Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Love Singapore because it works

weekend today August 7 - 8, 2010, COLUMN, PAGE T3
By C
hung Lyn-Yi,, 05:55 AM Aug 07, 2010

PHOTO: Chung Lyn-Yi loves how efficient it is in the little red dot.
Art: Faizal)
weekend today August 7 - 8, 2010, COLUMN, PAGE T3

PHOTO: Chung Lyn-Yi
weekend today August 7 - 8, 2010, COLUMN, PAGE T3

Appreciating the nuts and bolts of Singapore, Inc
PICTURE this: It is a blazing hot afternoon in Toa Payoh Central, the thick of suburbia. A foreign worker, clad in black from head to toe like a ninja, is quietly spraying weed killer along the edges of the tiny tiles on the floor. There must be something like three million of them, but our man is going about his job in a precise, determined fashion.

His mission is to stop the wee leaves, peeking through the cracks, from growing all unruly. Left unchecked, they could displace the tiling and trip up the unsuspecting passerby. But, never fear, someone has thought ahead.

I remember sharing this memory with a scruffy Swedish backpacker in a hostel in Vienna six years ago. I was the first Singaporean he had ever met. Once I had corrected his impression that we were a part of China, he enquired: "So, what's Singapore like?"


"Small, but efficient. We encourage clean living in many senses," I said. "We're taught to take care of ourselves but, at the same time, are taken care of."

Having come from an international academic conference in Budapest, I had repeated this answer many times, to the point where it probably sounded rehearsed. I might have mumbled it with waning enthusiasm as a result, but his reaction made me laugh out loud.

"Ah, Utopia. And run by ninjas, too!"


Years later, a friend confessed to being part of these invisible forces at work. "Ever notice that flags mysteriously turn up right outside your door around National Day? You know, to help you get into the patriotic mood?"

Cynics might see a darker side, but I find it endearing that we are so doggedly efficient and systematic on all fronts. Even friends who have left the country, seem to have seen the light.

My buddy, who has made a place for herself in London, knows it too well. It took her just two days to have a new passport made here, but she shaved years off her life trying to get anything else done in her second home, as evidenced by the following rant.

"You move to a new apartment and need a landline. You can't get through to the phone company on your mobile, but you try again and again, burning 40 pence ($0.80) a minute, premium rate.

"Finally, you book an engineer - earliest slot in three weeks, but they can't tell you exactly when. You're given a window of between 8am and 5pm. So you take leave for it, and wait. 5pm rolls by, no engineer. So you call the phone company again, and have the same difficulty getting through. You ask ever so politely where he is. They say: 'Oh, sorry, do you want to schedule for another date, three weeks from today?' You have an aneurysm."

"You try to get a National Insurance number, much like a SingPass. The only way is to call a number and arrange an interview with a department of whatnot. They are just as bad as the phone company. After the umpteenth try, you get an automated voice telling you to leave a message after the beep. It beeps, and the voice goes: 'The mailbox is full. Goodbye!' You rip your lung out."

A friend in Brisbane has similar frustrations. "I'm risking hundreds of dollars in fines every day, parking near my house, because I don't have a pass. It takes two to three months to process - minimum. You tell me, where can I hide a car?"

I could go on with the stories, but they invariably end the same way. "This would never happen in Singers!"

It is this quality of life, so easy to take for granted, that gets me all defensive when someone criticises our little island. I have come across visitors who adopt a condescending or pitying tone when talking about citizens here. Words like "stifled" and "nannied" get tossed about, riling me into a rare nationalistic fervour. Stand up for Singapore they say, at least to a disrespectful guest.


It may not be perfect, nor does it claim to be, but it works for me. Where I want to, I will give it five ninja stars.
By Chung Lyn-Yi,, 05:55 AM Aug 07, 2010

The writer is a senior producer at Channel NewsAsia.

PHOTO: One People, One Nation, One Moment Of Glory!
weekend today August 7 - 8, 2010, PAGE T15