Today felt like a real life game of Carmen SanDiego – we went from mainland China to Southern India, Malaysia to New York City, Disneyland to Morocco, and back!
Except instead of racking up those airline miles, all we did was catch a cab around Singapore.
I was pretty wary about Singapore – the first night there I accidentally dropped a skittle on the sidewalk and nearly tackled a couple strolling by in an effort to reclaim the candy and put it into a nearby bin. The knowledge of heavy fines for mundane offenses coupled with the absurd sterility of my high-rise surroundings, made me super paranoid of breaking the rules.
We stayed with our friend Steve whose job had transplanted him to Singapore for a few years. He opened the door to his sparkling clean, brand new executive high rise and said, “Welcome to Disneyland!” (a reference that at this point I did not exactly understand).
For the next few days my brain twisted itself to understand Singapore, it’s a really confusing place: relentlessly strict and interfering, spotless clean and well run, hugely diverse and opinionated.
Unlike China where everyone we met from students, to adults, and certainly the seniors, believed in the system and espoused an apparently sincere reverence for Mao; nearly everyone we met in Singa freely discussed the benefits and the negatives of living in a Nanny State.
From Malay, Indian, and Chinese alike we heard grumblings about the obvious daily interference of the government. People openly complained about government involvement in marriage and having children. We heard stories of government-sponsored mixers and the financial incentives that are used to promote marriage with additional subsidies for each child.
People complained about mandatory savings accounts from which the government can liberally borrow. And about prohibitively high taxes on cars and huge fines for simple misdemeanors (like spitting or graffiti).
But while people in Singapore are super aware of- and disagree with- these government policies, support for the severely neutered opposition party remains low and folks tend to fall in line. The rules are easy enough to play by, and the rewards are high.
It seems that everyone has to put up with things they don’t like in order to enjoy all the benefits of Singapore. The expat life is an easy one in Singapore. Firms pay the big bucks so businessmen can afford the $20 mixed drinks.
From friends we heard tall tales about overpaid businessmen and bored country-club wives. If your significant other works in Singapore, the world is your playground – you don’t even have to watch the kids. The government subsidies given for children also apply to expats, so the cost of owning a maid/baby sitter is fully covered by the government.
Maids can be found at the Maid malls, where you can choose the preferred ethnic makeup and religious beliefs of your future maid. This may be more important to your husband that it would be to you, because if he wants, he can have sex with the maid.
My favorite story has to do with the ‘headache money’ that families are asked to provide to their live-in maids. Apparently when the wife has a headache and isn’t interested in some hanky-panky, the husband can turn to the maid for some side action.
Singapore is not exactly Disneyland, it’s more like the ride “It’s a Small World” where children from around the world smile and wave while the music plays on repeat. Everyone is smiling because, frankly, life is good, but underneath we’re all wondering – why is daddy sleeping with the maid?