Singapore from the inside out.

As I am leaving Singapore after six months I want to share some impressions I experienced there as well as some thoughts which came up to me during this time.

When I came there I was super-excited. I did not do any big preparations and was full of huge anticipations. And it is true, in many ways this city is overwhelming. Not just the downtown area with its skyscrapers, but also the way this city is organized. The underground system and the whole infrastructure is in an excellent condition, all public spaces are super clean and the government is making huge efforts to push and redevelop this city. There is a long-term plan for how this city should look like in 10 or 20 years and it captures many different perspectives regarding the possibilities to improve. To name three that really caught me, I would choose the following.

  • Firstly, they want to increase the attractiveness for Start-Ups and try to create an appropriate environment.
  • Secondly, they want to be a pioneer in building up a green city by supporting sustainability in many ways.
  • And thirdly, they want the public administration to be fit for the digital age to make life easier for citizens.

And in my opinion, it is not just words and the focus is really on results.

Overall Singapore made huge progress in the last years and will probably do in the next years. Especially the approach to shift the future with well-conceived ideas and the speed of transforming these ideas into reality is impressive to me – and I can imagine I will miss this ambitious mindset back in Europe.

But this way of detailed strategic planning can also get too much and restrain the development of society. And I think Singapore is facing this challenge right now because there are rules, which are too strict in my opinion. For sure this is related to the political systems, that is actually just a one-party-system. Maybe there are also reasons back in the past for some regulations, I do not know exactly. But I do know that you cannot have both – an open and independent society on the one hand and these strict rules on the other. And as a convinced European citizen I sometimes missed the level of freedom I was used to. To specify this concern, I will share three issues that were questionable to me.

  • Why can’t I decide on my own to eat or drink while getting around with the underground? (It is completely forbidden.)
  • Why do parents in Singapore feel such a strong Kiasuism – „fear of losing“ – for their children? (Kids, since the age of three, learn Math, English, and Chinese at kindergarten and 80% of all primary school children take extra tutoring.)
  • Why is there such a strong governmental press censorship? (The Press Freedom Index puts Singapore far behind at position 149 of 179 countries – just after Tajikistan and Ethiopia.)

As a result, I sometimes got the impression, that some people feel like there is a kind of predicted path in life they could follow to be successful and happy. However, I am absolutely not sure about such a mindset, because it could lead to a lack of things that are really important in life – like individual responsibility, thinking out of the box or empathy. And this could also be the reason why I felt like people struggle to enjoy life in its simplicity and just chase money – but ultimately the way of life makes a country really worth living.

In addition, not everything is as amazing as it looks like from the outside. One of the things that really kept me thinking about was the issue that you could see many old people working, especially in food courts. And the reason therefor is just that they had to, as they did not have enough money. But that is not my understanding of social fairness – especially if you can recognize that these old people are not really in shape anymore. For this reason, I appreciate more than ever the approach of having such a strong social system that supports poor and old people to have a decent life.

Overall it should be clear that these impressions are just my narrow view of the current situation, but I really tried to take an unbiased perspective. Besides all these issues I think it is fair to keep in mind that this country is still in the middle of a huge transformation and that’s why it is not predictable at all which direction Singapore will head to within the next years. And like for all such challenges I am quite confident that the younger generation will push social progress.

In the end, I am sure that the last months made me broaden my cultural horizon in many ways, which was exactly the thing I expected to experience. And I am totally grateful to the Republic of Singapore for providing me the opportunity to live here – in particular as it is that important to get a deeper understanding of foreign perspectives on life as the world is getting closer together and more connected.

And there are no doubts that I will get here again – I am just too excited about how Singapore will look like in the future.