SINGAPORE: Remind us we're in Asia!

Click on images to enlarge them.

Teensie Singapore in regional context
about 120 km north of the Equator.
that hasn't always been so friendly, but good buds of late.
A big modern city. Day and night.
Photos from Google.

Lonely Planet has an upbeat summary [link], dealing with the more superficial image of:
. . .'Singapore as a dull, sterile Utopia – scratch the surface and you’ll
. . .discover a strange brew of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western
. . .cultures, a rich social stew that’s anything but boring.'

They are right.

Still: 'A dull sterile Utopia' is not an alien first impression; they indeed felt the need to counter it.

This was Wheezy's third visit, twice before on business over the past decade, I even was partner in a yacht-building company here.

Each visit I am totally blown away by the economic miracle, the cleanliness, the efficiency, the cutting edge modernity in this tiny island country. But compared to other places, to travel-jaded road warriors like us, it's still a tad dull. Sterile. Nonetheless a Utopia in modern urban terms.


Roads here are velvet. Perfect.

So is all infrastructure we encountered. Perfect.

Not a bit of peeling paint in the entire country, I swear. Some buildings are architecturally stunning. Building codes and zoning are evidently smart and enforced.

A world class shopping city for the well-heeled. Everything is for sale, name it.

From every haute couture brand like Chanel, Versace, Vuitton, Gucci or Adidas (kidding on latter) there are multiple stores; to low-brow Burger King; to the cheapest Chinese knock-offs in dollar-stores – shelves are abundantly stocked, stiff competition by retail outlets for every fat or thin wallet, and retail prices seem reasonable. Most stuff is evidently duty-free but for a 7% GST that's visitor-refundable at the airport.

Designer brands x10, evidently #2 after Hong Kong. People with money do evidently shop here!

Roads seem to be so organized, stop lights well timed, with few traffic jams. But the cars and bikes are taxed into the stratosphere, like 100%-200% of North American prices. A Goldwing or Harley rider here is a rich guy, he perhaps paid some $50,000. The Maseratis and Bentleys we saw – I'd bet over a half-million bucks.

Fancy houses/condos? Killer prices on scarce land. But people buy them; some make serious money here.

On the other hand I bought a German Schuberth helmet for 20% less than you can buy it in Germany or UK. And had Black Bike's front suspension, wheel and steering bearings re-done for about Toronto prices.

One big exception on availability I'd suspect: Drugs. The immigration form says in big red capital letters no one could possibly miss:
They mean it too; I'd seriously recommend a pass.

Clean? It bloody sparkles. Like a Swiss Operating Room – in the dirty part of town.

Plus rules & regulations galore: Some Singapore bikers we dined with joked:
. . . .– 'Singapore is a fine city.'
. . . .– 'Throw rubbish on the street, get a fine.
. . .. .. .Spit on the street, another fine. Stop your car anywhere but
. . ..... .designated stopping places – another fine.'

We can joke all we want, but damn it's M.O. sure worked! Singapore functions brilliantly well in most respects. It's a great business gateway to the orient, a bridge between East and West. Contracts have meaning here, so do bank deposits. It's a safe place to do business – which is not always true in the general neighbourhood!

They built from nothing, while surrounded by (former) enemies, and made it into something spectacularly successful – kind of like Israel and Taiwan did.


Corruption and freedom: I'm not saying there is no corruption, but it's sure a dangerous place to try it with officials. The censure is strict. Indeed Singapore pays its officials enormous salaries to preclude corruption.

How much 'corruption insurance' does it buy? HUGE!
. . .- - - -In Singapore, huge payment of top politicians:
. . .– Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong get US$2.7 mln/yr.
. . .– Ministers of State get about US$1.2 mln/yr.
. . .– PLUS: At age 55, Ministers collect both salary and full pension!
. . .– AND: On top, Singapore Ministers get extra as company directors.
. . .– Hence a 55+ yr old Minister might make US$2-US$3 million/yr.
. . .- - - -By comparison with major economies:
. . .– President Barak Obama get US$400,000 + US$50,000 expenses
. . .– Vice President Joe Biden: US$202,900
. . .– Cabinet Secretaries: US$157,000 – US$186,600
. . .– Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets US$186,600
. . .– UK's Prime Minister Gordon Brown gets US$279,000
. . .- - - -Is this over the top? Perhaps not.
. . .- - - -It may help attract top corporate executive brains
. . .- - - -and keep them honest.

Here's an article [link] about Transparency International and Freedom House rankings, where Singapore as one of the lowest-corrpution places on earth.

It is not that free – the press is very carefully curtailed and controlled.

Click here and see Singapore's ranking as
'#4 least corrupt' & 'partly free' status.

Flying in-out as a tourist or a business visitor? A piece of cake. Just get on-arrival visas at the border for most passports.


Getting into Singapore with wheels: Very different matter. Add a few grey hairs and lighten your wallet considerably, but you can do it. Here's how.

Welcome to Singapore from Malaysia.
The most modern border crossing we have encountered.

We arrived in Singapore with Black Bike Oct. 28, 2009 – after two full days of paper chasing in officialdom. Meanwhile we stayed outside the country at a Malaysia hotel just across the border, as did the bike.

Taxis and trains, back and forth within Singapore, back to Malaysia, back to Singapore. It wasn't cheap either.

It is bottom-line essential, prior to crossing the border with your foreign-registered car or bike, to visit the Automobile Association of Singapore [link] right downtown. They will stamp and endorse your Carnet de Passage en Douane which is absolutely necessary to get your vehicle into Singapore. Rosie Chan there [email:] was very helpful and totally knowledgeable; it is a very efficient office once you find your way there, but is not close to the border – probably a $35 cab ride away each direction, or a train ride plus taxi.

The Automobile Association will also sell you the enormously over-priced, but essential insurance. Get this: S$850 = US$500 to get a week's basic required insurance! No choice, no competition. It's the same price for a month, so I took the month. New insurance rules in Singapore in the past few months folks ... only Singapore insurance will get you in, and it's the most expensive bike/car insurance on this or any other planet.

Plus, at the border (not at the Automobile Association) you are obliged to rent a US$125 toll machine that is enormous, ugly and gets Velcro'd to your front windshield. It you do not have one it's $70 (sic, seven-zero dollars) at each tollbooth! There are lots of tollbooths, all electronic. I think with the machine my tolls for a week came to US$20. Obtaining and returning this machine was a big hassle and consumed a couple hours at each end; it had to be done at the very same border post both times, no coming in via one border and leaving via another! Heaven forbid.

All this run-around is not just necessary in advance; it is also absolutely, no-way-around-it, necessary to visit the Automobile Association downtown prior to exporting your vehicle on to the next country.

What happens if you come in by road (as we did) and exist by sea/air (as we almost did?) I don't even want to find out. Allow at least a day of extra taxis and run-around.
Thao read of one South American couple that brought a camper from India to Singapore by boat. It cost $13,000 to ship and the vehicle arrived but could not be driven in Singapore for some reason, had to be towed to Malaysia. Whew, talk about costly rotten luck.
We also met a pack of some 25 Yamaha-sponsored bikers at the border. They had been there for 8-10 hours while some bureaucratic stuff was cleared up, even though Yamaha had totally pre-arraged the trip. One Yamaha employee was sent back however, because his bike showed up in the Singapore Police computer as 'stolen' in 2005; even though it was a 2008 Yamaha-factory-owned bike and he had the papers to prove it.
All is not perfect in Utopia.
This border stuff is a costly and complex palaver that's quite unnecessary – if they want to welcome tourists with their own wheels. It could all been done quickly at the border like other countries do it – that is, if Singapore wanted non-Asian tourists with wheels.

You see, there are different rules altogether for Asian licensed-vehicles.

It seems to be set up as a 'we do not want you' disincentive system, specifically to deter people like us. Make it as difficult and costly as possible, and people will stay away.

It almost worked, except for Black Bike's front suspension (see next section.)

. . .All this hassle-expense, basically 2-3 days of run-around, just to get
. . .Black Bike legally into and out of Singapore – even though we have a
. . .Carnet de Passage with Singapore's name printed on it; we're just
. . .honest well-off travellers; all papers are in perfect order and we've
. . .crossed some 35 other borders in a row. But Singapore evidently does
. . .not want us there. The system set-up is to semi-block and deter us.

Everyone is/was impeccably polite and efficient. No personal issues. Just rules and laws and more rules and more laws. Many of them dumb. Everyone has excellent English.

Zero corruption; do not even try here!

Visas for us humans, no problem and no cost. Issued at the border quick-like. Several times.

But for a non-Asian vehicle, wow, the most bureaucracy we have seen. Ever.

. . .Indonesia was the next big border hassle. It's a close call which was
. . .the more offensive. Except Indonesia has much more to see and is not
. . .nearly as rich and developed as Singapore, not even close.
. . .Hence, Indonesia has a bit more of an excuse.


Recommended Hotel in Singapore: We strongly suggest the result of hours of our searching, the Keong Saik Hotel [link] at about US$75 a bargain in a costly city, for a fine comfy room with wi-fi, good TV selection in English, in a charming boutique hotel. On a nice street of hotels and restos, just a half block away is a shopping mall the Oriental Plaza were we had free 24-hr underground bike parking. Parking is a costly issue in Singapore otherwise.

It's easy to spend $300 a night or the sky's the limit in Singapore. There is no need, Keong Saik will more than satisfy almost anyone. We spent ten days there ultimately and loved it.


Almost skipped Singapore; but for the front suspension. We would have skipped this tiny albeit great country when we found out at the border about the impending bureaucratic digestive challenge.

However the only shop in SE Asia that is a licensed dealer for Traxxion suspension is in Singapore. I had wanted an experienced brand-specific expert to rebuild it; this was me being picky and ultra-careful, but I can afford it. In reality, any suspension-exerienced big bike shop could have done it in Malaysia or Thailand.

But I had naively ordered new parts in advance from USA, sent them to Singapore. So that deterred what otherwise would have been a change of plans.

The front forks: They were deservedly tired, more accurately 'shot' after some 60,000 km of hard use. Bushings were gone. Oil was totally gone. We still have some 50,000 km to go; one doesn't take chances with the front end of a motorcycle, let's do it 100% right.

So, a mechanical skeptic may correctly ask: Why didn't I know this in Bangkok and do it at the same time as the new rear end? With 20/20 wisdom I 'could & should' have. But I wasn't sure until the beaten-to-death rear suspension was replaced, whether the front end was shot or if it was just the bucking from the rear. I suspected the front end, it had passed some tests, but I wanted to isolate it by getting the rear end perfect first.

But now that that the front one was isolated, it proved itself as baffed. It also was getting progressively worse. In the final days it didn't absorb even the small paved-road bumps.

Ordered parts sent by FedEx from Traxxion [link] Pres Max McAllister in USA. He sent them immediately. Arrived fast. What a helpful guy.

Their local shop in Singapore is Bikelab [link]. It's the only shop in the region that does complete race suspensions etc. They did a fine job. While dismatling the front end, we discovered that:
. . .(A) Front wheel bearings were shot (!)
. . .(B) Steering bearings were shot (!)
. . .(C) New bushings, seals, oil in front forks. Otherwise forks perfect.
It's basically a whole new front end.

While re-building the front forks, discovered shot wheel bearings.
Entire front was end re-done.

Total cost of the entire front-end job was about US$500 including parts. Not bad.

Bike felt totally like new. One doesn't notice as much when it all creeps up on you little-by-little. You get used to a tired suspension and poor steering. Until you have like-new near-perfection back that is!

Have I mentioned more than a dozen times yet,
that I love my Traxxion front forks?
They make such a difference in this bike.

With hindsight, I'd have had the parts sent to Bangkok, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur or Pinang. Any skilled 'big bike' shop could have re-done both the front and rear ends at the same time.

That's what I should/could have done, without the enormous hassle and expense of the Singapore visit. Who could have guessed it would be so difficult and costly? No warning. Live 'n learn.

To any riders planning a world circumnavigation:
Expect to rebuild your front an rear suspensions in this part of the world.
Find the right shop and have parts sent in advance.
You will need to do it.
Try avoid doing it in Singapore unless you really want to ride there.


Singapore –> Indonesia with wheels: Although physically so close, turns out to be easier said than done. Indeed we gave up.

Seems the many ferries to Indonesia, are for people only – no car ferries! It's so close ... but not one exists that carries vehicles.

See 'Getting to Indonesia' blog for transport details.


Huge economic/political success story: Singapore is like home. Except there's more Asian faces – in Toronto's case not that many more either, Toronto is quite Asian by now.

And Singapore is almost visibly perfect. It's true.

Totally modern and pristine. Very organized. Orderly. People follow the many rules. And they work hard. It's rich.

And expensive. In 2009, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Singapore the tenth most expensive city in the world in which to live—the third in Asia, after Tokyo and Osaka. The 2009 Cost of Living survey, by consultancy firm Mercer, has ranked Singapore similarly as the tenth most expensive city for expatriates to live in.

Forbes Magazine on-line Dec. 4 2009, did an article on 'The world's smartest cities' – ranking Singapore #1 in the world, comparing it to Venice in the 15th century:
. . .'The 21st-century successor to 15th-century Venice, this once-impoverished
. . . island nation now boasts an income level comparable to the wealthiest
. . . Western countries, with a per-capita GDP ahead of most of Europe and
. . . Latin America. Singapore Airport is Asia's fifth-largest, and the city's port
. . . ranks as the largest container entrepot in the world. Over 6,000 multi-
. . . national corporations, including 3,600 regional headquarters, are located
. . . there, and it was recently ranked No. 1 for ease of doing business.'

How successful is it? Without forests, oil, much population or geography – amazingly, mind-blowingly so. A $48,500 GDP per capita (PPP = purchasing power adjusted) wins it #9 rank in the world, right above USA [source link.] Who beats it? Basically a few oil kingdoms, some tax havens, plus Norway. Look at the chart link, an interesting factual ranking.

Canada at $38,700 GDP per capita is some 20% behind Singapore, for all our natural and industrial wealth with superb access to world markets.

This specific Canadian businessman had been to Singapore twice before and wondered how this obvious economic powerhouse miracle compared to my home town in hard numbers. So I did some recent arithmetic. Here it is:
. . . - Singapore's population of 4.8 million is 14% less than Greater Toronto's
. . . - (GTA) 5.6 million. (GTA is surprisingly big, #7 in North America.)
. . . - Toronto's GDP was in the order of C$360 billion in 2007 [souce link.]
. . . - That's roughly US$70,000 GDP per capita unadjusted or 'nominal.' I
. . . - used 10% to adjust C$ to US$ in 2007, a low guesstimate.
. . . - Compare that to Singapore's US$52,000 unadjusted/nominal GDP.
. . . - [source link] That places GTA 25% ahead of Singapore per capita.
. . . - Which makes some sense.
. . . - For example, Canada and S Ontario specifically, are USA's largest
. . . - trading partner in the world; No, it's not Japan or China.

None of which takes away from the Singapore economic miracle. One just likes to compare foreign apples with domestic ones.

Comparing similar-sized 'bulldog cities':
Singapore vs Toronto in gross productivity.
Email me to correct anything you disagree with.


One hot Santa:
Nov 1 streets are decorated for Xmas shopping, at 35˚C.
Obama Burgers in Asia? He's coming soon anyhow.
7-Eleven is everywhere is SE Asia. In one mall corner
alongside Jim Carrey (Canadian) and Famous Amos.
Mansoor in front of excellent Bikers Point Trading Garage.
Joe and Noor Wong on their GL1800. Very hospitable new friends.

That's about all we can say about it.

Not a huge 'cultural experience' once you have done an itinerary like ours.

It's modern. It's Asian-American-European.

It's clean and safe.

It's not cheap. But has great shopping.

If none of these appeal to you sufficiently, go elsewhere.

Unless you have business reasons to go.

We chanced to meet up with a great group of Goldwing bikers, a rally was happening in Malaysia just 200 km of freeway north; we still didn't have the 'getting to Indonesia' problem beat. So we packed up and decided to reach Indonesia via Malaysia.

A smart move it turns out.

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