Do you know that Singapore was once dirtier than Jakarta?

First-time visitors to Singapore are oftentimes faced with the seemingly irrational rules that look more or less like this:

1. Urinating in the elevator = FINE $2000

2. Littering = FINE $1000

3. Spitting = FINE $500

4. Chewing rubber gum = FINE $1000

But fret not, those rules largely no longer applies today.

Now some may argue like this: "But I don't see any rubbish on the streets during my stay in the country..."

Well that's simply because you're too confined to Orchard or Marina Bay, for Gods sakes!

I personally think that foreign tourists should be banned from enterring Orchard when they visit Singapore: there is much more to Singapore than just Orchard!

If you wanna see the real face of Singapore, you should go for a walk out (not by taking any buses or MRT) and visit your nearest Hawker's centre.

There you will find plenty of unpleasant odours for you to inhale. Some unsightly rubbish could also be seen on some places surrounding the hawkers' centre.

But don't get me wrong. Singapore police officers are not being lax in this aspect.

In direct contradiction to their Indonesian counterparts, Singaporean policemen don't accept bribes whatsoever if they happen to chance upon a rules offender.

If you wanna know how Singapore had those "Fine" rules applied in the first hand, we need to get down to the basic history.

Back in the 1960s when it had just got "divorced" from Malaysia, Singapore was one of the filthiest cities in Asia (believe it or not, it was even filthier than Jakarta and Hong Kong that time).

Singaporeans were very notorious for littering and dirtying their own streets.

If you think that the prohibiton for "urinating in elevator" is absurd, then think again. Those rules would not be created if there was no offender in the first place.... Singaporeans on those decades were largely different from the Singaporeans today: they needed to be taught the hard way in order to discipline themselves.

Realising that all those unsightly features would create large disadvantage to their Tourism industry, the Singapore government decided to apply a strict rule to its citizens with all their hefty fines.

Thank God those rules worked.

Now if similar rules were to be applied in Manila or Jakarta or Bangkok, would they become cleaner cities than they are today?

I doubt it.

The only Asian country better than Singapore in terms of public discipline is Japan.

If you think that South Korea is a better place than Singapore, then I suggest you to visit Seoul or Busan and see for yourself how "polite" the Korean people are (Yes, sarcasm intended).

Regarding the ban for "chewing rubber gum", I am reminded of a story that my Oxford-graduate English teacher once told me in my Singapore school.

The idea for the ban started after a secondary student in the 1980s made a harmless prank by sticking a rubber gum to a part of the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) that he rode. Don't ask me which part of engine was it, because I myself have zero knowledge on mechanical engineering that I'm unable to recall such details.

Suffice it to say, that rubber gum prank paralysed the entire Singapore MRT system for a quite considerable time.

Though it may seemed an impossible to believe, the Singapore police was able to locate that puckish pupil and punished him to several weeks of public work. Fining him would not make any good for anyone, because it would mean that the ones punished are his parents instead of the boy himself.

Now quite a number of my friends and acquaintances in Indonesia have asked me this question:

Toshi, is it true that you are not allowed to chew or bring rubber gums into Singapore?

Yes and no.

That whole incident above resulted in an entire ban of chewing gum.

But as of today, the rules have been slightly loosened.

Chewing gum is not forbidden in Singapore but bringing gum into the country in large amount is illegal and the gum seller can be sent to jail.

Don't ask me, I also don't get it myself why.

Anonymous –   – (14 August 2008 at 04:43)  

You know what's absurd? NO DURIANS. The smell of armpits in the evening rush hour is worse than durians!
And they never actually state how much fine you have to pay if you happen to bring durians into the MRT.

At the night festival last month I participated in this event where we walked around giving out tickets to people who litter, loiter, etc. Fun. Although nothing too special (e.g. people urinating in public or having oral sex) happened.

Anonymous –   – (15 August 2008 at 01:23)  

Yes, I've heard the same too. That's why Singaporean government once applied strict rules to their people. Yes, they used to be gross but not anymore. The regulations were success in building a civilized nation.

About the gum, i think it make senses to allow foreigners chewing gum and bring it from their country but not allowed to sell any of them in Singapore itself. The law makers mean to limit their prohibition only to their citizen. Maybe........

toshi  – (15 August 2008 at 11:40)  

@jade: hmm u sure abt the No Durians thingy? but now that i think of it, i've never encountered any Durian before in Sgp...

and um what night festival? gee, if only i could join ! :)

@yonna: my singaporean teacher was well-known to bring large number of gums into singapore, though :p. I still think the selling prohibition is ridiculous. why not just ban them all for once?

Jakarta and Surabaya are two cities which, imho, have been f***ing poorly managed by their imbecile governors that both of them have constant floodings and plenty of unpleasant garbage for us to "enjoy"... Gee, if only indonesia could emulate Sgp's success, ya?

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