Singapore – Suffocating in Regulations


I’ll admit it I broke a law the very first day I arrived in Singapore. We flew in from Malaysia early in the morning which meant we had the rest of the day to ourselves. We took the subway into the city and that’s when we realized everyone was staring at us. As a modern English speaking country with many tourists I was sure it wasn’t our white skin that was causing a fuss. After momentarily staring at us everyone returned to being glued to their cell phones.

It was the oddest thing ever. Singaporeans are basically addicted to their cell phones, I have never seen anything like it anywhere. In the subway, at the restaurants, in the malls… no one makes eye contact, no one talks, they are all just glued to their cell phones playing Angry Birds or texting.

No one could be bothered to verbally communicate to me that I was breaking the law. As the subway car door opened and we walked out I noticed the sign indicating that no drinks were allowed on the subway. My opened water bottle was a big no-no.

This was the beginning of my week-long trip in this highly-regulated city that is full of contradictions.

Singapore has the most efficient subway that I have seen anywhere. There is no need to rent a car and almost no need for taxis, as the subway takes you everywhere. The other thing I noticed is that Singaporeans are addicted to shopping which is probably why most of the subway stations are located inside shopping malls. If you like shopping than this is a city that you will enjoy.

Singapore has so many laws and rules that it is difficult to keep up with.

How is this for crazy laws. All of these are illegal:

  • Feeding pigeons
  • Selling or giving gum away
  • Playing music in public
  • Singing a song with obscene lyrics
  • Spitting in public
  • Distribution of obscene material including DVDs, books, photos, etc.
  • Connecting to Wifi that does not belong to you
  • Forgetting to flush a toilet
  • Same-sex relations (2 years prison time for this one)

The above are just some of the crazy laws that are part of daily life in Singapore. There are 100s of additional laws that I could cite. The result is Singapore is the cleanest “democratic” country that I have ever been to (North Korea was cleaner) but at the same time the number of rules and regulations felt stifling to me.

Singapore is a world of contradictions, the country has the most efficient subway system that I have seen anywhere, the infrastructure is super well designed… but I have never seen a community that is so disconnected from humanity. It felt like I was in a dystopian science fiction setting where the result of all this super efficiency is a people who choose not to touch one another, and choose not to communicate verbally, instead the dominant form of communication is text messaging.

Singapore is a beautiful country to visit but I chose to view it more as a dire warning that while most rules and laws are enacted for valid reasons, as societies we do need to ask ourselves when is the government overstepping and draining us of our humanity.

And do we completely want to dehumanize ourselves for technology? I find it a problem when people are more comfortable with a cell phone than talking to their partner at a restaurant. If that’s the case why not stay home?