Singapore Dawn


My flight from LA to Singapore (via Tokyo) arrived at 1 AM. The new Terminal 3 is both pristine and beautiful, with high arching celings and amazing signage in many languages. As we pulled out of the airport on to the East Coast Parkway, the driver noted that the first three miles of the parkway could double as a 747 runway if “ever there was a terrorist incident”. I looked down the flat straight parkway and he noted that all the planting in the median was in movable boxes. Take them away and you have a world class runway.

While I waited to check in, I went on the screamingly fast wi-fi system that is available free to all in every part of the city. My host said it was to encourage people to get out of their cubicles and see their work more creatively. I am here talking about the nature of the creative process and it is something this country is determined to foster in its citizens. They already have a pretty robust Computer Animation business that services most of Southeast Asia, but they want to be a global outsourcing player, and I’m convinced they will.

It’s at times like this that I think the U.S. is living in a fools paradise. Last month Singapore was able to deploy $11 billion in cash to take a huge stake in the Swiss Bank, UBS. Singapore is spending its considerable savings both on building a world class digital infrastructure available to all citizens but it is also able to opportunistically bail out some of the West’s desperately over-leveraged banks at very good terms for Singapore.

I guess what has depressed me so much in the last few weeks is that from a global perspective, America is slipping behind, and yet we are contesting an election over American flag pins, egotistical preachers and assorted nonsense that has nothing to do with our massive failures both in Iraq and in every town in our great country. While the rest of the world is moving ahead we are cutting back. At USC, the National Science Foundation grants are harder to come by. Corporate chieftains like Jeff Immelt of GE get criticized for making long term bets on Green Tech. And everywhere we look our bridges, schools, pipelines and digital infrastructure are second class. If the American people are so short-sighted as to fall for the Clinton-McCain “Gas tax Holiday” to encourage consumption, when in fact we should be doing everything we can to reduce consumption–then they will get the panderer they deserve for a President.

Two months ago, I had hoped that a young man named Barack Obama could run a campaign telling people not what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. Clinton and McCain call that “elitist”. I call it courageous, but whether we still think of our leaders in terms of Profiles In Courage, is debatable.

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0 Responses to Singapore Dawn

  1. BobbyG says:

    I too support Barack, but have this increasingly anxious concern that HRC is going to yank the nomination away by whatever means it takes.

  2. Adam says:

    Hi Jon,

    It’s always easy to get depressed about the USA when visiting Singapore given how clean and efficient it is.

    The USA simply seems to be going through one of its usual convulsions that will cause considerable short term pain, but will generate a response that will make the country emerge stronger. I’m no great student of history but this seems to be a usual occurrence whereby a “great” achievement is undertaken then the country rests on its laurels until kicked in the arse.

    Remember the fears back in the 80’s that Japan was taking over, and the value of Tokyo land was reputed to be worth more than California?

    Anyhow, I’m jealous of your trip as I love the food – my wife couldn’t keep me away from the hawkers markets when we went last year!

  3. Hugo says:

    I’m jealous too as I’ve never been and have wanted to go for decades now. I’ve never met anyone from there who wasn’t a lovely person. It’s so interesting what you say about Singapore’s reasons for the free and ultra-fast Wi-Fi. Aesthetic purposes! My gawd, how civilized. What humanism.

    Even in the 1970’s in California of all places, when the Governor suggested that the State ought to invest in its own dedicated telecom satellite, the poor fellow got lambasted all the way out in Chicago!

    A couple years after Jerry Brown got moonbeamed I had the privilege of spending the day with a high official from Singapore, chatting about the future of libraries. Not only was Singapore decades ahead of the U.S. in its understanding that all was coming to depend upon the free exchange of unhusbanded information and unfettered ideas, but for inspiration they looked largely to Canada, and not to the U.S., which was regarded as too busy admiring its technology to think normatively about its best use.

    If your dispatch from the great Asian city state finds the U.S. in the doldrums, then I guess we’re in the doldrums. But is Kennedy’s and Sorensen’s “courage” the virtue we or our leaders lack just now?

    My favorite was the chapter on Sam Houston. Had it not been for the Civil War he probably would’ve been our first multi-ethnic President. What if.

  4. Hugo says:

    Jon, I remember that ten or twelve years ago UBS, which obviously specializes in extremely big-ticket, longrun infrastructure investments, was singing the praises of high-speed rail for the U.S. A lot of people got heavily wined-and-dined on the Swiss, but as far as I know, nothing came of it, even in your state—an obvious candidate. I bet UBS is good and sick of the U.S. by now.

    And what was that you were saying about derelict infrastructure?


  5. Dmitri says:

    Come home and chew gum :)

  6. Bernard Fauchier says:

    I wish the US would become once again an example for the rest of the world . Iraq is a terrible mistake and here in South America the US as a very bad image people have lost faith– too many mistakes were made. Depredators instead of innovators. I do hope that the next generation will shift toward a more humane approach . Saludos.

  7. Dan says:

    “I guess what has depressed me so much in the last few weeks is that from a global perspective, America is slipping behind, and yet we are contesting an election over American flag pins, egotistical preachers and assorted nonsense that has nothing to do with our massive failures both in Iraq and in every town in our great country.”

    Right on. And I’d say we’re not slipping so much as we’re frantically applying additional bear traps to every part of our national body to see just how much we can possibly tie ourselves down.

    Are you by any chance familiar with the…let me see if I remember the name…I think it was the Oxford Circus food court? Next to the Oxford Circus, obviously. (Just down the street from the Hilton, if the Hilton is still where it was in 1993.) An astonishing array of cuisines available, including all kinds of fresh seafood. I spent a total of four weeks in Singapore, as I recall, and I ate there just about every chance I could get. I’d go down there in the morning too and have the local coffee, really strong with lots of condensed milk in it.

    I first discovered congee in Singapore too.

  8. Dan says:

    Another memory of Singapore was a sign that I saw outside many government buildings. It had no words but the meaning was very clear: “Trespassers will be shot on sight.” It showed a drawing of a hand with a gun on the left side, firing, and a bullet zipping across the sign, to strike a guy in the buttocks. You saw only the legs of the figure from the back, and the pants on the figure were clearly jeans, because the stitching on the back pockets was quite detailed and looked like the kind of girly jeans some guys used to wear back in the 80’s. My first reaction on seeing one of these signs was to laugh, but a bit of further reflection was more sobering. I usually saw these signs on the sidewalk in front of a building, and there would be no fence or wall of any kind. Just, “don’t step off the sidewalk if you don’t want to get shot. Seriously. This is Singapore.”

    I’m just curious if you saw any examples of that sign.

  9. destor23 says:

    Wow, with all the praise for how greta Singapore is, you’d think that Taplin has no idea that he’s visiting a dictatorship. But, he is. While he bemoans that the American people want a “panderer” (a charge that I don’t think is true) he doesn’t seem to realize that at least they have a say.

  10. Ken Ballweg says:

    destor – Do a little research. I think you are confusing Singapore with Hong Kong maybe?? Singapore is a constitutional republic, kinda like we’re supposed to be.

  11. Adam says:


    Whilst Singapore is a representative democracy, the practical political process is essentially a benevolent dictatorship under the Lee family.

    An interesting example comes from my mother-in-law (a Singaporean lady of Hunan extraction) told me of a vote in the 80’s when a few seats (I think 2 of a total of 94?) voted in the opposition, at which point the government cut off services such as garbage collection for a while to teach them a lesson. I think the government may have become a little more subtle since then, but they certainly got their point across.

    The system seems to work pretty well when the leaders are smart and competent

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