Singapore fling

The Associated Press
22 July 2003

The modern world’s only Confucian state, has taken a long look in the mirror – and found itself, well, boring.

And among the antidotes, the island’s paternalistic government is suggesting – drum roll, please – legalizing bungee jumping. Oh yes, and reverse bungee jumping, which somehow sounds even worse.

That’s one of many recommendations of the Remaking Singapore Committee, set up by the authoritarians who run the city to keep it globally competitive by inducing more creativity, risk-taking and joie de vivre.

For the conclusion that Singapore lacks a certain spark – perhaps even an essential spark – we hope its earnest managers didn’t waste any of its considerable wealth on consultants. Just ask any of the visitors who have exhausted their interests in making money or spending it in countless malls.

Singapore, of course, is a remarkable wonder, having evolved under supreme leader Lee Kuan Yew’s ruling party from a swampy backwater into Southeast Asia’s most orderly, clean, crime-free, well-educated corner. It boasts one of the world’s highest percentages of homeownership, one of its freest marketplaces and one-party rule famed for regulating the lives of its 4.2 million citizens down to banning chewing gum, fining them for not flushing public toilets and occasionally caning delinquents.

But along the way, creativity got squeezed out, which is proving to be something of a business problem. Now even the government acknowledges life there needs a greater measure of joy as well.

We would suggest that life in Singapore would be a lot more vibrant if the government tolerated more dissent and political democracy. And of course Confucius’ concept of happiness had to do with living a balanced life of virtue, not risk-taking.

But Singapore’s not moving very fast toward the former (though the need for greater free expression within firm political limits has at least been acknowledged). And the island is already thoroughly infused from top to bottom with very admirable Confucian virtues, thank you very much.

That leaves us with the image of phalanxes of Singaporeans soon dutifully lining up to attach themselves to long cords, free-fall from high places and bounce around just short of the ground. Oh, joy.