Monday, April 07, 2008

Life in Singapore

I am writing this to give a brief overview of life in Singapore. This might help those who are thinking about spending some time working in Singapore. The following is just my personal opinion and observation. The following is non-political and I have no affiliation with any political group.

“Uniquely Singaporean” is a commonly used description for the people of this tiny island state. Well, I have lived here on and off for the last 7 years and I can vouch for the truth in this phrase. Much can be said about the way this little tiny city state has progressed from a swampy little backwater town to a first world financial hub it is today. Credit must go to the one party government of Singapore, with its iron fist and a no-nonsense style of governance. Under the very strict guidance of the former prime minister Lee Kwan Yew, the country has prospered and within less than half a century Singapore has propelled itself into a rich and financially powerful country in the region. Much of the credit must go to Singapore government and to the resilient nature of the Singaporeans..

Singapore has been labeled by many as a nanny state. The PAP government is extremely efficient. Being an almost one party government with virtually no opposition, the government of Singapore implements policies in an near authoritarian manner, policies that the government considers good for the people and beneficial to the country as a whole. Some of these policies may not be popular with the Singaporeans but as long as the government considers them appropriate, laws will be passed and the people would be forced to accept like it or otherwise. That said, Singaporeans have benefited and advanced greatly over the last 50 years, all to the credit of this present government. Why then is Singapore called a nanny state? Everything in Singapore operates like clockwork. Everything works and works well. Rules are set and once implemented nobody steps out of line. Those who do are severely punished. The government takes care of everything, from savings for old age, medical savings, savings for housing and they even control to a large extent the cost of living and transportation cost. Schools, hospitals, transportation in Singapore rank higher in efficiency than many countries in the west. In short, Singaporeans are well looked after by the government, some have said, too well.

Because Singaporeans have been so well catered for in all aspects of their lives, they have developed a sort of clutch mentality. They have become too dependent on their government to solve all their woes in life. Singaporean are also noted to be kiasu ( afraid to lose ) and kiasi ( afraid to die ). They have become almost robotic and work only to a set of rules with markers that are never to be crossed. They are notoriously unbending and can never think out of the box. This strict regimental way of life has made Singaporeans lacking in motivation and very poor in the field of innovation.

The strict and no-nonsense way of life starts from a very young age of 2. Owing to very keen competition and the kiasu mentality of most Singaporeans, children are made to attend classes from as young as 2 years of age. Most school children attend tuition classes after school hours and also at weekends. Tuition classes are a norm in Singapore. Special tuition schools flourish in Singapore capitalizing on the kiasu-ness of parents not willing to see their children fall behind their school peers. By the time they enter school at 6 they are all able to read, write and most of them are proficient in arithmetic. Singaporean schools have been noted for their high achievement. Pupils are trained to memorize word for word all they are taught. Examinations are conducted to weed out all those who are just average and those who are less academically gifted.. Many have criticized the Singaporean style of education as parrot-fashion. Pupils are not allowed to be creative or original. Regurgitation of text and scoring straight-As seem to be the objective of all students here in Singapore. As these students advance to the universities for their tertiary education they follow the same pattern that has served them well over the years at school. Trained to be always spoon fed, never spontaneous, never question authority, always obeying rules and regulations, never to think of alternatives have led Singapore to be highly dependent on imported foreigners, locally known as foreign talents to lead the way in most fields. The local true blue Singaporeans are beginning to feel threatened by the influx of these foreigners. The government actively encourages these foreign talents to settle here to make up the citizen number in order that Singapore remains economically stable. The need for boosting the citizen number stemmed from a government “maximum 2 child family” policy 45 years ago. However, the introduction of foreign workers/talents into Singapore has resulted in social friction between the locals and the new arrivers. The Singapore government has been actively encouraging social blending of these two groups, in my opinion without much success.

Living is Singapore is not much different from participating in a never ending race. Everyone wants to win and slow ones are considered failures. Work ethics here are unique and like nowhere else. You have to compete in the workplace and are obliged to put in long hours or you will be branded as lazy. A 10 hour working day is considered normal. No one wants to be the first to head for the door at the end of a working day. Meetings often commence at 6 pm after normal working hours and one is “forced” to attend. Keen competition within any work environment usually result in back stabbing and jealousy. Kiasu-ness and the constant fear of losing ones position can be a potent cocktail for much unhappiness in ones work life. Unfortunately, this is also another one of Singaporean trademark.

Singaporeans seem always in a hurry. They appear to be very serious and always rush around like they are on a time constrained mission. Because they are always in a mad rush they appear discourteous, ill-mannered and extremely impatient especially behind the wheel of their vehicles. They never give way and honk often to show their displeasure. You seldom find a Singaporean who would smile or greet a stranger. If you wish a good morning to a stranger you pass, he/she would probably suspect you want something in return. It is just not normal to show common friendly courtesy.

However, Singaporeans are noted for their efficiency once they know the procedures or are guided by a set of rules. They never deviate from the set rules and procedures and above all they never ask “why?” They obey the rules to the letter and are always law abiding to a point of being labeled as unthinking and robotic. Thanks to the efficient Singaporean government, the people of Singapore live in a relatively safe and orderly environment. By and large the majority of Singaporeans are reasonably happy with the current state of affair.

Life in Singapore can be very good for those who are rich and can afford the finer things that money can buy. For the ordinary folks life can be a constant struggle. Inflation has been creeping up lately and daily necessities are getting dearer. Transportation is a great drain on income and the purchase of private cars are prohibitively expensive. On top of all the daily costs for food and transportation, education for children can also be a source of financial worry. Saving for old age is another one of the Singapore government projects. People are living longer and the state pension after retirement has been deemed insufficient. People are encouraged to delay retirement and private pension schemes have been introduced. Knowing that the lowest 10% of the population are finding it difficult, the Singaporean government is also setting aside a large sum of money to help during this difficult time.

Summary: Living in Singapore is safe. Schools are reasonably good. The government is fair, efficient, transparent and free of corruption. Everything works if one follows the rules and procedures. Transportation is world class and efficient. Entertainment and eating out is relatively inexpensive compared to the west. In short, one can have a good life in Singapore, how happy you are will depend on how quickly you can adapt to the Singaporean culture.

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