Singapore – Why I Should Never Have Left
Some of you find this argument between Singapore and Thailand fascinating, but it is really quite clear. If you are still able to work and value the qualities of life for a family, then Singapore is for you. If you are retired, or have a Thai wife that can’t live outside Thailand's borders, or relish the bar scene as your social venue, then Thailand is the wonderful dream for you. Otherwise, it’s comparing apples against oranges, love vs. lust, or reality vs. unreality. Let me explain why.
First, in Singapore you can have a real job that pays real money. You can actually list this job proudly on your resume without embarrassment. They have businesses that compete in the free market so they have to be run with efficiency and integrity. Work environments are generally professional and most employees are doing work that advances the business goals of the company. Those workers that aren’t, can and will be let go. Staff are attentive and always looking for ways to increase their skills. Directions are followed to the letter and any misunderstanding is brought forward to be quickly worked out. Salaries allow a reasonable lifestyle even for junior employees. High-powered employees with demanding jobs can be compensated at western pay scales, especially in banking, finance, and technology. Compare this with the mostly inefficient Thai companies that can owe their business to corrupt agreements or family ties. Management is mostly concerned with keeping their status and their jobs. Employees are pleasant enough but skill levels are not high and most have no plans to improve them. Farang managers trying to introduce western business methods are soon frustrated into complacency (mai bpen rai) or move on a new challenge; forgetting to list this job on their CV. If you have your own successful business, you have to keep it under the radar or some “connected” Thai business person will swoop in and take it over one way or another (remember Jim Thompson). And may Buddha help you if you get into a dispute with one of your suppliers or business partners; you might as well give them everything they want and hope there is some left for you.
The Singapore infrastructure is truly amazing, by American and even by European standards. The public transportation system is extensive and efficient, and since it is heavily subsidized by the government, very reasonable. I know their car tax is excessive, i.e., they tax the car vs. gasoline, but this is really a much fairer system for moderate incomes as both higher and lower incomes will drive the same amount of miles, but the higher will pay much more in car tax (as they should). Compare this to taxing gasoline where it is unfairly the opposite. But my question is why would you need a vehicle in Singapore except for status? Getting around Singapore is a breeze, even during rush hours, compared to any other Asian city. Their airport has been nominated as the best in Asia for some insane number of years in a row. When I used to live on the East Coast, I could go from doorstep to cabin door in 35 minutes – every time. The same is true when returning to Singapore as well. The air quality is very good, even in heavily congested areas, with the only problem being the burning forests in nearby Sumatra, causing some haze when the conditions are right (or wrong). Compare this to Bangkok where going anywhere has the potential for disaster (try remembering it’s the journey not the destination). Even if you make it to the airport in a reasonable time and without getting ripped off by the driver, then you hope that Thai immigration has enough staff on duty or you will surely miss your flight. Air quality, of course, goes without saying.
Although the food in Thailand is wonderful, in Singapore it is truly spectacular. In easy walking distance of my old office, I could choose from the cuisines of Asia, Europe, and America, and it was all very reasonably priced. At night, there was Boat Quay with its many places to eat; Mohammed Sultan with its trendy bars, and a naughty scene scattered throughout the city including, or course, Orchard Tower. I was there for over two years and tried to discover all of its social venues but I felt I only scratched the surface. Eating and socializing is truly a Singaporean tradition and they live it to the full. All of these places are there to explore because Singapore is such a safe city. You can literally be dead drunk walking around late at night in Geyland with dollar bills hanging out of your pockets, yet when you awake the next morning you will find your money and cell phone intact. Although Bangkok is generally a safe city for those who take precautions, if you do something stupid you are fair game to the predators of the night.
Besides personal safety there is security for your financial assets and property. The banks in Singapore are the best in Asia. They provide great service and they take fraud and theft very seriously. There is no reason to worry that some clerk will pass your account number to their cousin who will wipe out your life savings. You can own your own home and car, and if anyone messes with you or your property, you can call the police for protection or sue them in the courts and actually win against Singaporean citizens. Contrast that with Thai courts where the evidence is mostly about your family history or how much money you have given to the local temple, and even that won’t matter if the other party is Thai. As I said before, you might as well save time and money and bend over early.
With so much prosperity and security, you would think that Singapore would be overrun with Asia’s opportunity seekers, both rich and poor. In some ways it is, with fully 25% of its workforce from other countries. But immigration is tightly controlled such that everyone has to have a work permit or no work. This particular law is so well enforced that I can’t even imagine a company or individual trying to hire someone without a permit. Near the end of my stay in Singapore, my assistant came to me with a very serious face. Seems my work permit would expire a few days before my last day on the job. I laughed at first but when I realized she meant business, I agreed to leave the job early and took vacation for my final three days. This system of controlled immigration has worked well for Singapore over the years, providing needed manpower without the problems of a completely open or closed door policy. In America, the Singaporean system has been put forth many times but it has always been shot down by politicians paid by various interests that need low wage workers from Latin America, mostly. Consequently, we now have 12 million undocumented people in this country who work mainly menial jobs and have little chance of gaining legal status. Welcome to America.
Finally, from the person whose opinion I value the most, my Thai wife of some years now, absolutely prefers Singapore over Bangkok for the reasons I have listed. In fact, I have had some recent job offers to return to Asia and she wants me to NOT consider Thailand and to choose Singapore. However, when we retire, she definitely wants to return to her family’s town and I will gladly accompany her. You see, I don’t hate Thailand; I actually love it very much (along with America). But when making practical decisions concerning career, health, and quality of life for your family, the heart has to take the back seat. In fact, I left Asia for what I thought were practical reasons but returned to an America very different from the one I left some years before. If I were to include America in my analysis, I’m afraid it would come up second to Singapore. Had I not met my wife in America, I would have returned to Singapore years ago. As such, I will return soon enough to finish my career without any regrets. My heart will have to wait for retirement when I will live my dreams in Thailand.
A very fair and balanced comparison. Most people seem to agree that Singapore is better for work, and Thailand better for fun – although if one does have a very good job in Thailand then that might sway things in Thailand's favour.