In response to my last blog post, my good friend Allan Tan asked about my thoughts on press control in Singapore vs. the PRC.
I remember reading somewhere that Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, once said that the number of people capable of leading the city-state effectively could fit on a commercial airliner. This, according to his logic, is part of the justification for measures that prevent the kind of liberal democracy seen in the West. Essentially, he’s saying that there are too few people in Singapore for a fully democratic society. Disclaimer: This comment may be apocryphal; a quick Google search I ran didn’t turn up any documentation of the alleged comment.
China has a similar justification for its restraints on freedom of speech. It’s the other side of the same coin. The logic goes like this: There are too many people in China to accommodate “Western style liberal democracy.” Therefore, restrictions on opinion and information must be in place.
Perhaps they’re both right. If so, there’s a “democracy sweet spot” in population terms, and it runs somewhere between 5 million and 1 billion people.
The U.S., with it’s population just north of 300 million, would seem to be somewhere within that sweet spot range. But from what I’ve seen of U.S. politics in the 22 years I’ve lived outside of the country, there aren’t enough competent leaders there to fill a Dodge Caravan.
But really, I don’t want to spend any more time on polemics. The title of my blog says “Art, humor and public policy,” and there’s been so little humor so far.
I really don’t give a toss that Singapore doesn’t have freedom of speech. And I hope they never get it. Why? Because they have so much other good stuff.
They have the best airport in the world, hands down. I love their airport so much that I’ve considered taking a trip from Toronto to Singapore just to spend a long weekend at Changi International. You can: watch first-run films, visit a butterfly sanctuary, have the best laksa noodles imaginable, relax by stunning koi ponds, visit orchid gardens, and sleep in loungers that will massage every muscle that hurts. You can do all of this without paying a cent. Really!
(I have to stop for a moment because I’m getting aroused. … I’ll be back.)
If you fly into Changi on Singapore Airlines (don’t even get me started on how amazing this airline is – all I’ll say is that you’ll get a total hate on for United, KLM, Air Canada or the likes thereof afterwards), you can take a free stopover tour of the city, where the world is your oyster. Literary types can soak up the environment of M. Somerset Maugham at Raffles Hotel. Gamblers, modern architecture buffs and anyone looking for the world’s most jaw-dropping infinity pool can visit the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. When you’re done luxuriating in either of those two places, you can experience Singapore’s legendary hawker stalls. Chili crabs, more laksa noodles and Tiger Beer (!) for pocket change, all near spotless streets lined with majestic royal palms.
All in all, Singapore is a sanctuary. Brilliant if you’re there for a day or two. Any longer and it starts to feel like The Truman Show or The Stepford Wives. I know. I lived there for six months in the late 1990s. The first month was great. The rest, well…. made me long to return to China or Indonesia. But, when I was toughing it out in those two countries, I always welcomed the chance to spend a day or two in the beautiful tranquility of Singapore.
So when anyone asks me about freedom in Singapore, I want to shut them up. There are about 5 million people living there. If they don’t like the restrictions, they can rise up.
In the meantime, I will enjoy the peace of Changi, Raffles, the Marina Sands and the hawker stalls.