Recollections and musings about Singapore

July 20, 2009 at 10:21 PM 1 comment

Singapore Exhibition

Singapore is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.  I felt privileged for the opportunity. It was definitely way more Wow than Whoa!

I had heard, before I left, that it was more westernized than other Asian countries, but as I recollect who told me this I realize that some people here in Canada are so “westernized” that they see the world as just East and West with nothing else in between.

I found Singapore to be nothing like North America although the people love “American” things like entertainment, technology and luxuries. Instead of “Western” I found Singapore to be very European.

I also found that Singapore, in my opinion, has come close to reaching an idealist’s dream when it comes to tolerance and a social (tossed-salad) mix of race and religion. Their urban planning has integrated places of worship and religion for each predominant faith, in each and every community within Singapore. And, if that wasn’t incredible enough they have also managed to evenly distribute the percentages of their populace for each race and religion into each community, ensuring that everyone lives and works together in an atmosphere of acceptance and harmony.

When I left for Singapore it was with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. We’ve all read and heard about the Singapore that had cleaned up its act while using a big stick and heavy penalties for those who didn’t follow “the rules”.

Remember Michael Fay in 1994? He was the 18 year old American who briefly shot to worldwide fame when he was sentenced to caning in Singapore for theft and vandalism. Caning is a routine court sentence in Singapore but most Americans were unfamiliar with it, and Fay’s case was the first caning involving an American citizen. The number of cane strokes in his sentence was reduced from six to four after US officials requested leniency.

In any case I have digressed a little… so… while the rumors of heavy fines and the use of corporal punishment in Singapore are true, I experienced a city (country) that was not at all what I expected.

IMGP5639Even the people of Singapore find opportunity to laugh about it. They say that Singapore is a FINE country! There are significant fines for littering, not washing your hands in public restrooms and just about anything else you could think of that goes against the grain of common decency with thousands of undercover plain clothes police to enforce it. They even have T-shirts with a list of the first offence misdemeanors and what you should expect to pay… I bought my son one of them.

In the end… it didn’t bother me. I guess it might worry someone who was intending not to be a decent person but then they should worry. I sometimes wish we had more effective ways to keep that sort out of our country. 

I expected to meet people in Singapore quite unlike myself. People who were, to some degree, oppressed and fearful of westerners. Instead I met people (many people) who were happy, content, optimistic, enthusiastic, and without any fear whatsoever. In fact I witnessed things I thought I would never see in a city the size of Kamloops, BC, (my hometown), let alone one as big as Singapore. For example, would you expect to see a woman jogging down a street at 3:30 AM in the morning without any concern for her own well being? I didn’t expect it… but I saw it… and on more than one occasion.

I made a point of talking to as many people, in as many walks of life, as I possibly could during my one week visit. I met cab drivers and bellhops, waiters and waitresses, store merchants and convenience store employees, cleaning people and groundskeepers, shipbuilders and sailors, oil and gas workers and musicians, software engineers and bartenders, a banker and several international business people, government workers and politicians, ex patriots from many countries, and many foreign dignitaries.

I spoke to over a hundred people while I was there and I was unable to find one person living in Singapore that felt oppressed, unhappy and without opportunity. I learned that Singapore was not only a very well run democracy but also that its people are very passionate and very happy about their elected officials. They absolutely love the people they have elected. The same family that they have elected and reelected for years. And… it seems very apparent that this same family loves and feels passionate about their people and their country.

IMGP5507In Singapore I also expected to see a typical large city with typical large city concerns like unseemliness, poverty, crime and homelessness. Singapore seems to have none of these concerns. I was told there are no homeless… and that there is no unemployment. It’s cleaner than any city I have ever been in including Vancouver, Kamloops or Kelowna and it’s strikingly beautiful. There is no crime to speak of.

The absence of these things seems to be due, in large part, to the existence of stiff penalties for those who would cause these concerns. Yes, there are steep fines, prison terms, public humiliation, corporal punishment, and even death sentences without opportunity for reprieve for extreme crimes. But these things don’t seem to create any concern for the 4.8 million people that live there. They feel safe, happy, well taken care of, and are very optimistic for a bright future.

I must admit that I came away from Singapore a changed person. I also felt safe and well taken care of while I was there. The customer service everywhere I went was exemplary… from the restaurants and hotels… to the convenience stores…. to even the guy who was sweeping the street. The happiness and friendliness of the people is, without a doubt, contagious! I can’t remember any other McDonald’s restaurant (I shudder to call them a restaurant) I have ever been in where every employee seemed to be smiling and working contently… with no-one being idle.

Peter with Terance from Four Track at the Orchartd Park Hotel lounge at 442 Orchard RoadPerhaps the most interesting AND entertaining person I met while I was there was a musician by the name of Terrance. He is an incredible singer and percussionist (tambourine, bongo drums, chimes, etc) at the Orchard Park hotel lounge (at 442 Orchard Road). He’s in a band of equally talented musicians and singers called Four Track. Quirky, BUT great! They sang beautiful renditions of an unbelievably eclectic mix of artists: Frank Sinatra, Roy Orbison, Neil Young, Elton John, ABBA, Journey, B-52’s, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Elvis Pressley, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong, The Tokens, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, and so many, many, more… and if you closed your eyes … it was almost believable that every song was sung by the original artists. AWESOME! INCREDIBLE! WOW! WOW! WOW!

However, the greatest thing about Terrance came between sets when he sat with Andrew and I on more than one evening and shared his passion for his country and his people with us. He has a truly unique, contagious, charismatic but humble personality that you don’t often find and I am truly honored to have met him. 

Four Track in SingaporeTerrance shared how his government has thought of (and taken care of) almost every contingency for his people. Every resident has a bomb shelter under every home which is fully stocked with a year’s supply of food and water. There are people whose jobs it is just to keep those shelters stocked at all times. He told us about: his government’s commitment to eliminate poverty and debt; about how every citizen has their own home fully paid for with no mortgage by the age of forty; about the educational and employment opportunities; about the mandatory 2 years of military service and how it helps the country; about the penal system and how it serves to protect his people from extreme forces outside their country; about so many things right down to how the highway has a divider that lowers into the ground and extends the international airport runways in case of emergencies.

I learned that Singapore is the largest shipping port in the world… that it has one of the highest levels of education in the world… one of the lowest crimes rates… it’s one of the cleanest countries in the world… and a whole lot more.

 They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder… and… while I acknowledge that there most likely exist a certain percentage of people who have experienced Singapore in a negative way and have less positive things to say… I must say that I think Singapore is beautiful! At least to me it is.

Oh yeah… I almost forgot… I did manage to get some work done there too… just in case my colleagues are reading this J I came back with a lot of leads and great opportunities for ASL to enter into the international marketplace with a white label licensed version of our Real-e-Live People software.

Cheers

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Wow or Whoa? How about Chair Miles rather than Air Miles? Here is an article from Canadian Auto World Magazine about Real-e-Live People

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ruben Rivero  |  July 24, 2009 at 11:54 PM

    I am glad you had this opportunity to share Singapore’s good things. Us Westerners definitely have a lot to learn from these cultures that learned how to value work and decency in order to have a very progressive society. I am glad to hear that they also know how to have fun.

    Reply

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