in the relative calm of clean and ordered Singapore

may 1992

Here a month in the relative calm of clean and ordered Singapore and i’m enjoying it. If i looked for a starker contrast to the bustle of Bangkok i couldn’t find a better one anywhere. The college is situated on the west of the island quite a way from the city centre and i’m living on campus but such is the efficiency of public transport it takes just forty-five minutes to reach Orchard Road by bus and train; an equivalent journey through Bkk would take an eternity.

From the campus i take a #199 bus, there’s one every seven to ten minutes between 5:00am and midnight, and ride to the MRT station at Boon Lay. I call it the Boonies as it really is an outpost but one with shops, a newsstand, telephones that work and a working man’s cafe with excellent Malay food, the mutton curry’s delicious.
From Boon Lay it’s a direct run to Raffles Place. If i want to go to Orchard Road i change once and if i want to go all the way out to the East Coast i stay on the train; it couldn’t be easier. All this comfort and facility of travel has spoiled me and i’m not looking forward to returning to Bkk where i’ll have to navigate my way through all manner of obstacles, manmade and natural. But Bangkok is only for a few weeks more, i’ve already booked my flight on Singapore Airlines back here on June 4th.

The working day has spoiled me, too, 9:00 to 2:00, and for the first time in a long while i’m enjoying the luxury of staying in bed till 7:45 and finishing at the early hour of two leaves me a lot of free time. I’ve been looking at flats in the past week and have viewed several reasonably priced and within budget but haven’t rented one as there’s no point paying for a place a month in advance. There are plenty of flats on offer so it won’t be difficult to find one when i hunt in earnest in June. As for a job, i don’t feel like taking a full-time post at the moment and won’t do so till i find what really suits. I came to an arrangement with SSTC last week to work for them part-time from the third week of June for an initial period of six months; that should give me ample time to have a proper look around. For four hours in the afternoon, five days a week, SSTC will pay more than i’m earning full-time in Bkk and in addition will process an employment pass. They’re happy to have my services and i’m more than happy with the arrangement. Who knows, perhaps by December i’ll like it so much there i’ll stay on.

After a month, impressions of Singapore are taking shape and gradually i’m getting to know how the place and the people tick. The Chinese comprise three-quarters of the population with Malays, Indians, Europeans, Americans and others such as Indonesians making up the balance. The Chinese are in control and although Singapore is proud of its racial harmony the reality is slightly different. There’s day-to-day tolerance of everyone and that’s the most important element and is to be praised and admired, but there isn’t much love lost and one hears mutterings and a lot of grumbling. But then everyone everywhere grumbles about something or someone else; it’s what people do.
For me, the Malays are the friendliest and i find myself mixing easily with them. I get on well, too, with the Chinese but other Europeans and a few Americans i’ve spoken to say they find them cold. There may be misunderstanding here as i find them shy and reluctant to initiate conversation but since i talk to everyone and anyone without preconceptions i’ve had no trouble breaking the ice with them and once they warm to you they’re civil and begin to smile. I frequently remind myself i’ve been here only a month and mustn’t make rash judgements but the Chinese in particular do seem over-anxious to achieve and they suffer from stress. Many young Chinese men are self-conscious and vain – some i hate to say are downright bitchy – and i notice they spend a lot of time preening themselves in front of mirrors; insecurity, probably. The young women are much more self-assured and look smart and well turned out in eye-catching gear.
Those are small observations only and the overriding impression, an accurate one, is that the city is clean and well run, things work, maintenance is of a high standard and the people are serious and practical and go about their daily lives with great purpose.

Another agreeable change is the weather. March and april are the hottest months in Thailand while here on the west of Singapore it rains almost every day and although the rain makes things sticky, it is cooler. I’ve been able to sleep without a/c for the past month, an impossibility at this time of year in Bkk, so for the cooler weather alone i’m grateful. When i return to Bkk next week it should’ve cooled down a bit and the first rains of the year should be on their way.

As far as the political climate in Thailand goes, i’m not looking forward to returning. There isn’t much coverage of events on Singapore tv but i hear on the grapevine that for the first time there’s determined opposition to the military regime and the opposition parties aren’t going to let the disliked Suchinda have a smooth takeover of power. It’s hard to gauge what the general will do but it won’t surprise me if he uses violence if he and his military feel under threat. The wisest thing is to get back there and finish what i have to finish, take the money they owe me and run.

Had a letter from George in Macau to say Patrick had been in touch with him out of the blue from Kuwait and was anxious to get in touch with me. George told him i was here in Singapore so Patrick said he was going to come and look me up. I took the whole thing with the proverbial pinch of salt which in hindsight seems to have been right; not a dickeybird from Patrick.

A final comment: The Straits Times is Singapore’s English-language daily. It’s a fairly thorough paper in that it covers local and international news, as any respectable paper ought to, but it’s a dull affair. I miss the Bangkok Post.

42 thoughts on “in the relative calm of clean and ordered Singapore

  1. John,
    I’ve learned in my life that friendly people like friendly people no matter which countries are involved. I hope you like your time there and all goes well.
    One hugger to another,
    Jackie

  2. Enjoyed your perceptions of both places. A grandson that taught on the island of Batam last year and visited in Singapore said similar things about the contrasts between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and the people.

    Look forward to reading more about your travels.

    • Thank You, Eileen,
      for reading and responding and for your information about your grandson.
      Batam can be a tough post but near enough to Singapore, 30 minutes by ferry, to be able to get away now and then.

      Best wishes

      john

  3. This was a treat, John. You started by giving a date, so almost immediately, I was transported back to 1992. I thought of what I was doing with my life at the time; the sights, scents, sounds, emotions, the people…

    I have read your piece in a nostalgic frame of mind.

    Thank you for that.

    • Nyambura,
      Thank You very much and it’s always a special pleasure for me when someone identifies with a piece the way you have. 1992 was the year i left Thailand for good and moved to live in Singapore where i still am today.

      Again, Thank You

      My best to You

      john

    • i’m happy here, Kate.
      i moved here 23 years ago from Bkk and am now a Singapore citizen: passport, voting rights, the lot. i don’t see it as exotic but that of course is because i’m used to it and dare i say take it a little bit for granted when really i shouldn’t.

      Thank You so much for your great support.

      Big Hugs

      john

  4. Reblogged this on Reason & Existenz and commented:
    A diary journal from JohnPoetFlanagan… recommended reading. Getting a glimpse into the life of a person–esp. from someone who writes with a clear style–is a wonderful education for any who would know and love their fellows on this journey. _/|\_

  5. i do like a city that’s well run and above all clean, where the people have purpose and pursue meaningful activities, even if it’s a hobby for that matter.
    great post John, thank you for sharing your views and showing what life is like over there.
    i wish you a pleasant day!

    • Kabir,
      When I first moved to Singapore 23 years ago, as mentioned in this offering I found it interesting and attractive and I’ve never changed my mind.
      Thank You very much for reading and responding so positively.

      My best to You

      john

  6. What a great observation Bapak John. I hope you will stay longer in Singapore! Have you tried S’porean Chilli crabs or Din Tai Fung restaurant (ok the restaurant is not really Singaporean but I love their dimsum 😀 )?
    I can relate about the dull news in Singapore to the Dutch news…somehow Indonesian news always full of surprises 😀

  7. John, wonderful post, although it was some time ago, it feels as though it could have been yesterday. No details are ever spared, for me this is so impressive and enjoyable to read, allowing my imagination to view your world as it was in 1992. Thank you for sharing!

    Always wishing you the best,
    Pepperanne

  8. Hi John …i love knowing about where you live now from 23 years ago ….your writing flow , always beautiful ! It reminds me of the Beatles song , ” In My Life ” , . . ” there are places I’ll remember all my life some have gone and some remain ” . . . Thank you for taking me along on this amazing journey … love xxxmeg

  9. Interesting observations as always, Brother John. I especially found your observations of the various occupants fascinating.

  10. An interesting read as I always expect and receive from you John my friend. I am wondering if your perceptions during that era have been changed for the better or worse. Singapore like every other human arena is constantly evolving as it is exposed to the diversity of its citizens and the bastard stepchild that is politics with its gently forceful maneuvering of people and events. Jon Michael

    • After 23 years here
      Jon, My Friend
      I can honestly say Singapore has gone from strength to strength and never once have we had any political upheaval or even minor incident, fingers crossed. We’ve been lucky.

      Ever Your Friend

      john

    • Now that LKY has passed there won’t be any major changes not in the near future at any rate, the machine is well oiled and running smoothly.

      Thank You, Julia, for reading and responding.

      My best to You

      john

  11. Ah, now I know more about what you were like when you might have been about my age. In reading this, I recalled a dream I had last night, about a woman inviting me to travel with her lol I skimmed some of your comments, and gleaned that this post was from 23 years ago – is this the start of your story about 23 that you mentioned to me? It sounds like it may be. It was a treat to read, you sound like you were the young traveling man I wished to be by the age I am now, so I vicariously enjoyed this!

    My best to you brother!

    Ry

    • Thank You, Brother Ry
      For reading and responding so well, I appreciate it very much.
      1992 was a significant year for me in that I moved here to Singapore which I’ve made my home.

      No, nothing to do with ’23’ that’s coming soon but no connection to these ‘out and about’ pieces.

      Best to You

      Always

      john

  12. Uncle John, a snippet of a time – interesting and your made me feel the differences in subtle, but distinctive ways. Clean, but . . . what lies under the shining brass.

    • No hidden agenda really
      Miss Mary

      This is about my moving here to Singapore and making it my permanent home..and today it’s still going well..I’m lucky to live in a peaceful place..

      Big Hugs

      uncle john

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