Earlier this month, I spent a week in Singapore, Hong Kong’s bitter rival for the title of Soul of Asia. Don’t let the people at the Korean Tourist Board fool you. Those Seoul of Asia commercials are wishful thinking. The real rivalry is between Singers and Honkers. Seoul could only dream of becoming the soul of anything, let alone Asia.

I’d first been to Singapore four years ago when I was still living in Tokyo. My partner had a work trip down there and so I tagged along. I was curious to visit this Switzerland of the south, this business friendly totalitarian island of commerce, this capitalist police state. And as a practicing homosexual (practice makes perfect!), I left my pink feather boa in Japan.

Back then, a friend and fellow trailing partner living in Singapore met me for lunch near The Four Floors of Whores. Incidentally, I just love the way she says The Four Floors of Whores. Jamaican raised in London, she raises her head, juts out her chin, purses her lips and announces, “The Four Floors of Whores.”

But I digress.

During our meal I asked, “Do the police really throw gay people in jail?”

“Shhhhhh. I’d be careful if I were you.” She said, “And if you two move down here, you must rent at least a two-bedroom flat. And you must mess up the bed in the second bedroom before the maid arrives to clean.”

Needless to say, she freaked the shit out of me.

I spent the rest of the week walking around Singapore in a daze, believing I was in the horror movie classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I kept waiting to bump into Donald Sutherland.

Shop, work, fuck, eat, die. This is Singapore?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the habit of spitting, chewing gum or jaywalking. I’m no dope, dip or douche bag. But given the choice, I’d like my options open.

Four years ago, I checked Singapore off my list. With cities like Bangkok, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur near Hong Kong, why would anyone bother with dull-as-dishwater, cane-your-happy-ass Singapore?

But that was then. And as any expat residing in Asia knows, if you move but stay in the region, living in Singapore is always a possibility. I’ve met a countless number of people who have done the Singapore, Hong Kong thing. Throw in a Tokyo, Manila or Jakarta, and you’ve just circled the hole.

“Singapore is great if you have kids.”

But we don’t have kids.

“Singapore is great if you like your space.”

I’ve lived in New York, Mexico City, Tokyo and Hong Kong, I can do without space.

“It’s a bit plastic and sedate but clean and very safe.”

I like real (New York), chaotic (Mexico City), a bit of grime (Hong Kong) and a little danger (again Mexico City).

But the good trailing partner that I am, I cashed in some miles and joined my partner on his most recent work trip to Singapore. Guidebook in one hand, camera in the other, if I had to live in Singapore one day, dammit, I was going to find my niche or get arrested trying.

I needn’t have worried. The Singapore I found this time around was nothing like the Singapore I encountered the last time.

First, they’ve really relaxed the whole gay is a crime thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a crime, but the law is not enforced.

Second, there is a new casino, Marina Bay Sands. Yes, gambling in Singapore.

Third, there are new high-rise condos and apartments sprouting up all over the center of town. Well-designed ones too. Not the crap you see in Hong Kong.

Fourth, the shophouses that were all but abandoned the last time I was there are being converted into funky shops, trendy cafes or private residences. To be fair, this was happening four years ago, but nowhere near the level I saw this time around.

Fifth, the restaurant scene is really exploding. I went to one of the best, if not the very best, Italian restaurants I have ever been to (outside of Italy of course). Oso Ristorante is a must. The food was so good, I nearly cried.

Sixth, Arab Street is really happening. After a hearty but healthy Turkish meal, we stumbled upon a “gay” bar/restaurant/space/happening. Normally, I steer clear of the queers. But on this occasion, I walked in, removed my shoes, plunked my ass down on the carpet and ordered a drink.

Seventh, Little India is still Little India. Unlike the too fixed up and trying too hard to be hip Chinatown, Little India is a jumbled mess of local restaurants and dive bars. And as a brown vegetarian, just say spicy and I scream, “Si, si, si, Senor!!!”

I was ready to return to Hong Kong the day we left. For as much fun as my week was in Singapore, I missed the frenzied sidewalks of Hong Kong. I missed my walks, my market and the hidden passages of my neighborhood.

And wouldn’t you know it? The feature article on Time Out Hong Kong the day I got back was, “Boom Town: Is Singapore the new Hong Kong?”

Not quite. Not yet. But getting closer.

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