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Gleanings Fro S’pore

Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-Tamil problem and the Irish question are taught as a subject for the O’Levels in Singapore.

Encapsulated in a subject called social studies, with reference to Sri Lanka’s Tamil problem, it identifies its main source as the island’s Sinhala Only policy of 1956, where Sinhala was made the country’s official language, virtually denigrating English, which up to that time was Sri Lanka’s official language, to the dustbin.

This allegedly was the start of Sri Lanka’s 26 year old war against Tamil terrorism which exploded in 1983 and which ended only four years ago in 2009.

Singapore which majority population is Chinese, with Indians, especially of Tamil origin and Malays too comprising sizeable minority populations, post independence adopted a different policy, by continuing to maintain English as its official language, a throwback from its colonial masters, who like in Sri Lanka were the British.

The essence of taking and teaching Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-Tamil problem in the O’Level curriculum in Singapore is to avoid the possible repetition of mistakes that Sri Lanka made by Singapore. Singapore like Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious  and a multi-cultural state.
The Chinese by nature are avid gamblers and Singapore is also popular for its gambling halls. But to dissuade the locals from taking up to gambling, a tax of Singapore dollars (S$) 100 is levied on Singaporeans entering such gambling halls. Entry to foreigners are however free.

But that has not deterred Singaporeans from visiting those gambling dens. Formerly Christmas islands belonged to Singapore. But its then Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock, prior to the advent of Lee Kuan Yew, sold it to Australia.

Singapore before Lee was overtaken by gambling and opium, Foo Moo Yoong (65), whom this reporter befriended in his short stay in Singapore last week said. Foo who previously worked with race horses, but is now selling telephone accessories, remembers late Upali Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s well known millionaire, whose horses participated in the Singapore horse races at that time.

Singapore until 2011 was dependent on Malaysia for its water. But after building a man made reservoir, coupled with desalination of sea water and the purification of even sewage water, it’s now self sufficient in water to meet the requirements of its over four million strong population.
As Singapore is short of land, this reservoir was built after reclaiming land from the sea. Singapore comprises an area of 740.3 square kilometres. Prior to this reclamation, it comprised 581 sq. kms.  Other than a reservoir being built on this reclaimed land, the reclaimed land has also been subjected to real estate and property development.

For its transport system,  Singapore has a focus on developing its underground railway system known as mass rapid transit  with the objective of reaching all four corners of this city state. This is in order to minimize traffic congestion.

A person wanting to buy a vehicle, say a car; has to first buy a permit called the certificate of entitlement (COE). The current cost of this COE is between Singapore S$ 96,000-97,000. This is in addition to the price of the car. However no other taxes or duties are applicable.

Singaporean women are seemingly reluctant to marry early. Ms. Joanne Tham (23) of AsiaPRWerkz whom this reporter met has a Sri Lankan Chinese boyfriend. She however said that she will consider getting married after establishing herself in her carrier which will be when she reaches 30 years of age. Joanne read for her degree in Australia, with a number of Singaporeans opting to do their degrees in Australia because it’s closer home, rather than reading for the same either in the USA or UK.  Besides, trying to enter university in Singapore is competitive. So, possibly the easy way out is to opt for a foreign university such as in Australia.She plans to visit Sri Lanka next year. Ms. Sharon Cheong (39), Senior Manager Marketing, Tiger Airways, a budget airline based in Singapore said that she married when she was 27. Because of her carrier she kept putting off the idea of having children and after reaching the age of 35-36, she dropped off the idea of having children altogether.

Singapore’s biggest property developer and the largest hotel operator is a name not well known in circles, namely Far East Hospitality Management (FEHM). The company, which is family owned, earlier this year went public and now is cash rich, looking for opportunities outside of Singapore, namely in Australia and India.

Brian Stampe, FEHM’s Field Operations Singapore, alleged that Sri Lanka, still in the minds of the international public is a country at war. He said that the best way that this misconception may be removed is by having publicity and promotional campaigns in international

markets.Stampe further said that vis-à-vis the leisure sector, FEHM’s strengths are in the city hotel sector.

That’s the reason why they are not looking at the Maldivian market for investment purposes currently.

He also said that as they were in the inbound travel trade, Sri Lanka’s former conflict was not a blur as far as that aspect of business was concerned in respect of trying to  attract tourists from Sri Lanka to its hotels.

Another person whom I met was an accountant from Shanghai who had settled down in Singapore in the late 1990s. “Singapore is crime free whereas crime is rampant in Shanghai,” he alleged. “My only regret is that I don’t see my parents who are in Shanghai,” the man said.

Singapore which receives 14 million visitors annually is topped off by wealthy Indonesians whose children also school in Singapore.
That said, Joanne’s family employs a housemaid from Indonesia to attend to household chores.

Among some of the unique attractions of this city state is having a botanical garden despite the scarcity of land, coupled with compact orchid and butterfly gardens in its airport Changi.

As Ms. Lakmalie Senanayake, Supervisor, Tiger Airways GSA-MAC Aviation Services Pvt. Ltd., said, walking through Changi is not like walking in an airport, but through a shopping mall.

Being a wealthy country, overseas travel is not something of a luxury to Singaporeans, with even the young, whom this reporter met, having had travelled to Malaysia and at least to one other country, either in the Far  East or another country in South  East Asia. I also did meet a Sri Lankan housemaid, but she was not amenable to share much information with me.

As Singapore is a “visa on arrival” country, apparently a number of Sri Lankans are working illegally there, with some opting to crossover to Malaysia.On our return on Wednesday, a handful of Sri Lankans who had been deported from Singapore were also escorted in to our flight.

Tiger, the airline which flew us in and out of Singapore carries some 6,000-7,000 passengers in its regional flights per day. The company which enjoys lounge facilities at Changi, finds between 400-500 of its passengers using this facility.

“This comprises about 0.2% of our passenger numbers, however to make money we need to achieve a target of 0.5%-1%, which target we hope to meet by the year end,” Ms. Patricia Lam (41), Tiger’s Ground Services Executive (Operations) and a mother of two said.
She said that she opted to buy a car at the height of the recent recession, when the COE, due to the depressed state of the economy was going at a mere S$ 10,000.

“If I wish to I can sell my car and make lots of money, however I need it because of my children,” she said.

English is an all transcending and all binding language in Singapore, making it that much easier for a foreigner like I to move around in this city state provided that you don’t make the mistake of identifying a  Chinese from the mainland (and there are several of them) as a Singaporean.

When I asked Ms. Lim Wee Ling of FEHM Public Relations whether she was of Chinese extraction, she insisted on being referred to as a Singaporean. That I believe is the other end of the spectrum where at least some Singaporeans try to forget their origins, despite the fact that Singapore is a melting pot where most of its citizens were originally from other countries, not least China.

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