If in the not so distant future—maybe on an episode of Black Mirror—Switzerland were taken over by Chinese people, you’d have an approximation of Singapore. It’s a weird place, guys. Weird-good and weird-bad. In the lead up to our trip, everyone we talked to who had been to Singapore was like, “…oh. How long? Three days, yeah, that’s okay, just go to eat.” So our expectations were low. But turns out Singapore is pretty okay! Blake, in fact, loved it, and lays out her case below in a series of “Pro” arguments. MacKenzie didn’t hate it either, but for the sake of debate, she’ll take the “Con” sections of this post.
Pro: Singapore is clean and orderly as fuck. Allow me to go ahead and state the obvious first: it’s super nice to kick it in a city where there isn’t trash and dog excrement all over the sidewalks and the subways run like clockwork. As it turns out, a place becomes very approachable when there are rules and people follow the rules, even the small ones. It’s like, really, how hard it is to just stick to OFF BEFORE ON while entering and exiting the subway, New Yorkers? Singaporeans get it. The entire time we were there, I just kept thinking about small issues that plague everyday quality of life for citizens of other places, 311 calls unanswered for days. But in Singapore, they actively regulate, and I didn’t hate it at all.
Con: All the things Blake describes above were sort of fantastic and novel after our three weeks in Thailand and Laos, but it’s still a total creepshow. As you approach Gardens by the Bay, with its “Supertrees” and fully enclosed rain forests, you get the distinct feeling that you’ve arrived at the Capital of Panem.
Everything is super clean, yes, but the other term for that is sterile. Gardens by the Bay is near the Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, which is actually more like a self-contained mini-city with all the luxury shopping, high-end restaurants (including the 50th best resto in the world, according to SP), and gambling that your average vacationing tycoon might need. Theoretically, you could arrive at the airport, drive straight to the Marina Bay Sands via a lovely manicured expressway, and never have to leave your hotel complex. Welcome to Singapore!
(Rebuttal from Blake: The difference between Singapore’s downtown core, which is basically Epcot Singapore, and Joo Chiat, where we stayed and spent 90% of our time, is like night and day, truly. Downtown is sterile, I concede, but Joo Chiat is not: it feels much more like a tidy, liveable neighborhood where real people live and work and shop and eat and take family bike rides by the ocean.)
Pro: Public housing for everyone! Something like 80+ percent of Singaporeans live in public housing—and for cheap!—and the vast majority of them own their apartments. This fact felt so impossible to me that I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it. “You mean real estate here isn’t a capitalist rat race sleazeball nightmare? I do not understand those words.”
Con: To qualify for public housing, you must be married—unless you’re over 35, and then you are eligible for a small studio, presumably to house all your cats and Lean Cuisines. So essentially this is a tax on single people, gay people (since same-sex marriage is not a thing), and those who don’t buy into marriage. If you’re legally coupled, the government hands you property at way below market price. If you’re not, hope you can afford the going rents! Cheers, queers, you’re technically illegal anyway.
Pro: Supposedly, 1 in 20 Singaporeans will be a millionaire by 2017. And not in a Silicon Valley pre-bubble-burst sort of way. Quality of life seems stupidly high if you’re a Singaporean. This government takes care of its people, and they start while they’re young: education spending is 1/5 of the annual national budget. “Refreshing” doesn’t even begin to cover it with that stat.
Con: If you live in Singapore and are Singaporean, life seems pretty peachy. You’ve received a great, albeit somewhat skewed, education, and there are approximately 1.5 cupcake shops per inhabitant. But about 40% of people who live in Singapore are not Singaporean, because migrant labor makes the world go ’round. The men who build the skyscrapers and the women who clean the houses get a really raw deal. Many of them are essentially indentured servants, heavily in debt to the employment agencies that placed them in homes and job sites in Singapore. The domestic workers—women mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia—often have their passports confiscated by employers and are subject to abuse. Every year the deaths of maids who “fell while cleaning windows” number in the double digits. Meanwhile, the Indian and Bangladeshi men who work construction live dozens to an apartment and are paid around $2 an hour. After riots protesting labor conditions in 2013, the Singaporean government cracked down on the Little India neighborhood, classifying the dormitories that house migrant laborers as “public spaces” and therefore alcohol free zones.
Pro: …ugh, there’s no answering back to this. In order to reference as many blockbuster YA fantasy series as possible here…the above “Con” reminds me of the statue in the lobby of the Ministry of Magic when the bads are fully in power. All the success and riches in Singapore are made possible by the working class immigrants (WHAT THE HELL ELSE IS NEW, WEALTHY CITIES OF THE WORLD?) and so in spite of all the ways that Singapore functions beautifully, this shit is ugly.
And even though we’re keeping it so real right here, this would be a really down note to end on so instead let’s go with…black pepper crab!