Postscript to Singapore
After posting my travel photos to Facebook and this blog, I got a lot of comments re: how nice Singapore is, how orderly and efficient, how modern, how disciplined, etc. Basically, I agree with all comments except that somehow beneath all that orderliness, efficiency and modernism lies a restless spirit...is it dissatisfaction? defiance? cynicism? boredom?...I can't quite pinpoint it, but somehow the impression I get is that people are not really happy with their lives and that life is not quite satisfying as it seems. Even our tour guide who seemed up all the time, seemed to me as trying very hard to show his enthusiasm. One would think that in a country where the per capita income is very high having a highly developed market-based economy, life would be very satisfactory and happier, but it seems not, since you rarely see people smiling and looking happy or friendly in Singapore. Almost everyone looked very business like (not to mention tired) and in a hurry, that I felt like they were all trying to sell me something...and when I do buy, I get a half smile...haha. Still, I do not think it is a city I want to retire in. I got the same feeling in Kuala Lumpur, though in a lesser degree. Well, I guess living in a competitive society does that to people. Melaka (Malacca) however was different...there they smiled and responded to us...very much like what we would do to visitors in Manila, although the sales people in the mall were also very business-like, unlike in the Philippines where they would actually start a conversation with you. But I think, this is because in Malaysia, they have some difficulty communicating in English. In Singapore, English was not a problem but their pronounciation was hard to understand. I was also mistaken for Indonesian in the cruise and had some people approach me talking in their language...which was a new experience for me. In the Philippines, I am often labeled as mestiza but to others, I am obviously Malay :)
So yes, Singapore is a first-world Asian country but its society is far from perfect. Life there is fast, stressful and I think there is a lot of pressure to make money in that country. Everything is expensive and my estimate is...if you earn less than SG$1,000.00 (net) a month...it's a hard life and your housing will probably be an HDB flat. As I was browsing in the shops, restaurants, I'd say that for a comfortable but not luxurious single life, one must at least earn a net income (less taxes/housing) of at least SG$2,500.00 a month. If you want to factor in regular shopping, a social life, daily lattes...then one must earn more than SG$4,000.00. But hey, this is all based on my perception and may not necessarily be correct. They have high taxes so I presume that healthcare and education must be free or cheap because they are subsidized. We Filipinos always look to other countries and wonder why we are lagging behind...why we cannot have the kind of economy they have...the answer if we are to see Singapore and Malaysia as examples is strong taxes, discipline, political will. The question to answer for us...are we willing to pay 20-30% tax on our gross incomes? A higher salary scale means even higher taxes...Right now in the Philippines, we pay 4 -20% taxes on our gross income. Many people who do not pay taxes fall under 3 categories - either because of very low income, they have very low salary scale, or they just under declare their income. One main reason for those in the last category is that government is corrupt, so why pay?...but isn't cheating a form of corruption too? This is like the case of which comes first...the chicken or the egg. Who does the right thing first? Government or the people? Is there no cheating and corruption in Singapore and Malaysia...of course there is...it is something that is as old as Adam...a corrupt-free society is a fairy tale. But it can be minimized, controlled, if not totally eliminated. The other reality is without money government cannot function effectively, efficiently and equitably. Singapore can afford to give a lot of benefits and services to the people, tax incentives to tourists, government subsidies to business, health and education because they have the money to do so. Thus, if we expect our government to do the same....we must pay the right taxes. It is as simple as that.