The view from my room at the Village Sentosa Hotel. (Photos by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan)

By Day Three, I begin to embrace the rhythm: Rise as soon as sunlight streams in through the window I cannot open, await the 8 a.m. doorbell, pause for a moment to give the man on the other side time to move sufficiently far away, retrieve the box of food left outside, retreat, eat. Twice more in the day, we will repeat this dance. The rest of the time, I will be alone, confined to the 230-square-foot hotel room the Singapore government has ordered me not to leave for two weeks.

I do not have the coronavirus — not as far as I can tell.…  Seguir leyendo »

Checking the temperature of a passenger arriving at the international airport in Hong Kong. The city, like Singapore and Taiwan, has made headway in containing Covid-19.

While the spread of Covid-19 is picking up speed in Europe and the United States, among other regions, the outbreaks in some countries in Asia seem to be under control.

The epidemic in China appears to be slowing down after an explosion in cases followed by weeks of draconian control measures. And other locations have managed to avert any major outbreak by adopting far less drastic measures: for instance, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

All have made some degree of progress, and yet each has adopted different sets of measures. So what, precisely, works to contain the spread of this coronavirus, and can that be implemented elsewhere now?…  Seguir leyendo »

While President Trump liberally applies the label “fake news” to any reporting he wants to discredit, other authoritarian governments have weaponized the term as an opportunity to suppress civil society. Using “fake news,” they create narratives to justify creating more tools of control and oppression, at the expense of trust-building and openness, two crucial elements in fighting the spread of disinformation.

In Singapore, the government frames the issue as one of vulnerability and security. “Fake news” was included in a five-part television series on national-security threats, alongside lone-wolf attacks, cyberterrorism and chemical attacks.

“Disinformation can destroy lives, disrupt the economy and damage our collective identity as a nation,” warned the Ministry of Home Affairs in a post on its website to accompany an episode of the broadcast.…  Seguir leyendo »

La isla de los tigres

El viajero chino que por primera vez dejó un testimonio escrito sobre esta isla en el siglo XIV la llamó “La isla de los leones” (Singapura), pero se equivocó de animal, porque aquí nunca hubo leones, sólo tigres, y en gran cantidad, pues hasta muy avanzado el siglo XIX estas fieras se comían a los campesinos que se extraviaban en sus selvas.

Aquel primitivismo quedó ya muy atrás y ahora Singapur es uno de los países más prósperos, limpios, avanzados y seguros del mundo y el primero que, en un plazo relativamente corto, consiguió acabar con dos de los peores flagelos de la humanidad: la pobreza y el desempleo.…  Seguir leyendo »

The food courts in the basements of shopping malls and the ubiquitous “hawker centers,” covered markets where scores of stall-holders sell cooked food, are a mainstay of eating out in Singapore. At one of my regular lunch spots, I watch the cleaners diligently tidy away the trays. They scrape leftovers into bins and wipe the tables and floors with disinfectant.

They perform these unskilled, repetitive tasks with often surprising enthusiasm. What is striking is, first, that the workers are local Singaporeans, not the foreign-born recent immigrants one might otherwise expect to do such work in a wealthy country like Singapore. More important, they are frequently of, or even beyond, retirement age.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is the government’s war on Singlish finally over? Our wacky, singsong creole may seem like the poor cousin to the island’s four official languages, but years of state efforts to quash it have only made it flourish. Now even politicians and officials are using it.

Trending at the moment is “ownself check ownself,” which was popularized by Pritam Singh, a member of Parliament from the opposition Workers’ Party. He was mocking the ruling People’s Action Party (P.A.P.) for saying that the government was clean and honest enough to act as its own guardian.

Singlish is a patchwork patois of Singapore’s state languages — English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil — as well as Hokkien, Cantonese, Bengali and a few other tongues.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Singapore, a liberalizing middle-class society, the once-revered idea of “meritocracy” has recently acquired negative overtones due to its association with elitism. However, meritocracy can — and probably did — provide a successful way of combining rewards, incentives and competitiveness with equality of opportunity. The question for Singapore today is whether this meritocratic balance can be achieved again in a competitive global city obsessed with a war for talent.

Social mobility, where those who do well can rise and those who don’t will fall, is a key component of meritocracy. In theory, leading positions in society should be filled by the most talented and motivated individuals, all of whom have been given the opportunity to succeed and have done so.…  Seguir leyendo »

Wandering through the spectacular new National Gallery here, it’s easy to discern Singapore’s urge not just to showcase the best of its art, but to educate its visitors. Among the exhibitions are a solo show of works by Tang Da Wu and a lavish display of paintings by Chua Ek Kay, hugely important local artists who remain little known outside Southeast Asia. Then there is an entire floor dedicated to an exhibition titled “Siapa Nama Kamu?” (“What Is Your Name?”), which traces the history and identity of Singapore from its origins as a British colony to a modern cosmopolitan city-state.

Just as revealing, though, of the gallery’s educational mission — and of the tension between Singapore’s past and future — are the numerous warnings to visitors of “potentially sensitive content.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Singapore’s Path to Ending an Old Rivalry

Just after 6 o’clock on a Monday morning, and traffic on the Johor-Singapore Causeway is already busy. In less than an hour, still shrouded in semi-darkness, the Singapore-bound traffic leading to the 0.7-mile bridge will have slowed to a crawling pace; in bad weather or on the eve of public holidays, rush hour queues sometimes last up to two hours. A striking number of family sedans with Singaporean license plates stream steadily toward the expressway that leads to the heart of the island republic. Inside the cars, bleary-eyed schoolchildren contemplate the long day ahead.

As the population of Singapore increases and the cost of living, especially of housing, remains high, more Singaporeans are choosing to live across the narrow strait in Malaysia and commute in.…  Seguir leyendo »

La muerte de Lee Kuan Yew a los 91 años, en el Estado que fundó, invita a reflexionar sobre esta experiencia única. ¿Singapur es realmente un Estado o, como decía el economista Milton Friedman, un «asunto de familia»? Cuando se jubiló el fundador, puso al mando a su hijo, el actual primer ministro. Este me contestó que Singapur era realmente un Estado porque tenía un Ejército y una política exterior, pero la flota estadounidense es la que protege en realidad la Ciudad.

En cualquier caso, Singapur es un éxito económico desconcertante porque no encaja dentro de ninguna categoría clásica, ni socialista, ni liberal.…  Seguir leyendo »

Todos los líderes políticos se preocupan por su legado. Lee Kuan Yew, quien dirigió Singapur directa o indirectamente durante más de medio siglo – y seguía teniendo influencia hasta su muerte a los 91 años – pasó más tiempo en el poder que muchos otros, que le hace pensar en su legado. Varios volúmenes de memorias dan fe de la preocupación de Lee por su legado, aunque el extraordinario éxito de Singapur bajo su liderazgo habla por sí mismo. Él puede ser o no del agrado de las personas – y para muchas no lo era – pero no se puede negar la notable y duradera prosperidad y estabilidad de la ciudad-Estado.…  Seguir leyendo »

La muerte de Lee Kuan Yew, el padre fundador de Singapur, ofrece una oportunidad para reflexionar sobre su legado -y, quizá más importante, sobre si ese legado se ha entendido correctamente.

Durante sus 31 años como primer ministro, Lee diseñó un sistema único de gobierno, equilibrando intrincadamente autoritarismo con democracia y capitalismo estatal con libre mercado. Conocida como «el modelo Singapur», la marca de gobernancia de Lee suele caracterizarse erróneamente como una dictadura unipartidaria sobreimpuesta a una economía de libre mercado. Su éxito a la hora de transformar a Singapur en una ciudad-estado próspera suele ser invocado por los regímenes autoritarios como un justificativo para su control férreo de la sociedad -algo que en ningún lugar es más evidente que en China.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lee Kuan Yew was a great man. And he was a close personal friend, a fact that I consider one of the great blessings of my life. A world needing to distill order from incipient chaos will miss his leadership.

Lee emerged onto the international stage as the founding father of the state of Singapore, then a city of about 1 million. He developed into a world statesman who acted as a kind of conscience to leaders around the globe.

Fate initially seemed not to have provided him a canvas on which to achieve more than modest local success. In the first phase of decolonization, Singapore emerged as a part of Malaya.…  Seguir leyendo »

With China accelerating its military modernization, Russia continuing its slow-drip incursion into Ukraine, and an expanding section of the Middle East devolving into chaos, it has once again become fashionable to argue that the United States is in decline. Strangely, Americans are often far quicker to accept this diagnosis than their counterparts abroad.

One of the most vigorous dissenters from this pessimism was the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who died on Sunday at age 91.

Although Mr. Lee will be most remembered for his achievements at home — transforming a poor, corrupt, fledging city-state into a first-world commercial and diplomatic hub — he was also an astute observer of world order, widely regarded as the Henry A.…  Seguir leyendo »

Being Chinese in Singapore

Festooned with red lanterns and banners bearing auspicious messages, the ornate façade of the 19th-century Thian Hock Keng temple in downtown Singapore seems even more flamboyant than usual. The temple is readying itself for its busiest time of the year: Over the next few weeks thousands of worshipers will make offerings and pray for a favorable Chinese New Year. It’s a time when even the least conscientious of temple-goers, like me, make an effort to maintain the customs that link them to their heritage.

Such a classically Chinese setting may seem an unlikely place to start questioning one’s traditions, but to be in Singapore today means to challenge conventional ideas of Chineseness.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hong Kong’s democracy movement has raised issues such as income inequality and an increasing cheerless economic outlook, especially for the younger generation. Not coincidentally, these are the same issues that are causing Singaporeans to despair over their future.

Despite the fact that, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit, Singapore lays claim to the dubious honor of being the most expensive city in the world, there is no minimum wage in Singapore. Is it any wonder then, that amongst comparable economies, the island-state has one of the highest levels of income inequality? Singapore has the highest proportion of millionaires in the world but nearly 5% of the workforce have an annual income of less than U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Se analizan las oportunidades existentes para un incremento de la presencia empresarial española en Singapur, dedicando especial atención a las mejoras previstas en el acuerdo de libre comercio que la ciudad-estado ha concluido con la Unión Europea (UE).
La reciente conclusión del Acuerdo de Libre Comercio entre la UE y Singapur abre nuevas oportunidades de negocio para empresas españolas en la isla, que es ya nuestro primer socio comercial en el Sudeste Asiático. Cabe destacar la eliminación de restricciones sobre el porcentaje de inversión extranjera en servicios financieros y de sectores como telecomunicaciones, ingeniería o transporte marítimo. Asimismo, la posibilidad de participar en un mayor número de licitaciones públicas podrá beneficiar a empresas del sector medioambiental y de la construcción.…  Seguir leyendo »

Singaporeans are raring to do something extraordinary: protest.

That might not seem like a big deal with the Arab Spring uprisings; Chinese journalists taking to the streets; and thousands of typically docile Japanese rallying against government policies. But tropical Singapore is the land of quiet brooding, where mass street demonstrations are as common as snowstorms.

What has people so riled up? Well, people.

The impetus for the Feb. 16 march was a report that the tiny island’s population may rise by as much as 30 percent to 6.9 million by 2030. This seems to be the government’s answer to the question of how to sustain prosperity in one of the most crowded and expensive cities in the world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last week, when the high court of Singapore convicted the British author Alan Shadrake for contempt, he knew that he faced the possibility of imprisonment for the offence. Today that became a reality when the 75-year-old was sentenced to six weeks in jail and fined for «scandalising the judiciary» for remarks in his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock. The book includes an interview with Darshan Singh, the former chief executioner at Singapore’s Changi prison, who was said to have executed 1,000 prisoners over half a century.

However, the central theme of the book is Shadrake’s claim that Singapore’s legal system does not accord equal treatment to those suspected of capital offences.…  Seguir leyendo »

An apology by a Singaporean church for one of its preacher’s disdainful comments about Taoism is a sign that the nation’s interfaith relations are in danger of turning sour.

The New Creation church, which has a following of some 20,000 people in a nation of about five million, issued its conciliatory statement after a 2008 sermon by its pastor Mark Ng appeared on YouTube last week (it has since been removed), to public scorn from the nation’s Taoists as well as scrutiny from the internal security agency.

In the clip, Ng likened the ritual of praying to a Taoist deity to a criminal practice.…  Seguir leyendo »