I abided by one simple rule living as an expat teen in Singapore: Don't take drugs.
The nation-state's Misuse of Drugs Act is well known: if you're carrying enough of any controlled substance, discovery comes with a mandatory death penalty. Anything less, and it's still assumed you're trafficking, which will have you deported or jailed.
In 2005, Melbourne man Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged—he had been caught at Singapore Airport with 396.2 grams of heroin strapped to his body, en route back to Australia from Cambodia.
It's cases like these that dissuade most Australian expats from dabbling in Singapore. But when they come home, it's a total free for all. Australia's drug laws aren't the more liberal in the world, but compared to Singapore, they might as well be.
I wanted to know how shifting between drug cultures affected some of my expat friends, all of whom are Australian. So I asked them about refraining there, and indulging at home. All names have been changed.
VICE: What was your take on the drug laws in Singapore?
Julia: I lived there for eight years and their laws are tight. As an expat you'd be deported along with your entire family in 24 hours. It's ruthless.
Despite the penalties, did you ever try any drugs?
No. I never once came across anything like that in Singapore. I think it's because everyone's too fucking scared to traffic or try them. The risk is so mammoth. I don't want my family to have to uproot their lives because I wanted a drag of a joint in a Clarke Quay car park.
When you moved back, and you could get high without the same risks, did you indulge?
I smoked marijuana quite a bit. Maybe once a week? I've also tried MDMA, acid and 'shrooms. But then I was charged with possession of illegal substances—marijuana and MD—in Sydney last year. I was granted a Section 10 in court, which is basically probation. If didn't get let off I could've potentially fucked up my whole life. I would've had "convicted felon" on my record forever and I wouldn't have been able to visit the states. It also would've stayed on my resume for my future bosses to see. I'm lucky the Australian government is a lot more lenient. Singapore would've fucked me up.
Tell me about your time in Singapore.
I lived there for 12 years, from six to 18. The laws are intense – there's a lot of fear-mongering. I also spent so long there I always heard people being deported or forced to leave from drugs, and it wasn't even heavy stuff. Shit like marijuana, you know? That's a Class A drug there.
Did you ever try marijuana in Singapore, or other drugs?
Never. Are you crazy? I went to a few parties and at one of them someone was smoking weed. I had to leave because I was so paranoid. Had anyone been caught I would have got in trouble, my sister or my family would have got in trouble, and everyone would have been deported. It wasn't worth the risk. I was also in the mindset that if you smoked weed around people and they know about it—it's a really selfish thing to do.
Did you wind up trying it when you came back?
None of my friends did drugs when I came back. But now I'm confronted with it because it's in my circle of friends, and just there all the time. My ex-boyfriend also has a serious addiction to weed and he's an expat. It's a lot more in your face here. Everyone seems to have weed on them, and he got caught. Australia's leniency hasn't taught him anything.
Does that leniency make it easier or harder to develop drug problems in Australia?
Well, I did develop one after coming back. After a break up I lashed out and partied a lot. That's something you couldn't do in Singapore. You could either do EC in a stairwell, which I regret, or binge drink at a club with a fake ID and risk being charged with terrorism. It's fucked here: it's so easy.
How would you describe Singapore's drug laws during your time over there?
I was there from 16 to 18, so my formative teen ages, and the laws are very restrictive. Serious zero tolerance policies.
Although the Singapore laws are serious, did you ever dabble with drugs?
Yeah. I tried ketamine-laced weed and that was a very paranoid experience. The whole time I was thinking about the huge ramifications and whether everyone was an undercover cop. Plus I tried EC a lot. Since Singapore is so restrictive they don't give the kids a chance to experiment with regular drugs. So kids do EC. It's fucking crazy! In Australia that's the worst stuff, but in Singapore rich kids do it out of plastic bags because there's nothing else. That's why we do it when we come back.
When you moved back to Australia did you find the drug culture confronting? Did you want to try something other than huffing EC from a bag?
After having lived in Singapore for two years, where all you can do is drink, the culture was in your face: I dived straight into the drugs. It was like being in a candy store. But it leads to addiction, even if substance abuse is a really good way to keep up in my life. I mostly use dexy and methamphetamine, and I take those a lot. They help me through working full time and uni but it also gives me a mad psychosis. Also, I almost failed my degree because I was going through drug-fuelled break up. Those MDMA, speed and gear binges man. I regret that kind of overindulging.
How much time did you spend in Singapore?
From nine to 18. Almost 10 years, I was there for a while.
Did you ever try any drugs there?
Nah. In the later years of high school a few people of my social circles would dabble with weed—but that's if they could actually get their hands on it because it's non-existent there. Drugs in general were just never really a must for me. Growing up I was super aware of them and the culture of substance use and its various forms. I guess I wanted to wait 'till I was confident in myself before having those experiences. Worked out well because now I'm great at drugs.
Great at drugs?
I moved back right after finishing year 12 and I had just turned 18. I absolutely dove into MDMA, psychedelics and acid, 'cause I was really keen to get that train rolling—pun intended. It happened pretty much immediately.
What made that the right time to dive in?
Well I knew a few experienced cats who helped me ease into things, and showed me the ins and outs, and there aren't people like that in Singapore. Everyone's too scared. But here it's really easy to indulge in because everyone is doing it—I just wanted to indulge at the right time. I had a great time!
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