Web Exclusives: Letter from Hong Kong
a PAW web exclusive column by Ed Finn ’02 edfinn@alumni.princeton.edu

November 20, 2002

Sing a song of Singapore
Slinging Frisbees and more on a getaway from Hong Kong


I had been looking forward to my trip to Singapore for weeks. I was itching to see another bit of Asia and play in my first ultimate Frisbee tournament this side of the Pacific.

As my team haggled with the flight attendants for yet more miniature bottles of wine, I went over what little I knew about Singapore and tried to imagine it. I was going in blind: I had no guide book, no past experience, no clue as to geography or local customs. My preparation for the trip had been on the field and in the gym, trying to get ready for six to eight hard-running games in grueling heat.

Well, it turned out Singapore wasn't actually grueling. Apparently we caught a good weekend, where the weather was breezy if uncomfortably warm. The best news was that some blessed cloud cover protected us from direct sunlight for much of our time on the fields. Alas, this did not prevent me from adopting the traditional costume of my family when traveling: a healthy coat of sunburn.

Aside from two days spent out on the fields (where vast skyscrapers quietly lurked in the background), I hardly saw anything of the city. I arrived on Thursday night and was sped immediately to the palatial apartment of a local Singapore player, where after a night of revelry I opted to sleep on the couch over his cold marble floor. The next day was spent in a post-apocalyptic hangover daze, exploring the further reaches of our host's extensive chambers and spelunking through his cavernous kitchen.

The rest of the weekend became a blur of Frisbees hurtling in various directions, overpopulated hotel rooms and wild parties. My fears of Singapore's repressive social environment were finally laid to rest as I watched 200 costumed foreigners turn a swanky downtown bar into a gyrating centrifuge of dance-aholic sin. Singapore has a vibrant nightlife oddly concentrated into a few select areas, or at least it seemed that way to me as we leapt in and out of cabs in search of various watering holes. Dinner and the early evening was spent at Boat Quay, and the rest of the night on sensibly titled Club Street.

Dining at Boat Quay is an experience where Singapore shines over rivals like Hong Kong. Here was a prime tourist area, packed with restaurants and touts pushing everything edible from shrimp to sauerkraut. Unlike the rest of Asia, there were no life-shortening diesel traffic fumes, as the area was closed to vehicles. There was a nice view over the water. And the water was clean! Well, I couldn't smell it, anyway. The food was good, if expensive. Boat Quay is Singapore's entrance to the Asian tourism beauty pageant: clean, efficient, and good for a meal. Overall the effect was something like a Disney impression of a Mediterranean boardwalk, full of enticing meals and conscious ethnic variety but lacking that layer of authentic grime.

What the streets lacked in filth we made up for, stumbling unwashed into restaurants after a day eating hardly anything. Anything tastes delicious after a long day outside, but those meals live on in my memory as particularly delicious — one restaurant's fusili salmone brought me back to the many Italian meals I savored around Princeton.

In fact, the whole weekend smacked of college in a rather pleasant way. I felt like I was on a poorly planned road trip (the best kind), crashing in other peoples' hotel rooms, partying late into the night and generally pretending not to have any responsibilities.

The fleeting impressions of Singapore I have as a city only reinforce that heady sense of extended adolescence. My weekend adventure was a midsummer night's dream, a topsy-turvy dreamland of rushed adventures. The city just seemed to draw it out. Government ad campaigns felt like high school election posters — "Beat myopia!" And when I saw the locals relaxing, it was in games, flirting conversations, and mealtime gossip fests. I probably saw the fun and silly side of life in Singapore because I was doing it too, but I'll always think of it as a midsummer theme park somehow trapped in adolescence, millions of people living in the free anticipation of Freshman Week.

I was in a funk for days after my return to Hong Kong, already missing the strange circus of an Asian ultimate tournament in Singapore. Players from all over the region had gathered to play, party, and pretend for a few days, making a kind of performance art out of having a good time. The weekend will always live in my memory as some of the best fun I've ever had, but like any tonic it must be taken in moderation. Dreams have no power without a daytime to undo; it's more fun to imagine Singapore as that midsummer vacation madness than a real place. Maybe next time I'll stay for a weekday.

Ed Finn ’02 works for Time in Hong Kong and can be reached at edfinn@alumni.princeton.edu