Reflections on Singapore


So, as promised a this is the first of a few catch-up posts to get everyone up-to-date on travels thus far.

Singapore is unique in many ways I had not expected.  I had last visited Singapore when I was an associate at AT Kearney.  I had been living in Hong Kong and working on a couple of international projects that required someone in China.  Well at that time, Hong Kongers all shared a certain disdain for Singapore’s overly planned society.  This was back in the late 80’s well before the Chinese took control of the SAR.  Singapore didn’t like people with long hair, no chewing gum, no ear rings on men…

Well, that Singapore has given way to something a little less planned and a lot more fun.  But at the same time, the country/city struggles with how to keep the citizenry engaged in the issues of government without getting into the sound-bite politics of the US and the UK.  I watched their PM – Li Xianlong give the Singapore equivalent of the State of the Union address. He talked about the need to be competitive, the role of scale in building a vibrant global economy, the need to embrace new technologies like mobile messaging and blogs – yes this leader actually knows what blogs are.  Now I realize that there are MANY issues in Singapore politics, but at least the PM expects the citizens to engage in the issues that are important to the country as opposed to those that are required to get votes in the next election.

Other reflections of Singapore.  It is a country that loves to eat, noodles in particular.  If I lived here I would need to get strict about a diet quick.  Every meal I ate turned out to be noodles.  The heat would really impact my ability to exercise – though I did notice several gyms around town.

Another thing is the conflict between all of the new construction and the vestiges of the earlier eras in Singapore.  The quaint rowhouses up above Orchard off of Emerald and Cairnhill.  The Black and Whites – old homes built in the first half of the century for expats and colonial bureaucrats.  I would stumble on these neighborhoods usually by accident and would relish seeing something in Singapore that wasn’t in a shopping mall.

The last thing I would mention about Singapore is the mix of cultures does appear to be working.  Now that could be appearances only.  But the government sponsored support and encouragement of a multi-racial/multi-linguistic society was interesting. And for someone who loves new languages having four languages around all of the time – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – was always interesting.

The other thing that I couldn’t help but notice is the different perspective on world affairs.  I think I will need to write a longer post on this later, because it continues to strike me here in Australia.  But in Singapore, America’s role in the world is not about promoting democracy in the world, it is about America’s economy and its role in driving the economy of the world.  The wars in the Middle East are about oil; not about democracy.  In Singapore the papers report on regional issues in SE Asia, opinion columns worry over the place of the SE Asian nations when China to the east and India to the west are becoming huge trading partners.  While in the US we sometimes touch on these issues, we don’t talk about them nearly enough.  We seem to be oblivious to the changing configuration of players.  I guess no actor likes to be reminded that they are going to need to share the stage or maybe move from “Superstar” billing to one of many character actors in an ensemble cast.  The implications for employment and training, individual lifestyle expectations in the US are things that leaders with more vision than the current crop will need to discuss with a public willing to listen – not sure either the leaders or the public are ready for this conversation.  Sobering.

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