Mar 16, 2015
The Singapore Magic
GPS waypoint: 1°17'02.5"N 103°51'34.7"E
Singapore has accomplished so much in so little time. From decaying infrastructure, social unrest, housing crisis and sluggish economy after the war, it now ranks #3 in global GDP/capita next only to Qatar and Luxemburg. We're only talking 60 years. America took 200 years. Europe took a millennium. What's the magic?
Mass Public Housing
In the mid-60s, Singapore had 300,000 squatters in the suburban areas and 250,000 living in squalid shop houses in the city center. The housing shortage reached alarming levels. Through aggressive mass housing development by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), about 90% of all Singaporeans now live in self-contained satellite towns complete with schools, recreational facilities, food courts and supermarkets. Housing Estates continue to be built around the city ensuring an adequate housing supply for its burgeoning population. The success of its mass housing program has been a global template other countries try to emulate.
Even though Singapore is predominantly Chinese, there are other races that blend into the racial mix - Malays, Indians, etc. They get along well but it wasn't always the case. In 1964, 2 race riots between the Chinese and the Malays resulted in 36 dead and over 500 injured. It was a painful lesson learned from street level. Goodwill committees represented by members of ethnic communities were formed, secret societies were given a shake-down and over 3000 arrests were made. Singapore's responsive, immediate and sensitive course of action to diffuse further tension and address root causes paved the way for the almost seamless racial integration the country enjoys today.
Michael Peter Fay
Michael Peter Fay was an 18 year old American who was sentenced to caning for theft and vandalism in Singapore. Then American president, Bill Clinton, because of mounting media pressure, intervened and asked for clemency. This episode made international headlines, putting Singapore between a rock and a hard place. Would Singapore buckle-down under intense American pressure? Or would it uphold its rule of law? In a brilliant diplomatic move that gave 'face' to Bill Clinton but remaining steadfast in its political resolve, Michael Fay's caning was reduced from 6 to 4. This move sent a strong message to the international community that this city-state is not one to buckle-down in the might of the planet's most powerful nation. It gained the respect and admiration of the international community.
I heard this first from an Indian Malaysian when I was in Kuala Lumpur. He said even though there is racial harmony in Malaysia, job access in the public sector is given only to Malays. Then he further added that in Singapore, it doesn't matter if you're Chinese, Malay or Indian - if you are the right guy for the job, you get the job. Wow, did I hear that right? To be honest, I haven't seen meritocracy in action. The job always goes to the relative, the fraternity bro or sis, the fellow member of the Lions Club (to name one), the guy from the same hometown, the guy you want to curry favors too, to pay an indebtedness, etc. Often, particularly in politics, hiring is based on loyalty rather than competence. So now, I look around me, seeing the wonders of Singapore where I get wowed with every turn, and I begin to see what happens when on a societal scale, the most competent person gets the job. You simply cannot argue against the success and progress that is very evident.
With no natural resources, Singapore was smart enough to capitalize on the little it has - its strategic location as gateway to Southeast Asia coming from Malacca Strait. With deep and protected waters to accommodate big ships, it proved ideal for increased maritime trade. To encourage sea trade, Singapore waived customs duty to goods in transit, making it a free port. Southeast Asian traders prefer doing business in a free port than other ports with more restrictions or prohibitive customs duty charges. Trade flourished. Today, Singapore ports are the 2nd busiest ports in the world in terms of shipping tonnage. It connects to 600 ports in 126 countries covering 6 continents.
Singapore Work Ethics
The thing I noticed about Singaporeans, at least from my limited exposure to them, is that they are workaholics with a sense of urgency. They are forward-thinking, forward-moving, no-nonsense, highly educated, smart and interactive in doing their part in the nation-building process. You'd be hard-pressed to see a Singaporean throw litter on the street - a rarity for a Southeast Asian country, including my own. They are self-restraining (won't elbow their way into an already crowded train, but will wait for the next one), as they are well-mannered (in a common restaurant table, they will attempt to make eye contact with a courtesy look before they sit down...and same when they leave). Nobody tries to be the big swinging dick to attract attention - more like being in compliance with the rest but moving collectively towards a common goal, like that of a school of fish. And collectively, like tiny strands woven together to form a strong rope, they form a formidable building block for productive output.
Through its unwavering political resolve, responsive affirmative action in facing its challenges, racial unity, meritocracy and collective effort in the nation-building process, Singapore has ably navigated its way from its humble beginnings to taking center stage in the global arena.
Even though he is no longer as visible, the legacy of former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew looms large and permeates into Singapore's social, ethical and political fabric. The moral foundation he established for this nation is deeply anchored in how Singaporeans' deal with their day-to-day life. This is a perfect example of what strong, effective and honest leadership can do to mobilize a country forward.
I was always a big fan of Lee Kwan Yew. Now, having experienced the Singapore magic first hand, I have become a bigger fan. The likes of him doesn't happen everyday. Singapore is lucky to have one.
Thank you for being an inspiration, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew. I am one with all of Singapore in wishing you a speedy recovery.
Little India - Little India is the main tourism hub in Singapore. Friday and Saturday nights become animated with the night market
Chinatown -colorful and animated with Chinese ware shopping, sumptuous street food and hawker-style eats, try Ah Balling Peanut Soup
Orchard Road - upscale shopping and glitzy night life
Arab Street - backpacker dorms, shisha smoking with Middle Eastern atmosphere
Singapore Zoo - experience the night zoo, S$38
Fountain of Wealth - at Suntec City, largest fountain in the world (Guinness Book of Records in 1998), shop-til-you-drop
The Southern Ridges - best trekking trails in Singapore extending 10kms through lush forest canopy. Bring water, sunscreen and a hat
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery - biggest Buddhist temple in Singapore
Marina Bay Sands - Singapore's most iconic building and most expensive at US$5.5B. Imagine a surf board on top of three skyscrapers
- Arcadia Hotel - stylish, modern, urbane, cool and confident. Jalan Besar district
32 Hamilton Road, Singapore 209201
+65 6718 0700 | email@example.com | 1°18'42.0"N 103°51'41.1"E
- Pinnacle Hotel - newly renovated, central location near Little India and MRT
270 Jalan Besar #01-01/02 Singapore 209019
tel: (65) 6499 8999 | (65) 6499 8996 | 1°18'37.1"N 103°51'31.2"E
- 7 Wonders Hostel - backpacker community, sleeping capsules, free wifi, complimentary breakfast, live English Premier League, dining, motion sensor lighting, alfresco outdoor sitting area
257 Jalan Besar, Singapore 208930
tel: (+65) 6291 3774 | 1°18'36.2"N 103°51'29.8"E
- Meadows Hostel - newly opened, all new and clean, backpacker capsule beds, central Lavender District location, 24/7 compli tea and coffee, wifi, compli breakfast
7A Hamilton Road, Kallang, Singapore, Singapore 209178
tel: 6298.1323 | 1°18'40.2"N 103°51'38.0"E
cafe, tea house and restaurant
- Mini-Life in Singapore August 8-22, 2016
- Peoplescape of Singapore Aug. 8-22, 2016
- Discovering the Neighborhood Cafes of Singapore Aug 8-22, 2016
- Biological Cell Regulation (BCR) Therapy at Chang Wellness Aug 16, 2016
- Getting my Xiaomi Redmi Note3 Smart Phone Aug. 9, 2016
- A Roof Over my Head in Singapore Aug. 8-22, 2016
- 2-Hour Detention at Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority August 8, 2016
- Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew Mar 23, 2015
- Life Hacking in Singapore Mar 22, 2015
- Exploring More of Singapore Feb 21 - Mar 22, 2015
- Power Yoga Class at Yoga Inc., Singapore Mar 21, 2015
- Touring Marina Bay Sands Mar 17, 2015
- The Singapore Magic Mar 16, 2015
- Singapore Yoga at Yoga Inc. Mar 8, 2015
- Singapore on a Shoe String Feb 20, 2015
- Things to do in Singapore Oct 20, 2013
- Singapore Girl July 21, 2013
- Lee Kuan Yew and Ferdinand Marcos Jan 26, 2003
(Mar 17, 2015) As always, great writing
Mar 16, 2015
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