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'What Singapore needs is a little less discipline'

Last updated on: January 20, 2014 11:39 IST

'What Singapore needs is a little less discipline'

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Kishore Singh

The straitjacketed Singapore has changed a fair bit says Kishore Singh who's visited it intermittently for over 30 years.

And what it could really do with, he says, is a little less discipline and some places to eat and drink outside the curfew hour.

What's it like being single in Singapore? Safe? Sexy?

"Boring," hazards my daughter, who would rather work in Hong Kong than in Singapore, but is actually stuck in New Delhi. Mostly, though, it appears tedious on account of stringent laws that require you to hold on to your condo key cards but not pass them to visiting next of kin for fear of losing them to the council. Nor is getting help easy, so you end up doing the house work yourself, which can be the reason most Singaporeans prefer entertaining outside, only it can be a drag because dining options shut down early.


Image: A snake decoration is seen along a street in preparation for the upcoming Chinese New Year of the Snake in February, in Chinatown in Singapore January 29, 2013.
Photographs: May Naji/Reuters

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Besides, the better-known diners don't have bars, so if you want a beer with your dim sums, well, you ain't getting any. What's on offer is a range of very sweet drinks. Singaporeans have such a sweet tooth that my hotel includes dessert in the breakfast buffet.

Sample this one: chocolate ice cream over a bowl of cornflakes topped with canned peaches as a concession to health. On the other hand, on a visit to Holland Village after a day at work, the bar refuses to serve even the equivalent of peanuts because it's past the dining hour, while at a late night diner we get what we want to eat but the bar is shut.


Photographs: Lorenzarius/Wikimedia Commons

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'What Singapore needs is a little less discipline'

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Being thirsty may not be a lot of fun, but neither is being hungry because you have to deal with long queues to get a table, and food is serious business. It's also a lot less adventurous -- gross? -- than Thailand, or Taiwan, or Korea. My son tells me to have something called pig's feet which doesn't sound too appealing, but with so many varieties of dim sums and noodle bowls, who'd want anything else?

Certainly not the Indian on offer at Little India, which is where most of my colleagues head for a taste of "home food" even though it is, they find, "strange".


Image: Labourers from Bangladesh eat dinner at a restaurant in Singapore's Little India district January 13, 2009. The Free Meals Program, run by the volunteer group Transient Workers Count Too, provides one meal a day on weekdays for migrant workers who cannot afford to feed themselves, and is financed entirely by fundraising and donations.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash / Reuters

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Has Singapore changed? I've returned intermittently over 30 years -- on work -- because Singapore isn't a holiday destination, even though friends here are at pains to tell me that it is a family haven. Over the decades it's grown denser, earlier iconic buildings have been replaced, or hidden, by more flamboyant ones, but the air is clean and you can drink the water straight from the tap.

If there's one thing that hasn't changed, it's the high moral ground its taxi drivers take. On earlier visits, they would chide me on the terrible politics and economy of India.

With so many Indians in Singapore, they don't sermonise as much, but the cabbie we'd hired from the airport to drop us to our small boutique hotel asked for its telephone number to check for directions. What followed was a hissy discussion about landmarks till, apparently, the operator ticked him off because she was busy. "Too busy to talk to the taxi driver," he exclaimed to us as if a serious diplomatic gaffe had occurred, "that one bad hotel, la."

Famous last words, indeed -- it wasn't a bad hotel so much as it was inadequate. In straitjacketed Singapore, you're better off trusting the cab driver's instincts than the advice of friends that constantly but unfairly weigh the benefits of Singapore vis-a-vis India. If only we could find one, I'd tell them to get a drink and loosen up a little. To my mind, what Singapore needs is a little less discipline -- and some place to eat and drink outside the curfew hour.


Photographs: Luis Enrique Ascui/Reuters

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