Thursday, February 01, 2007

Beautiful Singapore

This is not the first time my holiday has begun with a stopover in breathtakingly beautiful Singapore. This tiny, stunning country may be the greatest argument for socialism (which my every instinct detests) on the planet. The government rules all, even the unions - as our self-employed taxi driver explained with indignant mock disbelief. "I am treated like an untrusted employee - although I lease this franchise from the government union - paying them!" He receives nothing for his extra taxes but the privilege to drive a taxi through this suffocatingly over-regulated city-state.

"Look at that!" he exclaims pointing to the roadside warning, then the automatic meter on the dash registering a $2.50 charge for crossing an otherwise invisible electronic boundary. (Ken Livingstone would salivate.)

And the bossy government brooks little dissent. A 40% vote for the opposition yeilds only 2 opposition MPs from 80. (Check the stats with my taxi driver.)

Yet Singapore works. Landed at 7:15, through friendly and efficient immigration, tidy baggage claim, and in the taxi by 8:00 - slowed only by my delay at the ATM and kid's restroom stops. Please send someone from Heathrow to see how it is done!

There is an unadvertised racial divide in this city. The Chinese restaurant was filled with Chinese on the inside tables and outside under sun umbrellas. I ate well for two dollars something (£1), then bought more steamed rice, sweet and sour meat and veg for the family sleeping off jet lag at the hotel. The neighbouring halal restaurant full of Muslims diners may have been equally tasty. I felt no more inclined to enter than the local Chinese.

In the evening, past English football on shop window TVs, I took my book over the bridge for a stroll. I'd planned to read a chapter with a beer in the hot open nighttime air. Live music at the riverside Crazy Elephant drew me in. A rock and blues band made up of an Australian and some local musicians brought in the crowd. Each band member threw his heart into his own solo winning fulsome cheers from a rocking audience. The Crazy Elephant was waited entirely by Malay girls. Just as achingly beautiful as the "Singapore girl" of the national airline, but not so porcelain. Surely employment selection programmes in Singapore are not operated wholly on merit.

Then on to New Zealand.


james higham said...

You say beautiful Singapore. I could never breathe there - the air was fetid.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

you lucky thing. enjoy

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Sorry, came to this post late. Never been there so cannot judge but just what is it that makes this society work, then? Anyway, I echo Jeremy - enjoy your hol!

Colin Campbell said...

Yes. Definitely the worlds most succesful socialist authoritarian, capitalist, multiracial society. Nice place to live if you end up in Asia. Our kids were born there.

Onyx Stone said...

just what is it that makes this society work, then?

My guess, excuse the sweeping generalisations..., is that the ethnic Chinese care more about the rights of society than the rights of individuals (individual rights being more fashionable in the West). Therefore people are more accepting of an authoritarian approach "for the good of the whole..." They do socialism better than the West (just as the British used to do nationalised industry better than the Americans).

But woe betide the individual thinker or the maverick. It's very easy to land up in prison if you rock the boat.