Singapore Travelog #2

Dear Readers – I’ll give you a breather in between my sweltering posts on Srilanka. Here is a short & welcome break, where I delve lovingly on Singapore with Sukumar Rajagopal. You might have seen his previous post in this series – If not, now’s a good time.

The Republic of Singapore is a clump of islands situated roughly 1° North of the Equator. It is extremely hot, humid & sticky even in December. Even 6 AM may prove too muggy for people unaccustomed to the tropics. Since we roamed around like wildebeest, we were sweating profusely & our shirts stuck to our backs & arms. Those who don’t want to stink like skunks  should plan for a “costume change” in the evening: Not exactly preening for the cameras like Shivraj Patil, hope you catch my drift.

During the Monsoon season, the clouds may burst any minute & drench you to your skin in a trice. Hooded Raincoats & Umbrellas that can withstand strong winds are must-haves for travelers.

What is in my top-of-the-mind recall when I think of Singapore?

On the 1st day of our trip, we were nervously negotiating our way to the nearest MRT station – Outram Park. Since punishments for even minor offenses like jay-walking are severe in Singapore, we were very jittery. We were dazed, sleep deprived & the day was sultry. We were wondering if we were lost, wondering if we should ask for directions – a massive ego-crusher which Priya Raju seldom stoops to. At Sukumar’s insistence though, I reluctantly agreed to take a bus & ask the driver meekly for directions.

When we alighted the bus, we were greeted cheerfully by the bus driver – “Vaanga, Vaanga” (“Please Come In”) in chaste Tamil. We’ve been to other 1st world countries before. But never before have we encountered helpful Indians, that too Indians proudly flaunting their heritage. In fact, some of the Indians we met in the United States pretended to be so Americanized as to feign ignorance of their roots.

The bus fare was SGD $1 – and embarrassingly enough, we didn’t have the right change. We bumpkins had just got off the flight & the smallest denomination we had was an SGD $50 note. Red in our faces, we admitted such to the driver. To our utter amazement, the gentleman driver smiled, gave us 2 tickets & said – “Parava illai” (“Don’t Bother”). One of the perils of living in a big city in modern India is, we are so accustomed to rudeness & orneriness in people, that such gestures of kindness knock the wind off our sails. We stammered our thanks awkwardly, but forgot to get the name of the driver. We aren’t forgetting him in a hurry though. He actually set the tone for our perception of Singapore.

No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to the Jurong Bird Park. Located in the Industrial zone of Jurong Hill, the Bird Park is the brain-child of the legendary Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee. Our 1st stop in the Bird Park was the “World of Darkness” – and we saw HEDWIG! In reality, its an owlery that houses nocturnal birds, including a few Snowy Owls like Hedwig. I was so taken by surprise, that I’m relieved I didn’t chant “Hed-wig, Hed-wig” like the unadulterated Harry Potter maniac I am.

My most favorite place in the Bird Park is the Lory Loft. Its a 3000 square feet fly-in aviary for Lorikeets & it is roughly 9 storeys tall. Lories are colorful, vivacious parrots from Australia & its environs. Visitors can feed them with a special nectar in a cup. All you need to do is, hold the cup aloft – and these bold, raucous, multi-hued birds alight on your arm, shoulder, head or back-pack & feed hungrily. Its a strangely satisfying experience. We were all giggling like kids – 10 year olds & 60 year olds alike. Of course, the Lories had more fun than us – they setup a riotous din with their screeches.

A Rainbow Lorikeet landed on my arm & seemed satisfied with my potential as a perch. Emboldened by this, I crooned to the bird – “Aren’t you a sweetie?”. The Lory, obviously in agreement, closed its eyes & said “Peep” softly. I pleaded gently, “May I touch you?”. Of course, we aren’t permitted to touch the animals, but I figured the Lory may not know the rule. Bad idea. That must have mightily offended the parrot, for it lifted its tail & did its business on my pants. Then said “SCREEEE!!” so loudly that I must have jumped 3 feet in the air.

What about the food in Singapore? I have a small confession to make. I don’t like Chinese Food. I don’t exactly hate it – I just don’t share the world’s obsession with that cuisine. I happen to think that Thai & Indonesian cuisines are wonderful specimens of the heights that Far Eastern food can rise to. I accuse Chinese food of a heinous crime. It makes everything taste like meat. And I mean, everything! Even their water tastes strange.

I & Sukumar believe in the apothegm, “In Rome, do as the Romans do”. We had read that Singaporeans frequent Kopi Tiams – local coffee houses cum food courts. So, we took ourselves to a famous Kopi Tiam in Bras Basah Road. Oh My. It was a vegetarian’s nightmare. Most of the stalls had Korean, Chinese or Japanese food – or so we gathered. The stench from the grilled meat was unbearable. Though a pure vegetarian, I’m no stranger to meat. Thus far, the only food that revolted me so much was the Tripe Soup that a fellow traveler had in Greece.

I spied some long-dead, skinned animal that resembled an elongated bat hanging from a meat hook. In God’s name, I know not what it is. My stomach did a somersault. Only long years of refinement stopped me from bolting out of the doors of the Food Court. After a few more false starts in other food courts in Singapore, we mostly visited restaurants – Irish, American, Italian, Mexican – in fact, any place where the kitchen was hidden from our view.

Ever heard a waiter from the Far East say “Fried Rice”? Chances are, a Thai waiter will serve you “Flied Lice”, amidst your protestations. I’ve read that Japanese lacks an “L”, so Alice of the Wonderland fame had to change her name to “Arisu”. Apparently, the Chinese share this dreaded disease. A funny incident happened on our way to the Asian Civilizations Museum. We flagged a cab & asked to be taken to the Armenian Street. Imagine our horror when the driver tried to shake us out in Almeida Street! I had to spell the name of the street for him. Then, he promptly said – “Oh, Almenian Street. Why didn’t you say so earlier?”.

Of course, this does not apply to the sophisticated, educated elite from the Far East in the corporate world. But, watch out for the swapping of “R” & “L” in Singapore. When they say “Haverock Road”, they mean “Havelock Road”.

The crown jewel of Singapore is of course its zoo. It is an open zoo, where most of the animals are free to move around. It isn’t uncommon to see that the zebras have moved in with the elephants for the day. Or that the Meerkats have sublet their space to a Crowned Crane. Animal lovers who hate to see forlorn looking beasts in oppressive cages will rejoice in this zoo. Truth be told, I was scared out of my wits to see even lions & tigers without cages: only a puny watery moat separated these predators from the visitors. I was relieved to see that leopards & jaguars – that can jump across piddly little moats without disarranging their fur – kept in enclosures.

Our most unforgettable experience was with the ring-tailed lemurs in the “Fragile Forest” section. But to know about that, you should read my next post.

Its a pity that Singapore is thought of purely as a huge shopping mall. There’s more to the country than that. I plan to write a couple more posts on Singapore’s plenitude of charms, before moving on to my beloved Srilanka, the land of my dreams.


  1. Quote

    Lovely post priya! Singapore zoo sounds so cool.

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    You are capturing the essence of Singapore beautifully. Also if you can please add the details about the hotel that you were staying. It would be helpful for people (like me :-)) who are planning their vacation.

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    Wonderful post. I am sure most people who have visited Singapura would have encountered “Flied Lice, la?” 🙂 Singapore tourism development mainly focuses on its shopping fest and its malls though, to their credit, they do mention about the activities you can do. It is extremely nice to note that you did not encounter any form of prejudice. Indians settled there and Tamilians in Singapore and Malaysia are extremely nice. There is a underlying racism towards people of Indian and Srilankan origin vis a vis Malay and Chinese.

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    Jass – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, the zoo is awesome. Some of the Tamarin monkeys were freely moving around the tree-tops. I wonder how they prevent them from escaping.

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    Ramya – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    We stayed at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront. It was an excellent hotel. Holiday Inn Atrium was close by & looked very nice too. There are many other nice hotels in Singapore – our travel agent recommended these 2, since they are close to Orchard Road.

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    Shrinath – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    We actually found all the people in Singapore very kind, helpful & friendly. But yes – a friend of ours (Indian) did mention that, during his 2.5 years stay, he encountered some amount of racism. It wasn’t overt enough for us to detect.

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    A post by Priya!!
    Yay!! 🙂
    I loved each and every line of this post!! 🙂

    //massive ego-crusher which Priya Raju seldom stoops to

    i thought it was men who had problems with asking directions. Reminds me of dave barry’s quote “It is a well-documented fact that guys will not ask for directions. This is a biological thing. This is why it takes several million sperm cells… to locate a female egg, despite the fact that the egg is, relative to them, the size of a dinosaur”


    and LOL @ Flied Lice and the reference to our brand ambassador for brylcreem “Mr.Shivraj Patil”!! 😛
    And i have never seen a proper zoo in my life. I have seen only 2 and each of them had emaciated lions and sad looking giraffes. nothing else. :(. Your description makes me want to go see the Singapore zoo 🙂

    Nice post Priya!! 🙂

    P.S: isnt it travelogue or is travelog the american spelling??

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    Revs – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    I’m a weird specimen. My brain has procrastinated decision making on my gender. While I do have female frailties like shoe mania, I also suffer from some male foibles like refusing to ask for directions. I know more colors than there are fingers in my hands, but I can’t remember birthdays, anniversaries etc 🙂 I’m not a gadget freak, but I zimply can’t get enough of wars 😀

    Dave Barry is too good 🙂 Loved the quote from him 😀

    Zoos in 1st world countries are generally very good. I’d love to see some of the well known nature reserves in India & Nepal though. Conditions may be better there.

    Travelog is a variant spelling. Used by lazy people who want to skip a letter or 2 😉

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    A very nice and entertaining post. Say, I didn’t know you didn’t like the smell of meat 🙂

    It was funny to read about Hedwig. I don’t know if you visited Lowry park zoo in FL. Even there they have a huge lorikeet collection and they are all sitting on trees and come flying to you when you bring them Nectar. Of course, I tried to drink some of the nectar to see how it tastes and the birds promptly pooped on me. Hope you didn’t try the same thing 🙂

    Waiting to see your next post.

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    NK – Thanks for your comment.

    Yeah, my dislike of meat is very much under covers 😉 Which is why I almost pass out when I bite into a mushroom by mistake. I don’t care what people say – mushroom ain’t a plant. It looks like chicken.

    Yeah, we fed the parrots in Lowry park zoo. Though, when we visited, we had to dip a wet finger in a bowl of grain & then the parrots ate out of our hands. Some of them became very aggressive & bit my fingers to get it out of their system 🙁 I was parrot bait 😐

    You tried to slurp the nectar?! That’s very mean of you. I’m glad the parrots pooped on you.

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    I can understand that it is a travelog so i don’t want to be a critic here nor imposing something negative views, but we have to be in middle to inform public about one country. I believe here and previous post has some biased information about Singapore. Singapore is everybody’s darling especially for Tamils since even before they invented Singapore. But the current Singapore’s laws are designed to punish particular ethnic people, Malays and Indians, huge human right violations and not safe for professionals/immigrates.

    Here is the removal procedure, if they found one staying behind visa period, 1 day or 100 days, which is considering a small offense in all over the world.

    1. Catch and lock up at a small 3X4 cell, sometimes they lock 50 people in that small cell. More death happens because of stampede at cell.

    2. After some time, the convict produced to court and punishment is cruel.

    3. Then they release the convict on some temp. Visa, they have to work to earn for return ticket. This is modern day forced slave.

    4. The business utilizes them like a slave and don’t pay them enough for a long time, because the convict can’t complain with any authority. In fact, there is a big scam that business itself bring people from Tamil Nadu and make them work for behind the visa period and then inform police about over stay and then rehire them as slaves.

    5. Finally they release them after Indian embassy or some other high authority intervention.

    6. Death penalty per capita is higher than any other country.

    7. No press freedom.

    If they are very concern about immigration and explode population, they have to ban all visa or inform all negative consequence about over stay. Singapore is from outside it was rich, colorful and beautiful country but internally stink one. Anybody can make some small land, which is smaller than Chennai, like Singapore but challenge is how to make it without human right violations.

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    Nice post. You have presented Singapore in a very entertaining style as opposed to my geeky intro post. Well done.

    Yeah, the taxi driver incident was very funny. I was also reminded of the other taxi driver who went round and round the hotel but refused to accept that he didn’t know the correct direction to the hotel.

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    Subba – Thanks for your comment.

    Actually, I haven’t covered any social aspects of Singapore in this post. The subject matter is purely what I saw as a tourist – I’m not trying to inform the readers what the essence of the country is. Since the post deals solely with my observations, there are neither any sides nor a middle ground.

    Having said that, I do agree that the punishment system in Singapore is very harsh, across the board for all offenses. That’s how the country is – some countries are more draconian than others. But to substantiate your statements, can you point to any links? I agree that unskilled laborers generally face a horrible life – its actually worse in the gulf nations.

    There is no press freedom – we could see that even during our stay.

    Your comment seems like an overtly harsh indictment on Singapore. They aren’t trying to ban all immigrants, they want to welcome the right kind – experienced, skilled workers. Their population has fallen below replacement levels, BTW.

    It is very easy to make a small nation like Singapore prosperous? Come on, now. That’s an uncharitable claim. How many such small nations are there in the world? How many faced the challenges of Singapore? And how many are prosperous? If indeed it was so easy, so many businesses wouldn’t be failing around us now, would they?

    Yes, they need to improve in the human rights arena. But, they do seem to be doing much better than many countries around them. For that, they need a pat in the back.

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    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment.

    You are the brain & I’m the brawn 🙂 So, I tried to be “Elvis Presley, Entertainer”.

    I think the other taxi driver didn’t understand he had made a mistake. He thought we were accusing him of taking a circuitous route, so that he could charge us more. An honest chap that spoke very little English, he was very upset.

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    There are story after story about harsh Singapore punishment, here is documented one

    You can find more in and

    The procedure i narrate in previous comment was a real life experience from one of my friend who is well educated (hotel management) and due to unavoidable circumstances he become an over stay convict in Singapore because his employer cheated him. He faced the same procedure but not step 4 because he had some money to come back to India, but got 25 strokes.

    As far as I know, all small city(and country) are rich (or not poor if they honor human rights) Hong Kong, Singapore, Malta, Maldives, West Indies Islands etc.

    Yes Gulf also harsh but they are following religious laws, in other words not modern and everybody knows about it.

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    Here are detailed links, i had a typo in previous post, it is NOT

    And I’m not against Singapore and Singaporeans, it is really a great country but they have to stop unprecedented human right violations.


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    Nice Post!!! Looks like you guys had a lot of fun!

    Priya, this summer we visited the Mysore zoo – . It was well maintained(considering that we paid ‘Rs. 25 only’ for admission) and the guides very well informed. Do add it to your would-like-to-see list:-))

    Waiting to read the next post…


  18. Quote

    Subba – Thanks for sharing the links. It will help all of us know more about Singapore.

    Yes, Singapore has harsh punishments – even corporal punishments for what many other countries may consider minor offenses. But, we’ve also heard stories on how people were let off by the cops after a warning, after they made minor mistakes.

    We need to differentiate between the life of a common (wo)man in day to day life & exception situations, where a person commits an offense. Yes, human rights should improve in Singapore. But that doesn’t nullify the fact that most residents, citizens & tourists in Singapore enjoy a happy, peaceful, relatively crime-free life on the whole.

    Nigeria recently stoned a woman to death because of adultery. Just because it is based on a religious law & everyone knows about it – doesn’t make it any better. Why have they not chosen to abandon draconian laws? Or implement softer versions of the same laws?

    Whether the Criminal Justice system is modern or based on religious laws – one thing is certain. The laws of the land reflect the mind-set of the people & its rulers. Civilized people think more about human rights – countries with ultra-harsh punishments have miles to go in improving their thought processes.

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    Subba – Maldives is a 3rd world country, whose per capita income is < 1/6th of Singapore. Bahamas, St Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda - all of them are 3rd world countries too, with incomes considerably less than Singapore. Hong Kong functioned as the trading post of Communist China with the rest of the world. They had a ready-made template for their economy. Malayan Federation cut off all ties with Singapore, so it can't be compared with Hong Kong. Lee & his team had to struggle to find a way to build their nation, one brick at a time. Malta is a developed nation, but its per capita is considerably lower than Singapore. It is < half the size of Singapore, so why hasn't it grown more? More importantly, it has been prosperous from the 19th century. It did suffer a setback like most nations after World War II. Point is, did Malta move from a 3rd world country to a 1st world country in 30 years like Singapore? I think you should concede that Lee Kuan Yew & his team worked hard to build the economy of their nation, a nation without much natural resources, with a polyglot population formed mostly by laborers, without any strategic hinterland that they could lean on to for growth. No other country comes close.

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    Hema – Thanks for your comment.

    And thanks for your recommendation. Now, we have 1 more thing to do in Mysore when we go there. Did the animals look well cared for?

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    I agree that Singapore had some unique leaders, they made the country from no where to economically giant country with the help of only hardworking laborers. Hats off to Lee and his team. He was excellent and brilliant but not other Gandhi or JFK. He was obsessed with Singapore’s growth and acted like a dictatorship. Free market with corruption free are the key for Singapore’s growth, Lee created those by imposing stricter rules. At 1965, he thinks about Free market and visualizing a corruption free culture is key for Singapore’s growth. In other words, Singapore is miniature of China. If we admire China’s growth, we should admire Singapore’s growth also.

    Any way I don’t want to spoil your travelog, just expressed some of my opinion, thanks for replying with details, please continue with travelog, we all eager to read it more.


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    Subba – You are right, Lee isn’t an MLK, Gandhi or Suu Kyi. He ran Singapore like a business.

    China isn’t Singapore – China is corrupt, people have no rights (not even to practice a religion), the press has NO freedom, minorities are suppressed/oppressed, people may die if they consume products made in China, China routinely occupies territories of other nations, its own citizens are treated shabbily by companies while China turns a blind eye to their plight, millions & millions are poor, have no access to healthcare & live in deplorable conditions. And China is a 3rd world country.

    I do admire what China has made of itself, though. But, it is no Singapore. Yet.

    Please feel free to express your opinions. We learn a lot from each other & your comments have made me think more about human rights in Singapore. The personal account of your friend has indeed been an eye-opener.

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    Subba – I have a comment to make. All great economies today stand on a mound of skulls & skeletons of oppressed people. Human Rights is a nice-to-have feature, which will bubble up to the top of the priority list, only when the nation has the ability to feed its multitudes, put a roof above their heads, have enough schools & hospitals & can guarantee homeland security.

    Thus the priorities & pre-occupations of the developed nations, will not coincide with those of the developing nations. A one size fits all approach will not work.

    Now that Singapore has developed, it can focus more on human rights, slowly & gradually.

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    Hi Priya,

    Well said. I suppose Subba ought to come and experience Singapore personally and for a period of time. His opinion of Singapore should change after that.

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    Lenox – Thanks for your comment. Do you live in Singapore?

    To be fair to Subba, he’s a very decent human being that is pained by the harsh penal system & lack of press freedom. He is an American (or a resident, not sure which) & as a citizen of a well developed nation, he focuses a lot on freedom & rights. And his view that this should improve in Singapore – is important & worth considering.

    I’m very impressed with Singapore. What has been achieved between 1965 & now is – nothing short of a miracle. Lee Kuan Yew & his team must be from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry 🙂

    In the National Museum, we saw a video of Lee, addressing the striking union workers. My God. What clarity of thought! What a no-nonsense approach! “We were impressed” is too weak a phrase to express what we felt. We were floored. We were ready to genuflect. We were – envious. Present day India needs leaders like him.

  26. Quote
    Harish Dorai said December 17, 2008, 2:53 pm:

    Great post Priya and Sukumar. It reminds me of a song in an old tamil movie starring Rajani and Kamal – “Namma ooru singari singapore vanthaaru…” 🙂

  27. Quote

    Harish – Thanks for your comment.

    Yep, I remember the Tamil movie “Ninaithale Inikkum” (“Sweet Memories”). When I saw the movie as a kid, I never imagined that international travel would become this easy or this affordable 🙂

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    Nice Travelogue Priya ….I will be happy if ur can post some fotos of our friends the Lorikeets….I am bit disppointed in you…I thght u wud have convinced Sukumar by now in having a Kea ( any way when u get one do let me know:))

    While reading this post i did not want to raise this issue but since Subba has already raised it ,I totally agree to him.I mean my own friends have experience hidden racialism inSinagpore.I mean if a Chinese goes to a appartment complex he is not questioned ,but when an Indian/Malay goes there is he is asked 101 questions….I mean this is an issue ..
    Added to that PAP has made Singapore a defacto Single Party state.Last elections it has won 82 of the 84 constitencies..It has crushed oppostion Systematically, and rumour is that they 35 % of any revenue made goes to the party and people close to Lew.
    But people who opposed PAP like Jeyratnam,

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    etc who have fought against the govt have suffered to a great extent

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    Hi Priya,

    Nice post. Btw talking abt zoos, there is a post on the Bannerghatta National Park in the outskirts of Bangalore. I haven’t been there but read about it in one of the blogs. I was impressed about one important point – how they try to reduce plastic consumption. Read this if you have the time –

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    Karthik – Thanks for your comment.

    My maid has threatened to quit if we ever get a Kea – because, thanks to Sukumar, she knows how destructive Keas can be 🙁 Will certainly post some pics of the Lorikeets.

    About renting apartments: How can a govt get rid of racism at the heart & soul level of people? Minorities face such problems everywhere. In the US, in the Southern states especially, I’m sure Blacks & Latinos face the same problem. In India, a person I know has a flat in a nice area. “I’m not letting it out to Muslims, you know” he said. “They are all smugglers”. He was a Vice President in an MNC.

    Jeyaratnam JB would have suffered less had he not been a rabble-rouser. In the 1960s, he wanted to merge back with the Malayan Federation for e.g., threw around random, unsubstantiated claims on corruption, he even accused Lee of abetting a former colleague to commit suicide. He couldn’t prove any of his claims though. Of course, this is from what I know about JBJ. If you can recommend an unbiased site where I can learn more about him, please let me know.

    Opposition parties were crushed, yes – they were permitted to potter around if they were not considered “destructive” forces. To be fair, some of the parties self destructed. PAP didn’t want any interruptions to their programs. If an opposition party assumes office, the development plans of PAP would be stalled or scrapped. They didn’t want that.

    I’m not justifying what they did, but I’m providing their side of the story. Please send me some links that support these claims of corruption by PAP ministers/MPs.

    I’m not saying Singapore is paradise. Every country has flaws. I simply want us to recognize the country for what it has managed to accomplish. The results are there for us to see.

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    Ramya – Thanks for your comment.

    And thanks for the link. Bannerghatta is in our list of places to visit in India. You’ve piqued my interest by mentioning their environmental consciousness.

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    Priya I would recomed Vedenthangal to you now…Its awesome I went there last week,Planning to go again in Jan …..

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    Karthik – Yours was the 4000th comment in this blog 🙂

    Thanks for the recommendation. I haven’t been there in ages. Perhaps its high time we visited again.

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    /*I have a comment to make. All great economies today stand on a mound of skulls & skeletons of oppressed people. Human Rights is a nice-to-have feature, which will bubble up to the top of the priority list, only when the nation has the ability to feed its multitudes, put a roof above their heads, have enough schools & hospitals & can guarantee homeland security.*/

    My Great-Great-Great-Grandpa was still work in progress from monkey to human, so what ever he did was “humanonkey” thing, it is not okay to continue now at this 2008. We don’t want any more holocausts and we need more morale police to stop the human right violations. So countries like Singapore have to step up to clear their name and to join other developed countries to act against human rights violations. I agree that developing nations it is hard to micromanage human rights violations but there is a way to at least manage some bubble ups. For example, India had superb history of improving human rights, as per human rights watch dog India’s free political rating is 2 and civil liberty rating is 3 (where 1 is top) Source : hrw and Wikipedia. Just imagine, what will happen if India impose stricter law against corruption, something like cut off hand or death penalty, India would become a developed nation with in next 20 years with the combination of already booming free market.

    To be fair to Subba, he’s a very decent human being that is pained by the harsh penal system & lack of press freedom. He is an American (or a resident, not sure which) & as a citizen of a well developed nation, he focuses a lot on freedom & rights. And his view that this should improve in Singapore – is important & worth considering.

    Thanks Lenox for invitation, actually i spent 2 days at Singapore, i might visit to Singapore one more time.

    Priya, you want to strip my Indian citizenship 🙂 because i’m making lot of noise. 🙁 I’m living in U.S for long time but still i’m an Indian citizen.

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    Nice post Priya! Back here after a long time..

    Singapore is such a nice place to visit. But i do remember reading the immigration card before filing in line. Death for people who smuggle drugs or something on those lines. Dreary due to lack of sleep and jumpy due to an expected presentation, imagine what kind of an effect reading something like that could do to you 🙂

    And did you get to do the Night safari? That was fun too 🙂

    And i read this statement in a comment above. I really have no intention of talking at length about all that but anyway.
    Human Rights is a nice-to-have feature, which will bubble up to the top of the priority list, only when the nation has the ability to feed its multitudes, put a roof above their heads, have enough schools & hospitals & can guarantee homeland security.

    It would be a pity if it did happen that way. Then there wouldn’t be much of a difference between China and others would it? Cos you grow, however slowly and painfully it may be, by granting people their freedom. You do not build worldclass infra but not let people use google. I hope I have made sense. There is no point in material wealth if you do not have this “most important thing”.

    Your own comment about Singapore = “Now that Singapore has developed, it can focus more on human rights, slowly & gradually.” can be instantly changed by replacing sing with China. Now aren’t you contradicting yourself? 🙂

    sorry for picking holes.. Seem to be in that kinda mood 🙂

    I soo wanna go back to Singapore 🙂

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    Great post and even greater comments. (isnt that what makes it a greater blog post).

    I remember watching a movie “Gumrah” where Sridevi will be arrested in Singapore for drug possession and the challenges she faces. I thought that is about Singapore.

    I wish India has leaders like Lee Kuan Yew. He must be a visionary. I am more agreeing for a compulsory draft program. Or at least NCC in all schools across the country until college – be it Govt, Public, CBSE, ICSI, Convent or Madarassa or even international school. It surely costs a lot. But in long term, India will be able to make all Indians think of their country first before anything. Just imagine all politicians also coming out from that pool. They will have some basic values. I am an optimist.

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    Nice Post Priya. Looks like Sukumar and you had a lot of fun. Will entice us also to spend some time in Singapore.

    I also like the follow-up discussion about human rights violation, inhuman punishments for minor infractions, beneath-the-surface racism etc.

    I am sync with Subba though. Who knows where India will be if we established such draconian laws. It is hard for me to believe that no other party has been able to establish any kind of credibility over this long a period of Singapore’s existence. As much as we can appreciate Singapore for what it has become and perhaps the vision of its leaders, I do not believe the end can justify the means.

    I greatly appreciate the fact that they have been able to make english the primary language for education and instituted compulsory national/military service etc. I think India should establish compulsory national/social service agenda for every able individual.


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    Sriram – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, we did go to the Night Safari. More on that in my next post, which will be published tomorrow. My stand on drugs is a separate issue, let me just say this. I won’t waste my time sympathizing with drug users or coke pushers though.Singapore has draconian laws. They clearly see drugs as a de-stabilizing factor.

    You are welcome to poke holes – most readers of this blog do that. I’ll certainly agree with my readers if their observations are valid. I politely disagree with your points though.

    You are taking an extreme stance in comparing China with Singapore. I don’t think that’s a correct reflection of human rights in Singapore. No one prevents you from using google in Singapore for e.g or from following a religion.

    Where is the contradiction in my statement? I fail to understand that. China hasn’t yet fully developed. Its a totalitarian state. Singapore has fully developed. Its a nanny state, sort of like a strict parent. Human Rights isn’t a 1 or a 0. Its always a fraction. China & Singapore are nowhere near in their human rights violations.

    Yes, rights are very important. Its a pity if people can’t have them. But, what about the duties of a citizen? Most people in developing nation don’t seem to know about that. I’m not justifying Lee’s stance, but I understand where he comes from.

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    Vamsi – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, I love the National Service idea. But my reasons for admiring it are different: It will teach people discipline. Perhaps that will make India less chaotic.

    Plus, I hope National Service will teach people the importance of duties & responsibilities. For there are no rights without keeping up our end of the bargain.

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    Ganesh – Thanks for your comment.

    India will be a better place if we had the will to impose the laws that we currently have – draconian or otherwise.

    You said – “The ends don’t justify the means”. I believe we should constantly recalibrate our notions of rights & wrongs. Let me give you an example. In the 1960s, Lee ruled categorically that any strike at the dock would be high treason. Just prior to that, the London dock workers had called a general strike, bringing their country’s economy to its knees. Lee called all the union leaders & explained that he would not tolerate something like that happening in Singapore. He negotiated an amicable settlement with them instead.

    Was he right in announcing a draconian punishment for a dock strike? Was he wrong in pre-empting the strike & negotiating with the parties concerned, to the betterment of the nation? Our trip to Singapore has given me a lot to think about. I’m still tinkering with some of my present beliefs.

    Human Rights is a very noble thing to emphasize on. And I can see how a decent person like you would be repulsed by suppression of any kind. But “Human Rights” is also a loaded phrase. We need it to break it down to its component parts & see what happened & when it happened. Having said that, there is no excuse for not improving human rights in Singapore now.

    Forget benevolent dictators, we don’t even have competent politicians in India. So yes, I agree with you that Lee’s plans won’t work in India – a corrupt country with self-centered politicians & lawless people.

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    Suuba – I think I’ve already agreed with your point that now – going forward – Singapore can focus on human rights.

    In India, the bigger problem is not imposing the laws that we already have. Its a dysfunctional anarchy. I’ll be very glad if punishments are meted out without undue delays in the creaking law & order machinery in our country.

    And I’m sorry – I didn’t strip you off your Indian citizenship 🙂 I thought you were either an American citizen or a resident. And as a person living in a developed nation, you focus more on human rights – a noble thing to do, but still a pipe dream in the developing world.

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    I think the sleep deprivation got to me. And I do agree about the drugs issue. I guess stern warnings in red do have a certain deterrent value.

    Granted, one cannot equate China and Singapore. However, I was intent on talking about HR and the balance with “progress”.

    As for realisation of ones duties, it is something that must come from within. In a scenario where people are free to do anything, unless each one does his/her duty, society will collapse into anarchy. It either rights itself or topples. The duty of the people who are willing to ensure that society builds on itself and doesn’t descend into chaos, is to ensure that the government does what is required. Goad, not coerce is the ideal motto but its upto the people to take it up and ensure that their way of life is continued. If they are not concerned about looking beyond their own noses, then not much can be done. You may argue that as someone who is a part of the whole thing, I do not wish it to end up that way, then its upto you to make others realise their fault. How you do that, be it by mass education or whatever other means.

    If you take a look at recent election results, it might have some co-relation. However, they are in general a result of multitudes of concurrent issues. As general literacy grows and exposure is gained by the people, they tend to demand more of their own representatives and start looking beyond their immediate needs and constraints such as caste/religion etc. Now as this grows, you’d have better representatives and hence better progress. This would come about when the people have no other distraction in their daily lives, be it interference by the govt or terrorism!

    Think i’ve gone off on a tangent here. Anyway, read it fwiw.

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    Sriram – No, you haven’t gone off tangent.

    What you say about people realizing their duties, thru goading (instead of coercion) from the govt, thru education, thru a better standard of living – this is what has happened in many of the developed nations. And it is totally understandable that all decent people want to pursue this course.

    I asked a friend of mine this question: In Western countries, the culture of people grew alongside their economy, slowly & steadily. In parallel, their political systems grew. Asian countries have been mired in the dark ages. So, naturally they are not mature enough to understand democracy or their rights & duties in the changed world. So, how long should we wait for the East to pick up steam?

    Now, should we wait for people to grow up slowly & steadily to understand that they can’t – to give a simple example – litter the streets or spit on them? Trickle down culture is as bad as trickle down economics. It works, but takes hell lot of time.

    What if we are in a hurry? I have no patience. Should I wait for 100 more years for Indians to slowly get it that they should be responsible? Or, tell them that I’ll fire them & throw them in jail if they take even a 10 Rupee bribe? That way, I may see a changed India in 10 years.

    Maybe I admire Lee Kuan Yew & Mustafa Kemal Ataturk because I’m iron-fisted myself. Granted, I’m nowhere near as capable or as brilliant as them. But I’m blunt, irreverent & mercilessly no-nonsense – so their fast-track plan truly appeals to me.

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    Loved the comment ” In fact, some of the Indians we met in the United States pretended to be so Americanized as to feign ignorance of their roots.” In fact this is one of the thins which drove me out of U.S.

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    Kumaran – Thanks for your comment.

    I can understand how someone born or raised in North America would be unaware of Indian culture & heritage. But when a Hindu who moved to the US as a 25 year old, pretends that they don’t know the name of the “elephant God” or says they’ve forgotten their mother tongue – after spending 10 years abroad, I feel like puking.

    Luckily, such people are not a majority.

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