Readers' Submissions

Living In Singapore – And Why It Is So Difficult To Leave

  • Written by KK
  • February 26th, 2008
  • 14 min read



I have previously written on life in Singapore (The Singapore Option) and also a short piece on the neighbouring Indo island of Batam. Subsequent submissions agreed with me on some points, disagreed on others. Since I have now spent almost 1.5 years in the Lion City, the time has come to revisit and in some instances revise what were initial impressions on arriving and getting settled in the city – state.

First of all, I must stress that quite a few things have changed here in the last 12 – 18 months. Brutal house – price inflation, fuelled by a speculative bubble, has made life a lot more expensive. Gone are the days of affordable condominiums. What in 2006 would have got you a fine condo with all the amenities, will hardly get you an HDB public housing apartment today. Rental prices for foreigners have gone through the roof, and more and more expats on local salaries (err… that’d be me and all my friends then…) are finding it ever more difficult to stay on. Some are even resorting to sharing rooms with one another. Rental prices on the whole have risen by 50 percent in the course of 12 months, due to a spate of reasons. I do not want to dwell on this very long, suffice to say that the Singapore property market increasingly resembles London’s with a number of international billionaires choosing Singapore as their permanent home. There is one particular famous US venture capitalist who has moved his entire family here, in the belief that the US is done for, and herein lies the future. He chose Singapore over China and Hong Kong for the safety and high quality of international schools. He is being followed by more and more Asian billionaires who do not feel safe in their home countries and do not want to breathe the foul air they themselves have created with their polluting factories. Villas in the Sentosa Cove development are selling for north of 20 million USD. Two new casino resorts are under construction, as is a new MRT (underground) line, a Universal Studios theme park and what have you. The first Formula One night race will be held in the city centre this year on the streets of Singapore, just below the new Singapore Flyer, a new giant Ferris wheel, which is the biggest in the world. A new financial district is under construction in the currently empty Marina Bay area which will completely alter the cityscape. In short, Singapore is probably one of the most exciting global cities to live in right now, provided you have the funds, that is. It must be said, that it is still possible to live in Singapore on a relatively low salary, but that means serious curbs on your lifestyle. You will either not go out much, or if you do, forget saving even a penny. That condo you could have afforded to rent not so long ago is now out of reach. You will have to settle for an HDB apartment and mix with the Hoi Polloi. Of course, if you are a city banker on a “hardship” posting, not much would have changed, in fact you will probably find the city more exciting and vibrant than before. Success has its price, in that everyone will suddenly want to have a piece of you and Singapore’s no exception. According to The Economist, measured in PPP (purchasing power parity) Singapore has now the highest income per person of any Asian country, including Hong Kong and Japan. It also managed to surpass a number of rich Western European countries on this measure. The comparison is a bit skewed, as Singapore does not have to maintain a rural heartland with low incomes, farm subsidies, miles and miles of highways, rural schools, etc… If you took comparable Western European cities like Madrid or Berlin without their hinterlands, they would still have significantly higher incomes per head than Singapore. Singapore of course does not need to subsidize goat herders in the Pyrenees, nor does it need to build highways and water pipes leading to mountain villages with a population of 22. This way taxes can be kept low and the economy continues to grow at breakneck speed (although there are now talks of possible stagflation settling in). It is here, that a business can be started with the least amount of hassle and the lowest cost. There you have it: a capitalist paradise, without those pesky democrats, labour activists, environmentalists and the lot ruining it for you. It is easy to criticize Singapore’s relative lack of democracy, free speech and overly paternalistic social policies. Doing so sitting in West London or Long Island, without having actually lived in an Asian country extensively is a tad arrogant I believe. It reminds me of those Neo – Con Bushites in Washington who thought spreading democracy by force in the Middle East was a good idea. Perhaps they should have consulted that rarest of books in the United States of A, a world history book (D’Ya mean the Ba – able?), or even, God forbid, a world atlas! In it they would have found strange lands, often bigger and more populous than, gosh, even Texas! Reading the history book, they would have found that some faraway lands with people speaking strange languages have no experience of democratic governance, have a mixture of races, tribes, nationalities on their land who hate each other’s guts and will take the first opportunity to massacre each other once their leader or their government shows signs of weakness. To create a free, democratic society can take generations to achieve, not years. People need to be educated. They need to be exposed to other cultures, other ways of living. And THEN they need to teach their children and show an example in what being a responsible citizen means. When their children see them picking up the trash others have discarded, taking part in demonstration against that new polluting factory, collecting money for charity, then they will also follow suit. As far as I know the only non – western country to have successfully tackled this hurdle is Japan. Other Asian (not to mention African) countries have a long, long way to go. South Korea is getting there, as is Taiwan. Hong Kong and Singapore are following suit. It will all happen eventually, but it takes time. This is not to say, that Singaporeans shouldn’t strive to build a democratic society, they certainly should, but we must always keep in mind that to get where they are now, a certain degree of paternalism and authoritarianism was necessary. To illustrate my point, take the old elevator in my HDB block, which has a so called UDD – Urine Detection Device built into it. This in fact was devised at an earlier development phase of the nation, when people had to be taught how to behave in an organized civic society as opposed to a village community. People peeing and crapping into elevators are still a nuisance, despite the harsh penalties, although it must be said, that new arrivals from poorer countries are mostly responsible. I have once almost stepped into a big pile of fresh, steaming crap in the otherwise immaculately clean marble and glass elevator car of Bugis MRT station… Maybe the poor chap thought it was a toilet. I know this is a racist assumption, but given the day of the week and the location, I am fairly certain about the nationality of the delinquent. The poor guy probably hasn’t seen anything like it in rural Bangladesh. My point is, that people aren’t born with civic responsibility in their genes, they need to follow examples of good behaviour. If there is no one around to show an example they need to be taught by way of the rod. In Singapore, the results are nothing short of spectacular! Where else in the world can you sleep with your windows open and not be disturbed by loud music? People in this country are forced to be considerate of each other, and my God, does it make a difference to your quality of life! I have yet to meet anyone who has been a victim of crime in this country. Women in short skirts are not afraid of walking alone in deserted side alleys at 3 AM. It helps, that certain safety valves have been kept, so citizens get a chance to let off steam. Why risk being sentenced to death for rape, when you can drop in for a quick relief to any of the massage parlours, health centres and licensed brothels? Every social group has their own red light area with prices matching their buying power. For poor guest worker Bangladeshis, there is Desker Road in little India. Singaporeans have Geylang and any of the massage parlours scattered around town. Expats have Orchard Towers. And then there is always the option of hopping over to Indonesia and Thailand for the very same thing, much cheaper of course. Those who are unable to find a wife locally, can take their pick from Vietnamese virgins, if they can cough up the 5000SGD agency fee. I can tell you, Vietnamese girls are very pretty indeed and make wonderful wives. If you read Stickman, you know that romantic love is a concept quite alien to the Asian mind (and heart). I fear they might be right… This could be one of those western delusions, built on ideals without actually considering the realities on the ground. To this list can be added gender, race and class equality, socialism, democracy, belief in the progress and superiority of the human race to all other life forms. These of course all are western delusions which totally disregard biological, social and psychological realities. You might think at this point that I am contradicting myself. Didn’t I just go on about how Asians need to learn skills of civic responsibility, like not discarding of your water bottle in the park? True, I did say that, however I was not in any way implying that Asians should just blindly copy the West. In fact they are smarter than that, and will only copy us in areas where we clearly are ahead. I do not believe that Asia will suddenly become a false PC society like the West where people are forced to sign up to blatantly misguided ideas just to make themselves look good. Asian women will not suddenly demand that their husbands and boyfriends do ALL the cleaning, cooking, pay for everything and drive them around in their ruinously expensive cars at the same time in exchange for sex. I have met too many young girls in Europe, who fall into this category. You can be friends with them, but going out with one, or heaven forbid, marrying one is nothing short of voluntary slavery. Asian women will demand that the man “bring home the bacon” so to say, but in exchange they will be ready to do their part. Nor will Asians suddenly start accepting millions of lazy – ass foreigners who want to blow them to bits and demand handouts and social benefits in return. The sheer stupidity of what some European countries are doing in this respect is beyond belief. Singaporeans do let foreigners come here of course, but only those ones that are skilled and come here to work. If they lose their jobs, they are out of the country the same day. Forget about social benefits and handouts. Who’s stupid now?

If you look at the Japanese, they really have mastered stealing the best bits of a western lifestyle while keeping and developing their own customs with a complete disregard of western PC bullshit. Foreign workers who are dirty and stink? Put out “no foreigners allowed” signs wherever necessary. Foreigners who commit crimes? On the boat with them and out! Feel that there is no real difference between killing a whale and slaughtering a cow? Harpoon ‘em, they say! Granted the Japanese have also kept a couple of truly unnecessary customs, but that is beyond the point. The point is, that as they get richer, Asians will not necessarily copy the West in every respect and there is nothing we can do about it. In fact judging from the number of Westerners who vote with their feet and settle in Asia, most men now instinctively know that they are being delivered a dreadful deal back home. The constant, unabating, anti white male propaganda and legislation in the West resembles nothing more than the strikingly similar sort of propaganda and legislation inflicted on the Jewish population in the early years of Nazism. White males are of course a minority in almost every western society, generally making up about 35 – 40 percent of the overall population, yet they hold most of the power and wealth in their hands. This breeds envy and with it the desire in the majority population to take the wealth and power from those who have it. In this, Nazism is very similar to Communism, no wonder the two were constant bedfellows throughout the 20th century. There are numerous clausus laws, originally devised by Hitler, limiting the number of white males that can be admitted to universities, company boards (as in the case of some Scandinavian countries), schools that are skewed in favour of females by largely having female teachers and pushing subjects that males are weaker in (languages, humanities) at the expense of subjects that would favour males (science, mathematics). You could also mention divorce laws or sexual harassment laws that all clearly discriminate against men. Racial quotas would be another example. I always thought that the logic behind enlightenment was to give people equal opportunities regardless of race or sex. How setting up quotas serves this purpose, I frankly cannot comprehend. And how about national service and going to war? Where are all those feminists lining up to defend their country? How come we didn’t hear a single suffragette complain that they were not allowed to serve their country by dying in the trenches of the Somme? Or when it comes to women being paid less… Exactly how many women can you find working in mines, battlefields, fishing vessels and construction sites? Do you ever hear them complain that they live significantly longer than men as a result? I could go on and on, but I’m sure most of you guys would agree with me. Why else would you bother reading Stickman, then?

So yes, Asia is a continent where the Politically Correct squad has made few inroads. No wonder we find it very hard to leave. All of us have our ups and downs in the Land of the Free Men, but those of us who have experienced life where there really is equality between men and women (you give something, I give something) will find it very hard to return to PC land. I do not believe that it is cheap sex that exerts such a magnetic pull towards men that they keep returning and eventually settling in Asia, or marrying an Asian. For that they could go to Germany where short time sessions can be had for as little as (30 Euros) 1,500 baht, with much prettier girls than can be found in Pattaya and with a much greater variety. It costs exactly the same (20 pounds) to get laid in central London (Soho). Granted, the experience is pure business, you pay the money, do your thing and then leave. So then why are so many German and British men heading to Asia for their holidays? Clearly it isn’t for just the sex. It is for the whole experience. Once in a year, you really are treated the way a man should be. With respect. Going back to our countries and being treated like dirt by women, the authorities and the media is very hard indeed. No wonder many of us never make it back. Or if we do, we try to marry and take back with us a piece of Asia and hope she will not be corrupted by the forces that be. How on earth did I end up here, you might ask. Didn’t I stray a bit far from my point? Does this have anything to do with life in Singapore? It does, it most certainly does. The fact of the matter is, that whatever the shortcomings of living in an Asian city, the money, the career opportunities we are losing out on, the difficulties of existing in a foreign environment, these all pale in comparison with what we gain. Self-respect. I sense Stick will agree.

Stickman's thoughts:

Self-respect is extremely important. No question about that.

Now about Singapore, hmmm, for sure it has many things going for it and a lot of Westerners seem to like it, but there does seem to come a point in time when people get fed up and move away…often to Bangkok!