Readers' Submissions

Singapore – To Each Their Own…




I'm trying to hold back a smile here. I've just been accused of negativity in thinking about Singapore in a recent article on Stickman. Well, truth be told, yes – and no.

Singapore is a modern city-state that is the envy of its neighbours, considering the scarcity of land and natural resources. Its ideal location and free port status have made it one of the busiest container handling hubs in the world, and it is capitalising on business and IT to keep ahead. One cannot fault them on that. I for one would applaud any investment that would have contributed to the infrastructure and thus to the future of the country.

However…

I believe it was my comments on questioning the necessity of having, perhaps for just another year, the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, or the necessity of closing off roads to hold a grand prix, that drew the negativity comment. Well, one wonders, in a land-scarce place like Singapore, why a high-investment structure such as this would be built on prime real estate in the first place, considering an expected visitorship figure and payback that would be deemed ambitious by some.

One-upmanship is a word that springs to mind.

Now the author of the follow-up article is happy with his decision to move to and take up residence in Singapore. I'm happy for you in that you seem to have found your place in the sun, and that you've made a personal decision not to go back to Australia, though you could.

In the same vein, I made that decision years ago and it is my personal decision that I've found my place in the sun right here. I could still go back, but I'd rather not.

You do raise a few points for debate.

*the taxes are lower.

Yes, they seem to be. Let's not forget that, unlike the West, they only tax the income. You pay for everything else, unless the employer covers it. There is no unemployment safety net here. It is much the same in Thailand.

Contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) are a form of superannuation. Not all foreign workers qualify for this.

*3 – 4 month bonuses.

The 13th month and other bonuses are optional. You are fortunate with your company for now. Also take note that income tax, etc. is not deducted from your salary – the 13th month is for those who fail to budget for it.

* I totally agree about the hawker food in Singapore. The hawker centers make this a centralised one-stop shop. The trouble is, I hate the queues, and if the stall is popular, you'll have to wait at least half an hour before your turn. In Thailand, you have to know where to go for real quality street grub. But you still pay a lot less, unless it's a really top-class place. There are almost no queues.

* You can get PR in Thailand. You just need to meet the criteria. Being married to a Thai helps. If you plan on retiring here, you'd better start working on it now. Property, too is on the up. And, to your advantage, your wife is now eligible to own landed property.

Some other things to consider:

Apartment living and commuting by public transport may be acceptable for some. This obviously cuts a lot of the living costs down.

It is not for everybody.

Cars

Just to buy a car, you need COE (Certificate of Entitlement, meaning you just won a bid for the right to own a car).

The total cost would be:

Registration fee + Cost Price + Road Tax + COE + additional registration fee (140% of *OMV) and customs duty (31% of OMV)

* OMV – Open Market Value – the value of your car as determined by the Customs Department.

(To give you an idea, it'll set you back $182,000 just to get an Audi A4 1.8 on the road. Figures borrowed from the ExpatSingapore website)

You get hit with ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) – an electronic device that deducts from a pre-paid cash card mounted on the windscreen at gantry points, carparks… practically everywhere. You pay for parking twenty-four hours a day.

The road tax rises exponentially once the car is over ten years old.

You get none of this nonsense here in Thailand.

Hospitals

All the government hospitals in Singapore have been privatised. What this means is that they do not honour the government pensioners any more and charge private hospital rates for everybody. It is sadly faster and cheaper these days for any medical or surgical procedure to go to be performed at a private hospital in the island state. Try using the Medisave part of your CPF if you have it.

As someone there just recently said to me, Don't get sick in Singapore.

The government hospitals in Thailand charge thirty baht – just under a dollar – for medical treatment. If you have a social security card, it's free. Another point to note is that a lot of the private hospitals in Thailand provide exceptional service at a fraction of the cost overseas.

The 'Kiasu' attitude

A Hokkien word, literally meaning 'fear of losing'. Examples of actual behaviour would be:

– getting the maximum allowable number of takeaway noodles from your favourite noodle shop, even if you don't really need it. Hence the half-hour wait even though there are only four people in the queue in front of you.
– piling as much food as you can on a plate at a buffet in case there is no more later.
– making their kids overstudy so they can be a the top of the class ; this does not include the additional piano lessons, ballet, language tuition that leaves the kids no time for themselves. It can drive them round the bend, too.

A Thai business person, and a good friend of mine, once asked me why all the people in the Singapore office seemed so busy and had little time to chat, smile or socialise. I told him they were afraid of losing out to the other persons on the corporate ladder, the kiasu way. He shook his head in amazement.

Singapore has no natural resources. Everything is imported. Drinking water is pumped over the Causeway (the bridge that links Singapore to Malaysia) from the Tebrau river in Johor state. A recent effort to reduce dependence on this source led to the development of NEWater, drinking water purified from sewage.

Would you drink that?

Sure, you can say Bangkok is a polluted place, with horrible traffic jams to match. I've seen horrible jams on the PIE (Pan-Island Expressway) too.

Perhaps attitudes are changing in Thailand, and many will say for the worse. But I say they are modernising, and things that used to take up to three days are now processed in an hour or so. English is also now an acceptable alternative with the banks and many other official institutions.

Take a drive outside the city and you begin to discover little jewels of places to have lunch or dinner. There are many resorts to cater to every whim, taste and pocketbook. There are still so many places to discover.

In Singapore, it will be just another coloured dot on a glossy brochure of the MRT.

Stickman's thoughts:

This whole Singapore vs. Thailand debate is fascinating. I don't doubt that each has its advantages and disadvantages. Thailand isn't perfect, but if I was to leave Thailand, I have to say Singapore would not be on my lost of alternatives.