Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
I moved to Singapore (sivers.org)
238 points by sivers on June 5, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 230 comments

The whole stay-abroad until you see "their" point of view is admirable. The flip side is that after that, you can never really go home. I mean obviously you can physically, but you give up your ability to fit in with your own people. This may or may not be a downside for you, but something to be aware of.

Anyway, congratulations on your move.

[edit in response to questions below: there is a big difference between living abroad for a few months a year or a couple of years and doing what the OP is suggesting - living abroad for long enough that your adult life is permanently established abroad. There is a turning point (in my experience around 15 years) at which point you have lived away from your family and old friends (which is what I meant by own people) that your different experiences come to overshadow your old similarities, especially if there are significant cultural differences. For an academic example imagine a woman from Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed even to drive living and working in the US for 20 years integrated in normal US life. It is unlikely she can ever return home and slot back as if she has never left. Americans are not exempt from this phenomenon - as can be reported by expats living in Europe going home to visit their families and ending up in epic arguments over US foreign policy. I live surrounded by expats (not short term visitors) from many countries and they would all report various degrees of this. Basically, once you become a citizen of the world, any one country and culture can come to be seen as parochial).

The whole point I believe is to remove the notion of "your own people". Therefore, you "fit in" anywhere.

I would argue you thus fit in nowhere, and that that can be okay too.

Are you arguing that you can only fit in to one place in your life? Fitting in is only a feeling after all.

No. I think you can have several versions of your own people.

> you give up your ability to fit in with your own people

This is both true and not true. I have spent something like a quarter of my total life (in 2-3 month chunks mostly) living in Mexico, and while I don’t feel like the “average” American, exactly, I always feel like I can really relax once I’m back in the US. Even though I feel mostly at home in Mexico, I always need to keep a bit on guard, gestures and inflections (not to mention cultural references) pass over my head, I have to stop and think about what I’m doing. In the US (and especially in Southern CA), I am just fluent in day-to-day life.

Anyway, it sounds like you have some personal experience with feeling separated from your home country/culture. Care to share?

Yes I agree with this, based on my personal experiences. It's called "reverse culture shock". The degree to which you experience it is a lot to do with how integrated you become in the foreign society.

Why is it necessary to "give up your ability to fit in with your own people" to understand another culture? Why would understanding America and Singapore mutually exclusive?

I know people who have lived abroad for a few years and returned--they weren't fundamentally changed or different, same person new life experiences is all.

I'm surprised at his choice of location - Singapore is quite a nanny state, and the punishments are sometimes quite severe.

"Singapore society is highly regulated through the criminalization of many activities which are considered as fairly harmless in other countries. These include failing to flush toilets after use, littering, jaywalking, the possession of pornography, and the sale of chewing gum."

"Singapore has one of the highest execution rates in the world relative to its population, surpassing Saudi Arabia."





There are pros and cons of living anywhere. Visit Singapore and you'll encounter some of the cleanest streets on the planet.

I don't mind the "severe" punishments that come down on those that do things like litter, because I don't litter — all in all it doesn't change my behavior for the worse, and only improves the quality of life.

And jaywalking is illegal in the US too.

I'd love to answer any questions about Singapore, if you want to ask them privately (I lived there for several years): sahil@slavingia.com

>And jaywalking is illegal in the US too.

Depends on where you are. Most cities and college towns in the US don't care where you cross the road so long as you're not doing it recklessly, and places where laws are enforced generally have nothing more than extremely small fines.

I'd rather not live in a society that restricts human liberties to the point of making citizens robotic. Yeah, the US has its share of problems, but chewing gum and porn aren't among them.

My friends Dad, travelling in the US, had the police order him off the street at gun point because he was jaywalking.

I'm sure that is not the typical experience of most people, but I thought it an interesting anecdote after seeing the parents post...

>> had the police order him off the street at gun point because he was jaywalking.

I simply don't believe your friend's dad was telling the truth. There are plenty of bad cops in the US, but drawing a gun on someone because they were jaywalking? I call bullshit.

I was arrested, cuffed, and pinned down in Vancouver, Canada for jaywalking (in a small stretch of road in GasTown). And btw, you don't get arrested or fined in Singapore for jaywalking. Cuz there's tons of jaywalkers in Singapore. Many more than Vancouver and I have never seen anyone got arrested before or fined.

Yes, you can be fined, it usually happens at specific places.

People just have to be smart when jaywalking. Like everything else.

I see you've never been to Baltimore

Doesn't sound so outlandish to me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHjjF55M8JQ

FWIW, the motorcyclist in that video was never once "at gunpoint".

The officer drew his weapon because he did not know how dangerous a situation he would be in with the motorcyclist and he was in a tactically weak position by having to pivot around to face the person he was stopping. He never pointed the gun at the motorcyclist and quickly reholstered it after assessing the situation was non-threatening. And as you can see in the full video, the traffic stop was totally warranted, the idiot on the motorcycle was a danger to himself and everyone else on the road:


There are plenty of bad cops out there caught on video doing horrendous things, but I don't get why anyone would use this as an example of bad police behavior -- the cop in this video was totally reasonable and professional.

True he wasn't technically at gun point.

However, how was the rider a threat to anyone by that point? He couldn't run the officer down like you could with a car (he would just end up on the ground). He was boxed in.

I would also challenge the notion that the rider is an 'idiot' and a danger to himself or others. Of the 3m39s long video, there's only about 10 seconds (starting at about 0:35) where he accelerates significantly faster than the surrounding cars, and that was clearly to get around a group of cars/transport trucks. Otherwise, he was going just slightly faster than the general flow of traffic. Both of these tactics are basically inline with conventional motorcycle safety recommendations: http://www.sportrider.com/ride/146_9508_motorcycle_riding_ti...

Also, it appears that the officer is hiding his gun when the marked cop car pulls up behind them. I think it's worth pointing out that they charged the rider with wire tapping (which the judge ultimately threw out) and raided his house after discovering the video had been posted on YouTube. It's hard not to interpret these actions as embarrassment on the part of the police. Why would they object to the video being posted if he was completely justified?

The video wouldn't be approaching a million views on YouTube if most people agreed that his actions were as reasonable and mundane as you imply. He didn't show his badge or even identify himself as a police officer until after charging at the guy with gun in hand. That doesn't strike me as 'professional'.

I read the entire page you linked and I can't find the recommendation that states that after having just cut off a tractor trailer and wishing to pass a bus, you should pop a wheelie while accelerating at a very high rate of speed... but it must be in there somewhere, right?

If he dumps on that wheelie, you're looking at a multiple vehicle pileup involving a motorcycle, a tractor trailer, a bus, and other cars. It is virtually a given that people(including but not limited to the motorcyclist) will die.

The motorcyclist in this video is a total prick and if you don't see any of the many things he did wrong (both in the sense of being illegal and just plain dangerous/stupid) in that video you must not be paying attention.

I'm not sure how you're defining 'cut-off' but there's no way he forced the transport truck to brake. There was ample space between the vehicles by the time he changed lanes since the motorcycle was accelerating quickly at that point.

Granted it's not recommended, but the likelihood of an experienced rider going down from a short, low wheelie like that is quite low. Saying that it is likely to lead to a pile-up and multiple deaths is hyperbole hardly worth addressing. Pile-ups almost always involve inclement weather.

Anyway, it's no more dangerous than the countless drivers I see chatting on their cell phones, disciplining their children in the back, eating lunch, etc. -- activities that probably the majority of drivers engage in at some point.

Oh, come on. Jaywalking is nothing at all like doing a wheelie down the freeway at 90+ miles per hour and -- knowingly or unknowingly -- evading the police.

I know that this is a bit late to the discussion, but I'd like to add that the police officer pulled the gun after my friends Dad (who is Australian) had been told off by the cop for jaywalking, he immediately turned around and started to jaywalk again because he thought the cop was being an ass.

It depends where you are, I know I have jaywalked next to cops without so much as a word from them, but this was on the street next to a college campus.

I second that. It's a very safe city and I don't mind that minor crimes are taken seriously here [1].

[1] http://nope.se/temp/bike_theft_singapore.jpg

I love the icon at lower right in that sign. Is the cop joining hands with his fellow citizens, or dragging them away?

Red == bad thing == criminals?

Clean streets vs. freedom of speech. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

How is anyone's freedom of speech violated if they're not allowed to litter?

You can't possess or view pornography---that's a violation of free speech. There's more.

But the only positive that's trumpeted about singapore is that their streets are clean and their city beautiful. This is good for the tourist, but not necessarily a place you want to move to.

National Geographic ran a special on Singapore a year or so ago and one thing they described was a proliferation of thinly disguised "massage parlors" in malls. In a police state that Singapore is it basically means that these outlets are approved by the government, so the whole pornography issue is really quite multifaceted.

The same special described the general idea behind the chewing gum and jaywalking laws -- it is to whip citizens into the proper shape and to force them to behave decently. An extreme variation of the broken window theory if you will. And to top it off, there might be a government, but there is the father of the nation who, the man who developed the very idea of Singapore. He is in his 70s (?) and it is not clear how things will develop with his passing.

Any Singaporeans here care to comment on NG's take on Singapore? Curious to know how off it is.

Are you equating semi-legal prostitution with the possession of pornography?

I was just in Singapore for 2 weeks. The streets aren't all that clean. Cleaner than San Francisco or NYC yes... but there is litter in the mornings and evenings and this was even in the highly tourist areas downtown by the Marina Bay. (Awesome hotel pool at least, but that's not how I would pick a place to live)

"You can't possess or view pornography---that's a violation of free speech."

I'm not sure I can digest that outright. Can you elaborate?

The law is not just about porn, but also other "obscene material" like pro-LGBT material, material critical of the regime (Wired is banned because of this), illegal Bibles etc.

Wired is not banned you can get the UK & US editions in most bookshops. It's just expensive!

Various publications that have been critical of the political environment have been dragged into court to deal with Singapore's not-so-friendly libel laws.

The LGBT situation is culturally more acceptable than it was, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

NB: I am a liberal Brit who lives and works in Singapore (nearly 5 years now)

Ah, sorry. I misintrepreted the information on Wikipedia about the issue


How is pornography related to free speech?

It's an artistic medium. While not speech, it's a means of expression.

If a person wants to distribute recordings of consenting adults having sex to those that want to see it, I see no point in criminalizing them for doing so. It's infringing on a basic human right and I don't understand how anyone could possibly be in support of such a frivolous law.

> I don't understand how anyone could possibly be in support of such a frivolous law.

Because porn is Bad and the law exists to stop Bad things from happening.

"I don't mind if X is illegal because I don't X."

"I don't mind if the state thinks I did X because I don't X."

There is a crucial difference between these two things and it's why any sane nation avoids applying draconian punishments for mundane offenses. Basically, the state realizes it could be wrong and hedges its bets. The Singapore state doesn't consider that, and it should give anyone living there or planning to go pause. Even if you don't care for the guilty, remember that no judicial system will always convict only the guilty.

i live in both sf and singapore (50/50), and i am actually very much in support of these rules.

my only grouse is the suppressed political scene, and i am glad that even that is being lifted in a slow but steady manner. and trust me, 90% of my friends have criticized the government in a very public manner on facebook/twitter. last i checked, they are still running around town and still complaining.

do not believe 90% of what you hear about singapore - it is actually a very open and welcoming place, quirky punishments not withstanding.

I've never heard executing people referred to as "quirky".

Lots of countries execute people. The US, for example. So I think it's unfair to single out Singapore in that regard, even if you're against capital punishment.

Or beating people with canes until the meat is hanging off the butt and legs. Cruel, but not quirky.

A few years back I was at Singapore's airport and I saw, along many other signs forbidding most human activities one which still haunts me at night. There was this symbol of a person reading and the text was: no studying.

Then one day while I was walking down Orchard road I saw a long line of people quieing on the street to get in...Sweansens (a chain crappy ice-cream store). That's when I decided Singapore was lost.

What scares me the is most is that all the rest of South East Asia aspires to become a big Singapore. Human beings are not supposed to live like that.

I imagine that "no studying" should really be read as "no loitering." Or perhaps "this is not the place to come and read all day, please, there are other people who need to use this space." It was probably a problem.

I've seen such signs at cheap chain restaurants in Japan. (I'm not attempting to generalize here, just relating an experience) The clear message was that high schoolers would come and buy the $3 all-you-can-drink soda package and sit and study and chat all day. Hence, no studying. Seems reasonable enough. Many places don't have that rule though, and there you can see many people studying all day.

It is common for students who go to Changi Airport studying and gathering. It became problem for the business owners because they are holding on to seats for long hours. The sign you see are put up by the business owners. Similarly you can see such sign at downtown at Starbucks for example. As for the Swenson, the queue is there not because Singaporean are crazy about Swenson. It is just that it is the cheapest western food restaurant the young can afford in Orchard Rd. That was few years back and I think the place is no more btw.

Did you live in Singapore or just stopover?

ok, thanks for the explanation! Actually I imagined there was a good reason. Now it won't hunt me anymore :)

> It is just that it is the cheapest western food restaurant the young can afford in Orchard Rd Ok, I see. Anyway, it was a very long queue, at least 100 people. I know, I probably sound too judgemental, but it looked a bit too much to me.

I was there for a few days, I have lived in Asia a lot and in many places (Bangkok right now).

A week ago, I was at SFO and saw the TSA body-scanning children and elderly people.

Then one day I saw a long line of people on the street to get in... an Apple store.

That's when I decided San Francisco was lost.

Yes, America is going the way of Singapore. I advise people who ask to avoid both.

Sounds like the good thing about Singapore seems to be that is successfully drives out people who go to pieces over others queueing for ice-cream... they must be doing something right there B-)

yep, their filter works :) but my point was not "queueing for ice-cream" rather "queueing for shitty industrial ice-cream". I would queue hours for good ice cream. I mean, they were driven there by some sick marketing effort, brain washed into thinking that there was something there worth the wait.

Imagine people queuing to get in McDondalds in your city. Dou feel it now? That's what I felt. Scary....

There's always a line when I go to McDonald's, especially in the city. Usually not out to the street but at least 10-15 people long. Think about Best Buy or Walmart on Black Friday - people are on the streets camping for days. Same with an Apple product launch, people get there many hours ahead (even though they usually have enough for everyone).

There's sick marketing and commercial brain-washing, if you call it that, going on all over the world.

ok, my fault. I said "a line" and failed to mention "a line of at least 100 people". It's fine to queue for good deals, or products you are passionate about but these guys were going to wait at least one hour to get some low quality ice cream on the most exclusive road in Singapore. I thought (of course I may be wrong) that they were not there for the ice-cream, the price or the atmosphere, but because they wanted a piece Orchard road "experience". And they were ready to wait a long time for it. The thing is the Orchard road experience is not experience at all. It's just shopping malls. I don't know Singapore well (I do know Asia quite well) but the impression I get each time I go there is that life is only about working and shopping. It's a clean and fine city and it's a model for the rest of Asia, but each time I am happy to go back to the rest of Asia with its for sure dirty and messy but at least it has some depth.

That reminds me of the infamous Halal Guy's gyro cart located at 53rd and 6th in Manhattan. The food is sub-par at best but there is always a line of 30+ (I've seen nearly 100 before) people who, at least I think, are there for the experience more than anything.

There are literally dozens of other gyro carts scattered about the vicinity, some with much better food, yet that cart consistently has a huge line.

could have been a field trip. could have been free ice cream day. maybe there was a deal for students. and yeah, people everywhere like crap.

I used to manage a team in Singapore when with Lockheed and would go there regularly.

It is one of my favorite cities on the planet.

I took a sabbatical in 2000/2001 for six months and backpacked through asia - I spent 2 months in singapore then as well.

The laws and strictness of the place is greatly exaggerated from my perspective -- if your not doing crazy stuff, you have nothing to worry about.

The city is AMAZING -- and is the FUTURE of cities; they have taken massive infrastructure projects to prepare for more than doubling their population by 2020 - and they build massive underground connective malls and walking causeways.

The city has an incredibly high density of plant life (trees and greenery) and it makes an impact when you visit. Many of the buildings have a large setback from roads where they have trees and grass and planters between the buildings and roads. This is really a wonderful civil engineering trait of the place and makes the city much more beautiful than dense urban dirty environments we see in american cities.

In my opinion, if you ever watch much anime -- Singapore is the city that will most closely resemble that which you see in anime.

I love Singapore - the only thing I dont like is how freaking hot/humid it can get.... and the cost of living.

I've visited Singapore twice. I've settled in Australia, originally from Europe.

I was really worried when I visited Singapore and took their 'tourist' tour. They put you in a bus, drive you around all jetlagged and give you orange juice on the beach. Completely surreal.

What really put me off was their unconditional love for their government. The woman 'tour guide' in the bus just couldn't stop thanking the government for giving them so much. It was unhealthy. Yet they don't own anything and they live in towers. Sure it was really pretty but it freaked me out a little. I felt a deep communism in this pro-capitalist ex-colony.

I'm no die hard capitalist but I prefer the australian way of owning my own life and freely talking crap of the government.

Australians have no constitutional right to free speech, and some forms of speech are expressly criminalised via the sedition and various vilification acts.

The only form of speech that enjoys some protection is political speech. So whilst Australian's can freely talk crap about the government, Australia is far from a beacon of free speech.

Remember that in Australia, the constitution isn't as foundational as it is in the USA. Just because it's not in the constitution doesn't mean that it's not enshrined in the consciousness of the people.

I come from New Zealand, and although there's a lot of rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, I nevertheless consider Australia to be a second home -- even though I've only been there twice.

Consciousness or not, it's not enshrined in law.

What is enshrined in law, however, is that certain types of speech are a criminal offence. Further, there is no constitutional impediment to Parliament passing legislation which criminalises other forms of speech.

And the American Congress routinely ignores its constitution with the complicity of the Supreme Court. What's your point? Are you suggesting that a constitution is enough? It's matter of who gets elected too, you know.

The Australian constitution kind of claims New Zealand.

An Australian friend of mine mentioned that some time ago the British government dissolved the Australian government with a phone call. Can they still do that?

Are you referring to rights of anarchism?

I'm no trespasser and trouble maker, but I can tell you that anybody is free to do whatever they intend to in Australia, so as long as it doesn't impair other people doing so. In other words, you're as free as you can be without causing damage to others. I'm not sure what you're referring to though.

On my way home I saw dudes roller-blading half naked in the city. I call that freedom. Do you have examples?

No. I'm referring to the constitutional right to free speech.

The statement "anybody is free to do whatever they intend to in Australia, so as long as it doesn't impair other people doing so" is as absurd as it is false.

There are reams of legislation to prevent you from doing everything from arriving unlawfully by boat, to lying about your income, to using a wire carriage service to cause offence.

As to speech, here is a simplistic example: Let's say I walk into Federation Square and say to you "Go and burn down the Parliament, you useless white cunt!" Depending on who takes offence to my comments I can be:

a) Issued an on the spot fine for AUD$238.50 for using language likely to cause offence in a public place.

b) Prosecuted for racial vilification.

c) Prosecuted for sedition.

The fact that all but a) are highly unlikely does nothing to progress the case that "anybody is free to do whatever they intend to in Australia".

I live in a poor neighborhood in Indiana (USA) (ah, but the house was cheap) and I would really like point (a). Speaking personally.

I'm sorry, but I think you are confused regarding what constitutes free speech. Either that, or a very poor example you chose...

I assure you I am not confused as to what constitutes free speech.

In the comment to which you replied I'm merely countering the claim that "anybody is free to do whatever they intend to in Australia, so as long as it doesn't impair other people doing so", with respect to speech.

Mind you, I did admit the example was simplistic, but it captured the essence of the three most contentious classes of prohibited speech without verbosity.

The only claims I have made with respect to free speech are that:

a) Australians have no constitutional right to free speech.

b) There are laws that criminalise certain kinds of speech.

c) There is no constitutional impediment to the creation of new laws which criminalise other forms of speech.

d) Political speech enjoys some protection.

Free speech means being free to say things others might not like being said.

If free speech only covers things that others might find acceptable, then it is completely meaningless.

I call that limited. If he was naked then it would be truly freedom, freedom to be a human.

When you take a look around Singapore's neigbor countries and their living conditions, you must admit that the Sing' government did a pretty good job so far. And then there is the asian culture of not being to critical to the "superior". You even have that in democratic Japan and SKorea. Talking crap about the gov is more a Western life style (mine too, 'cause I m from Europe too, but have lived in Asia long enough to know that there are different ways of seing things).

And talking about free speech: Have a look at the Internet censorship laws in Australia!

I think we really need to watch out when we label certain sorts of thing Western. I know it usually comes from an attempt to be culturally sensitive, but it's just not true and potentially harmful.

Gender equality is not rooted in Western culture. It sucked being a woman equally in Glasgow, Shanghai & Algiers. Gender equality was spread with difficulty and imperfectly over a decade in throughout liberal democracies and communist countries. It skipped the third world, but gender equality is no more part of Spanish culture then it is Qatari.

Same for "western" democracy, western medicine and a big chuck of western values.

It wasn't cool to criticize kings or dictators anywhere at some point.

On gender equality, you speak in terms of black and white when in reality there are many shades of grey. For example, you say it "skipped the third world" but I think if you've ever been to the Philippines, which is usually classified as a third world country, you'd see that women have just as many rights and freedoms as in some Western countries. Filipino women can become doctors and engineers, and many have jobs in government.

That's true. I painted with a broad brush. There are even examples of gender equality in traditional cultures. Not all 1st or 2nd world countries as far along the way either. The 3rd world grouping here is pretty arbitrary to my point.

Western culture does include the changes since the enlightenment era and forward, you realize? Culture isn't static, and gender equality has become a part of western culture -- at least in principle. Similarly, freedom of speech has slowly become a part of western culture, although it has a way to go as well.

This wasn't always the case, but that doesn't disqualify the current situation.

Sure. Its not genetic or anything. Critical views towards authority have developed in the West in the past 500 years, with the rise of protestantism (as in "you talk to God yourself and not through some father figure mediator") and later through Enlightenment (as in "use your brain, goddamit!"). It took us quite a while and quite a bit of luck, too, to get where we are today.

Most of those things did not happen elsewhere. Hence my comment above.

I'm not sure that if you go back to post reformation or post enlightenment Europe you'd be doing any better than countries where those movements did not take place. Racial oppression the US between its founding (Jefferson & Paine or not) and relatively recently was awful. Women's suffrage and social equality spread over the 19th century, 200 years after Kant.

Check out indian politics - for a real taste of chaotic democracy in action. Here folks get to talk crap about a whole bunch of governments - from city, state and national - and there's a whole bunch of 'em to talk crap about - unlike the two-party plutocracy of the US, as one point of contrast.

At the moment, the only part of the internet in Australia that is censored by law are some usenet groups.

s/communism/totalitarianism/g and you'll make better sense.

Thank you, I hate it when the two are used interchangeably.

In practice they go hand-in-hand

Communist countries tend to be totalitarian, the reverse isn't true.

I know many totalitarian regimes that aren't communist.

That was the tour guide -- you get a completely different version of things in a candid discussion with friends who live there.

I am by no means an expert on the politics there at all, but if one thinks that the us political system is not more corrupt at the highest levels then is simply delusional -- yet life is good for most of us in the US.

I think that one can create a bit of there reality and are not 100% subjected to the douchebaggery of their government, same goes for singapore -- just dont make the cardinal mistake (which applies equally globally) of being poor.

Yes, but protesting isn't illegal in the us.

No, it's just restricted to "Free Speech Zones".

The cities in anime I suspect you are referring to are almost exclusively dystopias. The things that enthuse you about the city make me certain I would not like it, perhaps even less than I like American cities. I like my cities with history and layering, nooks and crannies as well as new growths.

Well, in principle I agree.

I've never even been to Singapore, but I know some people that used to work there. They loved it so much that they put lots of energy and time into getting back.

I don't know what Singapore do right, but I have never heard anyone be so enthusiastic by some place they didn't grow up(/study).

Westerners who've never lived there and wouldn't be in any danger of suffering any of this "harsh" treatment love to complain about Singapore.

Visit sometime with an open mind.

It's hard to visit with an open mind when you would risk several years in prison for doing what you would at home. Capital punishment is required for being in the company with someone possessing a small amount of weed. "Obscene material" gives you prison up to three months, 21 years if you make it avaliable to someone under 21. If you watch the movie Milk with someone under 21 years old, you risk 21 years in prison. All members of Jehovas Witnesses were imprisioned in 2004. Richard Dawkins would probably have been sentenced for long imprisonment without a trial.

>>Capital punishment is required for being in the company with someone possessing a small amount of weed.

Capital punishment is meted out to persons who possess or have reasonable knowledge of someone who possesses or deals in drugs. Do I agree with it? No. But it's very far from your claim. There is due process of law.

>>All members of Jehovas Witnesses were imprisioned in 2004.

The reason for this is because Singapore has a conscripted army. All male citizens are required to spend 2+ years of their lives in service of their country. They are liable to be called up for service any time up till they are 40, or 50 in the case of officers. Jehovah's Witnesses renounce bearing arms and thus their religion is in direct conflict with statute. They are not "imprisoned" in the sense of "rehabilitation" or "punishment". They are confined, so yes there are restrictions on their movement, and are given duties such as gardening, cooking etc. They are free men after they have performed the equivalent length of time as a regular citizen in the armed forces.

Edit: typos

It's the somewhat the same in Finland and many other countries. Here you can choose between 6 months of service in the military, 12 months of alternative service or go to prison for 6 months. While there are many up sides in conscription I still feel it's against human rights.

You are absolutely wrong, they are for a fact imprisoned. Read : http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2008/108423.htm Search for Jehovah witness. Also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Jehovahs_Witness... search for Singapore.

And I've personally observed these Jehovah's Witnesses in the grounds of detention barracks. Let me ask you then: what would you do to apply the conscription law equally? There is no "escape clause" even for sons of state officials. All males have to go through it and the citizenry have come to see it as a rite of passage.

If they're treated like other pacifists, then why are their bibles banned?

Richard Dawkins would probably have been sentenced for long imprisonment without a trial

Can you elaborate?

The two most relevant acts are The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and The Sedition Act. Both allow for prison sentences for saying things that could be percieved as offensive. In 2006 a young blogger were detained for posting cartoons of Jesus.

I worked for a startup for three years whose small sAPAC headquarters moved from Sydney to Singapore. I was young, enthusiastic and very well performing (I was measured in my job each week by customers).

I found most of the Singaporean staff I met

a) thought I was slightly crazy

b) either loved me, or hated me

for the same reason: I didn't slavishly adhere to rules, particularly when it came to giving customers what they wanted. If the entire (US founded) company had that idea the company wouldn't exist at all: particularly when you're a small company competing with giants, flexibility is required to win business. Singapore suffers from the India problem: they're technically talented, but the adherence to authority means they don't produce many innovative companies.

Here we come to the nub of the matter, at least for the average HN reader: a country which is characterised by slavish obedience to authority and a willingness to trade off autonomy and the right to do something that may offend others for "social order" is a country which is very unlikely to foster a robust start-up culture.

Start-ups rely on the willingness of founders and investors to be bold, break the rules, and act without concern for what others may think. This, in turn, requires a society which embraces disorder, spontaneity and a certain degree of rebelliousness.

It's not an accident that the two countries with the most robust start-up scenes are the US and Israel, both characterised by messy and sometimes annoying individualism, robust debate, and intellectual ferment.

It's hard to be believe that a nation like Singapore, whose citizens happily trade off freedom of speech for trivialities like clean streets and the "freedom" of people not to be offended will be capable of producing the kind of rough-and-tumble Darwinian business environment and culture in which start-ups flourish.

An aside: my read of the Indian national character is that is much closer to that of the Americans than that of the Singaporese: individualistic, pluralistic, and tolerant of disorder and creativity. These is, of course, much to still be achieved in India, but I think the vector is pointed in the right direction.

I grew up in .sg, and it really challenged my notion of democracy as a universal good. The benevolent dictatorship there seems to have things figured out pretty well, while most democracies in the region are flailing in comparison. (or should I say alleged democracies perhaps? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman, etc.)

Of course, "benevolent dictatorship" is not a form of government; it's just a dictatorship that happens to be benevolent right now, but I have a feeling the honor/shame-based values of a Confucian society may have an advantage as far as their ability to produce benevolent rulers.

Are you still here or travel back regularly? Would love to meet up.

I used to visit every so often, but my folks moved to Penang.

laws are only for the undesired.

here in california I'm a criminal for having a gps on my wind shield. but as long as I'm not a minority/pissing an officer/disturbing the status quo/etc, I'm fine.

"to my friends everything.to my enemies, the law."

It is legal to have a GPS on your windshield in California.

http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d12/vc26708.htm section 12

...on the most inconvinient spots.

also, what if it have back up camera or radar detection? both features pretty common but outlawed.

Wouldn't most people have a GPS on their dashboard?

The same with people with expensive cars not having front plates. When was the last time you saw a new Corvette with the front plates in california?

as I said, you only have to worry with petty laws if you are not rich.

I love Singapore, except for the climate, which is oppressive.

There is amazing hawker (street) food everywhere and, thanks for strict enforcement of health regulations, it's pretty cheap too. At least it was. It's been a few years since I was there.

I kinda view Singapore as the Zurich of Asia. Zurich (and Switzerland in general) is very regulated (although Singapore more than Zurich; there are no rules against chewing gum in Zurich). Both cities are clean, almost sterile, safe and they basically work (public transport and other infrastructure).

Some people chafe against what they feel is an intrusion. You see those same opinions about New York where I now live. Some feel that NYC has lost a lot of the "grit" or "character" that it once had (back when, you know, muggings were common). One wonders at the psychology of danger and character going hand in hand.

For those who think Singapore is overly-regulated, which it is, you have to remember that English-speaking countries are pretty much an outlier. In continental Europe there are rules about everything, from how to throw out the trash to have to register with the government every time you move and what kinds of window treatments you're allowed to use.

When I worked in Zurich a colleague once described it succinctly: in England (and, by extension, the US, Canada and Australia) you can do whatever you want except for those things that are banned. On the mainland (of Europe) you can't do anything unless it's specifically allowed.

While not true in the strictest sense, that delineation that is tantamount to blacklisting vs whitelisting does, at least in my experience, embody a lot of the cultural differences between English speaking and non English speaking developed nations.

That guy's wife is Finnish and she found it unnerving in England. She wanted that structure of essentially being told what to do and how to do it (within limits).

The only thing I don't really like about Singapore (apart from the weather)--and this is probably true of most Asian countries--is the importance of face time at work. You're expected to be at work a lot even if you're not doing anything. That whole "appearance of work" thing and regimented approach to work in general (ie being very much concerned with the process rather than the results) is something that I've always chafed against.

I live near Zurich but don't perceive the rules to be anywhere near as strict as you described, and would certainly not talk about "being told what to do" by the state. In Singapur, there are lots of laws unimaginable in Switzerland (for example, it's forbidden to smoke in public, you go to jail for speeding/driving while drunk, spitting or chewing gum, you'll t get killed for possessing drugs...). In Switzerland, what I believe causes the low criminality rate is the even lower poverty rate because of the strong social system. What would be called socialist in the States is completely normal here in Europe, and often results in a much better quality of life for everyone living here.

Well, in all fairness, Switzerland is much like Monaco, Beverly Hills and certain Carribean islands in that its poverty is essentially exported.

Switzerland makes it very difficult to become a citizen unless you're born to at least one Swiss parent or you marry a Swiss citizen (there are people whose families have been living in Switzerland since the 20s who can't become citizens).

There are a large contingent of workers who work in Switzerland every day but don't live there (and, in fact, aren't allowed to even if they wanted to and could afford it), particular in Geneva.

It's also one of the most expensive countries on Earth.

So, I wouldn't say the low crime rates are so much a question of effective social policy but rather of being both wealthy and exclusionary.

Yes, laws are different between the two and certainly there are cultural differences too. Zurich is very definitely (mainland) European. Singapore is quite definitely Asian.

There are severe penalties on drug trafficking because it's a big problem, with proximity to the Golden Triangle and so on. Singapore is also surrounded by Indonesia and Malaysia, places where the illicit trades have far more freedom of movement. Singapore, with some justification, seeks to avoid being a conduit or waypoint or (even worse) a destination for the drug trade.

The no smoking in public thing I consider a huge plus. The chewing gum thing is a bit weird. I think it has something to do with vandalism.

As for Zurich being strict, I imagine you don't view them that way because you're accustomed to them. Throwing out trash is a classic example. First you have to buy Zurisache (sp?) for like 2 CHF each. Throwing them out in anything else can get you fined.

Then you have to separate your trash into three different types of glass (white, brown, green), other recyclables and non-recyclables. Where you see trash cans in public there are like 6-7 different cans for the different categories of trash.

Newspapers and possibly other forms of paper (I forget) had to be thrown out on different days to regular trash. Those had to be tied with string in a neat bundle.

All of the above is enforced by the Mutzpolizei (literally "trash police").

The anmelden/abmelden (registration) system, which is the norm on mainland Europe, is extremely weird--even invasive--to most people from English speaking countries.

In Switzerland, depending on what Canton you live in, you can't make excessive noise after 10pm or before 7am (which I actually appreciate). In Zurich in some buildings this extended to regulations in certain apartments prohibiting men from urinating while standing up at those times (due to thin walls; this was deemed "excessive noise").

Some cantons also prohibited "excessive noise" or work on Sundays (for the entire day).

IIRC there were given days where you were and weren't allowed to move house.

Switzerland has its fair share of regulation is all I'm saying.

>First you have to buy Zurisache (sp?) for like 2 CHF each. Throwing them out in anything else can get you fined.

Depends on the Kanton.

>Then you have to separate your trash into three different types of glass (white, brown, green), other recyclables and non-recyclables.

Depends on the Kanton and possibly even the city. When I first came here we just had one sack for everything and didn't have to buy the bags.

It has changed now, but we have this in the US too. Sure, if you live out in the sticks you can pile your trash as high as the trees or even burn if it you like. There are a lot of places where you have to buy trash bags, etc. and how tidy you have to keep your property depends on zoning. I knew a guy who got fined because he didn't mow his lawn enough.

>The anmelden/abmelden (registration) system, which is the norm on mainland Europe, is extremely weird

It's not weird. It's an upfront and efficient version of what we have in the US. In the US most people don't know their location is tracked when the file returns. Most people probably don't know that the government can look in their bank account either.

>Some cantons also prohibited "excessive noise" or work on Sundays (for the entire day).

The interesting thing about Switzerland is that much of the law is actually voted on by the people. These noise laws are there because the people wished it so. We have noise laws in the US as well in certain places but not because a majority of the people effected voted for them.

The chewing gum thing is a bit weird.

There was one incident when the entire MRT (subway) was delayed for a few hours because the doors jammed and wouldn't shut. Turned out to be a piece of gum stuck on the door.

Interesting. Sounds like when gum is outlawed, engineers build non-gum-resilient systems.

Singapore actually has one of the freest economies in the world, with an extremely friendly business environment that is free of trade barriers and free of strict regulations. Yup, it's ranked #1 on the Ease of Doing Business Index: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ease_of_Doing_Business_Index

>to have to register with the government every time you move

Well, the US keeps track of where you are based on tax returns. The difference is that in Switzerland I'm somewhere on a map and if I move I show up in a new place on the map the day I move there. In the US I'll still be where I was until tax returns come in, at which point everyone's location is updated. It's like a population status screen where Switzerland has a real-time refresh rate and the US has up to 1 year lag time.

>and, by extension, the US

No, not by extension the US. He probably mentioned this specifically because he saw you were American. Brits take particular delight in telling us yanks about how they don't have any constitution that outlines what their rights are.

>differences between English speaking and non English speaking developed nations.

Again, these are some pretty broad strokes. A Swiss friend of mine pointed out the difference between Germany and Switzerland is that for Germany the people are there to serve the government, while in Switzerland it is the other way around (and that's a broad statement of itself, but there are fundamental difference between the two. See tax rates). So the demarcation is not English/non-English.

>is the importance of face time at work.

I have yet to find a place where this wasn't the case. Perhaps it's more extreme in Asia but every place I've ever been has it. Personally I think "face time" is more about tradition than culture. The internet has created new ways of providing value and not everyone has caught up yet.

It sound like your describing Positive liberty vs. Negative liberty, and yes coming from the UK I do find the rules in mainland Europe at time strange.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_liberty http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_liberty

Thanks for the links. This actually relates to a paper that I've been collaborating on.

BTW, Isaiah Berlin's concepts of liberty featured quite strongly in the Adam Curtis documentary series The Trap:


I do like Adam Curtis' work, caught up on the first two episodes of All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace this weekend, lots to think about, which is a good thing


I think Berlin has managed to strike an excellent balance. It's quite safe, but has a uniquely vibrant artistic community and has as much "grit" or cleanliness as you like.

I like Vietnam for similar reasons. It can be edgy but not really dangerous.

Gentrification's Victims: Berlin Fears Rise of New Slums


It's not the rules that keep me out of Singapore it's the disproportionate response for breaking them. I don't mind if a place I'm visiting doesn't want me to chew gum or has a law about flushing the toilet, and I think for both of these the punishment is (high) fines so it's only money. But death penalty for drug possession? Count me out. Not that I would bring drugs there, but in any civilized nation the worst thing that could happen if I were falsely accused and could not prove my innocence is a variable amount of jail time. In Singapore, I would die. You might argue that this could be said of any country with capital punishment and you'd be correct, however for Singapore it applies to more crimes and is administered more freely.

Singapore is a dangerous country.

I'm not a fan of the death penalty. But to be afraid of dying in Singapore is silly. Singapore is probably the safest country on the planet. There is no crime. No natural disasters. A good, cheap medical system. A great transportation system. A booming economy. All things that make you safer and live longer.

I just moved to London from Singapore and I don't understand why westerners put up with such high levels of crime. Its awesome to be able to ride the train at night and walk through any park or dark street anywhere in a major city at 1am and feel completely 100% safe.

Westerners distrust government because government sucks in the West. They tax you at high rates and give you long lines and crappy service. In Singapore government works. It produces jobs, every government form is online and the rules are ALL practical and actually make sense (unlike the west). Policemen are polite and courteous. My Singaporian wife paid 5% in taxes last year btw.

And above all its safe to go for a run at night!

And above all its safe to go for a run at night!

...unless it turns out to be illegal to go for a run at night, in which case it's terribly unsafe, and there's no way for a person from a "legal to run at night" country to know without checking.

Now, you might say, "Well, that's ridiculous; there's no reason why it would be illegal to run at night," but I think I can come up with at least as good reasons for making that illegal as for banning chewing gum. Making things illegal when there is no obvious reason for them to be illegal creates uncertainty and doubt; mixing in life-altering punishments provides fear, as well.

Chewing gum is really expensive to clean up from streets, and they have invested a lot in having nice streets. It's just a cost/benefit thing.

It's cheaper to fine the blood out of people for not flushing public toilets than to pay staff to check in every thirty minutes, and the reduction in costs (and maybe other things) means that Singapore has awesome public toilets.

The stated reason for the ban was to reduce vandalism of the MRT. That doesn't make it obvious.

Fair enough.

no gum on the train is a good thing. seems obvious to me?

I get all that in Japan without the jackboots. Japan has its own set of problems with regard to justice but nothing like Singapore. I do agree with you about London though. I was asked if I wanted to relocate there for work and gave an immediate 'no'. (I might have taken longer but I had just seen Harry Browne a few days before.)

Point being, what you say about safety is true, but I don't think much of the credit belongs to Singapore's government and legal system. Perhaps rather to a culture with a stronger sense of civic responsibility. I don't agree that you can't have both security and freedom and think any proposal to trade one for the other is foolish.

My anecdotal 2 cents. Singapore is full of Chinese people. More than one Chinese person has expressed to me that they are okay with a little loss of freedom to reduce the alternative of chaos.

This is the opposite of a sense of civic responsibility, and roughly translates as Chinese people don't trust each other to behave without strict police.

(I wish we could accept the same about my own country)

I'm surprised how misinformed you are. There's no law about flushing the toilet and even if there is, it's not easily enforceable. But then again there's fine for littering, but then again it's hardly enforceable. No one is watching your back to make sure you throw your trash in the right place. You are just expected to be civil enough to do it. And btw, possessing drugs does not give you the death penalty. Smuggling does. Possessing drugs give you a relatively minor sentence like a few months to a few years in jail.

Ok if you want to go into such legal details I will try to accomodate. When I talked about possession of drugs, I am referring to possession of drugs for your own consumption and not for sale (or caught during drug trafficking). Check this out: http://www.mha.gov.sg/basic_content.aspx?pageid=74 (Search for "possesion") One of my recruit was caught with possession of drugs and I was ordered to escort him to court and to witness his sentence so that I could report back to my commanding officer. Then I learned that possession of drugs only constitute a minor offence and he only got 6 months of sentence.

Turn out I was wrong about flushing the toilet! Good gracious...anyway I have never seen people get caught in Singapore for that neither seen signs saying it's against the law to do that. I have lived in Singapore for more than 30 years and have seen countless of unflushed toilets in "coffeeshops". As I have stated earlier, even if it's against the law it's not easily enforceable. Anyway if you want to go down to nitty gritty legal details, I have to nothing to say. Go to Singapore yourself and see it for yourself.

It's not "legal details." It's mandatory death sentence for possession. And possession, regardless of the amount involved, is not proof of intent to sell. (And proof of intent to sell is not equivalent to actual sale, either, not to mention that such extreme separation of sale and possession is ridiculous.)

In Singapore, you can die for possessing a key to a residence with drugs inside. In fact, if convicted, the law is that you must die. So I will not go see for myself, thanks.

To ease your fear further, this is quoted from the Ministry of Home Affairs website I showed earlier: "Furthermore, if the accused can prove to the court that he is a chronic abuser and would therefore need to be in possession of a greater amount of drugs for his own consumption, the trafficking charge may be reduced to one of possession of a controlled drug, which does not attract the death penalty."

But then I do agree with the possibilities of a wrongful conviction. I am not a proponent of the death penalty myself but neither do I disagree with it at the same time. What I hope to do is to clear the exaggerated misinformation people have about Singapore.

Oh and when I queried for "flush toilet crime" in Google, this came out as the first result: http://www.fongnet.net/stories/singmyths.htm

"we took one carry-on bag each, and went around the world"

Reading that just makes me smile. Well done.

So many people say they want to do exactly that. So few do it.

Of the people who don't do it, so many regret not having done it. Of the people who have, I've never met a single one who regretted it.

I hope your story serves as inspiration for somebody here to pack that little carry-on and book himself a one-way flight.

Singapore isn't perfect, but no place is.

These are some issues that Singaporeans face:

1) Rising cost of living through inflation. 2) Expensive housing. 3) Lack of financial liquidity. Singaporeans are asset-rich but cash-poor. 4) Apathy amongst the populace about social issues, legal and political process although this is changing, albeit slowly. 5) An extremely ingrained and fearful sense of failure. If it's not been done before, the default answer is "No".

Some good things going for it:

1) Public infrastructure is generally good but facing challenges from an increasing migrant population. 2) Personal safety. Women can walk home alone at night and not be assaulted. 3) Racial harmony. You don't read about hate crimes, skinheads etc. Some forms of implicit racial profiling and discrimination exists, but they are not widespread. i.e. there are always assholes of any color. 4) Low personal income tax.

First post here - long time lurker. I was transferred to Singapore for work from Tokyo. Here are my impressions. -housing is extremely expensive, food is generally cheap, air quality is nice

-streets are not as clean as expected, especially compared to Tokyo, which is a much larger city. I lived in Chinatown in the People's Park Complex with 6 mainland Chinese (I'm American), which was an interesting experience.

-the expat community is dominated by the finance community, which can tend to limit the crowds you will run with if you're not in with the locals. I tried to befriend the locals, with limited success.

-it doesn't feel like the police state it's made out to be, don't worry about being arrested for chewing gum (I saw some T-shirts with a "Legalize It" theme referring to gum).

Overall, Singapore seemed sterile to me. That was part my reason for quitting my job and moving back to Tokyo in April. I like Singapore, but not my cup of tea. Maybe that's just because I'm a huge fan of Japan.

Congratulations on the move! Asia is a great place to be. And a great environment for doing business. I'm in Hong Kong --- in several cities around the region including here, SG, KL, and Jakarta I see lots of latent entrepreneurial energy starting to manifest itself.

One warning: since it seems you plan to majority-own some local startups I hope you have an excellent accountant to help you with Uncle Sam. (yep, Americans living overseas still have to file with the IRS. whole mess of complicated forms. can even end up having to pay tax on undistributed corporate profits if you're not careful ...)

Whenever I go to a new place, it takes about a year to really understand the true "costs" of living there. (The benefits are usually obvious on the first day or two.)

I have a friend who lived in Singapore for many years. The biggest "cost" for her in living there was that it is not fully subscribed to the principals of the Enlightenment.

I know this is like saying, "Yes your new girlfriend is cute and smart, but you should know she's also occasionally batshit crazy." You won't believe me and you'll be more inclined to shoot the messenger, but I thought you should know.

No place on earth is "fully subscribed to the principals (principles acshully) of the Enlightenment" -- once you fully grok that, every place is perfectly fine for tourism and every place kinda sucks for citizenship. Of course, degrees vary. But... in principle!

may you please elaborate? to what ideas of the enlightenment you think they aren't subscribed?

I would recommend against putting a scan of an identity card online.

Yeah, I was wondering about that too. But is that number publicly available? If so (or if nothing bad happens if people do know it), is there an issue?

Edit: Hmm ... "This has led to complaints of the possibility of fraud and identity theft. Therefore, now when NRIC numbers are publicly displayed, only the last three digits and the letters are displayed." -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Registration_Identity_...

This is one way to find out. You've also got my home address and mobile phone# in the public corporate records (see bottom of http://50pop.com/ ) - so I'm not relying on security through obscurity.

After proudly getting my driver's license I put an image of it online. Someone printed it out while replacing the picture with their own face. Police saw this fake ID. Even though the quality was laughable, I was called in for questioning because they thought I might have cooperated in the fraud.

But yeah, probably an unlikely enough event to not worry about it.

A lot of banks and telcos in SG will use your DOB, mailing address, and NRIC number as security questions when you call them. Posting your info here is not wise IMHO.

I've played footsie with moving to Singapore if I get a startup bubbling. Here's why:

* Low regulation

* Low company tax

* No income tax paid on dividends

* No capital gains

It's also a market capital for Asia. Singapore and Hong Kong are the New York and London of the Asia-Pacific region. Very deep pools of capital.

Plus it's 3.5 hours from my home town and about 5 hours from where my parents live.

Congrats Derek.

This favors a trend I've noticed. White men moving to Asia or marrying/dating Asian women. It seems like half or more of the engineers I work with are married to Asian women, which is how I noticed this (I am also). It's an interesting trend. It's increasingly harder to find a white woman who will marry and have kids, let alone even talk to a man with geeky characteristics. Combine that with the lack of white women in science and engineering degrees...

This is a tough subject. You're right that if you walk around a city in SE Asia, you'll inevitably see lots of old, fat, bald men walking around with young pretty local girls, and there's no mistaking what's going on. Lots of these guys marry their bar girls and bring them home, so it's not uncommon to see a surly, tattoo'd guy walking around in Manchester with a Thai girl who's clearly way out of his league.

But what happens if you're a young traveler living in Chiang Mai, teaching English, and you meet a local girl who works as a bank teller. You fall in love, meet her parents, marry and eventually move back to your country with her. How do you signal to the world that yours is in fact a legitimate relationship?

The short answer is: you can't. There's a stigma, deserved or undeserved. It's something you learn to live with, because you know that nomatter how clearly you explain your position, you'll still end up fielding uncomfortable questions like the one asked by the parent.

As far as love, and other personal matters are concerned, why do you care what other people think? ( with apologies to Feynman )

If you were to judge Asian women purely on looks, they might feel like they belong to a different class, but more often than not, they are using the 'white' guy to escape the grinding nature of their poverty and a pretty cruel life back in their hometown.

For folks with a western upbrinding, they also seem to like the calm, obedient, slightly docile nature of asian women - though i believe education and other opportunities are making them more outspoken and discerning than before.

If you find yourself dating someone - and sense stigma from friends, relatives etc ignore them initially till they get used to your partner/gf/bf etc. As time goes by, folks come around. It's really difficult to hold a grudge or stigma for a long period of time.

calm, obedient, slightly docile nature of asian women

I don't think you know enough Asian women.

I grew up and lived in Singapore all my life, and am glad to hear you moved over!

One thing to note though, you should remove your Identity Card No. from your blog post. They can be used illegally and is best kept private.

Have dropped you a mail, let's meet up sometime!

    Race: Caucasian
Maybe it's cultural bias, but I was really surprised they'd list something like that on an ID card!

Singapore's position on race is difficult to characterize. This is what I've heard:

Most Singaporeans live in government-owned housing blocks. The distribution of the races within each housing block is roughly the same as in Singapore as a whole. Within these blocks, you are only allowed to sell your apartment to another person of the same race as yourself.

Officially this is to promote "racial harmony." That's probably true. Unofficially, it seems clear that it's also a form of gerrymandering: the government assumes that the Chinese majority will always support the ruling party, and this system stops any district from gaining a Malay majority.

I've also been told that your second language in school (which is taught in English, a neutral language) is determined by your race: Mandarin for Chinese, Malay for Malaysians, and Tamil (!) for Indians.

I really love Singapore -- been there several times as a visitor, studied its governance, society (and its food stalls...) but I would be seriously pissed off if I were told that I had to do certain things because of my race.

"I've also been told that your second language in school (which is taught in English, a neutral language) is determined by your race: Mandarin for Chinese, Malay for Malaysians, and Tamil (!) for Indians."

Remember though that Singapore is bilingual, so the "second language" will be the primary language spoken at home (although some Chinese may speak Hokkien or another dialect instead, and many families speak mainly English).

Roughly around 60% of Indians in Singapore are Tamil (mostly from Tamil Nadu, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka), so that could be one reason the government chose Tamil as the "second language" of Singaporean Indians.

Fair enough, it is a very different situation from the US where most students are taught in the language they speak at home (English).

I know nothing about Singapore or their motivations for the racial integration, but the official response is at least plausible; see e.g. Schelling's segregation model: http://www.google.com/search?q=schelling+segregation+model

There are several Java applets around that demonstrate the model.

Having observed "white flight" in the US, I agree; it's just that there's other side effects that are desirable for the ruling party.

It's pretty useful when trying to describe someone, or prevent a photo from being swapped out. Gender, hair color, skin color, etc. are all obvious physical traits.

"Race" is a useless descriptor for all four of my children. I've heard a lot of wild-ass guesses of their "race" over the years in public places. More detailed descriptive terms with less ambiguity would serve a lot better for matching photographs to identity cards, if that is the concern. (The internal political history Singapore might might refer to for identifying "race" on identity cards



probably makes for different categories, with different definitions, from the definitions used in the United States, which fortunately does NOT put "race" on national identity cards.) Categorization by race on national identity cards is a matter of considerable concern to human rights scholars who have looked at real-world examples of that practice.


The long answer about how ridiculous "race" is as a descriptive category can be found here:


One od the reasons is that Singapore is pro-racial integration, so they put it on virtually every official form... for example there are rules to prevent segregation by 'race' within the public housing system.

But even after living here 4 years it still strikes me as strange.

Do you learn the local language every place you live?

I would suppose that's a pretty herculean task unless you already know several fluently and spend a considerable amount of time daily studying and practicing.

English is an official language of Singapore.


That's true in theory. The Singaporeans I've known and worked with have pretty much all been bilingual in Mandarin and English, often speaking Taiwanese or Cantonese as well. On the down side, their Mandarin, English and probably other languages are each strange.

Despite having grown up in an English environment and having spent most my adult life in Taiwan, communication isn't necessarily that smooth. It's like they just grab words, grammatical particles, and sentence structures willy-nilly from whatever language they feel like, including Malay. It's not just an issue of "Singlish". Even adjusting to standard Mandarin in China is a bit of work for the Singaporean interns I've met in Beijing. As a casual learner of Cantonese and Taiwanese, it's fun crowd to hang out with, though!

What's the cost of living for a foreigner in Singapore like? Obviously there can be a big range, but I'm curious what your experiences are?

More generally, is there some resource for comparing costs of living of various places?

Very very expensive. About the same as central London. I wouldn't recommend it at all if you're concerned about that.

While Sivers is obviously an awesome guy, why is this post about him moving to Singapore hitting the frontpage?

Just curious.

(Congrats on becoming a Singapore citizen btw!)

He's a community member telling us not just about a big change in his life, but about two new projects he's starting. As a weekend post, it's pretty good. At least much better than the current top item (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2621132), which screams "video of pratfall!"

Too bad the main discussion here has turned out to be a low-quality back-and-forth about the political system and macroeconomic factors, just like the Indian reverse braindrain thread last week (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2601240)

Because all of the other white geeks on this site want to abandon their culture and move to Asia, so it appeals to them. They've been rejected by white women all their lives but have no problem with asian women. In addition, the civilized and high-tech society attracts them.

"She can do this from anywhere"... that's often the problem.

I can work from anywhere and I'm currently single, so I'm traveling the world and living in different places (currently Buenos Aires), but a partner would make this much harder as they are usually not as flexible.

Startup idea: Have a dating site for location-independent individuals, I'll be your first customer :).

Singapore reminds me of Apple.

A very focus country on being the most successful country in SEA and it's built on the vision of one man, LKY. However I do fear the day LKY pass and the government is lost.

Singapore seemed a little to squeaky-clean and expensive, so I did the same thing, but in Vietnam instead. Internet infrastructure here isn't great but other than that I haven't regretted it for a second. The U.S. and Europe just seem so boring now when I go back.

> Internet infrastructure here isn't great

I was in Vietnam last year for a longer trip (worked remotely for a client in Germany). I found the internet to be working extremely well in Saigon, so it might just be your region. For two weeks I worked off Phu Quoc Island. A few times, we had power outage on the island, yet I was able to go online through my 3g connection. Pretty amazing change compared to the last time I visited he country four years back to visit my grand family.

I haven't tried 3G here yet. WIFI in hotels is generally very slow and unreliable here. Now that I have my own DSL line things are better. It's not always fast enough for video chat but for routine use it's fine.

I'm Vietnamese, so I get a little curious here. Would you mind sharing what you particuarly like about Vietnam? And which city are you living in?

I'm in Nha Trang. I love the food, the friendly people, the beautiful beaches and the countryside. It's also very cheap to live here so I have a lot of personal runway to work on my own projects before I have to consider getting a real job again or consulting for somebody else. It's a perfect place for a little hacker sabbatical.

Anthony Bourdain has done a few episodes on Vietnam, it's his favorite place on Earth.


Did you ever consider Hong Kong as one of your possible locations to migrate to? And what made you decide against it?

It was near the top of the list, but failed on two big counts:

(1) - the air

(2) - Cantonese

I've already been studying Mandarin slowly for a couple years, and though I've heard I could have "gotten by" with English and Mandarin, I really wanted to just focus on Mandarin + simplified Chinese.

But mostly it was the air. :-)

I've been in HK for the past 2.5 years. The air isn't too bad. For example today, sunny and clear skies. I think it would only have a measurable effect on health if you were to live here 30+ years. I would say in any given week, maybe 1-2 days it's slightly smoggy here.

Singapore is a good choice though. I've also considered it. Some may complain about the hot/humid tropical climate all year round but I like that. It's also the most racially diverse country I've visited. Given your wife is Indian she will have an easier time settling in there than in HK where it's predominantly Chinese but with a huge expat crowd on the island side. Cantonese is not necessary here, you could get by without a single word really as most people speak English and Mandarin here. There is probably more chance of getting some Mandarin practice in too than in SG where they speak a variety of Chinese dialects.

It's far easier to migrate to Singapore than Hong Kong. At best you'll be able to get residency after 7 years, but that's only if you can manage to get a work visa, which is not easy unless you work for a big company.

I lived in HK for 10 years and will go there every other month. I love HK. But it's not for everyone. People there say you work in HK you don't live there. And that's all you do, work, work, work and then take a break to do some other work.

After 10 years of 18 hour days 7 days a week, I moved to Thailand and for the last 12 years. I live 50km from the Laos border in the city of Udon Thani. I see trees and the occasional elephant from my room.

I live here and then run my business from other countries like Hong Kong and Singapore.

I like Singapore. Unlike Hong Kong they actually welcome people to migrate there. I will move all my operations there over the next year or so and get residency and then split my time between Singapore, Thailand and Laos.

BTW, Cantonese is a far more more interesting language than Mandarin. Mandarin is a second language for a large percentage of mainland Chinese. But it's good to learn for business. And in my humble opinion, simplified Chinese is an ugly hack from a committee that has stripped most of the beauty and meaning from the language. If you learn traditional first, simplified is easy to pick up and you'll understand the context and meaning behind the characters. Compare the simplified and complex characters 'country'. The traditional character tells a story, a country is a place with a border, which is defended with weapons and words. The simplified charger is literally, jade in a box. Yuck.

Why not Taipei then? The area near 101 is quite nice. And it has a better nightlife.

Having set up a similar goal many years ago - to stay/live in a big number of countries - it's interesting to see that we both settled for Singapore.

Are you enjoying living in a police state? Seriously.

Actually, there are many folks who say: "I don't enjoy living in a police state, so I moved from [US/EU] to [Singapore/Hong Kong/Chile/etc]. Those are the people who do not spit chewing gum anyway, who don't need to smoke outside anyway, who don't take drugs anyway, who don't care much about the western "political process" and "participation" (ie. majority decides to redistribute other peoples' income for this or that pet project or an undefinable "common good") anyway -- but who increasingly DO care about and frown on ever more regulations getting in the way of their perfectly legitimate non-harmful businesses, increasingly totalitarian approaches to net censorship and surveillance, unprecedented intrusive airport patdowns, massive tax burdens on their startups (a tax dollar saved is a profit dollar earned and keeps people employed and prices competetive etc.) -- believe it or not, they feel they gain a few years of "freedom" -- the freedom to build something profitable privately and keep it running and earn its proceeds -- in places like SG, HK, UAE.

Yes, Jehova's Witnesses shouldn't be jailed and talk about Islam shouldn't be regulated by the state. But then the state also shouldn't strangle and paralyze up and coming non-aggressive mutually beneficial peaceful productive businesses. So to any entrepreneur or business guy who personally doesn't care about Jehovas Witnesses and Islam, which places do you think represent the greener pasture?

We aren't a police state. We enjoy different kinds of freedom. Sure, previously some of the 'freedom to' stuff was clammed down upon,but the recent elections showed that we might be moving forward in the right direction. I am casually optimistic that we will find the right balance to allow our citizens both 'freedom from' and 'freedom to' liberties.

"Different kinds of freedom". Whenever anyone says this, I get very nervous. It's pretty clear that these "different kinds" are not real freedom at all, and so don't include things like freedom of speech, the ability to truly determine who governs you, or even the freedom to water or not water the plants in front of your apartment (failing to do the latter in Singapore will result in a visit from the cops).

Here's a case of a man who was arrested for daring to write a book which criticised the use of the death penalty in Singapore: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2010/07/singapore-alan-shad.... I doubt he thinks the trade-off you propose for these (putative) "different kinds of freedom" is a good one.

Also: what you refer to as "freedom from" liberties seemed to inevitably involve infringing another's "freedom to". As such, it seems improper to term them "freedom".

The fact that some prefer a happy face dictatorship to a system which affords a large measure of actual liberty seems to me a very sad commentary on the human condition.

Thanks for posting these links; they look very interesting.

Is an individual's freedom to do something more important than another individual's freedom from something? My country takes a rather paternalistic view on this but like I said, i am casually optimistic that things will change and we as a country are moving towards a more informed citizenry renegotiating the social compact between the govt and people and finding a balance in both positive and negative liberties.

Edited: I can't seen to reply the comment below, so adding the reply here. One of the things my country takes very seriously is both the perception and actual oppression of minorities. In this case, we want ethnic minorities to have the freedom from majority oppression. As an example, there are measures that are put in place that prevents some of our freedom to say certain stuff about the religion Islam in a certain way. To say the rules are like a cudgel instead of a scapel would be right but as a citizen I can see where my government is coming from.

Like the comment below said, generally yes to freedom to instead of freedom from. What is considered not a general case in Singapore differs; that does not make us wrong. Neither does it mean our system is right and perfect. What it does mean is my country is learning and hopefully maturing.

In other words, you're OK with the state forbidding forms of political speech it finds undesirable. Nice. Banning "freedom to say certain stuff about the religion Islam" is censorship, pure and simple.

Read "Brave New World" and see if any of the things depicted there ring a bell.

I think the point of BNW was that there was no censorship, but rather the population just didn't care.

Yeah right. Tell that to all the members of Jehova's Witnesses, who were imprisoned in 2004 for having the wrong religion.

"Is an individual's freedom to do something more important than another individual's freedom from something?"

Generally, yes, it is.

Welcome to Singapore! I'm a native and I am glad you are enamored of our little island so much so you applied for permanent residency. :)

On the flip side, if you stay long enough and pay more attention to what goes on around you, I hope you will realize under the facade of shining steel and glaas, our society is also very dysfunctional.

I've got to wonder how much of a good plan it is to publish your ID card including ID Number and DoB.

Hello from Singapore! And welcome to the family. Hope to meet you at echelon2011.

Why is this post get so many vote? I understand that this guy is famous for some of the stuff he did, but hey... hacker news is news for hacker, right? not news about hacker?

Travel and worldliness are both interesting subjects to many hackers. I'm sure that a less notable hacker moving to Singapore wouldn't attract quite so much attention, but you should notice that most of this thread isn't about Mr. Sivers: it's about Singapore.

Totally agree. I wondered the same. May be - since he is a _famous_ hacker - an update about his location might help those in the area with communities / talks etc?

At least Singapore's upfront about it. America has a shameful proportion of its population incarcerated and what of the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies encroaching on your liberties? Or how the TSA strips you with a more radiation than Fukushima just to travel?

Of course, there are valid critiques of Singaporean society in the comments but for the average person these draconian laws might be minor trade offs for a safer, cleaner urban life.

Here's wishing you all the best on this latest leg of a journey we've so enjoyed reading about.

Singapore is 3 hours from India

You must visit way more often - you now have no excuse not to.

Pretty amazed that you got permanent residency in under 8 months. That'd be amazing in the US.

Ah yes, Singapore... the one developed country with harsher laws than the US.

Depending on how you're looking at things lots of first world countries have harsher laws. The US gets kinda batshit with their punishments (drug war, three strikes etc.), but a lot of European countries have bigger restrictions on free speech, the UK has its libel laws, generally employment is more regulated etc.

And then there's the whole gun issue.

(No, this doesn't make Singapore any "better", I'm just saying that the US isn't exactly dystopian just because it doesn't have legal hookers)

...with a very low crime rate compared to US.

I just moved to Singapore too! (been here one month exactly now).

It's ace. I'm loving it.

Nice! I also moved to Singapore just 7 months ago. Great country to work in. Loving it here too.


you should totally blur your national ID number, though

and I had no idea they do the old 'race on national ID' thing

Hope I visit you in Singapore before you move out to another part of the world!

Wow, where do you hang out?

Home. Working. I prefer solitude. I don't hang out much. http://www.tagbento.com/243/dereks-desk

I don't hang out much.

This sounds counter to your goal "to remove the separations of “us” and “them”."

How the hell can u work like that for a number of hours at a time? The weight of the laptop on your legs, not to mention the heat from the fan must make it bearable for only a short time. A desk/table for minimum requirement surely.

Well, you should check out the meetup scene, lots of them almost on weekly basis. Love to bump into you in one of those meetups.

You prefer solitude and you moved to a bustling metropolis? That sounds like the ideal city for immersing yourself in the culture and the energy of it all.


btw, is your office on Beach rd? ours is too (Shaw Tower), hope to run into you around the area.

Feel free to email me anytime : http://sivers.org/contact

Great view of Parkview Square there. Welcome to Singapore. :)

cool for you. i'd rather stay in one place and get a chance, in my lifetime, to learn how a forest grows myself.

You are my hero Sivers. Very few people are bad ass and contribute. Thank you showing me it can be done.

Welcome to our sunny island!

Strange, considering Singapore is a pretty musically desolate place. Then again, Imogen Heap was just there, so I guess you'll get the occasional rain.

Try restaurant andre.

Your favorite subject is always yourself.

Why should I care about this? Was bitcoin in the headline earlier?

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact