Saturday, February 21, 2009

Singapore — Still A Fine City?

Whenever friends see pictures I've taken of different places in Singapore, one of their usual comments goes something like "Hey, it's really clean".

These friends have never been to Singapore and live in countries such as the US, the UK, India, China and the Philippines. Their use of the world really shows that Singapore's reputation as a clean city precedes it. This same set of friends know what it means when people say that "Singapore is a fine city".

Now, for the benefit of those who haven't heard of this before, the word fine here is used to mean both pleasant and penalty. Singapore is a pleasant city indeed. It is also a city known for imposing huge penalties —in dollars— for minor infractions of the law. Or at least it used to be. Well, lots of friendly reminders still abound these days — in trains, buses, hawker centers and other public areas.

I've heard the story about one of the key things on how Singapore prospered in just a few decades. It is said that in the early days of his administration, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sent a few of his officers to more advanced countries to find out what was pivotal to their progress. When the officers came back, they reported that discipline was a fundamental component. From then on, laws that strengthened discipline were enacted, imposing hefty fines and stiff punishment for violations included.

I have yet to verify the story and I have yet to read Minister Mentor Lee's biography, which is certainly on top of my list. But it's undeniable that Singapore would not be where it is today without discipline. I guess the more important question, other than if this story is true or not, is if discipline still regarded as important now as it was before?

In the papers several days ago, it was mentioned that higher fines will be imposed for littering. Just when I thought I was the only one noticing that littering is increasingly becoming rampant nowadays, the government has already started taking action. The free paper also attributes part of the littering problem to the increased number of foreigners in Singapore. It's not easy to prove or debunk this statement. But as far as what I've observed, both foreigners and locals are litterbugs, only that I see more foreigners committing the offense more than the locals.

No one has to take my word (or observations) for it. But things can go really bad when people start thinking that it's okay to litter, whether or not the surge in littering offenses is caused by the increasing number of foreigners. (Sidetrack: Imagine for a second what would happen if people started getting the idea that it's okay to flaunt overpowering body odor in public).

I don't even have to go very far to be confronted by the problem. Some of my neighbors get too lazy to throw their trash in the refuse chute and settle instead for leaving it on the floor, just two feet away. From my place to the nearest bus stop, the harvest of litter is sure to be bountiful. Even the bus stop has remnants of thirsty or hungry travelers, or teens who use it as a place to hangout at night.

Either gifted with a wild imagination or having watched too much of CSI, I can't help but think that if only DNA testing were simple and inexpensive, it can be used to track litter back to its owners. The same can be done to find dog owners who are too lazy to clean up after their pet's poop. Oh well, I'm sure we'll come to that in the future, even sooner than the invention of the device I have been thinking of that can be used to detect bad odor and catch its bearer.

So is Singapore still a fine city? It certainly is. For now. But it's not just up to the government to keep it that way.

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At February 22, 2009 at 8:18 AM , Blogger Joe said...

You hit it right on target. Littering is a menace. People should know better and pick up after their own mess. But if only it were that simple, the world would be a cleaner place. It's worse here in Los Angeles. Hope Singapore can maintain its reputation as being a clean city indeed.

At February 26, 2009 at 5:50 PM , Anonymous A Singaporean in London said...

You must be kidding me. Singapore is really really (and I mean really) clean as compared to London to the extent that Singapore seems sterile in comparison.

Although there are fines over here in London, no one seems to be enforcing them.

Anyway, great blog you have here. Will be dropping by often.


At February 27, 2009 at 12:42 AM , Blogger Singapore Fountain Pen said...

Hi Joe,

I hope so too.

Hi C K,

I kid you not. :) Wasn't meaning to nitpick and I fully understand what you mean. It's just that it's been getting worse. I see more and more people littering conspicuously.


At March 3, 2009 at 3:31 PM , Anonymous grace said...

i've never been to singapore but the reputation of the place's cleanliness is legendary. i once often wished our country could have stricter laws about throwing trash around. it's a pity that some people there aren't as scared of the fines as before.

but really... the clean and pristine singapore that i once heard of is still the dominant image in my mind.

At March 3, 2009 at 3:47 PM , Blogger Singapore Fountain Pen said...

Hi Grace, take it from C K and me, Singapore is still very clean, especially compared to its neighbors. I'm just hoping it doesn't get worse. :)


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