The Singapore Question

As travelers, we are constantly looking to outside countries, cultures, and traditions to supplement our views of the world and ourselves. One of the most confusing places to grapple with this is the tiny, city-state island that is Singapore.

The small, 30-mile country famously went from a poor shipping port to one of the wealthiest countries in the world in a single generation, all while topping world happiness indexes year after year.

It may seem that Singapore has it all figured out, but the same structure, social safety net, and meritocracy that has propelled Singapore into the twenty-first century has also cultivated an absence of freedom of expression and political rights when it comes to disagreements with the sole political organization on the island, the Communist Party.

While the political architect Lee Kwuan Yew’s vision of a solid social safety net, wealth distribution, and prosperity has led to a successful, ultra-secure, and content Singapore, political dissent, free speech, a free press, and other political freedoms are nonexistent.

All of this has made Singapore “Disneyland with the death penalty,” where chewing gum can indeed land you years in prison.

As travelers, it is our duty to think deeply about Singapore to learn how we can provide the economic freedom of public housing, subsidies for the poor, while allowing the kind of monetary agency to pursue our dreams. If we have learned anything from traveling, it should be that we can adopt the practices of others while avoiding a country’s more nefarious qualities.

We can be better travelers and members of our own community when we think about these political issues when we travel, to think about what makes a person, culture, or country interesting, great, and worth visiting.

It is because of Singapore’s welcoming countenance towards tourists, business, and the combination of cultures that Singapore has been able to balance the happiness of its citizens with the harsh political realities of its government.

How much wealth, happiness, and security is worth losing the right to assemble, speak-freely, and have access to the truth about the very government that has made a place like Singapore possible? And how much are the luxuries of our own societies obstructing our views of freedom?

To grapple with Singapore means grappling with these inconsistencies, those of which will surely follow us forward into the future.

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