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Why do I like Singapore?

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Laura and I spent 10 days in Singapore way back in February. Having spent some time pondering the trip, here are my thoughts.

First, to orient you – Singapore is at the southern end of the Malaysian Peninsula. Just north of Indonesia, it is 1 ½ degrees north of the Equator.

Considering its location, the weather is not too bad. It is a heck of a long way from the eastern United States. It is a 24-hour trip. We left Atlanta and flew the great circle route (all the way up to the Arctic Ocean, down through Russia to Tokyo). After a two-hour layover in Tokyo, it is “only” another eight-hour flight to Singapore.

Singapore is a “city-state” with a British Colonial heritage.

Laura said it was Colonial Britain meets Las Vegas or Disney World. Impeccably clean, bright and shiny, starting with the award-winning airport.

The official paperwork you are given on the plane for entry into Singapore contains these all caps words in red: “DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW.”

This is a place where they don’t mess around.

The entire city is spotless. And expensive.

Unlike here, malls are still very vibrant and full of activity. There are lots and lots of malls and they are all full, all the time. Amazon must not have arrived yet. Additionally, I am told, the choices of family entertainment are limited, hence the malls are the place to hang out. Singapore is about half the size of Los Angeles.

I think Singapore’s government can achieve the order and discipline it does because of its small size. I don’t think the rules in Singapore would work in a larger place.

Public behavior is strictly controlled. There is no trash. Everyone is walking where they are supposed to be walking and so forth. I was told that should you be caught throwing something out of a car window, you will spend a night in jail. I liked that.

But that got me to thinking, why did I like it?

From a control standpoint, it was no more controlling of public behavior than Shanghai, which I visited over a decade ago. Shanghai residents told me that their laws on drugs were such that being caught with the most minute quantity of illegal drugs pretty much means you will be executed within 30 days.

The gun laws in both places are about the same – extremely tight (in Singapore, you can own guns as long as you keep them at a gun club and only use them there).

So what is it?

I think it was two freedoms that I noticed in Singapore that I did not see in Shanghai.

The first is freedom of religion. There are mega-churches all over Singapore. We went to one that, besides a main campus, had a number of satellite campuses with an amazingly diversified crowd of worshippers.

The other was the freedom of speech. “The Strait Times” – the venerable old newspaper of Singapore – obviously felt no constraints as it expressed its opinions daily. Neither one of these activities would be allowed in Shanghai.

I do think if I lived in Singapore, I would feel constrained in a fairly short period of time. I would feel constrained by the small size and the legal rigidity (although I like both Singapore’s and Shanghai’s solutions to the drug problem).

I know lots of people here in the United States today that would be in much better shape if we had had such a drug intolerance program decades ago.

While there, I met with an associate who heads the Singapore office for a company with which I consult. I have known him for many years. He has now been in Singapore for a half dozen-years. He confirmed my thoughts about feeling a bit constrained after a while.

Should you go? Certainly, if the opportunity and means arise, I say go and take a look.

It is a different kind of place.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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