Oh, that quirky Singapore

sent.jpgIt’s Sunday, my significant other is out playing Mahjong and I’m sitting downstairs in a nice 80 degree breeze with my laptop and wifi. Life is good.

I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about Singapore since I’ve been here, many of them in comments on my blog. I thought I might clear up a few.

Probably the most common complaints I hear have to do with the caning of a 16 year old tourist for vandalizing with spray paint. Yup, that happened. I could never figure out what possessed this young man to do such a thing in a foreign city in the first place, especially one with the rep Singapore has. But he did, and like anyone else who did the same, he suffered the consequences.

The government here frowns upon folks who intentionally deface this beautiful city. The result of this policy is, unlike American cities where graffiti is everywhere, there is none here. Seems there is a certain deterring effect when one faces the possibility of being beaten with a bamboo cane.

It’s also well known that it is illegal to buy or sell gum here. It’s an offense punishable with a fine. I suppose that’s an inconvenience for some. I don’t miss it much. I also don’t miss stepping in someones discarded gum and trying to clean it off my shoes. and I don’t miss the black splotches all over the sidewalks. Works for me.

Spitting is also a finable offense here. Same result. You don’t have to worry about stepping in someone elses snot everytime you go for a walk. I can live with it.

Drugs are a big no-no here. This fact is very well publicized all over the world as is the diligence and thoroughness of the customs folks at the borders and airports. Yet some still decide they simply have to try to enter the country with illegal drugs. If they get caught with enough to sell, they get hung. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they’re from. They get a necktie party and they get it quickly. Personally, I think if they are that stupid, they deserve to be hung. Makes more room for the rest of us.

I’ve talked a lot about guns here and on my blog. Guns are allowed here for target shooting and many make use of those facilities. But when they are done, they leave their gun locked up at the range. Even the police turn in their weapons at the end of their shifts.

I know, I know, that’s terribly repressive. On the other hand, because no one else has a gun either, you don’t need one to “protect” yourself. The result of course is very few killings here and none with guns. But if someone cheats, if someone manages to have a gun and uses it in a crime, its another necktie party. The result of this repressive policy is safe streets for all the little uniformed school girls to walk home on at night.

I had a comment yesterday from a guy complaining that Singapore doesn’t have a free press. It’s true that the government owns the newspapers. But there are still articles and editorials every day complaining about one government policy or another. It doesn’t really matter anyway because you can read any newspaper you want online and the internet, unlike places like China, is not censored at all….for anybody.

Car ownership is very expensive here. The tiniest compact from Korea runs about 50,000 sing dollars (about 35,000 US.) With 4.5 million people living on this tiny island it would be 24 hr gridlock if everyone drove.

I’ve been here 4 1/2 years so far and have never driven a car. I don’t have to. The rapid transit and bus systems, considered by many to be the best in the world, are cheap and go everywhere. If you’re in a big hurry you can flag one of the 20,000 taxis which cost about 3 or 4 bucks to get you where you need to go. More often than not, I’m a passenger on the back of a Honda 200cc Phantom.

There are no jury trials here. That works for me, too. Now, I’m sure that it was a good idea back in the old days when the founding fathers envisioned fair trials by a jury “of your peers”. That was back when justice was valued and attorneys were respected and acted accordingly.

These days, justice is purchased by those who can afford the most expensive attorneys and guilt or innocence is no longer the most important issue. Those who succeed are those who can most effectively manipulate the court proceedings and influence 12 lay people who know absolutely nothing about the law except what they see on TV. OJ is the perfect example. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. What kind of horse shit is that?

No, I think I prefer judgement by someone who is an expert in the law and who understands all of the legal techniques that lawyers will try to use to win their cases.

In a future post I will compare the election process and why votes are not bought by industrial lobbyists. But for now, it’s Miller time.

cross posted at The Impolitic

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15 Comments on “Oh, that quirky Singapore”


  1. Hey, welcome to Singapore!

    Just curious, how long have you lived here?

  2. sgman Says:

    Like CelluloidReality, welcome to Singapore.

    I am glad that my 2.5 years (full-time service) and my 13-year cycle reservist service in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were of use to my nation and they have made Singapore safe and sound for all those who stay here. I am glad that you enjoy the way our Singapore Government governs the country.

    I am glad that you as a foreigner have only tasted some aspects of our government system. As the citizens of Singapore, we have to face every actions taken by our clean and honest government (as described by our senior leaders). True blue citizens of Singapore are given specialized treatment by our esteemed and honourable Singapore Government.

    Thank you for your side of the story. I am glad that you like Singapore. It is true that we have “our brand of unique democracy”. As they said in the brochures, uniquely Singapore.

  3. expatbrian Says:

    Thanks for the comments. I have been here for 4 1/2 years and hope to stay for good. Prior to that I spent 54 years in the US. I am neither young, nor idealistic, nor gullible, nor easily fooled or brainwashed. What I am is often amused at the complaints about this government. I’m pretty sure many of the complainers don’t have any lasting experience living under other governments for comparison. Certainly the best example is the US, long considered a bastion of freedom and liberty and a champion of human rights. Is that the type of government you want?
    Fact is, that government is corrupt to the core, violates our constitution daily, commits crimes both domestic and interational blatantly and has disolved many of the freedoms that Americans thought they had.

    Singapore has done something that has never happened in the world before. Moved from the third world to the first world in just over 4 decades to become an international financial and commerce center. It has developed infrastructure, an education system and a social structure which has become a model for many other countries.

    And yes, it is safe, and not only because of those who serve in the NS, but because of policies that insure it.

    I’m quite interested in the debate. My question is, what is the “better” alternative that you seek? What “crimes” of this government are oppressing you? What political system in what country should Singapore emulate?

  4. Buffalo Says:

    I’ve read, re-read, and read again, this post. Well written, well presented, and it certainly sounds almost idyllic. With all of that said, I honestly and earnestly believe that my sole goal in life, if I lived there, would be to go elsewhere – almost any place that was away from there.

    I don’t care if someone spits on the sidewalks or on the street. I wear shoes to protect my feet from such things.

    Without a doubt the kid you mentioned certainly brought it on himself. If I recall he had committed similar offenses two or three times before. But canning? No. If someone canned or flogged me I would spend the rest of my life trying to even the score with whomever ordered it.

    Public transportation? Not for me. Cheap public transportation? What allows it to be cheap – the wages paid the drivers or tax dollar support?

    Please do not think I am being disrespectful of either you or Singapore. I perceive you to be a good, honorable and intelligent man. I’ve been to Singapore and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    One person’s utopia is another person’s hell.

  5. expatbrian Says:

    I would never think you were being disrespectful and I hope the feeling is mutual. We obviously disagree on some issues and I thoroughly understand yours here. But I will answer your questions.

    Caning-the best way to avoid it (as most do of course) is to not commit crimes that involve caning. People who obey the law don’t have to worry about it. Seems to work. And BTW, those over 50 are not caned anyway. So you’re safe, Buf!

    Wages are generally very good here. Public transport is supported by tax dollars and transport revenue.

    While income tax here is very low, and sales tax (GST) is 7% there are various other taxes that keep this government in the black. Premiums are paid for driving in the business district at certain times, parking is not free anywhere, taxes on smokes and alchohol are very high and a COE of between 5-20,000 dollars is charged for the permission to own and operate a car.

    I do understand that this type of structured society is not for everyone. But for me, at this stage of my life, the structure and the Chinese culture itself seem to fit right in.

  6. Buffalo Says:

    I have long admired both the Chinese and the Chinese culture. However it isn’t the way I would choose to live. It is similar to the way I feel about Buddhism. I find much truth there and I also realize it is something I could never follow; I simply don’t have what it takes.

    The problem with obeying the law, which I generally do, I don’t always agree with all of the laws. (And I’m not talking about laws that have to do with murder, rape, theft, etc.)

  7. expatbrian Says:

    I don’t always agree with the law either. Probably no one agrees with all the laws that govern them. Although at my age, especially now that I’m not driving, drinking or doing drugs anymore, I find it’s not too hard to abide by the rest.

  8. benjamin kwa Says:

    this guy must be a law-and-order, hang-em-all redneck. people like him voted Hitler into power. lol and live on the fringes on US’s politics, tgr with e ron paul nut.

    oh never mind, we welcome you anyway to $$$$$ingapore.

  9. animal Says:

    Hm, I guess since you prefer safety over freedom, then Singapore’s the place for you.
    I don’t really like my country’s system that much, but after having heard so many complaints, I kind of enjoyed reading your point of view. Yeah, it’s true, Singapore does have some commendable areas…

  10. Buffalo Says:

    Ripening on the vine of life is a bitch, ain’t it Brian?

    Drugs are definitely a thing of the past for me. That isn’t to say I would eschew good weed if the notion hit me. Almost two years ago I decided to let some time pass before I took another drink. I was looking through the bottom of a jug of rum way more often than was prudent. Would hate to turn into a rum-dum at this stage of my life. Do love it though.

    Still love fast motorcycles, fast cars, and fast women. The trouble with chasing after fast women is that I can’t remember why in the hell I was chasing them when they finally stop long enough for me to catch up.

    No state, not even a totalitarian state, can prevent people from getting what they want and doing what they want. No matter how severe the punishment. I suspect, and have absolutely no evidence to base it on, the low crime rates in countries with a very strong and restrictive government is partially due to the government’s control of the press. If you don’t read about it; it didn’t happen.

  11. expatbrian Says:

    Benjamin, Well, this California boy never expected to be called a redneck, law and order guy. From opium dens in Vietnam, to war protesting marches while still in the uniform, to college sit-ins and more weed than I care to remember, redneck law and order guy was never applied to me. But like Buf says, Ripening on the vine of life is a bitch. Once you’ve been around as long as we have you will understand what that means.

    Freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a great phrase and political leaders love to use it over and over again but freedom is expensive, very expensive. I come from what is supposed to be the most free country on earth. I can’t afford that freedom anymore.

    And there are different freedoms and many conflict with each other. In the US, I have the freedom to own and even carry a gun. Of the 300 million people there, most have that freedom. But for that freedom, I give up another.

    Here in Singapore, I have the freedom to walk down the street, basically any street in any part of town at any hour without being accosted. That is not possible in any city in the US.

    Between these two freedoms, I chose the second.

    Freedom of the press? No, in Singapore you do not have a free press. But if you think that places like the US provide unbiased reporting you are sadly mistaken. The government may not control the press but they and other powers that be have tremendous influence on it. In any case, I think this is a non-issue in this day and age. Singapore, like the US has open and available internet on which you can read any newspaper you want! And if you want the print copy of the New York Times or Herald Tribune just go to a hotel lobby and get it.

    Americans enjoy one of the most sought after freedoms in the entire world, a freedom that people continue to give their lives to get, a freedom that many will never taste. That is the freedom to vote. The problem is, only half of those who can vote – do vote. The rest are just too lazy or busy or “depressed because the Patriots lost” or whatever the excuse. So they are willing to pass on this freedom, this extremely important right they have, and say fuck it. I don’t have time today. The result is, when someone wins in the US, they are elected by a minority.

    You too have the freedom to vote. But Singapore sees it also as a responsibilty of participation in the process and thus, demands that all eligible people vote. I like that idea too. Force people off their lazy asses and make them vote.

    There is so much to say on this subject and I should probably do a post on it. For now, my question is, what freedom do you want and what price are you willing to pay for it?

    Would it have been a good idea in 1965 for PM Lee to announce that “we are now independent and all Singaporeans have the freedom to do anything and say anything and own anything they want.” Do you think you would have a society like you do today had that been his political pathway? Are you so arrogant as to believe that, unlike people in the rest of the world, you have such highly developed self discipine that you could have handled that?

    What kind of government would you have formed that would have led Singapore to be a player in just 40 years like it is today? What positive differences would you have sought?

  12. sgman Says:

    Thank you for your comments. I can see that you are a man of experience and have been through a lot. You have seen certain greatness of our Singapore Government. I would not doubt it, comparatively speaking. In the opinion of most people, Singaporeans are a lucky lot and in some aspects, we are.

    All I can said now, it takes many years for Singaporeans to realise the true nature of our Singapore Government. I hope that you are able to stay in Singapore for a couple more decades to feel the hustle and bustle of Singapore. Walk into the poorer HDB estates, talk to the old ladies selling tissue paper, eat at the hawker centres, shop at the NTUC Fairprice.

    I have long realised that things do not appear as it is. Evil comes into many forms.

    Good luck and have a nice day.

  13. expatbrian Says:

    Don’t confuse me with wealthy expats that live like they do in the west. I live in an HDB flat. I eat at and prefer to eat at hawker centres. I don’t remember the last time I had a steak but I eat rice, chicken, fish and soup every night. I shop at NTUC at Tiong Bahru and Queenstown regularly. I can’t afford an office so you will find me most days at the Queenstown library on my laptop working on one web page or another. And I have seen poverty like you don’t have anywhere on this island. No, I don’t have to be here for two decades to realize what is going on here. And I do understand the unease that you might feel with some of your governments policies. But don’t let your idealism blind you to the reality of life in this world and where Singapore fits on scales.

    Americans have made the mistake of taking for granted all the blessings they have. Don’t make that same mistake. Be concerned, be even vigilant, but also be thankful every day for the extremely high quality of life you are able to enjoy here.

  14. Oriental Says:

    Hi, welcome You to stay in Sg!
    You are right to leave the US of A; me born in 1951 and though have never been to the States, have read enough of its’ exploits in Vietnam, Korea, Middle East and almost every elsewhere. It is a trouble maker which is stoutly supported by the present Sg Leadership who claims the US is the Worlds’ most powerful nation and its’ president the Worlds’ most powerful man, whatever that means; I do not understand, anyway President Bush is but just a present day cowboy to me except he does’nt seems to shoot very well.

    My country is in the Orient but my State Managers have changed it into a pseudo western(ised) state, and for this alone, I declare the sin is unpardonable.

  15. Homepage Says:

    Click here….

    Nice site. Check out this one sometime……


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