Mat Salleh explains why do people hate Singapore

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SINGAPORE – A Caucasian (Mat Salleh) guy who has been staying in Singapore for 10 years gave his opinion on ‘Why do people hate Singapore’ on question and answer website Quora and within 3 days it attracted around 300,000 views.  

Theodore Shawcross, moved to Singapore because it’s the best country, period. Theodore Shawcross described Singapore as ‘the closest you can get to a near perfectly run country’. 

He says, ‘as a person who grew up in the west, there’s nothing that gives more credence to the phrase “the grass is greener on the other side” than when a caucasian chooses to move to a predominantly asian country. It gives me great pride to say that I could somehow travel 10 years back in time to that moment I made this decision to move to Singapore with my wife and 5 month old boy, I will choose Singapore again in a heartbeat.’

In his 2,064 words, Mr Shawcross gave his thoughts on some points detractors of Singapore, such as freedom of speech, cost of living and the cost of cars.

His full speech: 

I’ve read all the answers here and I’d just like to give my opinion on this, as a “foreign talent” as an “angmoh” and as someone who grew up in England, eventually moved to the US for my PhD, and then chose to raise my family in Singapore.

As a person who grew up in the west, there’s nothing that gives more credence to the phrase “the grass is greener on the other side” than when a caucasian chooses to move to a predominantly asian country.

It gives me great pride to say that I could somehow travel 10 years back in time to that moment I made this decision to move to Singapore with my wife and 5 month old boy, I will choose Singapore again in a heartbeat.

Singapore is an amazing country. That sentence is perhaps more of an understatement than any of the understatements in history, because although many Singaporeans like to rant about its imperfections, Singapore is the closest you can get to a near perfectly run country.

I’m saying this objectively, because amid all the freedom, the welfare, the “quality of life” that Singaporeans seem to admire about Scandinavian countries, or for some odd reason, the US and the UK, I sincerely doubt that any person with the desire to be in a competitive, fast-paced, ultra modern, yet clean, safe and economically solvent country would have any other options other than Singapore.

Singapore has lived up to all my expectations of enabling my children to receive a world leading education, to grow up in a country bereft of violence, misconduct and disorder, and enabling me to work alongside one of the most highly educated and skilled pool of talent that happens to speak in my native tongue, to enable my wife and I to mingle with people from all around the world in a tight knit environment, to live in an essentially equal country without overt racism because to be Singaporean is to accept that anyone can be Singaporean, regardless or race and religion, now that’s priceless.

The US has always claimed to be an inclusive country where people of different walks of life can live freely and ironically “safely”, it might be a surprise to some folks because they never really found out how to get that done.

Racial Equality

This country has its flaws, but I’m an economist, therefore I know firsthand that whatever you choose, there is always going to be something you give up. Freedom of speech is something that has become very controversial in recent Singaporean history given the persecution that Amos Yee had to face by posting a seemingly “harmless” video.

It has become a theme now that young Singaporeans are becoming increasingly enchanted with Western ideas of freedom and yet they’ve not actually lived in those countries long enough to get an idea of what that sort of freedom is about.

Singapore is undoubtedly multiracial, and to maintain this heterogeneity comes at a huge price, it’s a price that the founders of this country felt it was worth paying, and it did pay off. I come from a country riddled with hate crime.

Although I’ve never really experienced it firsthand on the tube or on buses, but everyone in England will always have that friend with a story to tell about racial conflict in public places. I’ve also lived for more than half a decade in the US, essentially a country still deeply ensconced in racial tensions, especially in southern states. Singapore is a country that has essentially solved that problem.

Cost of Living

I understand through volunteer work and community service in Singapore that there are people choking under the increased stress that Singapore is becoming too expensive for the poor.

I don’t like to diss this as a problem we cannot solve, but I would say that it is a very difficult problem to solve. Singapore is an entrepôt nation, add that to the fact that it is one of the most densely populated modern metropolises in the world.

Being born in this country has its disadvantages if you weren’t born into a well-to-do family, I get that. To keep any economy stable, solvent, and growing, there will be positive selection from other countries, it’s inevitable. The rich, the highly qualified, the highly skilled will always find a reason to get their asses to this island.

I’m a living breathing example of that. People will always move to the place, the job, the field or the country they feel they can be most productive in, it’s just economics. Now the only way the government can solve this problem, is to increase spending in welfare, how? Well the only way is to increase taxes isn’t it?

But wait, isn’t the only thing keeping Singapore such an attractive location for startup businesses and highly skilled professionals is the relatively low taxes? Singapore is too small a country to be dilly-dallying, that I can assure you. It needs to stay competitive, it needs to keep growing, otherwise it wouldn’t last long, and I do mean, the country will crumble if its economy falters.

There are many things keeping this country economically strong, many components, many attributes, I believe the current government understands that and it’s difficult to compromise those components to improve the cost of living.

The cost of living of any metropolitan city is bound to be high, Google the rent on flats in New York, or London, or Tokyo, or Sydney, and I’ll find something to keep your jaws from dropping. With the exception of Tokyo and maybe Sydney, most of the capital cities in the world are filthy, dangerous, crime-infested and their public transport systems are failing ALL THE TIME.

And I do mean “all the time”, not the once a month kind of deal that we have to deal with SMRT. I will not in a million years expect Singapore to be any less expensive to live in than any of these cities, and yet it holds up pretty well. Singapore can be affordable, which is one of the great triumphs of the Singaporean government, which is to make relatively high quality public housing available and provide financial aids to afford them.

It’s impossible to go out for a proper meal in London without having to spend more than 50 SGD on your meal, whereas I can take a train to any shopping mall with a food court and spend less than 10 SGD on a full meal, sitting in clean seats and an air-conditioned environment.

Singapore has a lot to give, and I can imagine being in the shoes of the government, because the people never seem to be satisfied with what they have. It’s a really tough job.

Cost of Cars

Something that’s linked quite closely to the Singaporean notion of “quality of life” is car ownership. Yes cars are bloody expensive in Singapore, more expensive than any other country perhaps.

The government seeks to solve this problem through making public transport a viable option, by constantly expanding their coverage and making it very affordable. Barring the relatively infrequent breakdowns.

In America car ownership would be something of a necessity, because it is virtually impossible to travel without having a car. I drove an hour from where I lived to the Stanford campus every day for 5 years.

However, you can only imagine the traffic congestion I have to deal with on the I-80 every day. Making cars affordable in Singapore is just going to make the roads more congested, at which point it’s not going to make sense to own a car anymore.

Freedom of Expression

I believe I touched a little on this topic, so now I’m going to clarify that freedom of expression has never meant freedom to say anything you want without consequences.

You may think there is freedom in just about any modern developed country so why can’t Singapore have it, but you have to also take in account the laws that these countries have against racism such as the Crime and Disorder Act in Britain.

There is absolutely no country in which you can just say anything to incite violence, disorder, or possibly terrorism without being persecuted.

The US is a very unique situation wherein everyone can practically say anything they want without being held for trial, but that doesn’t mean you can defame anyone you like without being sued.

Yes, the US probably has the freedom of expression that most young, naive Singaporeans are asking for, but look at the state of the country, and look how they were able to regulate racism.

I really wonder if that is what Singaporeans want, the freedom to go on any MRT train and call an Indian or a Malay person out based on the colour of their skin. This toxic right belittles the very equality that the founding fathers of this country fought for.

I thought Singapore left Malaysia because they weren’t able to promise the sort of racial equality that Lee Kuan Yew had asked for. People may argue that this wouldn’t happen, and that education is the only solution to racial tolerance, but how many people in Singapore are actually educated to the level that would make them impervious to racial hate?

The last I checked, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke is a university graduate. Humans cannot realistically be given the ability to run their mouths in hopes that education can be an effective restrictor, because it is obviously not. Only the law can protect the rights of the people from being offended, racially or religiously.

The question on whether the right of being protected from emotional harm or the right to be able to express our ideas freely has an obvious answer. People want to be able to say what they want, but they aren’t willing to bear the consequences that being emotionally fragile human beings, violence is just one step away from offensive remarks with racial or religious undertones.

This brings us to the question of “is prevention better than cure”. Do we want to let loose the darkest sides of our psyches in hopes that Singapore will continue to be an inclusive society?

I’m not going to sugarcoat the bad things about Singapore, because there are some pretty strict laws that must be changed, like laws against homosexuality, which I think will, in time, be abolished.

But people need to understand one thing, if you want to demand the government to do something about your problems, please make sure you’ve done enough academic research about whether or not your problems are essential problems, or are they problems that are just characteristic of a modern metropolitan city, for if they are, there’s really no solution to many of those problems.

No country has been able to keep housing affordable in their capital city relatively to their suburban or rural areas. Singapore has no suburban areas, the closest thing we have to a countryside is Malaysia, where houses are by the Singaporean definition, affordable and cheap. As I have said about freedom of expression, there’s a huge price we have to pay for it. Not everyone is educated, not everyone is inherently tolerant.

If we allow that to happen, may I refer you to the countless of videos on UK, US and Aussie racism that happened regardless of the laws imposed against racial remarks in the UK and Australia. If Singapore starts to lax its laws against freedom of expression then the fundamentals of what made this country great will crumble.

So why do people hate Singapore you ask? Well my only answer is blame Hollywood, and blame ignorance. Young people are a pain in the ass, we’ve all been through that phase. They just need to grow up and realise that you cannot always get what you want, you should not always get what you want.

Singapore is in good hands, and I’m proud to stay on, contribute to the economy, create jobs for Singaporeans, do community and volunteer work, all in the name of preserving my choice to come live here.

Majulah Singapura.

Written by FunnyMalaysia

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