In Singapore, which I just visited for four days, I do not remember seeing any decorative streetlights, but I might have been looking, instead, at spotless plazas, copiously planted parks with enormous trees and bright flowers; or perhaps I was riding the air-conditioned MRT, easily navigating between scrupulously clean stations, labeled in easy-to-read signs, navigable by newcomers and citizens alike.

One day we walked up to the MacRitchie Reservoir where students, in the water, directed by coaches, were practicing and exercising rowing. They worked hard and still smiled. At the clubhouse I saw posted rules and regulations and fines for violating the laws of the recreation area, and still, all around me, everyone was peaceful and happy. Why shouldn’t they be? They were surrounded by order, nature, and safety.

I was unaware, until I returned to Los Angeles, that our city was removing fines for overdue library materials.

In Singapore, next to transit, are great food halls, called “Hawker Centres” which gather, under one roof, superb eating establishments: affordable, delicious and regulated by government inspectors.  We ate at two:  Tiong Bahru and Old Airport Food Centre.

The hawker centres date back to the 1960s, when the new government of Singapore, in order to insure cleanliness, hygiene and food safety, put all the street food into these mass eating halls.

In 2019, Los Angeles made it LEGAL to sell food on the street, so the lady who just finished cleaning her cat’s litter box and will shortly make your guacamole, can also sell it from her blanket next to MacArthur Park and not get arrested. 

Often when people talk about Singapore, people who don’t live there, they bring up draconian laws that sound utterly terrifying. Death for drug dealers, chewing gum is illegal, and a recently enacted “fake news” law that might curb free speech.

Singaporeans I spoke to didn’t think about these laws, or believe they hampered their freedoms. Perhaps they were too happy enjoying the liberties of crime free streets, or sidewalks without homeless encampments.  They probably were also feeling good while availing themselves in superb health care or government subsidized housing.

Incidentally, Singapore has public housing. Rules are that the residents must be legal citizens or permanent residents. 82% of the housing in Singapore is government run. So here we have a refutation of the tired conservative/liberal ideology that poisons American minds. There is such a thing as desirable government housing. And there is such a condition as limiting the use of these buildings to those who are lawfully in the country.

Singapore is rated number one or number two in education for its schooling. An 8-year-old boy, a son of a friend, helped me program my mobile phone so I could get internet coverage all over the city.  Just one example of intelligence at a very young age that comes to mind. 

What else can be said to praise laws, rules, order, safety, and yes, penalties, punishments and respect for social order?  Can our nation, and our city, emulate Singapore? Or should we look to Mississippi, El Salvador and New Delhi for our future plans in transit, education, housing, health care and sanitation?

On the day we came back to Van Nuys, two men were shot and wounded nearby.  Four were killed here in 2019 according to the LA Times.  

“According to UN data, Singapore has the second lowest murder rate in the world (Data excludes tiny Palau and Monaco.) Only 16 people were murdered in 2011 in a country with a population of 5.1 million.”-BBC News  In 2017, 11 people were killed in Singapore.

Am I freer in Los Angeles or do I live inside a city prison of another kind?

Writer/photographer

5 Comment on “In Singapore.

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