Another International Thanksgiving spent with the Suellentrops, only this time it isn’t in Evanston, it’s in Singapore. Leah and Paul were ambitious enough to invite 40 people to their home for the holiday. As usual, they invite those who are displaced and have nowhere to go, only in Singapore, that includes everyone! This year there were lots of Australians and Brits, some Americans, an Indian, a Mexican, a Somali-Italian, a couple of Philipino and one real Singaporean. It was a full on ex-pat experience.
Singapore is a beautiful and strange place. It is very green, with beautiful gardens, rain trees and slices of tropical rain forest, yet it’s completely modern and clean. All street vendors are organized into indoor hawker centers, to regulate food safety and to keep the streets clean. The food is local and affordable, and it’s very good. The best meal included steamed dumplings filled with pork and crab that melt in your mouth. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
I think almost everyone has heard that gum chewing is illegal in Singapore, in order to keep the sidewalks clean. Spitting is also illegal. Crimes are taken very seriously and punishment can include deportation or lashings and the verdicts come quickly. Recently there was a riot in Little India and the next day 29 people were deported. Most Indian, Sri Lankan and Philipino work in the service industries as housekeepers, gardeners and road workers, but not taxi drivers. Only Singaporeans are allowed to be taxi drivers. Foreign service industry workers have strict rules. They must be home by curfew, 11 o’clock, and they can’t stay the night anywhere else. After the riot, the government ruled that they are not allowed to assemble in groups larger than three. I’m not sure how that can be enforced in Little India or Arab street, where there are crowds of people, but the law is there if needed.
In downtown Singapore there isn’t a trace of anything old. The buildings are all new, shiny, angular and modern. I saw one old defunct railway station. Paul said, if a building is old here it is probably empty and waiting to be torn down. The waterfront was really interesting. We could see many freighters in the water as we flew in to the airport and then saw the containers stacked up at the waterfront with a skyline full of gantry cranes. This whole area is in the process of being moved up the coast in order to develop this valuable waterfront area. We went to Arab Street one day, through Little India, and there you can still see the old buildings. This felt like real life, and not the super expensive polished version that I had seen so far. It felt like people really lived here.
If you want to own a car in Singapore, you have to buy a 10 year license that allows you to purchase one – the license (not the car) goes for about $80,000. All cars are imported to the island and they can cost four times the amount you would pay in the US. All in all you need about $200,000 to buy a regular car. The rich in Singapore are very rich. They live in neighborhoods with huge gated houses and drive luxury cars. Old cars aren’t seen in Singapore, they are shipped to Malaysia. There seem to be a large group of ladies who lunch, and many stay at home Dads – spouses who accompany their significant others with high paying corporate jobs. Many have been transferred by their companies who pay for the dream house, the car, and school for the kids.
Leah and Paul are living the dream, with a beautiful house and pool that abut an old rail line that has been turned into a beautiful walking trail. This is a slice of tropical rain forest full of birds, monkeys, butterflies and monitor lizards. You can walk or bike all the way to Malaysia if you like. Their house is so comfortable and quiet you don’t ever want to leave. Even they say, ‘this isn’t real life, but it’s really nice right now’. I agree. We had a great time, in a lovely place, on our Thanksgiving holiday. We relaxed and watched movies, swam in the pool, saw some new things and ate some delicious food with good friends. Thank you Leah, Paul, Tristan and Betty!