• Transform magazine
  • January 24, 2021


Singapore: City of rules


Many remember Singapore as that country where chewing gum is illegal.

The city-state’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, was the man responsible for turning the small Asian fishing port into a globally significant trading hub. He also loathed gum.

After the island became independent in 1965, Lee’s goal was to make Singapore a ‘first-world oasis in a third world region.’ His strict approach to rule making has become a key underlying aspect of Singapore’s international reputation.

The city-state has laws banning not just chewing gum, but also jaywalking, public spitting, graffiti and littering. On a more serious note, it also has some of the world’s strictest drug trafficking laws, perhaps more so even than Thailand or Indonesia.

Despite its draconian image, in many respects Singapore retains a strong national brand. The island has become synonymous with economic prowess, making massive strides in global finance and building up an extensive and well-respected service industry. Its airport is one of the finest the world has to offer, and its national carrier, Singapore Airlines, has a glowing reputation for excellence.

But amid all this cleanliness, politeness and efficiency, some have accused Singapore of lacking in personality. It has also been likened to a ‘nanny state,’ as Lee told the BBC in a 2000 interview.

A 2012 poll conducted by Gallup discovered that Singapore ranked as the most emotionless society in the world. According to the survey, as reported by Bloomberg, Singaporeans rarely laugh and are “Unlikely to report feelings of anger, physical pain, or other negative emotions.”

This phenomenon may happen because, in Singapore’s high achieving society, people often learn at an early age to control their emotions. They focus on becoming successful. Fortunately, Singapore has already recognised the problem and has been taking steps to fix it.

One example of this is the Singapore Kindness Movement, a government-funded body founded in 1997 to help citizens be nicer to one another. It aims to encourage people to stop taking themselves so seriously, loosen up and enjoy life.