A fine city

February 13, 2015

Singapore’s all the rage right now. But would you actually want to live there?

Guess what pays for all those pretty lights? Photo: Shutterstock

 

Singapore looks pretty tempting right now. With the formal law alliance between Withers and KhattarWong following a string of recent moves to the city-state (KWM, Reed Smith, Norton Rose Fulbright), you may have already half-packed your bags for the Lion City.

It never drops below a balmy room temperature. It has one of the lowest corruption rates in the world. The place is spotlessly clean, it ranks consistently well in terms of healthcare, education, and its economy has been described as the ‘easiest place to do business in the world’ by the World Bank.

It’s culturally diverse, with 2 million of its 5.4 million population being foreign-born, which also helps the fact that one in six people there have a disposable income of at least a million USD – not even including property, businesses and goods – so the dinner parties are probably top notch.

However, poke beneath the surface and there’s a few things that might surprise you. Here’s a theoretical quick trip to Singapore:

You pack your bags and fly over. You listen to music, watch some films, and chew some gum to stop your ears popping. You buy some cigarettes in the duty free on arrival. You take a cab to your rented apartment, and that evening you eat dinner alone then have a smoke on the street before going to bed. It’s baking hot so you sleep in the buff. You get dressed the next morning and hop onto the metro. You drink a bottle of water, so when you reach your stop you really need the toilet. You find a public toilet and relieve yourself. You realise you’re going to be late so you skip washing your hands. You try and find some 3G to find the address your local contact gave you, but it doesn’t work. Instead you find an unpassworded WiFi which you quickly use for Google Maps. You find it at last and you dash across the road to greet him with a hug.

There is the potential to have broken eight separate laws in the above paragraph alone. Did anybody see you naked in your bedroom from the window? Did you flush the toilet? Did you ask permission for that hug?

Sure, a smoking ban in public places isn’t so unusual. Jaywalking is illegal in the US, too. Laws against stealing WiFi might seem a little harsh, but fair enough. How about the importation of chewing gum or drinking water on the metro? Not for nothing is Singapore often called “the fine city”.

Quirkiness aside, it’s also not such a great idea to be gay or lesbian in Singapore, nor mention that you’re an agnostic/atheist. Criticism of the authoritarian government would probably be ill-advised too, though not as ill-advised as taking up a drug habit there.

There’s a lot more where that came from, if only it were possible to ham-fistedly cram more mundane events into that hypothetical ‘day in Singapore’. Don’t meet up with two friends in a public place after 10pm. Don’t possess any smutty magazines or sex toys. If you try to commit suicide and don’t succeed, you’ll go to prison or get a hefty fine.

Other than weird laws, Singapore is an expensive city to live, although if you live in London then that will probably be water off a duck’s back. The only truly notable expense compared to the UK is the cost of a car – due to having to purchase an entitlement certificate, and a bunch of taxes and customs duties. That means a low-mid range car like a Golf 2.0 TDI will be costing you in the region of £75,000. The certificate itself costs as much as a car.

Those hoping to escape UK alcohol prices to the generally dirt cheap prices in SE Asia will be disappointed to find that alcohol is actually more expensive in Singapore, as it is taxed heavily for purely moralistic reasons.

It is clean, green, and one of the safest cities in the world to live. For those allergic to foreign languages, the majority of people speak English, although you might have to take a while to get used to the peppering of the Singlish dialect.

If Singapore can be summed in glibly, perhaps ‘tough love’ might cover it. If you work hard and keep your nose clean, Singapore is a very well-oiled machine that caters to you. If playing hard is your thing, then you better hope that it’s good clean fun you’re after. Without a real welfare system, media freedom and a lot of red tape between you and creative freedom, it is not a bohemian paradise like might be found in some of its nearby neighbours. JL

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