Report from Tomorrow - Vol 10

1USD = S$1.64 (S$1 = 0.61USD)

Wages & Housing & Benefits

Having just explained about costs, I should try to put it in perspective with respect to wages. I don't have a lot of datapoints for comparison here, but wages are pretty low. The kid (or likely old man) working at Macdonalds or other fast food chain starts at S$4.35/hour. I saw a advertisement to join the S'pore police department and most starting salaries were about S$1300-1500/month. A police sergeant starts at S$2000. Your maid gets paid about S$300/month for 6 days a week. Most programmers at the bank are making S$2000-3000/month (a similar number in the US would be 4000USD/month).

Actually wages are higher than what first appears. When one works for a large company (like the bank), you are generally paid a bonus in December and another at Chinese New Year (January). The bonus will vary, but can often be 10% to 30% of your salary. I'm told some cases in the bank, the bonus is %100 (i.e. double your salary). Another hidden earning is the contribution to your pension. Each employee contributes 10% to a government run pension fund and the employer matches this. The pension is invested in low paying, safe investments and generally earns 5-7% per year.

These are wages in a place where your 2BR HDB might cost S$2000 or more per month and buying your HDB costs S$400,000 and up. So, as you'd expect EVERYONE here works. Both the husband and wife work. Kids live at home until they can afford to live outside the home, often well into their 20s. Lots of people share housing.

One scheme the government has to allow you to buy your HDB is to allow you to deduct the payment from your government pension. This means after a few years, your pension has built to a nice tidy amount. You then buy your HDB from the government and the payments are deducted from your pension. When you sell the HDB back to the government (the only one who can buy it), the money is added back to repay your pension fund. Any excess amount is given you as cash.

A recent development to allow young married couples to get their own HDB is that a couple can buy certain selected new HDBs in the outlying areas. This once a couple, once in your life deal, allows an HDB to be bought for a 40% discount. You must stay in the HDB for 5 years, but then you can sell it for the full going price. So you can buy an HDB for S$200,000 and sell it for S$400,000 later, banking S$200,000 for yourself. This can then be used as a down payment for a condo, financed by a conventional bank loan.

So while we're on the topic, let me mention the SOCIAL BENEFITS provided by the state: other than school, none. No health care. No social security. Nothing to carry you over when you lose your job. Handicapped? Sorry, no assistance.

As American's we grouse about taxes and cost of government and whine about how someone else is getting our money, but we (the middle class) get an amazing amount of support. I'm not so sure we'd like to be living on the edge in a society with a zero safety net. This lack of a social safety net seems to be the same for all of SE Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand etc.).

Sizes

This is a truly small society - that is, a place of relatively small people. We are reminded on a daily basis how we just don't "fit in". We were warned that, depending on how big we were, we'd likely not be able to find clothes that would fit us. Well, that's not completely true here. I did buy a shirt that fits -- just. And my size 10 shoes seem available. But if you were 6'6" or had size 12 feet, there'd be very little chance of finding anything here.

It's nice to be among the taller people around. I can look over the heads of many here and see Mary across a store. There certainly are tall men and women here, and they certainly do stand out. The average must be 5'2" or so (if that), but men or women that at 6'2" (for example) are pretty "outstanding".

This also means we don't fit in - literally. MRT seats barely accommodate my butt without imposing on my neighbor. My knees can barely squeeze into some seats on the bus - so I sit up front where the seats don't have another seat directly in front of me. You taller folks just get to stand all the time :-)

The living room furniture in our place is "toy sized" (my term). The back is too low and it sits a little too close to the floor. You know - under-sized furniture. So you can imagine when we first went to a movie, how delighted we were to find "big people seats". The backs still aren't as high as I'd like, but with enough slouching, I can get good and comfortable.

Not all things are under-sized - our bed is a real queen size, toilettes are the correct height, doors are as wide and tall as I expect and tables at home and work are the proper height. The chairs we have at work are normal office chairs, but many of the people there have pillows strapped to the backs of the chairs so they sit forward enough their feet can reach the ground.