Singapore is a weird place. During the flight, the stewardesses walked around and handed everybody something - I was expecting a wet towel, but in fact it was a card in multiple languages which says "If you are about to bring any amount of drugs into the country, you are going to be executed." Lovely first impression to set the tone.
Other than the omnipresent paranoia, the thing that struck me as the most bizarre is that almost nothing in the country is oriented around children. The fertility rate is basically the lowest in the world, as the way of maintaining the population seems to be simply skimming the top few percent of qualified workers from India, China, and other southeast Asian countries, people who will essentially live at the office until they have made enough money to return home, or simply retire and die alone in the country.
Another strange thing was the way the city is planned - everything is concentrated to a district. For instance, rather than having record shops peppered around the city, there is a the "record shop area", where there are a dozen record shops in a single place. It's like this for lots of things - books, refrigerators, etc.
The food was great though. I'm craving laksa just thinking about it..
> that almost nothing in the country is oriented around children
As I'm actually living in Singapore for several years with a small child, i find this comment quite strange. I've lived in and visited many cities in the world and would be hard pressed to find any place more child friendly or with a variety of experiences oriented for Children - lots of it for free. Walks and Trails, Parks, Arts and crafts, Libraries, free concerts and performances almost every other day, beaches. Every residential locality as several parks and playgrounds, even the commercial districts has play areas for kids (often free) if you research a bit.... Kids ride free till age 7 on public transport and i see 10 year old kids go to school by public transport by themselves. There's no way I'd feel safe doing that in any other city in the world I've lived in or visited.
On your other comment, that's actually how many Asian cities have evolved. In Mumbai and Chennai where I've lived before, there will be an area you go to buy electronics (still true for components), another area with marble shops, yet another for flowers etc etc
> Other than the omnipresent paranoia, the thing that struck me as the most bizarre is that almost nothing in the country is oriented around children.
I’ve been living in Singapore for a year and don’t really understand what you are talking about with either of these things.
Singapore is one of the safest places in the world – people go running alone at night without a second thought, you see young kids wandering around unaccompanied, violent crime is low, etc. Just last night I saw three kids who weren’t even teenagers cycling past me from the beach with fishing gear after dark. I don’t see any "omnipresent paranoia", if anything it’s the complete opposite. What paranoia did you see?
As far as being oriented around children, there’s playground equipment in all the parks and condos, kids pools in the condos, there’s a bunch of family-friendly things all over the country to see and do, the government has all kinds of incentives for people to start families, etc. What do you think is missing?
(I remember visiting the commercial kitchen supply street because I wanted to bake some cupcakes, and cupcake tins were considered a specialist item. I also feel like I once wandered into a street that specialized in plastic flowers—I guess probably R. Cantareira, which also seems to do a lot of other plastic stuff, or part of the nearby R. 25 de Março?)
> food was great though
The best I've ever eaten anywhere in the world, I think!
SP is mostly mixed used all around. Land-use and zoning pretty much doesn't exist throughout most of it sprawling and winding bairros. And it is: absolutely sprawling. crappy transport means youll find rendunancy between neighbhorhoods for most things, but each neighbhorhood does it differently.
There are indeed specialized districts in the centro for specialized products, a neighborhood for motorcyles, a neighborhood for tech, a neighborhood for oriental stuff, a neighborhood for perfume manufacturing, a neighborhood for packaging, a neighborhood for professional restaurant gear, a building for cheap wholesale counterfeiting, a neighborhood for smoking crack with thousands of othrr users, k sections of various kneighborhoods for kgetting transvestite kprostitutes, etc. K
Overall most of sao paulo is a web of somewhat self-contained microcosms. And what you find in each neighborhood is determined by the mixture and manner of demographics that frequent the place. The overlaps of these demographics makes for infinite novelty. I spent 10 years in the city and it blew by me faster than I wish it had. It is beyond a mere cyberpunk aesthetic. The vibe is unnamed.
Ive walked, biked, skated, and used public transportation through about 60-80% of the city and surrounding metropolitan area.
I left a few months ago to pursue a quiet life of naturalist adventures along the coast, but Sao Paulo was the absolute best choice for a person like me to have spent his 20s.
Thinking about the area, haven't the majority of Far East countries since independence been effectively one-party states? Some have been "democratic", but with the same party winning the elections every time.
Singapore and South Korea could be seen as examples of successful "planned economies", but from a rightwing-authoritarian point of view with a Western-orientated politics.
Nothing shows the ignorance of most mof the western world about modern Asia most than falling back to 27 year old articles at every time a place is mentioned. I guess we all need to reference Reagan's Star Wars program whenever we talk about the US to get an equivalent feel.
As someone living here (queue US coworkers 'why would you move to China?'), that article has not aged well.
Children are so so much better supported here than the US its not even funny. Public libraries, lavish playgrounds, sports activities, public transport (yes your 8 year old can take the metro to school, safely), science programs, free museums, ...
Singaporean here. If anything, one reason I'd say that Singapore isn't like Disneyland now is because its "management" has lost touch with the ground, and things aren't as well-maintained as Disneyland.
My estate (a ruling-party-managed one, too) is showing its age, with plenty of rats and cockroaches running about at night.
it's also quite funny how Singapore generally avoids language such as "planned" or "state owned", and rather refers to its many state owned businesses as "government-linked", it reminds me a little bit of Palantir's "forward deployed engineers". It's no wonder that Gibson has come up a lot in this thread because that kind of Blue Ant-esque language is all over Singapore and this strange fusion of government and private power that you see in places like Singapore.
Living here after living in the US its hard to read this with a straight face and not bursting into manical laughter.
No ghettos, no fear of being mistreated or killed by the police, no no-go zones, no fear of covidiots and karens putting their convenience over everyone's health after the first one or two Karens making a fuzz about masks got deported or remanded to get the mental care they needed.
> no fear of covidiots and karens putting their convenience over everyone's health after the first one or two Karens making a fuzz about masks got deported or remanded to get the mental care they needed
As someone else who is in Singapore right now: the situation is better than in most other countries — there is a $300 fine for flagrant disregard of the mask-wearing law, and larger businesses are required to have someone stand at the entrance to check if people are wearing masks, and to make them sign into the SafeEntry contract tracing system.
But mask-abhorring covidiots still exist. Their excuses tend to be that they're either eating/drinking while on the go, exercising, or smoking cigarettes.
When I travel in to Singapore to visit relatives, seeing WARNING DEATH PENALTY FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS in big red letters on the customs card always gives me a warm feeling of nostalgia every time I see it, knowing I'll soon be landing in Changi airport. This is actually part of the cleverness of Singapore. With so many migrant workers from many different cultures with different social mores, the ominous warning signs everywhere make it pretty hard to inadvertently get in trouble with the law.
The weird zoning AFAIK is an artifact of the city being planned in the 70s-80s when the idea of mixed-use development wasn't a thing. One particular issue is the lack of high-end apartments within or adjacent to the financial district.
I'm struggling to understand on what basis you're saying "almost nothing is oriented toward children". For instance, how many schools did you visit during your two weeks there? Or what are you considering to be "oriented toward children"?
I wonder, would there be an opportunity to flush any substances down the toilet, at that point? Sounds like a potentially terrifying situation, considering the number of stories I’ve heard from friends and family about accidentally flying with marijuana that they were unaware of was left over in a backpack or whatnot.
Thailand has executed 3 people since 2004. One was a robbery gone bad. The two in 2009 were drug traffickers with $1M in meth from arrests in 2001. I couldn't find a source, but their names look Thai.
Apparently a bunch are waiting to be executed, though.
Perhaps I’m wrong but I understood the comment to mean that the person went from Singapore to Thailand, bought drugs there, then forgot to get rid of them before returning to Singapore. So Singapore executed them, not Thailand.
You would have to use the airplane toilet. Immediately after stepping off the plane, you are scanned by some kind of scanning IR(?) camera, which I assumed was looking for drugs. I actually had some vitamins in a baggie which I was shitting bricks about, but the actually immigration point was very polite and chill, much moreso than, say, JFK.
I think the IR camera was more likely to have been looking for fever than drugs. I don't mean to say that Changi doesn't have drug-detection mechanisms, but the commonest use of IR cameras at international airport gates is to try to find passengers who are showing signs of infectious disease.
I travel internationally a lot for work, well I used to anyways, lol. Going to America is always the worst experience. It's longer from point a to b, there's more security theater, and I always get some snide remark from the border crossing person about being an American not living in America.
The rationale for the drug laws is interesting: when Singapore gained independence in the 1960s, it was essentially a small third-world city without much of a local economy.
Lee Kuan Yew realised that Singapore's future lay in becoming a trading city. They built a port, invested in infrastructure, and basically oriented all their policies around making the city-state as attractive as possible for foreign investment. One reason the streets were kept so orderly and well-maintained was to impress foreign visitors that Singapore was a reliable place to operate in (compare to many developing countries where the ride from the airport will pass ramshackle buildings, potholed streets, garbage everywhere, etc). They kept the British common law system because it's a good system to do business under. Etc.
They also knew that, given the region (SE Asia) is a hotbed of drug trafficking, if Singapore became a successful port then tons of drugs would pass through the city. Drugs would mean organised crime. Organised crime would mean corruption. Corruption would scare off foreign investment. Singapore could have ended up looking like most other third-world countries, only too small to retain its independence, and could easily have been reabsorbed into Malaysia or Indonesia.
The reason the drug penalties are so harsh is to scare away any possibility of drug trafficking happening there.
Just to be clear, I'm not condoning Singapore's policies. Weed is certainly not the same as heroin or crack cocaine. Harsh sentences for carrying a tiny bit of marijuana is pretty draconian. (I looked up some news articles, and it seems as though foreigners are unlikely to get the death penalty for small amounts of weed, but you can still expect jail time and caning.)
In a similar way, one rationale behind Singapore's censorship is a similar reason to the (effective) censorship many European countries have -- Singapore has some simmering ethnic tensions, and wants to prevent anyone publishing inflammatory rhetoric. (That's not the only reason, afaik, but it's one of them.)
Still: it's worth remembering that Singapore started out in an unusual position with unusual constraints. Everything they have done has been with the aim of turning themselves from a third-world to a first-world country in a few decades. They've seen many other post-colonial countries go down bad trajectories, despite said countries receiving tons of foreign aid, support from international organisations, allowing Western NGOs to operate internally, etc. So they don't have much time for Western journalists/academics/etc who push them to change their policies, because they think the policies they're being pushed to adapt would have led them to disaster.
If anyone's curious to learn more about the Singapore approach I'd point them to first look up Lee Kuan Yew's books, or interviews of him, to get an introduction to how he thought about governance and how he approached Singapore's challenges.
My own takeaway is that Singapore stands out because most other developing countries have been run so badly. It's not that Lee Kuan Yew had a brilliant political philosophy that all countries should adopt (he claimed to be skeptical of political philosophy), it's more that he was both pragmatic and took a long-range view, and put into practice many sensible policies that other developing countries could have adopted in an alternative timeline. On the other hand, that is definitely not to say that all of his policies are justifiable. I gather that Singapore is slowly changing now that they feel more secure in their first-world status, but they're still pretty averse to adopting the kinds of policies Western nations and the UN usually push other countries to adopt.
Your comment makes absolute sense especially when viewed with my Eastern upbringing lens. Let me use it to add a few more relevant points concerning other Asian countries.
The same logic is used by people like me to justify why only dictatorial state controlled capitalism with quick decision making, very serious censorship laws and crushing of any opponents to ensure single party rule etc. was important for a country like China to progress so fast. A democracy with multiple dissenting opinions in a third world country would mean many vested and crony interests would hijack the country and nothing would happen, e.g. India where only recently has the system started making faster, more transparent decisions.
I always see the kind of nuance you mention especially for a relatively easy to govern small state which leverages its location for growth is missing when discussing the problems of larger nations. Even in the larger outlets in the Western world. It is mostly a case of intellectual laziness where labels and general summary of a complex and large country is used in day to day discussions or articles.
Maybe I was in the wrong parts of Tokyo/Osaka, but I do try to walk all over the place when I travel; there weren't a lot of families going out to eat, or at the malls/shopping areas, or whatever.
However, you'll see train cars full of young kids going to and from school, unsupervised as far as I could tell. There are parks with play equipment all over, and I would run into kids during the day at combinis or 7/11s or whatever being kids. Probably more like what I remember growing up in the 70s was like in the US. I can't imagine a couple dozen third-fourth-fifth graders jumping on a train unsupervised in the US.
A lot more children out riding bikes unsupervised, as well.
I was in Tokyo for the golden week last year; there were lots of kids and parents running around. It might be that Tokyo is an internal tourist destination for that week that skewed my perception, though.
I love how in Japan children are free to go wherever unsupervised and there is essentially an unwritten rule that adults all just keep an eye on them. And as a result children as young as 6/7 can take public transport to get to school on their own. A real mark of how safe a place is...
> Other than the omnipresent paranoia, the thing that struck me as the most bizarre is that almost nothing in the country is oriented around children. The fertility rate is basically the lowest in the world, as the way of maintaining the population seems to be simply skimming the top few percent of qualified workers from India, China, and other southeast Asian countries, people who will essentially live at the office until they have made enough money to return home, or simply retire and die alone in the country.
I've been revisiting Brave New World after watching the series on something called 'Peacock,' which honestly bares little resemblance to the plot of the book (John the Savage is less a cautionary tale of these types of Societys and more Revolutionary apparently) and the ideas of acceptable Dystopias by Huxley in his presentations at Berkely were brought up. One woman asking why only Tyrannical Governments would use these methods, and could they not also be used by so-called 'democratic' institutions for the same end. Huxley scoffs the idea as greater 'pessimism' than he holds.
The idea of being encumbered by replacement rates with fertility seems blase if you can simply import a perpetual underclass for what you cannot outsource to serve your affluent Citizen class seems like the long-term goals of any despot/regime. That would probably ensure long-standing dynasties, and political stability more than anything imaginable, as dark as that is it aptly reflects the current Human Condition. In a way I think this was the US' goal in the 21st Century as we've seen the shortage of STEM really be a Cooperate driven regression in wages (and probably working conditions) for its domestic population.
With that said, you can see what the opposite can create as Hong Kong has descended in to the most typical (accurate?) representation of a Cyberpunk Dystopia. Its entirely tragic to see, but Human resilience against all odds against a tyrannical juggernaut (China/CCP) is still something to take solace in and an archetype for a Heroism in all cultures. Even as it dissects everything unique and of value in that city-state its worth paying attention to serve as the cautionary tale of how primitive Humans still are.
For even more context (masochistic watching), consider 10 years  on Netflix, who recently refused to take down that and Joshua Wong's Documentary  on the events in Hong Kong.
Singapore is in my opinion the world's scariest dystopia.
There are many dystopias, but few of them are anything but. Nobody moves to North Korea, and the dystopian aspects of other less thoroughly awful places are things everyone complains about and few want to copy.
Singapore is scary because it's a dystopia with many desirable characteristics. It's a dystopia with curb appeal, one that could be sold to people.
The thing about a deal with the devil is that it works. The devil pays out. It only costs you your soul.
As for the absurdly low fertility rate: many creatures refuse to reproduce in zoos. Singapore is a zoo for homo sapiens, a safe environment optimized for every textbook metric of health and built on totalitarianism "with a velvet glove."
As William Gibson summed the place up: "smile or die."
It is hard to take a comment like this in good faith. You make multiple references to Singapore being a dystopia with zero justification. You make several strongly negative analogies of Singapore ("deal with the devil", "costs you your soul", "zoo for homo sapiens") with the thinnest of connections.
Singapore is far from perfect. It is horrendous on gay rights. It struggles with inequality. The amount of power resting in Government and political entities, even if currently not fully exploited, makes me incredibly uneasy. And it has many other issues too. But it is far from the fictionalized robotic totalitarian state you want to pretend it is.
Any place that executes people for minor crimes or non-crimes is pretty awful on human rights issues. Couple that with its status as a single party state, corporal punishment for minor infractions, the fact that it is awful on LGBT issues, and so on, and I don't need to know much more. I don't care how clean the streets are if that's what it costs.
Sure, other places are much worse. Sure, many places like the USA have their own huge issues. That's "whataboutism."
As I said, the thing that makes Singapore almost alarming to me isn't that it's the worst place for human rights. It's not even close to that. The thing that bothers me is that it looks like it works and serves as an advertisement for better living through totalitarianism. Most other places with awful human rights records look like places with awful human rights records.
I'll say it again: if what Singapore does is the cost of clean streets and virtually zero crime, I'll take a filthy slum. Fortunately that doesn't seem to be the case. I currently live somewhere that's far less punitive and it isn't a filthy slum.
>Any place that executes people for minor crimes or non-crimes is pretty awful on human rights issues.
I am going to press you on this. Which non-crimes lead to capital punishment? And on what basis do you get to decide whether a crime is "minor" or "major"?
As for "whataboutism", that defense doesn't hold when you label something as "the scariest dystopia". When you use a superlative, that's exactly the point where even single counterexamples matter.
EDIT: You edited your comment to add more substance, so I will too.
>Couple that with its status as a single party state
Which just got dealt its biggest blow in 50 years.
>the fact that it is awful on LGBT issues
I raised this before you edited your comment.
>Also: Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew is a racist: https://lkyonrace.wordpress.com
Non-sequitur. We have mentioned Lee Kuan Yew in no part of the discussion thus far.
>The thing that bothers me is that it looks like it works and serves as an advertisement for better living through totalitarianism.
And you've not justified the label of "totalitarianism", just like you haven't justified your label of "dystopia".
I live in a place that recently legalized marijuana. Nothing bad happened. The result proves quite conclusively that this is a non-crime.
While I'm not convinced on blanket drug legalization, especially of certain very dangerous drugs, I can't justify the death penalty for any drug crime. Of course I have a tough time with the death penalty in general, and can only ethically justify it for the crime of deliberate murder.
Singapore seems to believe quite emphatically that the ends justify the means. This is just a large scale political version of naked psychopathy: "if I get the outcome I want, it's okay." Any student of the 20th century knows where this goes. The fact that Singapore seems to exercise some restraint, refusing to follow this principle to its logical end, doesn't justify it.
>The result proves quite conclusively that this is a non-crime.
You've just invented a new definition of "non-crime", which appears to be "did not have any apparent impact when decriminalized in a different legal jurisdiction". Most people would take the definition non-crime to simply be "not a crime", which bringing marijuana into Singapore is.
>Singapore is scary because it's a dystopia with many desirable characteristics. It's a dystopia with curb appeal, one that could be sold to people.
that's exactly my impression, too.
My friends tell me how great the food is, and how clean the area is; meanwhile i'm thinking about caning laws and drug executions -- this tells me that Singapore has enough appeal that some folks can sort of breeze past the really grim stuff.
There are a lot of people from SF on here. I think that's part of what powers HN's wing of totalitarian utopians. SF is itself a dystopia, an open air psychiatric hospital that is simultaneously unaffordable and smells like piss. People need to realize though that SF is a bubble and that its problems are as strange as its virtues. SF is not only dysfunctional but peculiarly so, and its disease is not common elsewhere. I call it "the world's only six figure slum."
I find utopias scary in general. Not only do they always have a mass grave or a gas chamber hidden away somewhere, but even without considering the underbelly they sort of by definition represent a local maximum.
Studying evolution and AI/ML made me fear the local maximum as an existential danger. It's one of my Fermi paradox speculations. Maybe it's easier to create a utopia than to build a starship. Find a local maximum, get stuck, and wait for a black swan. A utopia is a luxury lounge waiting room for extinction.
I can't see a society like Singapore settling Mars or sending the first probe to Proxima Centauri. I'll take my junkies, batshit crazy politics, and litter on the streets. Just give me good music and spaceships plz. God (and who knows what else... Cthulhu f'tagn!) bless the USA.
I wonder if the local maximum evolutionary dynamics of a utopia isn't the reason they always have a mass grave or two. Evolution has natural mechanisms to escape local maxima (search phrase: evolution of evolvability). The local maximum must therefore be enforced. Life has to be actively held there. "Smile or die."
You actually need to see where people live, hdbs to see schools, playgrounds and such. The low fertility rate is common amongst developed countries. On the other hand, the government has explicit policies to encourage marrying, like not offering hdbs to single people under 35. You certainly won't see families if you don't leave the downtown area.
I'm implying two weeks isn't representative of the city as a whole. The article did a better job of it.
I stayed in a friend's apartment in an HDB and saw schools, playgrounds, and parks, which were all in use—though I'd say children were still less visible overall than in San Francisco, which is also known for having fewer children than most of the U.S.
These comments seem to paid a really dystopian picture of Singapore. Of course there are problems with its government, but in my travels, Singapore was one of the most impressive countries I've ever visited. By far the cleanest city I've ever seen, the most futuristic, most efficient, and my favorite food city.
Singaporeans visiting America for the first time are often shocked at how much worse the U.S. was compared to their expectations, almost third-world like. If more Americans visited countries like Singapore and saw how much further ahead they are, maybe for once our people and politicians would have some modesty and fix things instead of just being complacent.
I think it's funny how the author says the people sort of go along with the government especially now just weeks after the recent election where opposition parties took a district, which sure in terms of actual governing power doesn't mean much, but means that the PAP is just starting to feel some pressure from the outside, particularly among younger people and families who opted to vote in the WP in sengkang. It doesn't really seem like sg will move beyond a one-party state soon because of it but people are hoping the government moves in a different direction especially after covid.
WP taking sengkang was big big news in sg, people have to understand the PAP has dominated singapore's government for decades. In terms of actual power it means little but it was a blow to the PAP's soft power as it was a clear sign that people want the government to reorient itself.
Plus, the massive number of the elderly working in difficult or dangerous jobs like taxi drivers, janitors, cleaners at food courts. Very strange and somehow felt like an unkind system for people who are not “productive”
A point of note - I do believe there a homeless in Singapore. However, I believe what you're referring to is likely workers napping around lunch time. This is very common with a lot of the people who work outside in the day time, under trees, on sidewalks etc.,
Singapore has about 1000 homeless countrywide on a population of 5M. Home ownership rates are the highest in the world and there is ample programs for people who slip through the cracks in this regard. Its orders of magnitude lower homelessness than any western country
> Many hardworking Singaporeans today resoundingly choose a government that promises economic stability even as censorship laws become more and more stringent and inequality is rife.
As a Singaporean, this is the point that sticks out as proof that the author has lost touch with local sentiment. In the recent election, young Singaporean citizens felt " especially agitated by Raeesah Khan being hit with a sledgehammer." and thus many voted against the PAP. 
Yet, on the author's point of paradox of cyberpunk... there is a kernel of truth. While most Singaporeans wouldn't scrape a temple for a new high tech mall like Jewel, (IMO) most Singaporeans would be okay if it was for a new train station so that we (ironically) can visit Jewel more conveniently.
I love how Gibson compared it to Stephenson's burbclaves, which to me is like the literary equivalent of a famous musical artist singing the "Weird Al" Yankovic version of their own song (which has also been known to happen).
I know of at least two. The Barenaked Ladies have been known to interject lyrics from "Jerry Springer" into live performances of "One Week". And The Presidents of the United States of America sometimes close out live versions of "Lump" with "And that's all I have to say about that" (the final line of "Gump").
As draconian and harsh a lot of Singaporean laws seem to be it’s hard to argue with the country’s success. I’ve been to Singapore many times and a lot of south east Asia as well and as someone who grew up in a third world tropical country (Rio) I don’t have a romantic view of SEA as many Euros or Americans.
Singapore is a paradise compared with Indonesia, Malaysia etc.
"Cyberpunk dystopia" seems very inaccurate to me. Nothing whatsoever about Singapore is "punk" in any sense of the word. "Cyber-utopian" is a better descriptor, with the emphasis on the traditional connotations of the word utopian, that being an aim for perfection at significant cost to principals that don't fit the vision.
Well, the ruling corporate authority in a cyberpunk state isn't very punk, either. It exists as an edifice to be opposed or exploited by such a rebellious subculture. Maybe Singapore is a cybernetic dystopia in search of a cyberpunk movement.
Also, the street samurai/cowboy hacker trope isn't ubiquitous to every cyberpunk work. Ghost in the Shell, a seminal work, is about law enforcement officers who uphold the state, and occasionally chase down cyberpunk anarchist hackers. (Blade Runner is much the same.) You can have the trappings of the genre without all elements of it.