I first visited in 2000 and really thought nothing of it. To be honest, at the time, it was probably the dullest place I'd ever seen. It was a flying visit. Literally a weekend. After a walk through Bugis Street, a Kodak moment by Raffles, a quick stop down by the waterfront to see the famed Merlion statue - the mythical beast with the body of a fish and the head of a lion - and a bite to eat (albeit a sensational one) at a hawker centre, by lunchtime we'd pretty much ticked off everything we thought worth seeing.
But not Singapore. Clean. Neat. Prim and proper. And done in a day. If there was an edge to this city, I couldn't find it. I don't think we liked each other very much at first. As a speed-date, it was a disaster.
Most recently, I caught up with an old school mate living there over a bite to eat before a late night flight home. He pulled up in a cab. You want something local? A no-brainer after days of hotel bars and buffets.
No Sign Board Seafood, Geylang Road. Thanks, Driver.
Singapore's Geylang district is a neighbourhood of laneways and streets buzzing with temptations aplenty. There's food everywhere. The bang and clang of woks in steamy kitchens, and the clatter of chopsticks on plastic bowls and plates. Neon, noise and an unease in the daytime that is swallowed by the night as the place comes to life.
The skies opened up the moment we stepped out of the cab still a few blocks from No Sign Board. Lightning. Thunder. Chaos on the roads. On our slip-sliding walk through the crowds huddled under shop awnings my mate points out a particular quirk of Geylang.
The odd numbered streets are full of restaurants. The even ones are where you go to satisfy another kind of urge. Hello, edge.
No Sign Board was heaving. Dinner was incredible. Piles of crab, a plate of minuscule squid fried crunchy, noodles, rice and a token serving of greens, washed down by just the right number of really, really cold Tigers. We laughed through the more than 20 years that have passed since we left school and then, way too soon, I had to dash to make my flight.
Minutes later he returned grinning. That's better. Here we were, right at the edge and he'd leaped off - as it turns out - to take a pee.
A few hours later, peering out of the aircraft window with Singapore racing away below, I pondered how far Singapore & I had come since that first, frosty encounter all those years ago. Underneath the high-buttoned, conservative exterior is a neon-fueled pulse that throbs to a dangerously different beat. One revealed slowly in a burlesque feather-dance with each Singapore fling.
Regal and proud above the surface, scales and slipperiness below.
She's such an exquisite tease, this Merlion.