Singapore – The rapidly modernising city-state

Last modified 16.03.2022 | Published 17.05.19851980's, Singapore, South and Southeast Asia, Travelogue

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The old and new is captivating in Singapore, this rapidly modernising city-state. I spent only a couple of days before moving on.

This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand


Wednesday 15.5.1985, Manila – Singapore

The flight from Manila was not leaving until three in the afternoon so I had some morning hours to kill. I spent them by going up to the Divisoria Market. It has everything and it stretches over a number of streets. Interesting.

The flight took a bit over three hours and was an alright experience, thanks to the food. I do not understand those we doesn’t eat it all. Instead of chicken curry I chose seafood. I had wine and rounded off with cakes, coffee and Napoleon Brandy.

Singapore Airport – Changi – was very neat and well kept, as was the main road into the centre. There were parks all along the way. Singapore is known for its cleanliness, almost to a pedantic level compared to the standards of other countries.

Singapore entry and exit stamps, 1985

Singapore stamps in my passport


I had my 14-day visa after a bit of hassle, as I didn’t have a departure ticket. They wanted amongst other things to know how much money I had.

On the bus into the city I got in touch with a couple who were also studying a map and guidebook to find the right street and hotel. They turned out to be Swedish and we joined forces.

  • GOH’S. 175D Bencoolen Street, 6th floor. Elevator in the backyard. Popular among travellers. Clean and alright, nice and helpful staff. 7 Sing$ for dormitory (3 USD).

I ate dinner in an area with street side restaurants in the evenings. Quite expensive as I paid as much as 6 S$ for beef and fried rice, just about the cheapest meal I could find.


Thursday 16.5.1985, Singapore

I had found out that my finances would not hold for long so I had to transfer money from home. This caused me to stress a lot and I sweated even more in the tropical heat to find the American Express office first, and then the bank just to learn that I had to tell the bank at home to telegraph money here.

I therefore called home for five minutes (about 11 USD) and realised that today was a bank holiday and tomorrow the Norwegian Constitution day. As I hadn’t planned to stay long in Singapore I told my mother that I’d rather call home from Kuala Lumpur. Anyway, it was nice with a chat, despite all that.

I had a couple of films processed. I had promised to send pictures to my friends in San Carlos, Tacloban and not least to Carrie in Baguio, the Philippines. So I spent much of the afternoon and evening writing letters.

I had a cheap (less than two USD) haircut at a hairdressing school and dinner at a cheaper place than yesterday – a dollar including a soft-drink.

In between all this I also had time to see some of the modern, grand, extravagant and luxurious centre of Singapore. Almost everything is new and tidy.


Friday 17.5.1985, Singapore

Even though today was the Seventeenth of May at home, as well as here of course, the day was everything but ordinary for me. I walked around town doing sightseeing.

First of all I mailed all the letters I wrote yesterday. I then went to the Arab Street area which seemed to consist more of Indians than Muslims. The very Indian quarter was at Serangoon Road and at the end I went to Chinatown which turned out to be much amputated after the demolishing and construction work of the last few years.

Everything old is supposed to be removed in Singapore, everything is being homogenised (“Mandarin’s in, dialect’s out”) and streamlined: All to the benefit or disadvantage for tourists and citizens alike.

Even the old street stalls popping up during the evenings on a number of places throughout the city, are now being moved indoors. The result is increased effectiveness (and hygiene), but less interesting and exotic.

I finished today my sightseeing in Singapore City. The rest of the island did not tempt me.


Read more

The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.

Previous chapter: Small villages, wonderful scenery and magnificent rice terraces in the northern Philippines.

Next chapter: Malaysia: A stopover en route north