the world beyond four walls


Critics call Singapore an autocracy. But I never felt more free than when I lived there.

By Sahana Singh/March 25 2015/The Washington Post

Between my early life in India and my current life in the United States, I spent 14 years in paradise: Singapore. From clean water and crime-free streets to reliable public transportation and easy access to libraries, the state government anticipates all the basic needs to provide its residents a good quality of life and eliminate the stresses that can impede personal progress. But in the coverage that followed the death of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Monday, Western media has painted a very different picture. They describe a crushing autocrat that chained his people and stripped them of basic freedoms. My experience was quite the contrary. Outside of this tiny island utopia, I never felt more free.

My husband whisked me and our baby away to Singapore in 1998 after landing a job there, despite my fears about adapting to an unfamiliar culture. When we first arrived and checked into a hotel, I called room service and asked for a jug of filtered water – a standard health precaution. The hotel employee dismissed my concerns: “You can drink water from the tap in your bathroom.” At first, I was horrified by the suggestion. In India, water filters were as common as TVs and refrigerators in middle- and upper-class homes. But here, I soon discovered, the state maintained a high-quality water treatment process that delivered purified water nationwide. Not only was Singapore’s water drinkable straight from the tap, but it always gushed with good pressure, even on the top floors of the tallest buildings. It was my first introduction to a government that works.

In my first days in Singapore, I worried about safely getting around town, especially with a baby. I had never used local trains and feared ending up in a dangerous neighborhood. But what would be reasonable fears for a newcomer in most countries were gratuitous in Singapore. Everywhere were street signs and directions in English, clearly marked and intelligently placed, as if invisible planners were anticipating your next question. On my first try, I navigated to Orchard Road, the nation’s retail hub, and back to my hotel without having to ask anyone for directions.

There was no litter in Singapore’s streets. Every building looked clean and every walkway looked newly washed. The national library had numerous branches, stocked with wonderful books. With my baby in a stroller, I could go practically anywhere. It was like an India I had always dreamed of: clean, green and hassle-free.

How was this possible? Singapore gained its independence nearly 20 years after India, and yet, the island nation now boasts a remarkably diverse economy, the world’s top airline, clean river, and a thriving trade port – all achieved in just a few decades. Certainly, Singapore benefits from being a fraction of India’s size, with a population of 5.5 million people covering just 275 square miles. But by any measure, it developed at a staggering speed. The engine behind that transformation was the governance of Lee Kuan Yew, the man whose vision took this little dot of a city-state “from third-world to first.” Read More


Singapore is 2nd best spot in Asia, 12th best in the world to die

By Janice Tai/Oct 6 2015/The Straits Times

SINGAPORE- Singapore has been ranked the 12th best place to die in the world, up from 18th in 2010, a global ranking on palliative care has found.

The improvement was largely due to the drafting and implementation of a national strategy on palliative care in recent years, including the training of more health-care professionals to provide such care.

Similar to the first Quality of Death Index done five years ago, Britain topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Index, followed by Australia and New Zealand.

Taiwan is the leader among Asian territories and Singapore, second.

The index, which was commissioned by local philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation, ranked 80 countries on end-of-life care, up from just 40 countries in 2010.

It is scored by 20 indicators across five categories: palliative and health-care environment, human resources, affordability of care, quality of care and community engagement.

The EIU’s 2010 index has sparked a series of policy debates over the provision of palliative care around the world. Since then, countries such as Finland, Japan and Sweden have established or updated guidelines, laws or national programmes.

In Singapore, the first index led to the Government tasking the Lien Centre to develop a coordinated national strategy for palliative care, which was released in 2012. New national guidelines on end-of-life care were also unveiled last year.

On top of the index, a new area that the report assesses is the demand for palliative care. Singapore was placed 23rd in this aspect, because of its greying population.

“Palliative care has to be a fundamental pillar of a humane healthcare system, guided by the duty to relieve suffering,” said Mr Lee Poh Wah, Lien Foundation’s chief executive.

“It is incumbent upon each of us to dig deeper and remove the barriers buried in our healthcare systems, institutions and cultural practies as well as demand greater accountability from our governments to improve care for the dying.”