Report from Tomorrow - Vol 11

1USD = S$1.62 (S$1 = 0.62USD)

Singapore - Enter at Your Own Risk

Singapore is world of rules - the most amazing collection of rules. Some of the more amazing many of you have already heard of. I've been warned countless times not to chew gum and not to spit. Well, it's not quite that simple.

I'm hardly an expert at this, I'm sure there must be a web site dedicated to this topic, but I could not find it in a short search. Nonetheless, here's an expat, generally uninformed view. Yes, there are lots of laws, some which seem generally unenforced.

Consider jay-walking - both against the law in the US and Singapore. The fine in the US is probably $20? (does anyone know of someone actually having been fined?) and S$500 here. Littering - S$1000. Smoking S$500-1000. They seem real big on S$500 and S$1000 fines.

Just before we left Ann Arbor, Mary & I joked how "this was the last time we could... jay-walk", for instance. (As an aside: jay-walking is a pedestrian right in AA - lights are only advisories for cars and are ignored by bikes and pedestrians.) So we got here and the first day I watched hundreds of people get off buses on one side of the street, wait for traffic to clear and cross to the other side. But wait, this is Singapore where you all get fined - NOT! Now everyday I come home from work on my bus, exit the rear door and jay-walk across two streets - along with a dozen other people.

Smoking is prohibited most places here - much along the lines in Minnesota (no public buildings, only in designated areas and outside). Yet you seldom see this law violated as flagrantly as jay-walking. One aspect of smoking that is very different here is that smokers just don't throw their butts anywhere. All the trash cans have ash trays and people are very conscientious about putting their butts out rather than just trashing up the public space.

This topic can go on forever, but I'll just point out a few I know about. I should also point out that you can buy tee shirts here with lists of fines and offenses. Tourists snap them up all the time. So at least the government doesn't try to surpress making fun about the laws. A selection...

It's against the law - to be naked in your own home. I'm told some people were undressing in their homes without closing curtains, thereby upsetting their neighbors. (Keep in mind we mostly live in high-rises with clear views of our neighbors). So a law was passed to make it illegal and we all shower with our clothes on, right?

It's against the law - to let your car get too dirty. I can't imagine what this is about, but it's spawned a small industry of workers who will wash your car for you. Good thing we don't have a car. In the US, I diligently wash my car every 6 months or so. That might get me in trouble here.

It's against the law - to wash your car with a hose. Singapore is concerned about it's use of water (it should be, it all comes from Malaysia), so as a conservation effort they passed a law. Seems they could have rescended the previous one to me.

It's against the law - to leave the country with less than 3/4 tank of gas. This is to keep the money in Singapore because gas here costs twice what it costs in Malaysia. Don't mess with this one, S$2000 (at least).

It's against the law - to have a gay or lesbian relationship. There is no public gay community here. I've seen some bookstores that have books about the topic, but I've never seen a couple here who made me think they were gay or lesbian.

It's against the law - to import porn. So when we arrived we carefully had cataloged all our tapes and CDs, expecting we've be interrogated at the airport. Nah, they didn't stop anyone. But it does have other consequences. The ISPs must all provide proxy servers for the Web so that they can monitor and block your access to selected web sites. How they keep track of what is what (if they even do), I can't guess. Your place of business (like the bank where I work), has no such restriction - except the bank can get in a lot of trouble if you access porn sites from their site. Its all part of the censorship system.

It's against the law - to chew gum. Well, not quite. You can chew it discretely. Just don't spit it out. You can't buy it. You can't sell it. You can only bring 2 packs into the country. If you have more, you can be charged for trafficking in a controlled substance. Now why in the world such a big deal about GUM? I can only imagine this was because the Mr. Lee, the architect for this society, must have, as a child, working in a restaurant where he had to scrap chewing gum from the undersides of tables. Or something. Later we were told that some years ago kids were using gum to block the doors of the MRT, causing lots of disruption. Now they don't.

Not every law has a silly side - in both Malaysia and Singapore, dealing drugs (i.e. having more then so many grams) carries a mandatory death sentence. They just added another drug to the list requiring death. If you deal, even in very small amounts, you will be put to death. If you have very tiny amounts (i.e. a user), you are caned and can be imprisoned for twenty years. They post signs about this all over the passport points.

So, all in all, they seem pretty law happy here. The judicial system seems efficient and generally pretty harsh, especially compared to the USA. If nothing else, justive here is swift. The newspapers help that image, of course, by publishing cases of people caught cheating etc. They clearly want us all thinking, "don't mess with the system", so we are all very well behaved.