I think we spent just the right amount of time in Singapore. I liked walking around the city and even though it was different from other parts of Asia in that it didn’t have much by the way of old architecture and history, I was fascinated by the story of Singapore.
As we mentioned in a previous post, Singapore was basically the slums of Malaysia before becoming its own country in the 60s. However, with strong leadership and a lot of governmental intervention / assistance, it has transformed from a poor nation to the most developed nation in Southeast Asia. The clean roads, easy transport system, lack of touts, level of education and general feeling of safety was a stark contrast to many areas of SEA that we had been to so far. Some of the steps the government took:
1) Built up cheap public housing to provide homes for people (side note: the government gives citizens up to SD$30,000 based upon need for buying a house; to encourage family togetherness, this goes up by SD$10,000 if you buy with or close to your parents)
2) Cleaned up the hawkers from the street and required them to have licenses that are only available in designated hawker stall areas
3) Health inspections of hawker stalls and restaurants (with their grades prominently displayed)
4) Built transportation system and restricted the use of cars (as mentioned in a previous post)
5) Encouraged diversity and acceptance of the various ethnic communities
6) Increased jobs by encouraging foreign investment as well as creating industries
7) Encouraged participation in team sports and activities in order to build a better spirit of community
8) Improved schools and education
9) Started a birth control campaign (one child is enough) – though this worked too well and now the government is doing the opposite so the workforce doesn’t dry up!
Of course, Singapore is also known for its harsh penalties for criminals (I kept on hearing the Weird Al song about the kid getting caned for spitting out his gum), but in turn has a really low crime rate. There are a few things that made me cringe a bit as too Big Brothery but I understand the reason for them:
1) Marina Bay Sands has a huge casino – however, to discourage its own people from gambling, the government charges citizens and permanent residents SD$100 to enter. Basically, they want money from the tourists! Also, you can put a family member or an employee or yourself on a do not allow inside list to restrict those that may have a gambling problem from entry.
2) To have a pet, you must have a pet license and show proof that you are keeping up with its shots, etc.
3) In the couple stores we checked, we couldn’t find gum (I’m not sure if it’s actually illegal?)
4) Mandatory military service for men
Every city we go to, Samir and I talk about what it would be like to live in that city and if we would want to or not. For my part, I wouldn’t mind for a couple years and am okay with the trade-offs of certain personal liberties for an orderly society (though we didn’t hear about anything super excessive while we were there). But, we would do so knowing that although Singapore is a diverse city, people kind of hang out within their own ethnic communities (whether Chinese, Malay, Tamil or North Indian) with expats basically hanging out with other expats. And while the school system there is good for those who are intelligent and work hard, it seems to be ultra-competitive with too much emphasis on academics rather than well-roundedness. For example, the kids from second or third grade get put into sections 1-8 by order of how well they did that year so all the smart kids go to section 1 and goes down from there. While the spirit of this is meant to teach students at their own level, it turns into pitting kids against each other and can be really demoralizing to kids in the lower section as they know it and all their friends know it as well. And you lose the benefit of learning from smarter kids in your classes – though again, this all benefits the smart kids who aren’t slowed down by kids that can’t perform at their level. I guess it’s similar to having an “honors” section but the 8 divisions throws me a bit. But in may be fun for awhile to live in the region and be able to explore it more than we were able to in the five months that we were there!
A common theme echoed in many previous posts is how I wished I had more time to see the sights of the country. This carries through for Singapore as well. At our pace, I felt it would have taken another 1-2 weeks to see all the things we wanted to see. The thing that disappointed me, more than any other, was how everything seemed new. Everything old was torn down, crushed, removed. In a way, culture is both demonstrated and easier to pass-on through historical artifacts/stories. And the rules, while allowing the country to grow exponentially compared to, well, any other country, still feel very limiting (at least according to my American sense). I think I could come to Singapore to visit, and maybe even to work for a bit – but “a bit” is the key – I cant imagine living in Singapore permanently.