Thursday, January 10, 2013

Singapore Musings

I live in one of those high rise condominiums on this emerald island. I believe, that most of the inhabitants of this city state, also live like me. Very few people like those, who are super rich or who are top government officials, perhaps manage to have their own house or a bungalow. The condominiums, spread all over the city, have basically very similar constructions. Only few odd architectural details may differ. What these condo’s really provide, are the minimal and essential family living spaces , stacked on top and left or right of each other. Each family living in it’s own little space and doing it’s own little things. In their own individual spaces, stacked like a pile of checker pieces on top of each other, individual families cook,eat,sleep, and spend their lifetimes.

Sometimes,when I am having my breakfast in the morning or I am lying down on my bed at night, I get this weird feeling, that many people are probably doing exactly the same thing above or below me or on my sides. With this kind of crowded housing, you can not really hope to see much, if you decide to peep out of the window. In the fist place, peeping out of the window by itself is not a very simple task. You have to first switch off the air conditioning, which angers almost everyone else in the house. Then the curtains or the blinds on the windows must be raised and then finally heavy glass windows have to be opened with some effort. After all this endeavour, what one sees outside normally, is another huge pile of apartments with long poles poking out of the windows with multicoloured clothes hanging on them. These clothes drying poles, poking out of apartment windows, look so ugly, that many a satirical letter writers in news papers, call them as national flags. I therefore consider myself, a very lucky person or one of the very few fortunate people living in this city, because my room has a view.

When I look outside my window, the first thing that catches my eye is a long winding river with gently flowing water. Light ripples on the water, shimmer in the bright sunlight. Behind this river, on the farther side, a dense tropical rain forest extends right up to the end of my vision. Some of the big trees in the forest really stand very tall. On nearer side of the river, a nice iron grating has been built by the local town council. An asphalted jogging track runs parallel to the river. I can see joggers taking a trot any time of the day and night. Actually,this flowing mass of water is not really a river but more of a backwater or a creek in which sea water flows in during high tides and flows out during low tides. During the night, some distant lights shine through this rain forest, creating a very mystic environment. During high and low tides, very refreshing sea breezes sway the tall rain forest trees and make the entire place very pleasant. With every tide, a plethora of small fish come into the backwater. They bring along a flock of white birds with them. The birds sit on the banks of the creek in a row, waiting patiently for the fish to come near the surface of water. Further up, towards the sea, mangroves line up on both sides of the creek. These mangroves and other tropical trees form a natural canopy over the jogging track, which gives a dark and mystic appearance, if one decides to jog around dusk time.

This really is the beauty of this island. Not far from the hustle and bustle of the main street or ‘Orchard Street’, where top fashion houses like ‘Gucci’ and ‘Prada’ line up their showrooms, you come across a huge natural reservoir of fresh water, pristine in it’s natural beauty. This reservoir holds up to two thousand million cubic meters of water and is named as ‘Macritchie’ reservoir. The authorities have constructed a wooden board walk here, around the periphery of the water. This board walk extends to almost eleven kilometers and can be very tiring. Because of the presence of such huge amount of water, this entire area has a thick forest cover, which makes the board walk a very delightful experience. In fact, this entire north central region of this city state, with three water reservoirs and thick rain forest cover is extremely beautiful and surprisingly is also very well maintained. One comes across such nature gems with natural beauty at many places in this city.

As I move about in this place, I get an impression, that most of the people here, live in sort of glass houses, well protected from almost everything. With their air conditioned houses, transportation and malls, they are not really bothered much about the seasons or the rain or the heat. They do not face shortages of electrical power or fuel for cooking or even drinking water even though it is imported from neighbouring Malaysia.. Everything appears to be controlled by the Government which surprisingly also believes in market forces. Almost all the utility companies have to face competition. They also seem to have mergers and acquisitions within themselves. But the funny part is that all the utility companies are owned and controlled by the Government only. In the process consumer benefits, so no one really complains. Government has built huge housing complexes all over city but private housing is also permitted. Government meticulously maintains percentage of various races in every undertaking. People of Indian race are supposed to be eight percent of the population. In a Government housing complex ,that many percent apartments would be reserved for Indians. The country celebrates with equal zeal and vigour, ‘Id -ul-fitra’ or ‘Deepavali’ or Christmas and Chinese New Year. So Christmas decorative lighting is provided on ‘Orchard Street’ , ‘Deepavali’ lights arranged in ‘Little India’ and China town blazes with lights during Chinese New year celebrations. People pay one of the lowest Income Tax rates in the world. The law and order situation is so good that one can walk or ride a public transport, alone in any part of the city, well past midnight. In short everyone is happy. Nobody therefore seems to be much bothered about trivia like having a different point of view or democracy, which anyway exist only in the constitution. There are no “Medha patkar’s ‘ here. When the government takes up a project, it is presumed that it is for the good of the people.

One of the best part of the life here, are the fabulous food joints. Food from any corner of the world is celebrated and enjoyed here. For a foreigner, to get his home food here, is not something which is very difficult. But the Food courts or ‘Kopitans’ spread all over the island, are the most amazing. These are the eating places for the masses. You can easily get Chinese, Malay, Thai, Indonesian or Indian food at a very reasonable cost, in these joints. Sometimes western dishes also are available. If one wants even cheaper food, he can always visit a hawker center. All food joints are reasonably clean and take proper health care. Government strictly controls the standards. For a connoisseur, eateries serving specialized delicacies are available in abundance. Food is the weak point of every citizen here. News papers (all Government owned off course) columns dealing with food are widely read. If a new eatery opens anywhere, it is important news here.

Reading News papers or watching Television in this country, can be a very funny, interesting or frustrating experience, depending upon your mood. News papers print full texts of speeches made by the prime minister or others. Head line news may consist of a house maid having a fatal accident due to a fall. Demographic news such as falling birth rate, could be the Head line news on television. Air pollution caused by bush fires started in neighbouring Indonesia is a national calamity and newspaper columns and columns are written about it. Television even shows the minute to minute changes in the pollution levels on the screen. Sometimes the tone of the news is still very colonial. A big American company opening it’s office is a very important news item. I have still to understand the rationale behind the large following, people have here, for English football clubs and in particular ‘Manchester United ‘ club. Understandably any news about China gets precedence over other countries.
People still maintain their Asian heritage and values to the large extent. They seem to have managed to get best of the both worlds. Traditional family values are still largely followed. The family has adopted to western attire, they buy groceries at super markets and follow the fashions from the west. They have one of the best public transport system in the world or if they could afford it, they could hop into any car made in any corner of the world. Top shopping mall chains from all over the world line up here. French ‘Carryfour’, German ‘Metro’ or Japanese ‘Best Deinki’ and ‘Takashimaya’ are conspicuous. The citizens of this city state can enjoy Australian milk or French butter or American strawberries or Brazilian chicken. They enjoy the best infrastructure provided by the Government. In short, they seem to have a great time. It is amusing to learn that they have achieved this lifestyle or a jump from third world to first world in a short time span of just forty odd years. Singapore experience appears to have succeeded to a large extent.

10 January 2012


  1. Sir,
    I follow your blog posts with great interest. Especially the ones on Indian history and international affairs. Would you be kind enough to write how Singapore "achieved this lifestyle or a jump from third world to first world in a short time span of just forty odd years" as you mentioned in your post.


    1. Sangeetha

      Thanks for your comments. There is a book written by modern Singapore's mentor Lee Kuan Yew titled as "From third world to first, Singapore story" Pleasereadthis. You would get all the answers you want.

  2. Indeed a glorious city, I mean country by itself, Being a tiny in peripheral limit the growth of Singapore is far marvelous than some of the developed countries. Life there is enjoyable by all means. I miss it. People take it easy when eating makkan in a crowded food court or moving in queue to get in MRT. The discipline and governance has kept the mass in status and gaining respect.

    1. Ankush

      What you say is very true. Thanks for the comment