Mar 16, 2015
The Singapore Magic
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.
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
Thank you for being an inspiration, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew. I am one with all of Singapore in wishing you a speedy recovery.
Reader Comments:Richard Chan
(Mar 17, 2015) As always, great writing
Leave a comment?
Next stop: Touring Marina Bay Sands
- always ascertain the price of a dish before making an order - the price of a dish and the humble appearance of a small eating place could vary significantly
- be familiar with the MRT (train) as it is the most efficient mode of transport - no traffic. Save this image
- negotiating for a 10% discount is acceptable in reputable places, but in places like Lucky Plaza or Sim Lim Tower, you can bargain as low as you want
- tipping is not part of the culture...you can skip this part and save yourself some cash
- most establishments (including taxis) accept credit cards, so no need to carry an insane amount of cash with you
- keep your receipts as you may be able to get a refund of the 7% GST before your departure
- MRT shuts down at 11pm. You may end up taking a cab at night which is expensive to begin with, but at night, there is even a 50% surcharge. And you pay an even higher rate if you take a Mercedes Benz cab
- carry coins in case you need to use a public toilet
- if you are stationary on the escalator, stay on the left side. The right side is for people who walk up or down
Things to do, Places to go in Singapore
- Little India - along Serangoon Road, try fish head soup, lively painted shophouses, saris, gold bangles, spices and incense
- 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, http://www.sunteccity.com.sg/fountain_of_wealth.php
- The Southern Ridges - best trekking trails in Singapore extending 10kms through lush forest canopy. Bring water, sunscreen and a hat (nparks.gov.sg)
- 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 skyscrappers
Singapore Etiquette (do's and dont's)
- remove shoes when entering someone's home or entering a mosque or temple
- to be on the safe side, address people as Mr. or Ms. and the surname. Don't adddress them by the first name, unless expressly permitted to
- when dealing with Malays, who are generally Muslim, do not offer alcohol and offer a gift when departing - not upon arrival
- when dealing with Chinese people, initially refuse a gift before finally accepting it. It shows you are not greedy
- do not immediately open a gift in front of the giver. Do not wrap a gift in white - white is for mourning
- when dealing with a Muslim, use your right hand to shake hands, to offer anything, to eat
- refrain from talking politics or religion. Singapore is multi-cultural and there's a thin line when you cross that divide
- do not touch the top of someone's head. The head is considered sacred
- don't show the bottom of your foot as it is considered dirty
- don't point with your index finger as it is deemed rude (use your thumb to point)
- if you see a packet of tissue paper on a table in a hawker-style eatery specially during peak hours, it means it's reserved - look for another table. Sometimes they use an umbrella
- if you're a backpacker and look the part, try to dress up more appropriately. Your beach wear and dreadlocks may be out of place in this cosmopolitan city
- don't litter, don't chew gum, don't vandalize, don't write grafitti, don't smoke in public where prohibited, don't do drugs as you can be fined by plain clothes policemen or caught on CCTV cameras which are all over the city. Even a direct plea by the president of the United States may not help you! (Michael Fay incident)
- Baba House - restored house of a wealthy 1920s Singaporean family. Free tour by appointment - Mondays 2pm, Tuesdays 6:30pm, Thursdays 10am and Saturdays 11am. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Southern Ridges - free use of the best trekking trails in Singapore extending 10kms through lush forest canopy. Bring water, sunscreen and a hat (nparks.gov.sg)
- Haw Par Villa - a theme park of Chinese mythological creatures created by the guys who brought you Tiger Balm! 262 Pasir Panjang Rd, +65 6872 2780, Hours: 9am-7pm, Ten Courts of Hell exhibit 9am-6pm
- Casinos - if you are a non-Singapore passport holder (read: a foreigner), you get to enter the 2 casinos free - Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands. Inside, you also can get free water, tea or coffee
Recent History of Singapore
Singapore is a small city-state 707.1 km2 and one of the youngest countries in the world with no natural resources. After WWII, it suffered from decaying infrastructure, social unrest and sluggish economic growth. Now, barely 60 years later, it ranks #3 in global GDP per capita, outranked only by Qatar and Luxemburg (2013 data from International Monetary Fund and the World Bank). For the last 16 years, it is voted the most liveable city in the world by ECA International. What exactly took place to make this a reality? Below is a recent history...in a nutshell:
- 1818 - British Governor General of India appointed Lieutenant General Sir Stamford Raffles to establish a port of call for the British East India Company on the tip of the Malay peninsula to provide logistical support to their merchant fleet in their expanding trade between India and China. Singapore became the logical choice
- 1832 - Singapore became the center of government of the Straights Settlements, which included 2 earlier acquisitions, Penang and Malacca, after becoming an important commercial and military center of British India
- 1942-45 WWII - the Japanese occupied Singapore after the British capitulated
- 1945 - Japan was defeated and the British regained control of Singapore. There was economic unrest, slow economic growth, high unemployment rate, labor strikes and decaying infrastructure. Singaporeans faced a housing shortage which would continue for a decade. This became breeding ground to a nationalistic awareness of the people, specially after realizing the British were not that invincible after their capitulation in WWII
- 1959 still within the British Empire, Singapore became autonomous with Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister.
- 1963 - Singapore unilaterally declared independence from Britain and joined the Federation of Malaysia along with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak
- 1964 - with simmering racial tension between the Chinese and the Malays, 2 race riots erupted in July and September killing 36 and injuring over 500. This was a wake-up call for Singapore to address racial issues. No one wanted a repeat of this. The peaceful co-existence of the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians of Singapore today stems from the hard lessons learned from this painful episode.
- 1965 - Singapore left the federation after ideological conflict with member states. It gained full independence from the British with Lee Kuan Yew remaining Prime Minister
- 1967 - Singapore becomes founding member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)
- 1968 - Britain pulls out of Singapore resulting in a 20% job-loss. This is aggravated by losing Malaya's economic support due to Singapore's departure from the federation. Economic prospect was bleak for Singapore. It was a trying episode in the country's history. With Lee Kuan Yew's strong leadership, Singapre took advantage of its strategic location and attracted foreign inverstors
- 1960s - this decade saw the aggressive construction of public housing to address the long-standing housing crisis. High-rise low-cost housing complexes were built. Today (2015), up to 90% of Singaporeans live in these developments. New complexes are continuously being constructed in anticipation of population increase.
- 1970s - USA and Japan made sizeable positions in Singapore's economy as the manufacturing sector continued its ascent with foreign-owned or joint-venture companies. Singapore's economic boom contunued unabated during the rest of the 1970s
- 1980s - Singapore shifted its focus from labor-intensive manufacturing to high-tech high-value industries, becoming the leading producer of disk drives and parts, accounting up to 30% of its GDP from manufacturing. In the late 80s, it pushed its financial services sector as well to become top 3 as Asia's most important financial centers, together with Japan and Hong Kong. This shows how nimble Singapore is in adapting to emergent trends and technologies to keep its global competitive edge
- 1990s - Singapore is now home to more than 650 multinational companies and a few thousand financial institutions. Goh Chok Tong succeeded Lee Kuan Yew
- 1994 - Michael Peter Fay, an 18 year old American is caned for theft and vandalism. His sentence was reduced to 4 instead of 6 as a way to give face to American president, Bill Clinton, who asked for leniency. Proceeding with the caning despite a personal plea by a US president sent a strong statement to the international community that Singapore is not one to buckle down under American pressure. It gained Singapore global respect for its political resolve.
- 2003 - Singapore is hit with the SARS virus outbreak as it spreads across Asia and parts of North America and Europe
- 2004 - Lee Hsien Loong became Singapore's third prime minister. He is Lee Kuan Yew's eldest son
- 2008 - recession hits Singapore as the US-caused sub-prime market meltdown ripples through the global financial landscape resulting in bank failures worldwide
- 2010 - Marina Bay Sands opens to the public as the 2nd most expensive building in the world at US$5.5 billion (land included). Its stunning and unique architecture gives Singapore a globally identifiable iconic signature landmark similar to the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Petronas Twin Towers of Malaysia and the Empire State building of New York
- 2013 - Singapore suffers its worst haze, reaching 401 PSI due to uncontrolled forest fire in Indonesia
- 2015 - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong imposes tougher measures against corruption after a number of high-profile graft scandals rocks the political landscape
- Mar 2015 - former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passes on, ending an era of transition from third world to first world
US$1 = S$1.38 (Singapore dollar) = Php 44.10, as of Mar 7, 2015
Discounted Tour Prices (provided by Ideal Backpackers, tel 6846 4741)
As a general rule, you get tickets cheaper if you buy them outside the venue. Purchase the tickets through your hotel or travel agencies. Chinatown has numerous travel/tour agencies where you can buy tickets cheaper.
- S$ 72 Universal Studios Singapore
- S$ 30 Singapore Flyer (big ferries wheel)
- S$ 33 Night Safari
- S$ 25 Singapore Zoo
- S$ 23 Jurong Bird Park
- S$ 15 Tiger Sky Tower
- S$ 30 Duck Tour
- S$ 35 SEA Aquarium
- S$ 26 Underwater World Singapore / Dolphin Lagoon
- S$ 35 Adventure Cove
- S$ 25 Jewel Cable Car, 2-ways
- S$ 31 Hippo City Sightseeing Tour
- S$ 18 Singapore River Explorer
- S$ 25 River Safari
- S$ 8 Merlion Cove
- S$ 5 National Orchard Garden
Singapore Cost Index at backpacker places
- S$ 1.50 1.5 liter drinking water
- S$ 3-4.00 noodle soup with meat or rice meal at food courts in housing developments, otherwise S$ 5 in regular eating places
- S$ 1 tea
- S$ 22 dorm bed
- S$ 1.5 sugar cane juice
- S$ 3.20 flagdown, 22 cents/400m taxi, surcharge of 50% at night, additional surcharge if M Benz taxi
- S$ 5 per 11kg load coin operated laundry
- S$ 1 per 5 mins coin operated laundry dryer
- S$ 1-2 internet cafe, usually it's $1.80 with no membership
- S$ 2/k banana
- S$ 35/session yoga, non-member drop-in
- S$ 3.50 nasi goreng
- S$ 22 40-min river cruise on Marina Bay
- S$ xxxxx ticket
- S$ one hour massage
- S$ one mug draft beer
- S$ bicycle rental
The best deals are usually in the big national groceries/supermarkets like Giant, Seng Song and Fair Price . They always have promos that are price busters!
Singapore Blogs by TheLoneRider
- 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
- Sex in Singapore? Oct 20, 2013
- Singapore Girl July 21, 2013
- Lee Kuan Yew and Ferdinand Marcos Jan 26, 2003
»» next Traveling story: Touring Marina Bay Sands
»» back to Traveling
»» back to Homepage
1970 | 1981 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021 | 2022 | ALL BLOGS