William Gibson wrote a scathing article about Singapore in 1996 called Disneyland with the Death Penalty. You can imagine his opinion of the city with a title like that. Mine is significantly less dire, but he writes prose; I write software. When he writes software I’ll have a stronger critique of his content, but boldly competing with him on journalism and grammar is something I don’t aspire to.
My very limited view of the Singapore system in action mostly comes from two places: the newspaper supplied by my hotel, and the taxi drivers I met.
I’ll give a brief example of how the newspapers seem to inform public opinion by comparing two articles.
The February 1 edition of the Straits Times has the following cover story: Jobless rate falls to 14-year low.
The edition for the following day, February 2, has the following stories on its cover page: $600 million boost for MRT service, Govt surplus ‘to exceed forecast’, and Inmate numbers fall, thanks to rehabilitation. There were two additional articles mentioned on the front page available online but only to subscribers (hence no links): “Young & jobless in Europe” describing the mounting concern of employment in Europe, and “Yaw back in public eye,” about the minority political party leader returning after allegations of an extra-marital affair.
Did you catch that, between one day and the next? One day the newspaper mentions Singapore’s low jobless rate, and the next day mentions Europe’s high jobless rate. This seemed to surprise nobody I spoke to.
The taxi drivers almost always seem willing to complain about life in Singapore.
“The political party is PAP. People’s Action Party. Some people say it now means ‘Pay and Pay’.”
“Singapore is a fine and fine country. It’s fine, and if you cause trouble, you get a fine.”
A consolidation of multiple taxi drivers opinions: “All Singapore taxi drivers are from Singapore. That way if there is any trouble, they know exactly where I am. If they had taxi drivers not from Singapore and there was trouble, the person could just leave the country. So, taxis are very safe. Nobody wants to try to pull a trick on you.”
An older cabbie said, “Singapore is a good place for the young to work hard. When you get older, it’s harder, and real estate is getting more expensive. I own a house now, so I’m OK, but I’m worried about the younger people.”
Religious free expression seems to be very positive here. Within two blocks I found a Moslem Mosque, a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple, all with various levels of openness to the public. And as previously mentioned, I visited the oldest synagogue in Southeast Asia.
You heard the famous stories of the clean streets and lack of graffiti? It’s true. On more than one occasion I actively searched for, and failed, to find any trash on the streets, curbs, or alleys. There were always litter bins close at hand. The only exception I found was inside the boundary of an active alleyway construction site. There I saw a salty snack bag and a soda bottle. I have two other short stories about litter:
While walking through Chinatown on my first day I noticed two young Chinese men in front of me, wearing crisp white shirts. One seemed to accidentally drop a paper napkin while in mid-stride. He looked back and said “Ah!” (as in “Ach, what have I done?”), slowed down, looked around for any eye witnesses, and resumed his normal speed, satisfied it wasn’t an issue.
I saw one person I could classify as homeless. He was standing at an entrance to one of the many immaculate MRT stations. He looked down, picked up what seemed to be a lighter, failed to light it after several attempts, opened his palm and let the lighter fall out of his hand back onto the ground.
Those are my only litter stories.