“Come with me – we’ll need to call the police.”
This is how we kicked off our time in Singapore, which, in my opinion, is the worst city in the world. Is it actually the worst city in the world? Probably not, but that was my experience from start to finish. It’s expensive, difficult to navigate, and we found many of the people to be rude and unhelpful.
Selma and I had just left Bali on an early flight, sad to go, but ready to start our next adventure. Everything was going smoothly until we went to clear customes. Our bags were running through the scanner and we were chatting about grabbing a taxi or calling an Uber when one of the officials asked:
“Excuse me. Do you have pepper spray in your bag?”
“Oh, yes I do.”
“Could you please get it out for me?”
I had actually forgotten about the pepper spray, given to me by my friend Ransom before my trip (which I actually thought was a sweet gesture). For any non-Americans reading this, carrying pepper spray isn’t all that uncommon in the States, especially if you live in a large city. I opened my makeup bag and removed the spray, handing it to the official. She radioed someone else. Never a good sign.
“You’re not allowed to have this in Singapore.”
“I’m sorry – I didn’t know. You can just throw it away.”
She looked at me as if to say, “nice try.” An older man came over. “Come with me. We’ll need to call the police.”
UM WHAT?!?! I tried to stay calm though. Panicking and getting angry = guilty. So I followed him to an office in the airport where Selma and I waited while he called the authorities. Right before my departure to Singapore my dad had kindly reminded me, “You know they cane people there, right?” So the loud thwack of a bamboo stick on my ass played loudly in my head over and over while I waited. Would there be a trial? Could I call someone back home?
When the police arrived they made copies of my passport and asked me a series of questions: “Where did I get it? How long had I had it? How much did it cost? What was my purpose of having it?” While still filling out the paperwork he said, “I’m sorry to tell you that…” pause. YOU’RE SORRY TO TELL ME WHAT?!? That I’m going to prison in fucking SINGAPORE? That you’re going to cane me? What exactly are you sorry for?!?
“I’m sorry to tell you that we’ll need to dispose of this.”
“TAKE IT! I DON’T WANT IT!”
Thankfully they weren’t going to imprison me, cane me or even fine me. But they did require me to sign a warning stating that I had brought illegal materials into the country and if I broke the law again I would be arrested, no questions asked.
After succeeding in not soiling myself (you try to control your bowels when you’re expecting the infliction of corporal punishment) we cabbed to our hostel, which, I’ll be real, was shit (as my English friends would say). The owner/manager was wonderful though. He was kind and enthusiastic about helping us. But the hostel itself was small, cramped and a bit musty inside. Selma observantly pointed out that the complex it was located in looked more like a rehab facility. It was also an eco-friendly hostel, which is all well and good until you want a proper shower and a comfortable nights sleep.
After throwing our packs down, the manager sat down with us pointing out highlights and giving us tips. We perked up when we heard that it was “Ladies Night” and drinks were FREE for women all over the city. Ok, NOW we’re talking. But there was a catch for the fancy, rooftop bar with a view of the marina that we wanted to go to: no flip flops. So we spent the rest of the day 1. trying to figure out the buses/trains and 2. searching for shoes that weren’t too expensive that would also fit in our packs. Oh and did I mention that it was raining? We’d just left paradise where the weather was warm, everything was cheap, and the people were as kind as they could be.
“What have we done?” Selma asked. I didn’t know what to tell her. We’d made an awful mistake. We were determined to make the best of it, but it was one fail after the other that eventually resulted in both of us breaking down and crying like tired, frustrated children. We were absurd, but we didm’t care. We hated Singapore and we wanted out.
Luckily we’d only booked two nights and were soon back at the airport, departing for Kuala Lumpur, cautiously optimistic about Malaysia and relieved to have made it through Singapore with no more run-is with the cops.
Despite my semi-traumatic experience I have to say that the officials, including the police, were very kind throughout the process. They were calm, relaxed and very understanding. If I had been elsewhere I’m afraid that may not have been the case. So shout out to the cops in Singapore for being real gems to this naive, ignorant (and very, very sorry) American. But seriously… see you never Singapore.