SINGAPORE, Singapore—As I stepped off the plane in Singapore, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Or, rather, the lack thereof. Perhaps it was because I had come from Bangkok, that king of pollution, durian, and other olfactory assaults, the lack of a distinctive scent hit me immediately and distracted me from the surrounding tropical beauty.
That tropical blandness, however, perfectly describes the city. Though the city-state has history, today it is marked by its relentless pursuit of “perfection,” as it is defined by the ruling People’s Action Party. Yes, there are signs in every subway station warning the public to “make time for someone today,” and passengers on the plane, as it descended into Changi Airport, were reminded that “drug offenses carry serious penalties in Singapore.” No, I never saw gum the entire time I was there. Yes, the government is trying to lure educated foreigners to a city that is neat and clean and diverse and safe.
But somehow, the whole thing felt a bit eerie.
Perhaps that’s why I was so reassured by the sight of the Marina Bay Sands, the beautiful new casino resort towering over a corner of the island. A native of Las Vegas, I had heard about the expansion of Nevada-based Sands and knew what to expect. I knew that I would have to go to the top of the hotel to see a panoramic view of the city I would later tour; I knew that the hotel was similar to the ones I knew from home. Maybe I was just hoping for a breath of dry air from our desert home, or maybe I just felt uncomfortable in a place as carefully controlled as Singapore continues to be.
However, I was not expecting just how much the Marina Bay Sands would reflect the city it stands in. Though the Sands is an import, it may be the most perfect example of the real Singapore. Like the city, the features of the hotel are picked from the best of everywhere else—but straightened up and improved. The quest for material things is as palpable inside its mall as it is on the rest of the island (ask any Singaporean about the five C’s). Singapore’s intense nationalism is on display at a “locals only” entrance to the casino, but locals have to pay a fee to enter the casino in what I can only guess is a morality tax. The architecture is modern and adventurous; the tourists are in awe. It is beautiful, safe, modern, and innovative.
And the view? From the top of the tower, the island nation looks its best.