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Singapore Blues...

Posted on November 24 2015

Singapore is quiet most of the time. Things run neatly, the streets are free of most traffic due to discouraging vehicle taxes, and people go about their business quietly. It is refreshing.

Getting in and out if the airport couldn't be more seamless, with taxis never taking more than 30 minutes from downtown, and the MRT itself taking you for only S$2.20 (US$ 2), probably the least expensive airport trip fare in the world.

Bangkok, by contrast, is a multitude of noises. The mass transit BTS trains have advertising signage squeezed into every nook and cranny, with even a TV blaring commercials on board. People chatter or play with their cellphones, often boarding before people have exited.  Singapore: spotless and quiet. People line up neatly, stand in even rows, and automatically provide seats for the elderly, pregnant, disabled, and mothers with small children without a whisper.  It's Singapore culture: Follow the Law.

So far, it has worked just fine. Their government works out cradle-to-grave rules on everything. Apparently, 80% of properties are managed by the Singapore Housing Authority who decides how much of your rent you must bare.  There are no homeless people anywhere that I saw.  There are some mobility challenged types in electric wheelchairs around Orchard road peddling tissues for donations (with official badges allowing the practice).

The Singapore government provides free concerts, free education (or heavily subsidized), job training, job relocation, family planning, builds housing, adds new land to Singapore (dredging the sea), and negotiates contracts with Malaysia for water, power, and trade.

The government by law pays 20% higher salaries than the equivalent private sector jobs to encourage the smartest and best to work for the people.

Yes, dissent is quashed and press freedoms remote, but that only bothers a small number (apparently).

Everything runs well. Taxi ques are in airconditioned spaces, and you venture out only when the taxi pulls in and signals.  People line up for everything neatly, noiselessly.  After searching for the button, I discovered even the drinking fountains are automatic.

You know it is a nation of ambitious people when everywhere it has electronic tablets asking you to "rate our service."  It's just a toilet and it flushed just fine, thank you. (And spotless I might add.)
Then there are the billboards in MRT stations cajoling citizens "are you ready for change in your workplace?" and advising further vocational training. No wonder some of these people admire "very relaxed natures" of Thai people  -- it doesn't exist in this society where job anxiety seems to be the norm from what some professionals here told me.

"Expat packages are a thing of the past," Laura, who used to work with Shell, told me. "Foreigners who didn't buy something years ago and don't have a big allowance for school or housing can't afford to live in Singapore anymore..."

Don't mention the food or drink. Unless you eat at hawker stalls and are a teetotaler, you'll burn money along with stuffing you tummy.  Alcohol is taxed so highly that a can of Heineken is priced at nearly $5 (recently jumping 25% in additional tax) and the happy hour places serve a pint at S$12 (hardly a bargain).

A half dozen drinks in the evening easily runs over $S100 and that's IF you pace yourself -- and what's the point on staying on the verge of sober anyway when you want to forget your troubles? Forget recreational drugs when the penalty is death (by hanging?).

So again, the question I ask myself when a fine stay comes up: "would you move here if you could?"  This being a hypothetical question and thus my apartment would overlook Robertson Quay, and I'd have a jogging trail right below to stay in shape (bike riders must dismount on bridge underpasses presumably for pedestrian safety), I'd miss too much of the fun -- and may I say it -- scruffiness of Bangkok. And when the weekend came around, I would hate not being able to escape to beaches to sail and swim, and gorge on Thai food and inebriate myself with friends.  While I love to visit, admire the architecture and the ongoing experiment in good governance, I could not, would not, sing in Singapore.  -- Aaron Frankel, 2014

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