Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unhappy in Singapore

Much has been made about Singapore being a place with many unhappy people. I overhead some Singaporeans talking about it, and came to realise that there are indeed many things that Singaporeans are not happy about. And these are not new. They have been there, festering as it were, and the powers that be thus far can only suggest that Singaporeans talk about it, perhaps even talk its way out of its unhappiness. Someone pointed out that the sexual and financial shenanigans may even be symptomatic of the underlying stress and unhappiness that Singaporean's in general feel. They may be right. Money and sex often go together, and even if they don't, each is able to raise the emotions a couple of notches in the direction of delirium, at least for a moment. Then you need to go back for more...

But seriously, there is a lot to be unhappy about in Singapore. For motorists, it is the sky high Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which is priced around $80,000 - $90,000 now. People whose current car entitlements are nearing 10 years fret about the prospect of spending $130,000 for a car which they got for $40,000 (with COE) the last time. That's exacerbated by noticing that their richer neighbours own 2 or even 3 cars. No wonder we can never earn enough on this island. Is it any wonder that making money is the top priority over having children? How can anybody be happy chasing after an elusive car?

Then there is the perennial concern of parents over their children's education, in ensuring that they ace their exams so that they gain admission to prestigious schools. How can anyone be happy over the stress of the competitive educational environment?

And then there is the public transport squeeze, which hasn't abated much, with trains continuing to break down at a stretch. How to be happy when you suffer from claustrophobia every day you go to work in a bus or train?

And then there is the perception that while rich foreigners who prefer PR status are lapping it up both sides of the Causeway in perks, entitlements and loopholes, Singaporeans live with so much restrictions each side of the Causeway. You begin to wonder if Singapore citizenship is a hobble than a privilege. The thought that you have to squat 2 years in uniform doesn't help to assuage the discontent with rich foreigners who get PR at a drop of the hat. How to be happy when you thought that you were the privilege ones because you are citizens?

And then there is the continued high cost of living. Though inflation has abated somewhat, it is still above 3%. That is 3% too much already for Singaporeans whose pay has stagnated or will soon stagnate going into the new year. How to be happy when your money keeps shrinking?

And who can forget that public housing is now virtually out of reach of a couple starting life together in their twenties. Hold on, nobody gets married in their 20s anymore. If you can't afford to buy public housing, you don't want to get married. And when you do get married when a house is affordable (because you earn more and not because the housing prices have fallen), you would have missed the period where you can have children, which may or may not be a good thing. The upshot? Nobody is happy.

There is really no good news going into the last mile of 2012. Singaporeans are probably expecting more of the same next year.

How to be happy like that?

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