Overawed by Singapore

Singapore at night


I was recently in Singapore for about 5 days on an academic visit (that's right - "academic"). There were a few things that I noticed that would make a large difference to the way things are done in India, if implemented. I know that this will in all probability, be a futile exercise, but the observations in itself are fantastic and have something more to it than meets the eye. You'll see what I mean.

Ever since my first visit to Singapore, the city has struck me to be one of the model cities of the world and a place that should be transformed into a case study and replicated in every city in the world. From the airport to the city (and everything in-between), there are things that amaze you and make you think that this is really how it should be. This post does not dwell so much on the common human courtesies that would include things such as letting people exit the train/elevator before boarding, giving up seats for women or for senior citizens or anyone with a slight discomfort, giving right of passage to pedestrians first, or things that we Indians have never heard of or pretend to have never heard of. This post will attempt to point out some of the more uncommon rules and policies that are particular to this country.

A necessary disclaimer is that most of these observations are my own or what have been told to me by some locals and Indian friends who now reside in Singapore. Hence, while they may be factually inconsistent with the actual rules/policies or slight variations, the fact that it could be potentially the right way of doing things is reason enough for it to be discussed and described here.

Secondly, to some, these rules may also appear to be restrictive and downright representative of a dictator regime, but the fact of the matter is that noone's complaining and everyone seems to be happy complying with the rules laid down. This is so much so that even Indians, who are naturally aggressive, unruly, and believe firmly in the concept that "rules are only made so that they can be broken", are perhaps the most law-abiding group of people to set foot in Singapore the minute they get out of the aircraft. Obviously, this behaviour undergoes a complete reversal either when they are among their own kindred in Little India or once they board the plane back to India. Anyway, getting back to the topic, here goes:

  • The Changi Airport at Singapore would put the biggest mall in India to shame. Yes - it's expensive and one usually finds things there that are difficult to get in a local convenience store. That is really the basic premise of having a shopping mall. The daily needs of human beings should not be found in malls. They should be found in local stores in every neighbourhood and on every block of every street. I know of one city that definitely does not follow this basic idea and yet calls itself the 'Millennium City'.
Interiors of one of the terminals of Changi Airport

  • Still with Changi airport. One terrific thing that I noticed about the airport was the fact that there are Customer Service personnel who are given a mobile workstation that is shaped like a luggage trolley and is on wheels. I guess it stems from the basic premise that a business reaches out to customers, and not the other way around. I was very impressed by this basic idea being innovatively put into motion. Mind you, they also had a stationery Customer Service desk that was manned by an individual at all times.
  • Drugs are a big no-no in Singapore. You may be fined $50 for jaywalking, but if drugs are found on you, you are liable to be subjected to capital punishment, aka death by hanging or otherwise, but death nonetheless. This policy is strictly followed in this wondrous city. What it does guarantee is that drug peddlers are non-existent and schools/colleges are devoid of such substances. A big relief to a lot of parents.
  • Chewing gum is banned. One of the things that will strike you immediately once you step out of the airport is the beauty of Singapore and the cleanliness on the streets. It really is exemplary. Basic rules such as this one ensures that there is no litter on the road. There are trash cans on every street corner and littering the streets can cause you to cough up a very hefty fine.
  • Dirty, noisy, and inherently crowded places have been given certain designated areas to be present in. I am obviously referring to Little India and Chinatown. I shall not elaborate much on this.
  • Cigarettes are extremely expensive. In the olden days, smoking was looked upon as a privilege that only the rich classes could afford. Interestingly and quite appropriately perhaps, Singapore has ensured that cigarettes should be priced beyond the means of the common folk.
  • Buying a car is almost as expensive as buying a house. The government has ensured that people use as much of the public transport services as possible. Note though that the transport service systems in Singapore are immaculate, affordable, omnipresent, and super-efficient, thereby automatically reducing the need to own a car. What this particular rule also does is that keeps the traffic down to a manageable level, since it's only the super-rich who can afford to drive their own cars around. Even cabs prove to be more expensive than the other modes of transport, but that once again is to keep the locals and global citizens intermingling.
  • The concept of weekend number plates. Complimenting the policy of pricing cars exorbitantly, the Government has also created the availability of weekend cars. These cars are priced cheaper than the regular ones (still not easily affordable), but have a special number plate assigned to it, which would ensure that these cars come out onto the roads only on weekends.

  • Urinals have the caricature of a housefly at the base. Satisfies two purposes: a) Aiming at the housefly ensures keeps you focused and ensures that you don't splash around, b) In case you are the impatient sorts, it gives you a game to play while you go about your business.
  • Politicians are legally rich and are provided for by the State. The Government have struck at the very heart of corruption by ensuring that the members of the parliament are very well provided for. Here again, the purpose is two-fold: a) A politician's role in forming rules and policies is for the welfare of the public, since his welfare is taken care of extremely well, and b) It allows the youth of the country to dream and to have ambitions of one day holding office, quite unlike to the sentiments and regard for politicians that citizens of other countries harbour.
  • The State looks after it's citizens. Health, education, food, and lodging is provided for by the Government free of cost to the locals. The underlying principle is that the want of the basic necessities is the root cause behind people resorting to crime. This is perhaps also the reason why Singapore has the lowest crime rates in the world today. Needless to say, the citizens are very proud of their State and talk very highly about their global footprint, but at the same time, retaining focus on the native citizens of the country.
  • If you're well-educated and employable, Singapore welcomes you with open arms and perhaps may even chase you down to become a part of the country. Getting a Permanent Residency in Singapore is not as difficult as it is in other countries of the world. They are clearly after people who can do fantastic work for the country, since not only does that ensure prosperity of the State (by way of taxes), but also ensures employment opportunities for it's existing diaspora of citizens.
  • Democracy and nominated aristocracy go hand-in-hand. Singapore is a democratic state and when elections come around, there is usually a single candidate who is nominated by the members of the ruling party and is almost certain to win the elections. Usually, a lesser candidate is pitted against him, who is insignificant and present only to ensure that the spirit of democracy stays alive. In conjunction with the earlier point made of ensuring that the members of parliament stay wealthy, it is in their best interests that a person who is capable of thinking for the benefit of the public comes into power. This not only ensures their longevity in their respective positions, but also keeps them popular with the masses.
  • When the son of a Permanent Resident turns 17 (provided that the son too is born a Singaporean citizen), he is bound by law to serve in the country's army for a period of at least 2 years. While this may be perceived as forced duty to the State, given the list of benefits that the country offers this son of the soil, it is only fair that the country asks people to not do what the country can do for you, but what they can do for the country. Once again, the dual benefit of this policy is that not only does this individual have his heart in the right place for his country, but it also helps in bringing about a necessary sense of discipline in the cultural upbringing of this 17-year-old. However, the fact that Singapore hasn't fought a war in centuries still doesn't deter a number of parents who are not natives of Singapore (but are permanent residents now) to leave the country just before their son turns 17 so that he doesn't have to join the army.
  • Food and electricity are cheap. Bottled water and real estate are not. The reason why food and electricity are cheap is because they are the basic necessities of living in any place on Earth. Most working couples prefer eating out every day. Hence, an additional reason for keeping food prices reasonable. Mind you that even though the food prices are low, there is no compromise on quality by any means. Hygiene and convenience are the cornerstones of the food and restaurant industry in this part of the world. On the other hand, bottled water and real estate are not cheap by any standard. My guess is that the reason for bottled water being expensive is because Singapore's tap water is clean enough to be had directly from the source. Being an environment-conscious country and recognizing that water is a depleting source will do them more good than harm even though they are surrounded by water on all sides. Real estate being expensive is obviously because of the function of limited space without overcrowding and maintaining low density for various reasons.
  • The Government discourages it's citizens from gambling. Singapore derives most of it's income if not all of it from tourists and it being viewed as a tourist haven. As a result, in an effort to outdo Macau, they have recently opened casinos to suit the vices of a number of otherwise harmless, compulsive gamblers. Having done that, they have also imposed a very heavy entrance fee for the locals, since their objective is to ensure that the citizens keep their hard-earned money in places better than the top of a blackjack or roulette table. Furthermore, the Government has given the right to people to ban their kin and direct relatives from casinos by a method of blacklisting by the casino management upon request.
I am quite sure that there would be quite a few rules that are not favourable to the citizens of the country (noone's perfect). However, in my apparent view of the way things function there, didn't seem to feature in the list of things that don't work well there. The quest for my next visit will be to stumble upon and discover maladies of the system to write about in my blog to give a balanced view of one of the most admirable countries in the world today.

As you would have logically concluded by now, I was completely overawed and amazed at the way this country functions, with pretty much a dumbfounded expression like the Sardarji has in the picture below, representative of the Indian in me. Oh, and yes - people in Singapore spend a lot of time in the MRTs and love their electronic gadgets and phones.



More soon.

H.
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