© 2007 Catherine. All rights reserved.

Singapore: So clean it squeaks, Royston Tan – Singapore’s bad boy director, and Chinatown

I flew into Singapore late at night so I didn’t have much of a first impression except of the kindness of my taxi driver who gave me his 3 day itinerary recommendation, including every place I should eat.

As soon as I woke up I had some breakfast and had the chance to speak to a couple of Brits who had just come from Cambodia. They put me at ease about the next leg of my trip. They said they had similar anxieties about Cambodia but that they ended up having an amazing experience. They said everyone there just seems so happy to be alive, and they are. Even though Pol Pot had been overthrown in 79 it wasn’t until his death in 98 that people in Cambodia truly began to feel free. Everyone was so worried he would find some way back to power.


It seemed like a good omen to meet these people the first day of my trip and it definitely quelled some of my anxieties.

When I finally got outside and started walking around Singapore it was incredible. Firstly, to hear and read English everywhere again was amazing. To be able to walk into a restaurant and order anything off the menu, to be able to understand conversations going on around me, wow. I was actually timid about speaking to people for the first day just because I was so sure they weren’t going to understand me. I knew consciously that they could but on some subconscious level I was biting my tongue a lot or grading my english when I did speak.

The incredible thing about Singapore is how clean it is, and how safe. To the point of being sterile. It is surreal, too organized, like walking into 1984 or something similar. And there are some crazy fines which perpetuate this. Joke shirts in Singapore poked fun at this. “Singapore a fine city: No Smoking Fine $500, No Chewing Gum Fine $500, No Littering Fine $500, No Eating or Drinking Fine $1000, No Spitting Fine $500, No Urinating in Lift Fine $500…” There were a few more but I can’t seem to find a great pic online with the rest. But despite Singapore’s sterility it doesn’t lose it’s culture. It breathes culture. Little India, China town, and many white faces scattered through other parts, and then mixes of each culture. A beautiful array of skin tones and facial structures. It was great to be in a multicultural environment again. I haven’t seen so many different faces since I was visiting Shell (my sis) in Vancouver. It’s hard to tell who resides there and who’s passing through because most people stroll along so carefree it seems like anyone could be a tourist.

I’m sure Singapore has an underbelly but I didn’t see it or feel it so it must be hidden from public view. There’s a fantastic young director in Singapore named Royston Tan who’s done a movie called 15 about five outcast Singaporean youths living on the streets and questioning their own existences. The cast was filled with actual Singaporean street kids. Even though the movie brought him international fame it suffered between 24 – 27 cuts by censors in his native Singapore. He lashed back with a short film called “Cut” about a crazed man stalking and harassing a Singaporean censor done as a campy musical short 🙂 Anyway if you’re curious check out the trailer for 15. Needless to say I didn’t find it in Singapore but I was able to get my hands on his newest feature film 4:30. Review to come. I can’t believe I had to go all the way to Singapore to find a Royston Tan film! Has anyone seen his stuff in Taiwan?

Ok, so back to exploring, on my first day I set out to Chinatown since it was pretty close to being within walking distance and I felt like a foot adventure. There were a lot of great sales going on, common before Chinese new year, but I got bored quickly. It was just like being back in Taiwan except for the gorgeous European colonial style buildings. Everything in Singapore just seems so incredibly thought out, so well planned. Which I imagine it was since the whole country is only 699.4 km².


I managed to explore a few Buddhist temples during my time and see Singapore’s own lantern display close on the Boat Quay but I hadn’t come to Singapore to see Taiwan so I went on to Little India.

Boat Quay Lantern display



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