Of all the places I have been to in Asia, I must say Singapore impressed me the most. Not weather wise–it makes Florida and Okinawa cool by comparison–but in its human capital. After taking the typical tour through the zoo, the Marina Bay, CBD, Clarke Quay, and sampling the cuisine of endless street “hawkers” as they are known as here, I never really got good opportunity to converse with the locals early on. By locals I mean people who are genuinely born there and didn’t arrive with a preconceived notion of the place.
My first “local” I met was a man and his wife in Little India. Me, hungry and looking for something good among the cuisines ranging from “Indian Muslim” to “Jain”, settled on the humble shack of your typical street hawker, serving cheap $5-7 fare. While eating your typical mutton curry with naan bread and a teh tarik, I end up having a long conversation with thi
s local man who has lived here for a long time..like 60 years almost. The first thing you notice about native Singaporeans is that they are not only cerebral, but seemingly entrepreneurial as well. They talk like they actually care about the world around them, and wish to understand it. This man wrote a few books on the music scene of the area since the ’60s, worked as a consultant in adjacent countries, and was very well educated. It was a nice refresher from the typical niche of government workers who all seem to talk how they are going to weasel another year in Okinawa or when they can retire with their pension. I don’t know where they get their education, but I guess if you are from a small island country adjacent to continental Asia sandwiched between two giant neighbors–essentially a gnat on an Elephant’s ass–you have an huge incentive to work hard so you don’t get absorbed.
The story of Singapore is one that should be more well known throughout the world. It is a rare case of human potential actually being reached because of the stellar leadership they had. Its leader for the first 24 years–Lee Kwan Yew–was actually a certifiable genius, and understood what must be done in order to have Singapore survive. It is a story of molding a national identity where there was none, utilizing the hard work of its people, and learning from the big government mistakes of other nations. Every country has potential; very few reach it.