Sunday, 30 October 2011

Singapore's rules liberate, they don't oppress

When people curse Singapore for being overburdened with laws and restrictions, they forget how good we have it
By Glenn Connley, CNN, 21 Feb 2011

We’ve all seen the T-shirts: “Singapore is a fine country.”

You know how the old joke goes, come to Singapore where you get fined for everything: spitting, chewing, littering, eating, drinking, smoking, farting, forgetting to flush … you name it.

I suppose it’s a little bit funny. But it’s a gross exaggeration. In fact, these days, it’s practically a myth. In cases where rules still exist to curb marginally harmful anti-social behaviour, they are rarely, if ever, enforced. 

The serious side to the fine joke is that it represents an entirely inaccurate attitude which many in the big wide world out there continue to hold about Singapore: that its desperately oppressed citizens live under the heavy burden of rules which govern even the most intimate aspects of their daily lives.

How do I say this without offending? It’s total BS.

An extension to this misnomer is when foreign commentators –- some of whom have never set foot outside  Changi Airport - take pot shots at Singapore’s harsh penalties for violations like vandalism or crimes against property which, in their countries, are considered minor offences.

The most celebrated case, of course, is that of American Michael Fay, whose sorry teenage backside was reddened by four strokes of the cane after he was found guilty of spray painting cars back in 1994.

Who could forget then-President Bill Clinton’s impassioned (yet ultimately unsuccessful) plea to keep Fay’s pristine butt cheeks intact?

We saw it all again last year when Swiss national Oliver Fricker was jailed and caned after breaking into a depot and spray painting a train with British accomplice Lloyd Alexander, who has since fled the country.

While the bleeding hearts were bleating about cases like Fricker and Fay, I was applauding.

The thing I love most of all about Singapore is the low tolerance to the moronic behavior which is ruining other cities. I love feeling secure wherever I go.

I love that there is no graffiti and I appreciate that all of the city’s wonderful amenities and facilities are used, not abused.

I use the MRT most days. I live quite close to the Circle Line.

For me, train travel is far more pleasant than taking a taxi. It’s cheap, cool, spotlessly clean and efficient beyond any public transport system I’ve ever seen anywhere else on this earth.

Recently I visited my beloved hometown of Melbourne, Australia, a city that regularly tops surveys which claim to measure the world’s “most liveable” locales.

I had cause (if not the desire) to use the metropolitan train system back home.

Aside from being unreliable, slow, weighed down by a billion-dollar ticketing system which still doesn’t work and being desperately overloaded, the carriages are old, covered in graffiti, littered with rubbish and uncomfortably hot.

More recently, I read of a new problem sweeping the city’s train system. There is, apparently a “train surfing epidemic.”

“Train surfing?” you may ask. It’s exactly as it sounds.

Mindless teenagers -– and a few moronic 20-somethings -- get their kicks by climbing onto the roof or the outside of a suburban train and try to stay aboard as it hurtles through the network of tracks and tunnels.

“Metro busts more than 20 a month for train surfing in Melbourne,” reported the city’s most popular daily newspaper (and my old employer), the "Herald Sun" last month.

Okay, 20 is hardly an epidemic. But, to state the obvious, it is dangerous. Deadly, in fact. In 2008, a teenage boy died after being electrocuted while allegedly surfing a train in the city’s western suburbs.

It all got me thinking back to Singapore’s marvellous MRT. Train surfing simply couldn’t, and wouldn’t, happen here.

I recently wrote a column bemoaning the “kiasu curse” of locals barging onto trains without waiting for their fellow travelers to get off first. That’s about as bad as it gets on the MRT.

Compare that to the problems confronting commuters in London, Paris, Munich or New York, which all have similar issues to Melbourne.

In England and the United States these days you also have the added nuisance of foul-mouthed, disrespectful teenagers intimidating their fellow commuters aboard suburban and inner city trains.

Give me a group of Singaporean kids lah-ing and ah-ing any day. At least the only thing they’re damaging is the English language.

Linguistics aside, I have never for one second been uncomfortable on the MRT, even when it’s packed.

I have never spotted a single swipe of spray paint and I’m convinced there are more dear old uncles sweeping invisible dust off the walkways than there are actual specs of dust in the system.

So, sure, you can mock this fine country and all its rules. You can exaggerate them, lie about them and throw them in my face whenever I travel to a so-called “more civilized” country.

You can criticize the penalties and regurgitate the tired old arguments about a brutal, medieval corporal punishment that treats young offenders as hard criminals when they themselves are the victims of a heartless society.

My heart bleeds.

But I’ll tell you one thing ... the system works.

I’ve got the T-shirt to prove it.

Glenn Connley presents "FC Daily", a daily football news show, on Starhub's Football Channel.

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