Don’t get me wrong—I love Singapore as much as the next person. What’s not to like about the diversity of people, the range of exquisite cuisine, the squeaky clean streets, the fast transportation, and the Changi Airport complete with its swimming pool, reclining chairs, and butterfly garden? While I freely admit it is one of the best places to have a layover and I could even see myself living here one day, I can’t help but notice some suspicious similarities between Singapore and my most recently read novel, George Orwell’s 1984. (All tongue-in-cheek, of course.)
In 1984, the controlled citizens under Big Brother ate food prefaced with “Victory.” Winston drank tasteless “Victory Coffee” and coveted the rationed and terrible quality “Victory Chocolate.” In Singapore, the McDonald’s advertises “Prosperity Fries,” “Double Prosperity Chicken Burgers,” and even “Double Prosperity Beef Burgers.” Hmm.
It didn’t take much for an outlier ‘corrupting’ society to be killed and “vaporized” from public records by the Thought Police in 1984. Rebellion against the government was met with brainwashing and eventually, death. I don’t know about the brain washing, but the back of my Singapore immigration card reads “WARNING: DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW.” Try to slip drugs into Singapore and you don’t risk prison. They kill you, fair warning.
Okay, maybe it was only one gun, but it startled me to be woken up at 2:00 AM by a group of men with a machine gun wanting to see my boarding pass at the Changi Airport. Seeing that I had already cleared security, this felt like an excessive measure of control as I fumbled for my pass to show them. Orwell’s society is based on extreme amounts of control and regulation on a much grander scale.
Before killing rebels in the 1984 society they gave the prisoners a proper beating in preparation for torture and brainwashing. Corporal punishment is a thing in Singapore. The theft and littering rates are almost nonexistent because people are afraid. Risk these crimes and the punishment is to be caned. (Perhaps you have heard of the American man beat for spitting his gum on the sidewalk?) Those clean streets come at a price. Some caning, I was told while in Singapore, have to be carried out over two days to prevent people from bleeding to death.
Only the inner party members of the 1984 society benefit from any kind of luxury. Everyone else has to make do with what was available. In Singapore, driving is this privilege. Taxes and laws are extensive in many sectors, but owning a car hovers around 100,000 dollars in just tax and registration fees. Singapore does this on purpose to limit the amount of traffic and pollution in the city. Don’t fit into this bracket? Public transportation for you.
Obsession with Independence
For years Singapore has been obsessed with self-sufficiency and independence. Wanting to stand out from its neighbors and not rely on them, Singapore is especially interested in finding ways to create its own water supply rather than depend on enemy neighbors. In 1984, Orwell’s society is trapped in a bubble, only hearing about others through the lens of war. Of course, Singapore is an international presence, but don’t think they are satisfied with being dependent on others. At the moment, Singapore has taken on the massive task of figuring out how to turn salt water into a fresh water to sustain themselves. So far about half of their water source comes from this process and is stored in the fresh water bay surrounding the city. Singapore has a ways to go to have 100% water independence, but it won’t stop until this goal is achieved.
Sadly, with the massive pressures of life comes a lot of suicides in Singapore. However, you won’t hear about them in any mainstream news. Last time I was in Singapore I was told that it is only from eyewitnesses that one hears through the grapevine about people jumping off of skyscrapers. Singapore carefully minimizes reports of suicide in the media. This eerily reminds me of the “vaporized” citizens in Orwell’s world. When someone goes missing in that society, people have learned to not ask questions. Furthermore, suicide was a welcomed escape for those caught by the Thought Police.
Singapore’s national mascot is the Lion, a powerful and well-known symbol of superiority and an old sign of the British Empire. It doesn’t stop there. Singapore is covered in banners and advertisements that say “World’s Best So-and-So” and “Largest Such-And-Such on Earth.” Obviously lots of patriotic places apply these sorts of phrases, but Singapore seems to have more than most. Maybe these self-assertions are true. Who checks or questions? Big Brother is also able to make such claims in 1984.
Singapore has built “the world’s best airport” that serves as a major hub in Asia. It is difficult to fly anywhere in this region without a stop in Singapore. Sometimes it is a few hours, but often it is a full day so you have to leave the airport. I notice I have more stamps in my passport to Singapore than any other country. It’s almost like I have to check in. Almost like someone is watching…