Singapore is a small country. In fact the size of Singapore is almost the same size as the Chennai metropolitan city. What struck us most when we moved to Singapore from the vast land of the US was the tiny size of the country. We lived in Singapore from 1993 to 1996. In the US the residential suburbs were filled with sprawling single storey houses. But Singapore was a vertical city 🙂 The high rise buildings housed the population. Being a small city there is not much to see in Singapore. The main entertainment is shopping. They have amazing shopping malls which carry everything under the Sun. The creativity of the government is revealed in the way that they have turned the Sentosa Island into a top notch entertainment centre like Disney land!
The highways and roads are not broad but the quality and cleanliness of the roads will make you fall in love with that country at first sight. The economy of the country is very much dependent on tourism. Hence the government gives importance to any and all things related to encouraging tourism.
I have read stories of writer Sujatha where he would talk about incidents happening in the year 2512 (or so) in futuristic cities which were very robotic in nature. We saw the shades of such a city in Singapore in those days itself 🙂 I am certain that the government has fine tuned its activities to make life simpler and easier for its citizens than before and the people have everything delivered at their door steps now!
It is a very safe country. A woman could go out alone at 2 am in the night wearing jewels and yet be have no fear for her safety. I speak about this out of experience when I had to go out alone one night out of necessity. In my opinion, fear of severe punishment if caught while committing a crime is the main reason for such good behaviour. Caning is a very common form of punishment along with jail sentences and fines. I have heard that a mere two strikes by cane on the buttocks of those found guilty will be remembered by them with fear for the rest of their lives. When we were there an American teenager was caught and found guilty for painting graffiti on some public property. If the same thing had happened in the US he would have been slapped with a fine and some hours of community service. But in Singapore he was to be caned for this crime. The American family tried their best to take him away from the country before he was caned. I remember Bill Clinton appealing to the Singapore government. But the government did not budge and he received his share of caning as ordered by the court and only then was he allowed out of the country.
Taxi car’s registration numbers, driver’s licence numbers and their mobile phone numbers are all registered with the concerned government departments. So if we lose something in the taxi or if the driver misbehaves we can lodge a complaint and the authorities can easily track them. Hence the taxi drivers also behave nicely towards us. Metre rates are only paid and the balance change duly rendered! The government stipulates the rate per kilometre which is reasonable enough tube accepted by the taxi owners. The night time taxi travel is one and a half times the rate that we normally pay during day time. The drivers are well trained and the city is so well planned that all you have to do when you get into the taxi is to give the address and we will be dropped in the right place. Ninety percent of them speak English and even the remaining ten percent do understand and follow instructions.
We used to have two cars when we were in the US. The three years that we spent there we did not buy a car, due to two reasons. One was that, Singapore had a wonderful public transport system, air-conditioned busses, speeding metros and reasonable rates for a comfortable taxi ride. Trains and busses and taxis were clean and functioned efficiently. The other reason was the exorbitant prices of cars. If the cost of the car was Sing$30,000, there was an additional tax called COE which varied anywhere from Sing$20,000 to Sing$70,000 or so as it was based on a demand and supply model. This was imposed by the government to restrict its people to curtail the purchase of cars and they were able to have a control on the number of cars on the road every year. This COE was also valid only for ten years after which you have to pay again. That way they made sure that old cars were not on the road thus controlling the pollution levels in the atmosphere. The payments for car parking in CBD(business districts, equivalent to down town area in the US) was also very high making it a deterrent to office goers to own a car. If the government wanted to increase the sales of cars they would lower the COE. They ran the country in the same way a CEO would run a company.
My children weren’t very happy over the fact that we did not have a car, especially my son 🙂 The moment we stepped out of our house he will extend his arm to hail a taxi on the road! They both had school van/bus to pick and drop them. It was such a breeze to get admission in schools for them. All we had to do was to submit an application to the education ministry and they allotted the school that was close to our home address. When we were there a shift system was followed. First and third standards had the afternoon shift and second and fourth had the morning shift.
Everything and everybody has to follow a regimen there. The government was a benevolent dictator. It provided its people with all the needed comforts. Their housing board which was called the HDB provided flats at a very reasonable rate to permanent residents and their citizens. A taxi driver and a street vendor would be a house owner in that country. Additional benefits were allotted to citizens of the country. They had the right to buy brand new HDB flats that came into the market and loans at lower interest rates etc, to name a few.
It is very common there for both the husband and wife to hold jobs there. Another special feature of that country is the availability of live in maids. They are mainly hired from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan. They have a separate visa. This has its plusses and minuses.
The country is devoid of any natural resources. Even water is imported from Malaysia. But the government functions with a superior visualisation of its future needs and makes provisions for every conceivable contingency. It is such a tiny country but it makes military training compulsory to all boys who finish their high school there. They are allowed to continue their college education only after they have completed the three years of mandatory military training. But once you finish that in flying colours, the government provides the students with financial aid to study in their own top universities or even helps them go abroad for their higher studies. But if you do not take up this training you are thrown out of the country. Your PR(equal to American Green Card) is revoked and have to leave the country immediately. If in case you want to visit the country later you may get a visitor’s visa for two weeks at a time. So many Indian parents living there who do not want their sons to under go such training leave the country when their child is in the ninth or tenth standard and move to US or Australia or back to India.
Schools are equally restrictive. There is no room for creativity. Further, they even monitor the weights of the students. They are paranoid about having a future generation which is obese. So such kids are given counselling by doctors to eat less and they are forced to jog several rounds in the school playground before or after class.
My daughter is a very creative and sensitive person. She became stifled by the rules and regulations in school. More so by the racial discrimination that she felt was shown towards the Tamils/Indians by the majority there, the Chinese. Moving from a place where there was enough freedom to a place that was claustrophobic she decided to move to India to live with her grandparents and go to school there.
We had no option but to follow her 🙂 I was quite happy in Singapore during the days that I lived there. But it is highly doubtful if I would have been happy if I had continued to live there and made it my home. I am too averse to interference in personal freedom and thrive only in a unrestricted society.
There are plenty of Hindu Temples in Singapore. Perumaal Kovil and Vatapathra Kaliyamman Kovil on Serangoon Road, the Chettiyar Murugan kovil are quite famous. Thai Poosam is celebrated with so much fan fare and devotion. It is a sight to behold to see the Chinese and the Malay people side by side with the Indian devotees carrying Kavadi and milk pots on that day.
Serangoon Road, Mustafa, Kalyanasundaram mega marts, Komalas restaurant and Little India are all so much part of our Tamil culture that we will really not miss India that much and it is only a four hours flight to Chennai as well. The best part is the three races of Indian, Malay and Chinese do co exist and live in harmony there. The government has to be commended for that.
It is a very peaceful and comfortable life there. But do people have a life there? That is my question!