Readers' Submissions

More On The Singapore Debate

  • Written by Anonymous
  • April 15th, 2008
  • 7 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I have read the various submissions on the pros and cons of Singapore vs. Thailand with a mixture of amusement, disbelief and fierce disagreement. I have nodded with approval at some of the comments and found myself wondering what substances the writer had been taking before posting at others.

My qualifications for feeling able to join in are 4 years’ living in Jakarta, 3 years in Bangkok and now 4 in Singapore. I work for a multinational, and have a responsible job at a fairly senior level. I was posted to all my assignments and had no say in the location. The current Mrs Rush2112 is from Jakarta, but is happy to live just about anywhere, unlike many other Indonesian ladies. I imagine she would draw the line at Wales, but then so would I.

As a place to work, Bangkok is the worst of the 3. Many writers have made the points much more eloquently than I, citing the general lack of drive that the locals seem to have, the mai pen rai attitude, the unwillingness to try anything new, the complete distrust of any “foreign” idea, the language barrier. I know we can do something about the language if we are there long enough, but for someone sent there at a month’s notice like I was, the first few months were pretty tough. I could never understand why people would apply to join an international company, with the Head Office in UK, where reports to Head Office had to be in English, yet make no effort to learn or use English. My job required me to speak to relatively low level staff to find out about certain processes within the department and to try and fix the problems inherent in them: utterly impossible, as neither of us could speak to each other. I had to rely on the manager to interpret, and I know that in most cases he or she was certainly applying a filter to what was being said, as well telling me what they deemed I should know, and no more. How many times do we hear: “That won’t work, it’s different here, this is Thailand.” Bollocks. I’m an accountant, and debits go closest the window, whether you’re in Bangkok, Bangalore or Birmingham. Best practice is exactly that, best practice and it always will be (until some new Drucker or Hammer comes along).

In contrast, in Jakarta, the staff want to speak English. It’s a big thing for them. In the cinema, for instance, there are very few films dubbed into Bhasa Indonesia – all have subtitles – so the cinema goers are exposed to English all the time. They listen to Western pop songs, and watch Western TV shows. Consequently, I could go to the accounts clerk, ask her what she was doing, and she could explain it to me herself. Big difference. Yes, there is still the same reluctance to change, the same natural aversion to foreign ideas, but they would at least try it, they would at least hear you out, knowing they can always go back to the original way if it didn’t work.

Singapore is somewhere between the two. There is not so much of a language thing, although the standard of English is slipping away particularly among younger Singaporeans, but there is a real problem with their arrogance and attitude. They know best, especially when they are wrong. And they have absolutely no concept that Thailand is different to the Philippines is different to Malaysia is different to Hong Kong is different to Indonesia (etc etc); they believe all Asians are like Singaporeans, and what works here will work there. Unlucky for any poor sap in Manila or Hong Kong who has to report to a Singaporean in a regional job.

Then there’s the rubbish about how hard they work here. If they are in the office at seven, you can guarantee that they are not working, they are gossiping, or watching YouTube. I sometimes go out to get a coffee to bring back, and no matter what time of the day the ‘local’ branded places are always full of Singaporeans playing hookey from work. I mean the Ya Kun Kaya toast places and similar – full because they are cheap not because they are particularly good.

They’ll queue for hours if there’s something free to be had, and can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t. A while ago, when my wife’s office was still in Suntec, the Ben and Jerry’s outlet was giving away samples of a new flavour or something one lunchtime, and the queue was a mile long. Not being that keen on either queuing or ice cream, Mrs R just went back to the office. Her colleagues were astounded “but it’s free” they kept saying. “But I don’t want it, I have had my lunch!” “But it’s free-lah…” (repeat to fade).

Living in Singapore is a pain. No question. The climate is appalling, always humid, every day, nothing different. In Bangkok and Jakarta there is a semblance of seasons, even to the extent that I could turn the AC off in December for a couple of weeks.

Yes, the tax rates are low, much lower than UK or Australia, but don’t forget the GST, recently hiked to 7%. That may not sound much but almost all your expenses have risen by 2%. If you were lucky enough to buy your condo, good for you. We are experiencing a house price boom, but it’s happened here before and there have been crashes before, there will be again. The boom is unsustainable, and fuelled by dirty money coming in from overseas. It will crash again. Aside from the taxes, everything else is high, rents, beer, pay for play, cars, food.

Food? Don’t make me laugh. Hawker centres selling unidentifiable stir-fry in brown goo with a side slopping of belachan, served in a stinking hot, overcrowded space, nowhere to sit because all the locals have bagged their place with a pack of tissues. It all looks the same, smells the same, tastes the same. There are good restaurants here but they are damn pricey, and compared to similar in Jakarta or Bangkok, they are just “OK”. Any restaurant, any cuisine, I can name a better one in Jakarta or Bangkok. I have yet to find a better Italian than Zanotti. If you want a top French restaurant, look no further than Emilie in Jakarta. I will concede that they have better sandwich shops here, and although Pret A Manger didn’t last long, I highly recommend the imaginatively named “The Sandwich Shop” in Robinson Road, near my office. Mind you, at SGD8 for a sarnie, it should be good.

As for the women, when was the last time you were walking along, street or mall, it matters not, in Singapore and you saw an attractive girl. You smile at her, nothing more, you’re not trying to pick her up, and what do you get in return? Nothing. Do that in Jakarta or Bangkok and you always get a big smile back. Brightens your day no end, but it never happens here. The local girls can be cute here, but they have no social graces at all.

The traffic is not as bad as Jakarta or Bangkok, true, but it is getting worse, and let’s not even get into the inevitable rant about taxis here. The standard of driving here is awful and I genuinely believe that they are worse drivers here than Thais or Indonesians: no lane discipline, no signals, no courtesy, no manners (the kiasu thing again), road rage incidents. Why I say this is that they have no excuse: they must pass a test in order to drive a car here, unlike certain other countries! If you get stopped in Jakarta, an ‘on the spot fine’ will see you on your way, but that would not work here.

I’m PR here which is good, they are much more enlightened about attracting so-called foreign talent. An earlier writer mentioned CPF: I pay into CPF but all that means is I’ll have a nice little lump sum when I leave here, which I will sometime. For now, the job is here, so I’ll stay. Luckily I have a regional role so I can escape fairly frequently, using the brilliant Changi Airport (are you watching, Heathrow?), and Singapore Airlines, the best in the world. Would I move back to Jakarta or Bangkok? In a heartbeat.

Stickman's thoughts:

So the Singapore debate looks like going again. Would be interesting to hear more about Jakarta. That's a place which doesn't get a lot of mention here but which I understand is a genuine alternative to Bangkok.