To Singapore.​.. from an expat returning home

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to Mr David Fedo’s 28 Jul 2012 article “To Singapore… from an expat returning home”.

Mr Fedo claims that Singapore gets more things right than most other countries. But most other countries are Third World. So what if Singapore gets more things right than most Third World countries? Only shows that Singapore is better than Third World. But Singapore was already better than Third World at independence. Similarly, saying day-to-day life is a whole lot better than many other places when many other places are Third World isn’t really saying anything at all.

Not all expatriates share Mr Fedo’s opinion of excellent schools in Singapore. Some have returned home especially for the purpose of enrolling their children into schools back home.

Referring to the table [1] below, our unemployment is not less but more middling amongst First World countries.

Country Name World Banks average unemployment 2000 to 2009
Netherlands 3.36
Norway 3.58
Switzerland 3.6
Korea, Rep. 3.61
Luxembourg 3.9
Austria 4.32
Denmark 4.6
Japan 4.65
New Zealand 4.74
Singapore 4.77
Ireland 5.22
United Kingdom 5.29
Australia 5.48
Hong Kong SAR, China 5.51
United States 5.54
Sweden 6.35
Canada 7
Belgium 7.59
Italy 8.15
Finland 8.29
France 8.75
Germany 8.89

Our homeless situation may not be as rosy as Mr Fedo makes it out to be. The fact that 389 homeless people were picked up last year [2], an average of 85 beggars each year from 2006 to 2009 [2], the gross inadequacy of our three homeless shelters [2] and the pledge to build 10,000 rental flats [2] all indicate the severity of the problem.

Referring to the table [3] below, it isn’t just Singapore but nearly all First World nations have low homicide rates, one of the key crime rate indicators.

Countries UNODC average homicide rate 2000 – 2009
Japan 0.5
Singapore 0.5
Hong Kong, China 0.7
Austria 0.7
Norway 0.8
Denmark 0.9
Switzerland 0.9
Liechtenstein 0.9
Germany 1
Sweden 1
Italy 1.1
Spain 1.2
Netherlands 1.3
Ireland 1.3
New Zealand 1.3
Australia 1.4
France 1.5
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1.6
Belgium 2.3
Republic of Korea 2.3
Finland 2.5
China (Taiwan) 4.2
United States of America 4.9

Our wonderful food comes from the diverse cultures brought into Singapore by the British during colonial days; they are not forged by our PAP government.

Medical care is no more exemplary than those of other First World nations. Referring to the tables below [4], we have some of the worst mortality rates for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and communicable diseases amongst First World countries.

Location WHO mortality rate due to cardiovasular disease and diabetes (ages 30-70, per 100,000 population) Location WHO mortality rate due to communicable diseases (per 100,000 population)
Switzerland 59 Finland 11
Australia 65 Austria 14
France 65 New Zealand 15
Italy 66 Italy 16
Monaco 68 Switzerland 17
Spain 68 Australia 18
Japan 68 Sweden 20
Norway 74 Germany 21
Netherlands 77 Monaco 22
Sweden 79 France 23
Austria 80 Canada 23
Canada 82 Spain 24
Ireland 84 Luxembourg 25
Republic of Korea 85 Norway 27
Belgium 85 Denmark 27
New Zealand 91 Netherlands 28
United Kingdom 91 Ireland 29
Denmark 92 Republic of Korea 29
Luxembourg 98 Belgium 33
Germany 102 USA 34
Finland 112 United Kingdom 36
Singapore 115 Japan 40
USA 137 Singapore 66

The $1 billion cost of building Gardens by the Bay is no small change. Ask Singaporeans what they would rather the $1 billion be spent on and it may be no surprise how different the answers turn out. There is no need to spend $1 billion to build “a people’s garden for all to enjoy every single day” [5] when the people already has so many gardens to enjoy every single day. It is a garden built more for tourists and foreigners than for Singaporeans. Perhaps that is why Singaporeans take it for granted but not foreigners. Splashing $1 billion on a park is a silly way to rival New York and London. New York and London are great not because of Central Park or Hyde Park but because of their people. Singapore will not become great because of Gardens by the Bay just like Singapore did not become great because of the Esplanade. For all of Mr Fedo’s praises for Gardens by the Bay, the fact remains that he returned to America. Talents like Mr Fedo will not choose Singapore over America simply because of Gardens by the Bay.

Our ‘blossoming’ from a cultural desert was in response to foreign critics. Why spend so much money to turn our country into what foreigners like? In a letter to Straits Times [6], Mr Heng Cho Choon said “He does not relish the concerts at the Esplanade, but instead enjoys the occasional getai during the National Day celebration and the Hungry Ghost Festival.” Getai is our culture. The arts explosion is an explosion of Mr Fedo’s culture, not our culture. Why does Mr Fedo think Singaporeans should fully appreciate the explosion of his culture? Also, our ‘blossoming’ is more hardware than software. The millions spent building cultural infrastructure doesn’t change Singaporeans’ taste or lack thereof for arts and culture. It’s a very superficial blossoming, one that connects more with foreigners than with Singaporeans. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that our museums cannot compare with the likes of the Louvre or the British Museum and that is nothing to be ashamed of. We were never in a position to expropriate priceless cultural and historical artifacts from all over the world during colonial times.

Mr Fedo should understand that superiority over Third World countries around the globe is nothing to gloat about and that Singapore isn’t superior as far as First World countries are concerned. More importantly, Mr Fedo should also urge Singaporeans to look beyond physical and material wellbeing and to question Singapore’s continued deficiencies in press freedom and political fairness. Ultimately, Mr Fedo was only here for a few years. He is not here for the long haul. He has no vested interests to fight for a more just and democratic society. He only has to return to one that is.

[1] Unemployment data obtained from World Bank. The data is exactly the same as the one from International Labour Organisation (ILO). The latest year available in the data is 2010. However, there is no Singapore data for 2010; hence only data up to 2009 is used. Data is averaged between 2000 and 2009 to smoothen out year-to-year fluctuations. Without doing so, Singapore would fare worse since Singapore’s unemployment in 2009 is 5.9% which is higher compared to Singapore’s average of 4.8% between 2000 and 2009. Both World Bank’s and ILO’s Singapore unemployment figures are for the resident workforce. The numbers correspond to Ministry of Manpower’s non-seasonally adjusted figures. Data from IMF not used because it neither corresponds to MOM’s seasonally adjusted or non-adjusted figures.

[2] http://www.propertyguru.com.sg/property-management-news/2012/8/33827/home-today-gone-tomorrow

[3] Homicide rate is one of the most fundamental crime rate statistics. Data is from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Latest year available is 2011 but only for three First World nations. 2010 data also not complete and missing Japan, Denmark and so on. Data is averaged from 2000 to 2009. This is to smoothen out fluctuations from year to year. For example, amongst First World nations, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan had the lowest homicide rates in 2011, 2010 and 2009 respectively. Since the rankings fluctuate from year to year, it is better to take the average over several years instead.

[4] Data from World Health Organisation (WHO). Latest year available is 2008. Singapore ranks 12th out of 23 First World nations for mortality rates due to all causes.

[5] Channel News Asia, 28 Jun 2012, Decision to build Gardens by the Bay not an easy one: PM Lee

[6] Straits Times forum, 14 Aug 2012, A senior’s view of the average Singaporean, Mr Heng Cho Choon

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2 Responses to “To Singapore.​.. from an expat returning home”

  1. jish Says:

    Just want to comment on the Gardens paragraph.

    I think you should be well aware that there will be wide range of answers if you ever do ask Singaporeans what they would rather do with that billion dollars, including \”I actually think it\’s worth it\”. And there is no doubt at all that foreigners or tourists wouldn\’t take it for granted. I am however curious why locals should necessarily take it for granted.

    While the place is called \”Gardens..\”, there are some subtle differences from the ones you see in your neighboring condominium/bungalow\’s backyard.

    Also, you\’re right that Mr Fredo wouldn\’t pick Singapore just because of the gardens. It\’s the same as how the government probably wouldn\’t pick you as an advisor simply because of this website and the semblance of some capability in current affairs criticism.

    Granted, the politicians in question may not be that capable, but to imply that they only have such a singular purpose – it seems like an inadvertent spit on the efforts of all those who were involved (not merely the politicians.. or the collective \’government\’) in planning and even just trying to figure how to best utilise the plot of land and the funds.

    And a bit more on the arts/culture part:
    I\’m no artist or anthropologist, but I would like to think that the arts and cultures in Singapore go a long way back when the immigrants came on board these shores. While the tourists and foreigners today bring with them arts and cultures that you may not care for, these instances are not unlike when immigrants back then brought along their own brand of cultures with them, their way of lives and their means of arts. Things like Getai could flourish because people learned to appreciate it, or at least tried to understand why others might. I\’m not sure what you conceive of the arts explosion that Fedo speaks of, but I do know that there are so many Singaporeans who are involved in the arts these days and they would be so happy if more Singaporeans would appreciate their efforts, if anything.

    I\’m appalled that you would only quote one Mr Heng and imagine it represents everyone. There are tons of people out there who are not well-off and yet either appreciate these arts or are involved in them. Why does Fedo think Singaporeans should appreciate the arts explosion? It\’s because too many take it for granted that there exists these platforms and possibilities for present and future generations to venture into.

    Maybe you haven\’t had the time or opportunity to get your head around this, but thousands of people are involved in some kind of arts or culture on this island. So when you almost imply that Singaporeans\’ collectively have a lack of taste for the arts and culture, you\’re spitting on the efforts (God forbid, their dreams even?!) of every Singaporean performer who performed in one of our concert halls or are aspiring to – as well as a good proportion of the audiences.

    But you probably think it\’s well-played if we lack those tastes since you have expressed your disdain for arts explosions.

    • trulysingapore Says:

      I tend to think that the great majority of practical minded Singaporeans won’t find it worth it. We can always do a survey to confirm it. Locals take it for granted because they already have many gardens to enjoy. Someone staying in Bishan wouldn’t specially travel to Marina Bay when there is already a park in Bishan. The subtle difference is not significant enough to make people sing and cry for it.

      I disgree with your statement that Mr Fredo’s refusal to pick Singapore is the same as the government’s refusal to pick me as advisor. Mr Fredo had tasted Singapore and decided it isn’t better than home. The government on the other hand, has never used me as advisor and so does not know how much I can contribute (other than the criticisms that is). The former is rejection with full knowledge, the latter is rejection without full knowledge.

      This is not a spit on all whose efforts went into the project. Many of us are paid to do our bosses bidding. We do the best we can and there is no shame in it. This is a spit on those at the very top whose conception is so divorced from what is good for Singaporeans.

      Your theory that Getai fluorished because local people came to appreciate what immigrants brought in is strange and doesn’t make sense. Getai didn’t fluorish when some immgirants came and then overnight, the local people came to celebrate it. Getai fluorished because the local people wanted it. As simple as that. Back then, there was no citizenship yet, the concept of local and immigrant was quite grey. People could have been here for decades and still don’t have the right to vote. But make no mistake, it was the local people who dictated culture, not someone who came ashore the year before.

      By right there should be nothing against Western culture. The problem is the government’s active promotion of it, pouring millions into it just so to show the West that we are no cultural ‘desert’. Culture should be ground up from the people. If it is government led, it is propaganda and brainwash.

      It’s true that there are more Singaporeans involved in arts these days. They certainly deserve their days under the sun. So let it be a free market. If they are good and Singaporeans come to embrace them, good for them. But if there has to be lots of money pumped in to artificially create interest, I don’t think that is the right way forward.

      Don’t be appalled that only Mr Heng is quoted. Mr Heng represents the older generation, especially the Chinese speaking. So it is not just Mr Heng but many more like him. While there are tons out there who appreciate arts, there are many more tons out there who don’t.

      That’s the whole point. Mr Fredo thinks that arts should be appreciated doesn’t mean that Singaporeans should think likewise because ultimately Mr Fredo isn’t Singaporean and has left. Of course there are many possibilities in Western arts. But what about our own arts? The ones that got lost on our relentless pursuit of economic progress? Are we cultured simply because we left behind our own and acquired those of others?

      Be rest assured, I know there are many people involved in arts. But many more aren’t and can’t be bothered. This is not a spit on those who strive to put up good cultural performances. This is just a statement of reality. If you choose to think that there are 5 million people in Singapore passionate about arts, then you are simply deluding yourself. There are those who are passionate, there are those who are not. Anyone making simple observation will know which camp is overwhelmingly larger. The fact that people do catch a show once or twice doesn’t mean they are therefore passionate about the arts. It is not what they do on a regular basis, it is not their passion or interest.

      My expression of the reality that most people do not have interest in the arts doesn’t mean that I therefore have a disdain for the arts. No interest or little interest is not the same as disdain.

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