff but give their half boiled egg on toast a try. Mix soysauce, egg yolk, and white pepper together then dip your toast in it. Their coffee is a delicious black sludge poured over sweetened condensed milk called Kopi. If you want it extra strong get Kopi Gao.
If Toast box ain’t your thing then head to a Hawker center. Hawker centers are open-air food courts that have taken all Singapore’s street vendors and put them under a roof. You get the heart of street food and the assurance that you aren’t eating dolled up rat dicks. Must haves here are Chicken Rice and Grass Jelly, Curry Fish Head, Nasi Goreng, Ice Kacang (Desert), Satay Rice, Vermicelli, PoPiah, chili crab, and like everything else.
Chicken rice. For your own good, get the god damn chicken rice. Advice: It’s regulated street food but still street food so purchase ample toilet paper or imodium on your walk home.
When you tire of eating, take public transport over to Gardens by the Bay. Gardens by the bay is a botanic garden done James Cameron style. Outside, there are massive fake trees that support vertical gardens and indoors there’s a mountain that houses a waterfall and multiple eco systems. You can walk on bridges Ewok style from tree to tree.
At this point you’ve probably worked up a huge appetite. For a late, third lunch go try Laksa at 328 Katong Laksa. Make sure and get the Laksa with Otah (smoked mackerel). It’s a curry noodle soup that apparently everyone in the world knew about but me.
In the process of looking for an arcade I stumbled on a fake Japanese village inside a mall called… RAMEN CHAMPION. Ramen Champion is a complex composed of numerous Ramen restaurants owned by professional celebrity Chefs. If it were America like Bobby Flay would have one, and Emeril would have one, and then you choose which chef’s ramen seems the most appetizing. I don’t know whose ramen I chose but he looked imposing and super pissed.
If it’s a nice night, taking a trip to the top of Marina Bay Sands is worth your time. Like most other things in Singapore it’s a hotel / casino that looks like a Pharaoh was hired to build a space station. Advice: don’t go crazy on your first drink order. I made the mistake of ordering a double Jameson at the top bar and it was like $60. There’s an infinity pool but I don’t know if you can enter without staying at the hotel. That night I ended things at the bar atop the Swissotel. It’s not exactly my crowd but the view is reminiscent of future Tokyo in Akira and their cigarette room is filled with incredibly rich people talking about baller shit. I can deal with both.
Other stuff? I cruised around the national museum but found it bland. Raffles is a famous colonial English hotel. I don’t suggest the Singapore sling (drink) but it’s nice to walk around or eat peanuts in the bar.
Favorite meal though was at this place outside town called Hong Chang eating house. We had grilled stingray and Frog porridge. I understand it doesn’t sound appetizing but if nothing else… do it for the Crocodile Hunter. Like a complete idiot I missed out on chili crab. Shane explained that you can have chili or pepper crab. He prefers the latter and the best is found at First Grade Seafood. He also told me these places are for locals only and to not write about it… apologies.
I didn’t have time but I hear Sentosa island is fun. I drove through the Indian neighborhood but didn’t have a chance to walk around.
Our show was at an old refurbished concert hall so I don’t know much about venues. Our friends in Walk the Moon performed at a park. I suggest going to Shane’s webpage snowbird productions to find out about gigs.
When you are leaving town give yourself a few hours at the airport and ask about the butterfly sanctuary. If you are somehow hungry they also have good food.
My stomach blew up shortly after departure but I didn’t regret anything, not one noodle. Singapore is awesome. Go. You don’t need a long time there. 5 days is enough, I’d suggest throwing it in while visiting a few other countries but don’t make it your main destination.
If you hated my recommendations let me know. If you have other suggestions please hit me up on twitterspace. If you want to send me anthrax, don’t.