Article and Photography by Azman Toy | Owl Staff
“We are not a country, we are a company,” he said with conviction in his eyes. “That is how this island is run: profit comes first above people and you have very little say in how these things are handled.” He held his gaze a moment longer after saying this to assert his seriousness in the matter.
Fairul, 24, is an engineering student with short, cropped hair, thick rimmed glasses, and a dark olive complexion typical of the Malays who inhabit the island nation of Singapore. I am sitting across from him in one of the many street food stalls found across the country. It had been over a year since I had last seen Singapore and a lot had already changed. New apartment high rises and shopping malls had sprouted in places they previously never were and fast food and clothing companies familiar to me from the west had taken root in fresh Singaporean soil—all in as little as the 12 months since my last visit.
Singapore is no stranger to rapid economic growth.
This is a country which since having gained its independence only 60 years ago, managed to turn a swampy island half the size of Rhode Island (with nearly no resources I might add) into one of the most efficiently run economic powerhouses in the world, and it still thrives today amongst the economic turmoil plaguing western states.
According to Singapore’s Department of Statistics, the unemployment rate as of June 2011 was 2.1% and GDP growth for the year is expected to be 5% to 6%. This puts the United States to shame which as of now has a 9% unemployment rate and expects a meager 1% to 2% increase in GDP for the year.
Still, many Singaporeans are not satisfied. “You work, work, work, work, work. You make enough to live and enjoy life comfortably for the one day out of the week you are not working. To what end? So, I can have an iPod to match my Calvin Klein jeans?”
Fairul’s eyes were somewhere else now, gazing over the crowded noodle and fish stalls. I sensed a hint of sadness. I have seen this same melancholy glance flash across the faces of many of my Singaporean friends before when such matters were discussed. I often thought that traveling and discovering foreign lands and cultures could somehow give me answers to fundamental human problems, but I now only find myself with more questions.
What is the price of prosperity? If contentment cannot be found in a First World country whose population has access to all the newest technology and trends, then where can it be found?