September 8, 2007

The Fine City of Singapore
Singapore City, Singapore

An amazing example of what people will sacrifice and endure to achieve a Utopian society.

Cleaner than Disney World at daybreak, and steeped in more punishable rules than a Marine going through boot camp, Singapore is the kind of city that makes you think you're dreaming. Wake me up—I'm not really in SE Asia, am I…

I've never seen a (capital) city as clean as Singapore, inside or out of the United States. Imagine walking through a pedestrian underpass where the walls are bare, white, and free of graffiti. Imagine a country where all cars and motorbikes have mufflers, and don't spew out foul noise or black exhaust from tailpipes. Imagine a place where you can eat at a table on the street without getting harassed by vendors, where your safety isn't questioned, where you don't inhale second-hand smoke, and the pigeons aren't fed.

This place exists. This place is Singapore.

The City of Fines

Here in Singapore, it's illegal to do a lot of things. And these aren't simple laws that just occupy pages of paper, they're actually enforced by a police force where the severity of your offence often determines if you'll get caned on the back with a one-handed blow, or by a big two-handed swing.

There are no street vendors or stores hawking pirated movies, music, and video games. This is a huge change from Indonesia, where the business of piracy seems not only to be ignored, but endorsed by the government.

Here in Singapore, voting begins at age 21; drinking is allowed at 18; you can begin driving at 18; and heterosexual sex is legal at 16. Homosexuality is expressly forbidden.

Heavy fines of S$1,000 are dealt out to offenders who violate a long list of Singaporean laws. This US$680 penalty applies to:

  • Smoking in public places
  • The sale of cigarettes to minors (under age 18)
  • The sale or possession of chewing of gum
  • Vandalism
  • Spitting
  • Littering
  • Urinating in elevators
  • Feeding the pigeons

Other punishable offenses include:

  • Jaywalking—US$68
  • Possession of firecrackers—caning
  • Eating or drinking in the subway—US$340
  • Not flushing the toilet—US$100
  • The Possession or trafficking of >20 grams of drugs—death

Never before have I waited at so many crosswalks in my life. The street could be empty, but pedestrians are waiting for the 'Walk' sign to appear—it's rather absurd. Chewing gum is outlawed, and as a devoted gum chewer, I'm more than annoyed.

The city is almost too clean, it's creepy, surreal, fake. It reminds me of the line in The Matrix when Neo was told that the Machines initially built a perfect Utopian world for mankind to live in, but the human mind rejected it.

Singapore is the place that my brain is rejecting.

Tatiana seems to think the cleanliness and decency of the country and its people are a result of the Singaporean culture, but I disagree. I think that the populous is scared of the reprisals that aren't empty threats. Take away the enforcement, and you'd have folks spitting on the street, chewing gum, jaywalking, and smoking in restaurants in no time.

I have my doubts that this law-abiding phenomenon is island-wide—I want to see the Singapore that is slummy and full of the traders, outlaws, and opium-addicted Chinese that built this city—not the squeaky clean China Town that the tourists see.

If this is Utopia, I want no part of it.

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