Friday, February 27, 2009


English is one of the official languages of Singapore (along with Malay, Tamil, and Chinese). But the only time I hear my mother tongue is when I open my own mouth. Most people in Singapore are ethnic Chinese and speak one of the many Chinese dialects, even the young. Cantonese, Teochew, Hokkien, standard Putonghua Mandarin; they’re all spoken in day to day discourse here. Perhaps that explains the gorgeous Singaporean girl I saw wearing a shirt that said, “I’m Looking for Friends with Benefits” (hmm, or maybe not). Just like the shirt I saw on a fat 11 year old boy in Kuala Lumpur that proclaimed in big day-glo letters all the way down his bulbous belly, “I LIKE GIRLS WHO LIKE GIRLS”. Singapore is green, neat and tidy, an Asian oasis from the surrounding third world madhouse. Everything in Singapore has a place. Singapore is clean. Unlike Tokyo that has no litter baskets and no litter, Singapore has litter baskets everywhere and no visible litter.

Cars have a place in Singapore; they’re well regulated, remotely charged and tracked by the government through a scheme called ERP. The price for driving on that particular street changes every few minutes and depends on time of day and load. The little square antennas above the road and at the bottom of the sign track transponders in each vehicle.

So litter is in its place and cars are in their place. Singapore even has a place for drug dealers. The sign on the Singapore side of the border with Malaysia and on my immigration card promises that drug traffickers would be put to death. Under Singaporean law the death penalty for drugs is mandatory, no getting off on a technicality, no hanky dabbing sob stories, not even the final peace of death from lethal injection.

In Singapore the death penalty is administered old school, the prisoner and their families are informed of the execution date 4 days before it is to be carried out and the condemned is hanged by the neck until dead.

So compared to Kuala Lumpur, Manila or Bangkok everything is squeaky clean and supposedly has next to no crime. I see no slums and I’m told that Singapore is so clean that tap water is fit to drink (I drank it several times and the toilet doesn’t have me on a short leash). Singapore has been spared the fate of other Asian cities because it has a strict immigration policy and it’s a city state surrounded by water. Singapore doesn’t have to accommodate and bear the burden of the nearly inexhaustible supply of the migration of the rural poor of a country like the Philippines.

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