Saturday, January 29, 2011

Life in Singapore - Utopia or Dystopia

Life in Singapore - Utopia or Dystopia.

Singapore possessed an endless string of world rankings and claims, i.e.

1. “The happiest place in Asia.”
2. One of the best welfare system in the world.
3. One of the best health care system in the world.
4. One of the best education system in the world.
5. One of the lowest income tax in the world.
6. The most efficient and honest government in the world.

The list goes on and on and on. The country is obsessed with world rankings and claims.
Most observers and visitors to Singapore are stunned but impressed by such a vast display of world rankings and claims.

Is Singapore such an Utopia as claimed? The answer is probably YES from about 10% of the population comprising of the multi-million dollars highest paid ministers in the world, the highest paid public civil servants in the world, the high salaried expatriates, the successful businessmen, the rich and famous, tourists and short term visitors.

These are the elite who can afford to pay $5 million to $30 million for a house and has no hesitation disclosing to the media that they spent $20,000 for a few days of French cooking lessons in Paris or spent $40,000 a year sending their two and three years old children to “baby gym” and “baby motivational” classes or post on Internet that the “poor should get out of her elite uncaring face.”

For this privileged caste, Singapore is indeed fantasy-land. It is a fun city with world class casinos, streets of bars, pubs and karaoke clubs, great restaurants of all cultures, theaters, 5 stars hotels, plenty of young and inexpensive social escorts and prostitutes from China, Philippines and neighboring countries. Prof Tommy Koh, former ambassador to UN, was reported that he entertained western ambassadors and consulate staff for “fun-filled” evenings. He preferred the Filipino girls in Orchard Towers over those in Duxton as those girls were “cheap and low quality”. The homes of these elites are well maintained by the services of cheap maids and they live like royalties.

For the remaining population, few would consider Singapore a fun city, let alone “the happiest place in Asia”. There is a small percentage within this remaining population who are in the “comfort zone” and contend with status quo where they could enjoy occasional touches of happy moments. These are people in the senior management positions, senior civil servants, senior military and police officers, relatively successful businessmen who are able to buy cars, private condominiums, the cheaper end of private houses or in worst case, the executive or 5-room HDB apartments. They have maids and take overseas vacations and enjoy some luxuries of elite lifestyle.

For majority of population, life is tough having to work 12 hours a day for both husbands and wives to pay off the mortgages for their 99 years lease HDB homes and 10 years lease cars, pay for children tuition and make ends meet. If Singapore is a fun city, most of them are simply too busy to feel happy or enjoy the luxuries of life. Singapore’s workforce has the reputation of having the longest working hours a day in the world.

How did Singapore with all the world ranking and claims deteriorate to such a pathetic state where the majority of common citizens are depressed, oppressed, stressed and agitated resulting in increased divorces, violence and suicides?

The Hard Truths are the fear of losing their current jobs and difficulties in finding new jobs, the raising cost of living, the anxiety of inadequate CPF for retirement, the lack of affordable health care, the fear of being homeless and the lack of welfare for seniors. In this meritocratic society, the handicaps, weak and the old are expendable and left to the care of their families. The State has in place laws for parents to sue their own children for financial support. The government does not want to waste its resources on the expendable. Singapore has an inexorable policy of survival of the fittest. Those citizens classified as underachievers or a burden will be sidelined and be left to rot.

Singapore leaders have a despicable habit of mocking other countries’ welfare systems to champion their own. In his 1996 National Day speech, then Prime Minister Goh said “People often want the government to assume the full burden of the cost of medical care and provide treatment free to Singaporeans. Because of the painful lessons learned in other countries we have not done this. All the countries which have done this—Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and Communist China—have failed. “

Contrary to SM Goh’s bold prediction 15 years ago, Canada’s welfare and health care systems are still firmly in place with high approval rating by the government and public. On the other hand, despite its world ranking, Singapore’s own welfare and health care systems have deteriorated to an extend that it is considered a mockery by its citizens. The joke amongst the citizens is that you can afford to die but cannot afford to get sick or old. All government hospitals have been converted to profit based private enterprises. There are no longer free medical care. Citizens have to pay for all medical services and medications with limited subsidies.

Singapore may rank better in the world by WHO but in reality Canada has a much better system. For example:

Case No. 1 - I am a kidney transplant patient who has gone through 5 years of dialysis before the transplant. The medical cost for the 5 years of dialysis, the transplant operation, the ICU and general hospitalization, the post transplant medication for the rest of my life are FREE. I did not pay a cent other than paying for the national health insurance that amounts to about $50 a month per person.

A patient in Singapore would have to cough between $200,000 to $300,000 from his/her medisave or beg for help from relatives and friends to pay the medical bills. One serious illness would effectively wiped out a giant portion of a person’s pension fund.

When I was unable to drive to hospital for dialysis, special handicap bus was arranged to pick me up at my residence and send me to and from hospital. All I have to pay was C$2.50 per trip.

I was paralyzed from neck down when I discharged from ICU. The Canadian health system has rehab program to enable me to participate in international dragon boat races. All my dialysis and medical treatments during overseas competitions were reimbursed. In 2008, I managed to win a Gold Medal in the San Francisco International Dragon Boat Race against normal healthy competitors under the Recreational Category.

In a callous society like Singapore, most end stage kidney failure patients would be left on their own or rely on the help of relatives and friends for rehabilitation. Those patients who managed to walk independently would consider themselves fortunate. None would dare hope for the government to provide training or pay for participation in international competitions.

Case No. 2 - An ex-Singaporean has tunnel or straight eye vision but the doctor did nothing in treating her when she was working in Singapore. When she immigrated to Canada, her family doctor discovered her eye defect and sent her to an eye specialist. She was diagnosed as “legally blind” and classified as a handicap person. Health care workers were dispatched to her work place to check if the environment is friendly and prevent her from hurting herself. As a handicap, she cannot be fired because of her medical condition. All these services and medical treatments were free under the Canadian Health care.

A ludicrous incident happened when this lady returned to Singapore for a visit. An ignorant immigration officer confiscated her blind person walking cane as he regarded it as a dangerous weapon. She tried to explain to him that she was legally blind but the immigration officer told her that as long as she can see, she is NOT blind. He thought she was faking to take advantage. Not much of a testimony for a 1st world country.

Case No. 3 - Mr. Bernard Chan, an ex-Singaporean and YPAP promising member, has a special needs daughter that cost him thousands of dollars a month to be looked after when they were living in Singapore. When they immigrated to Canada, his daughter was immediately placed with 7 other special needs kids and taken care of by a full-time teacher, an assistant and watch over by a nurse and a specialist. All these services for FREE. He need not pay a cent. It is all covered by Canadian health care system.
Fast forward. On reaching 18 years, his daughter was given a monthly inflation-indexed allowance of Sin $1,500 (C$1+S$1.3), free medical and drugs, free dentistry and glasses (Sin $ 400 every 2 yrs). She can enroll for all kinds of studies and even dance, swim or social dance ... all paid for FREE. Monthly bus is half price at Sin$45 per month ...unlimited bus and train travel. The social services even got her a part-time job doing packing to build up her self-esteem and she cannot be fired because of her medical condition.

Case No 4. Senior citizens living alone have regular visits by social workers to ensure that their meals are cooked, clothing and homes kept clean. They are given regular medical checkups. Again all these services are free under Canadian health care.

Examples can go on and on. It is puzzling how Singapore was ranked 6th best health care in the world by WHO versus Canada at 30th ranking when it fail to provide these basic compassionate services.

DPM Wong Kan Seng, on Jan 17, 2011, said, “We will not leave behind those who need more help. The surpluses we have set aside in good times can be tapped on to look after the needs of the old and poor. We will continue to enjoy quality education, healthcare, transport and other social infrastructure.”

Do Singaporeans still believe all these political rhetoric and empty promises? Do they really feel better off than Canadians? Canada may not have the best health care or welfare systems in the world but as Canadians we are proud of our health and welfare systems. Its policies are compassionate and fair to all citizens. We are motivated to die for Canada without hesitation.

On the other hand, Singapore health care and welfare systems are designed for selected elite. For example, when Mrs Lee was ill in London, a 747 jumbo plane was converted into an air ambulance within 24 hours to fly her back to Singapore. MM Lee boosted that it was a world record that could only be achieved by Singapore. Do the leaders spare a minute to care for the sick, weak, elderly and homeless to score another world record? In MM Lee's latest book, "Hard Truths to keep Singapore going", MM Lee challenged citizens to die for each other. For a statesman who prided himself as vision extraordinaire, MM Lee should easily forecast that it would be difficult to motivate citizens to die for the country that is run like a circus by ministers drawing obscene high salaries with no accountability, no apology, no responsibility, no transparency and no shame.

In 1991, Prime Minister Goh promised Singaporeans that Singapore will achieve "Swiss standard of living" within a decade. Now, twenty years later Singapore's standard of living is more like Russia than Switzerland.

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of."
— Confucius

Wing Lee Cheong
North Vancouver, BC,Canada


  1. Well written article. Expecting a change in the Singapore political arena after the upcoming GE. We Singaporeans are fed up with progress which does not benefit the man and woman in the street.

    Enough is Enough!!

  2. You forgot to mention that Singapore couples rank first in having the least sex. That speaks volume.

  3. Really enjoy your article. What's is more fearful is that what you written every lessen mortal in Singapore can relate to that except those proclaimed god and demi-god of ivory tower who chose to ignore the reality of ground so they can retain their world-record salary and perks.

    Please do write more as GE is coming round, Sinners need to wake up and vote those clowns out.

  4. well said, I'm heading back to the States soon

  5. Canadians, so love their Health Care system that they voted Tommy Douglas, the father of univeral health care, the Greatest Canadian.

    Can anyone imagine voting the Health Minister of Singapore, the Greatest Singaporean?
    Or anyone in the PAP government?

  6. f@#k PAP, as say it loud and yell by a MP when he was drung, this is a male PAP MP, he was asked to step down this recent coming GE and hand over his single constituency to a older

  7. Hello there,

    You commented that an operation would wipe out a large chunk of one's Medisave. I would like to know whether you have factored in Medishield, which is the basic insurance you can buy with your Medisave money. Moreover, given that it is a 'basic' insurance, why don't you buy an insurance plan, which costs less than the amount that is credited into your M/A in a year anyway? I'm not sure what the median income in Singapore is, but if we base it on a figure of $2000, to set aside <$500 a year for hospitalization insurance might actually be possible?

  8. Hi, and an interesting article, I must say. I wish to share this article via Facebook. Is there anyway I can do it?

  9. Nice article. These are the reasons why more and more Singaporeans are migrating and never want to get back even when the government are begging.

  10. 1. Singapore is not and never was a welfare state. Everyone who doesnt believe this is 'blind'.
    2. The definition of 'legally blind' is from country to country very different. It differs from less than 2% vision (eg Germany), 5% (UK, France) to 10% (most countries, including Singapore)
    3. Most people do not know that you dont have to lose your vision completely to get a 'legally blind' status.

  11. I think the writer dun know Singapore. I thank God that I’m a Singaporean.

  12. I think above commenter is a Singaporean who hasn't met any who've been sick and not loaded.

    Real kidney dialysis patients who never managed to secure NKF support. 6k a month for dialysis twice a week is a norm.

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  14. As a high-achieving Canadian, everything that you mentioned in this article makes me want to live in Singapore. To each his own :)

  15. Nobody has claimed that Singapore is the happiest place in Asia. Bhutan is. Nether has anyone claimed also that Singapore has the best welfare system or the lowest tax.

    Just because you live in Canada doesn't make you any better. I am speaking from experience because I lived in Eagle Ridge, Coquitlam myself. Prior to that, it was East 21 at Burnaby where you lived. Nothing changes the fact that Singapore is my homeland and will always be. Do you believe it is easy to get a job in Canada, compared to Singapore? Or are you pulling wool over everybody's eyes? Mind you, I was lucky enough to be employed in all my years living there. However I do know of many landed immigrants whom migrated, struggled to find employment. Many I know of got disgruntled and return home. Some had to change their vocations and worked on hourly paid jobs. I was lucky, I made good in the car business working with General Motors. I came back because it wasn't the life I wanted. I lived not only in a white dominated environment but also an environment where Chinese were segregating themselves; the Taiwanese and Hong Kongers lived on their own while Singaporeans and Malaysians congregated together in Coquitlam. I have the experience also working and living in China and interestingly I preferred to China to Canada. Canada is a good place if you want to plan your retirement, not a place if you want to be an entrepreneur or make big money. It is a decent place compared to the States but nothing like Singapore when it comes to having your real friends around, the local food and the fun of going out as and when you want to. After 9 pm, everything is dead. And when it comes to shopping, the US is cheaper. Why do you think every weekend thousands head across to Blaine, Washington? Living in Canada doesn't make you anyway better than Singapore. I learned that despite having a good income and a company paid car. There is nothing like living in a country that is yours and Singapore will always be mine. I am proud to be a Singaporean and will always be.