Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Singaporean Behaviour – Not So Bizarre After All

A few days ago I received an email titled 'the Bizarre Behaviour of Singaporeans.' In all likelihood the text was originally a letter published in the Straits Times Forum (which I missed).

The letter is an interesting read. The observations of the long time German expatriate deserve an appraisal.
The writer suggests Singaporeans spend millions to buy a house and then spend the majority of their time working outside the home.
Difficult to evaluate but Singaporeans are no more into the 'rat race' than most other societies. That most Singaporeans (probably around 85%) live in government subsidized HDB housing indicates that the writer is generalizing using the small portion of Singaporeans who live in private condominiums.
They pay exorbitant amounts to purchase a car only to park it at home. Too expensive to drive, too many ERPs and car park charges to pay.
With the exception of bicycles, Singapore has had the luxury of taking an integrated approach to public transportation. Unlike most European cities, it did not have any legacy issues (e.g. cobbled and narrow streets) to deal with during the planning and construction process.
Due to the efficiency of public transport car ownership is (correctly) positioned as a luxury.
The concept of 'user charges' for motor vehicles has had multiple positive benefits both for road users (e.g. reducing congestion) and society at large. Electronic Road Pricing, an idea pioneered by Singapore, is now accepted as a standard traffic management tool by international urban planners.
The private motor vehicle is just one aspect of the whole transport equation and is certainly not one that a forward looking society should unduly encourage.

Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) has helped to control traffic congestion

Having lived in Dubai for many years I am not a big fan of planning my schedule around daily traffic flows (in a city with less than a third of Singapore's population).
The writer suggests that Singaporeans travel only to go shopping (for bargains) and miss out in seeing any standard touristic sights.
It is difficult to argue with individual personal tastes and freedoms. I would suggest that shopping (and bargaining where culturally acceptable) is a normal part of any vacation.
Personally, I don't enjoy walking around Bangkok, Phuket or Bali while being surrounded by rowdy and often drunk European men (or boys). If their idea of a vacation is finding bargains in the Patpong district then who am I to judge the behaviour.  
As an aside, Singaporeans do enjoy trying all sorts of food while travelling – not just shopping.

The writer suggests that the wealthy are preparing for an escape from Singapore while the heartlanders are suffering and forced to 'bear with it.'
Wealthy Singaporeans are no different from wealthy individuals anywhere.
They evaluate their options and make a choice. Many don't want their sons to have to undergo National Service. Others prefer their kids to have a different sort of education, not the sort instituted by Singapore's Ministry of Education.
Singapore's wealthy do what the wealthy in any nation do – decide which environment is best for them to perpetuate their wealth.
The writer suggests that many Singaporeans are ready to 'jump ship' and emigrate while many others are ready to take their place.
Singapore is a free society and emigration is the right of any human.
The reasons why people emigrate are many and I have alluded to two above: National Service requirements for males and a perception that Singapore's education system is 'rigid.' 
Some may be interested to note that in 2007 as many as 340,000 British citizens migrated to other countries. In the same year, 502,000 non-British (including EU nationals) persons arrived in the UK.
The leavers had their reasons for moving to the US, Australia and New Zealand while the Poles, the French (even Germans?) must have had their reasons for arriving in the UK.
Singapore is a developed society in a region afflicted by various instabilities and even poverty. Why should it surprise anyone that people will want to settle down in Singapore?
The writer suggests that despite all their complaints, Singaporeans keep voting the People's Action Party back into power at every election.
The People's Action Party has a record of delivering progress during its 44 year reign of Singapore. I could quote all manner of statistics to support my claim but the practical reality is what matters.
There is universal literacy and public schooling is available to everyone in Singapore. Everyone has a well maintained roof over their head. No one starves, even though life may be tough for some. Health care is world class. Physical infrastructure is good. And so on and so forth.
After 9 years in Singapore it does not appear like our German friend is leaving our island anytime soon.
That fact must surely be the strongest argument of all.
PS – My apologies to the gentleman who authored the letter. I wish to give him credit by name for the thought provoking letter. I am also keen to find the publication where the letter first appeared. If anyone has any details on the author or its original publication, please forward them to me. I would like to publish the letter in its entirety but hesitate due to copyright reasons. Thank you.

PPS - Thank you very much to CH (see comment below). The real article was first published in another blog and can be accessed here. Apparently, the author is not a German expat but a Singaporean - so much for my parting punch!


  1. check out mysingaporenews.blogspot.com

  2. Hi CH,

    Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to point out to me where the real article came from. I will add another PS to the article.

    I hope you will keep coming back and I can look forward to more of your comments in the future.

    Kind regards,