Saturday, January 07, 2006

Brave New Singapore?

I'm blogging this as yet another example of how information is disseminated, and how discussions are generated in the Blogosphere. Disclaimer: I'm only a humble librarian who's travelled little, so don't take me too seriously:

Learnt from Loy's blog (From a Singapore Angle, 7 Jan 06) about a two-part series commenting on "the lack of liberty in Singapore" by a certain Dr. John Cobin (author, columnist, businessman and international lecturer; in Public Policy, M.A. degrees in Economics and in Business Economics).

Dr. Cobin and his wife was in Singapore for a two-day visit in December 2005, afterwhich the articles were published on 4 & 5 Jan 2006. Here's a quick summary:
In Part 1, Dr. Cobin suggests that "Singapore lurks an eerie fiend: slavish oppression". He "experienced favorable first impressions to say the least" but "upon closer scrutiny, one can see that Singapore more closely resembles Hitler’s Germany overflowing with its Brown Shirt regiment".

Further down, he cites that "
criminals like rapists and vandals are stripped naked and caned until their buttocks are hideously bruised and bloodied".

Then in Part 2, he posits that "
Singapore may enjoy a high degree of economic prosperity but its inhabitants are hardly free. If you want to have a rousing discussion about politics, economics, sociology or culture, you won’t find it in Singapore".

He adds that "
the fascist state in Singapore imposes happiness on its people" and that from his two days in Singapore (in December 2005), while he found the trip "intriguing", it left him "despairing for those people" (i.e. those people = Singaporeans) and he was "yearning to leave with little desire to return".

At first I decided what Dr. Cobin (author, columnist, businessman and international lecturer; in Public Policy, M.A. degrees in Economics and in Business Economics) wrote must be true.

Especially the part about the Brown Shirts.

But I looked out my HDB home to check for Brown Shirts (I've been taught never to assume, 'cos when you do, "you make an ASS out of U and ME") but hey, I couldn't find any. *Ivan slaps his forehead* Ah, Dr. Cobin was merely using it as an analogy! Silly librarian.

Much chagrined about my poor grasp of the subtleties of the written word, I relooked at Dr. Cobin's article. It left me even more disappointed with myself, especially when I couldn't understand how the act of caning was less brutal than the act of rape.

Now, I'm may not be smart but at least I'm persistent. I continued with part two of his article (finish what you start, that's another thing that I've been taught).

Dr. Cobin wrote that people living in Singapore are hardly free, and that one can't find any "rousing" discussion about politics, economics, sociology or culture, you won’t find it in Singapore. It was hard to think about that statement, 'cos I'm sitting at the neighbourhood coffee shop and I'm distracted by a group three tables away talking about the PAP.

So, I'm certain I've become a better man after reading Dr. Cobin's articles. I've always thought I was free to think, act and speak responsibly in Singapore (that only irresponsible comments that would get me in trouble). But thanks to Dr. Cobin (author, columnist, businessman and international lecturer; in Public Policy, M.A. degrees in Economics and in Business Economics), it's as if I've taken the Red Pill and seen the truth. I've torn off the blinkers and finally seeing life in Singapore for what it is... ...


Like I said, don't take me too seriously. I read the articles and was itching to comment. In truth, my first reaction was to ignore it but in the spirit of blogging, I decided to post my reactions.

In fact, before blogging this, I submitted a feedback in part 2 of the article (pending approval as of now). My feedback was simply this:
John Cobin wrote: "But my two days there, though intriguing, left me despairing for those people and yearning to leave with little desire to return." LOL:) It's ok, John. You don't have to feel sorry for us. I don't know about the rest of my fellow citizens (as well as my non-Singaporean friends who've chosen to become Permament Residents) but I'm perfectly happy where I am now. Maybe I've not travelled as widely as you have (I've been to 15 so far) but as much as I enjoy certain aspects of the host countries, I still prefer to call Singapore home. I'm sorry you don't have any desire to return to our country but should you change your mind, I can say confidently that you're more than welcome. Perhaps in speaking to more Singaporeans you might learn that we have more things in common than differences. Cheers.



  1. Hi Ivan,

    Wow, Dr. Corben's observations and conclusions that you quote (haven't read the original yet) totally amazed me. Either I am not a very good observer and politically quite naïve or Dr. Corben and I traveled to two different countries. (I visited for about 4 days Nov 05 to attend the NLB Conference.)

    Here's the harshest criticism I can give (from my blog):

    One Singapore fellow observed that Singapore is a country of NUTS - the No U-Turn Syndrome and the US is not. When nothing is posted, Singapore drivers will assume U-turns are illegal; US drivers assume they are. He thinks "rule-breakers" not "rule-followers" will be more successful in the global economy. I explained the common US belief that is it no harder to ask forgiveness than permission. Is thoughtful "rule-breaking" a knowledge-worker skill? >

    While I don't remember ever delving too deeply into politics with anyone while at the conference, I never sensed any oppression or discontent while talking to Singaporeans - at the conference, at the NL or at-large. I had a long lunch with my guide from the NLB at which we both spoke at length about our homes, families, and aspirations, and only felt that he was a happy man. Our standards of living seemed similar as did our concerns.

    I also walked extensively while in Singapore. The only oppression I felt was from the heat! Of course, I was tuned in by friends that one does not chew gum, jaywalk, spit, etc - none of which were restrictions I felt difficult to honor. (Well, maybe I jaywalked, but was not caught.)

    I'll go back and read the complete articles, but I found Singapore a lovely, vibrant country. It may not have the chaotic appeal of Thailand or Malaysia, but that isn't all bad either. If Singaporeans are under the heavy yoke of an authoritarian regime, I didn't find one that seemed to mind.

    All the best,


  2. I guess impressions from short visits depend on what the visitor saw, the company kept, and the visitor's attitude.

    Probably learn more about the writer than the country.

  3. Your should read what This guy's Philippino friends say about our county/govt.

    Personally, I think we are too quick to use the rottan. It should be only for violent crimes like rape or assault. If I am not mistaken, nowadays, even those who employ illegal immigrants can be caned.

  4. Have been living away from S'pore for 11 years now (France, USA, Spain, Germany...) and have visited many countries in different continents. I confirm that we DO NOT suffer from a lack of freedom and liberty as so many people from the OUTSIDE have been trying to brainwash us to believe. In France you'd better not be Arab or Black or you'll kena identity checked every 2 days, Germany is more ''police state'' than us, the USA, I shudder whenever I remember my few months there. I was queuing up to buy stamps in a Post Office and 2 women infront turned around to congratulate me on being lucky to have escaped dictatorship in China. I mean how stupid, naive and maladroit can these people be?


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