Beautiful Singapore

Back in Singapore after a long time, I have been humming The Green, Green Grass of Home. The difference is the song is about a man in a prison who is dreaming of home while here I am in my beloved Singapore. And just in time for National Day, a celebration I didn’t want to miss. It feels so good watching the red-and-white flags draped on buildings and fluttering on roadsides.

An Indian lady I talked to on the flight said how happy she was to be living in Singapore. It was heartwarming indeed as Singapore came into view as the plane began its descent to Changi.

I collected my luggage and got through immigration in no time as disembarking passengers breezed through the airport, thanks to Changi’s fabled efficiency. A short hop on the Skytrain and I was going down the escalator to catch the MRT from the airport’s basement. It was five in the evening and I had to stand all the way on the train with my trolley bag and rucksack, but it was a smooth ride; the train wasn’t full to bursting.

Singapore, oh Singapore, I am tempted to sing A Wonder Like You.

Within a couple of months I will again have to go overseas – and already I am missing Singapore!

I am not saying Singapore is heaven on earth. But home is where the heart is – and Singapore’s got a Piece of My Heart. That’s the title of another song, by the way. Ooh, I am on song, in raptures over Singapore! The National Day does that to me. And comebacks … to Singapore.

Let me count the things I love about Singapore: the stability, security… and let’s not forget the people. Singapore has good government, it’s said. But no system can work without people. The airport staff, the immigration officials, the people with whom I shared a not unpleasant MRT ride from the airport all helped me enjoy my first hours back in Singapore.

People caught up in their own problems may say this initial euphoria will wear off. Maybe. No doubt even tropical isles and snowcapped mountains get a little stale to their permanent inhabitants.

I am seeing Singapore with fresh eyes after a long absence.

I am not up to speed with all that’s been happening in Singapore. I did not have regular internet access. And when I could go online, I wanted to check my favourite sites such as Arts and Letters Daily and The Browser, which curate articles from sources like The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and the Guardian. I could see what Singaporeans were saying on Twitter and Facebook, but when it comes to long-form journalism or articles you want to save and read later, personally I like Western media. This may sound pompous, but forgive an old news junkie who grew up with a high regard for publications like Time magazine and The Economist.

Not all that I am reading about Singapore sounds new, however. There are perennial issues. So on Prismatic – an online news aggregator – I came across a piece headlined Six Reasons Singapore Universities Hire Foreign Faculty Members instead of Locals. Published in in June, it said:

The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University tend to hire academics who are already established as they are concerned with university rankings and demand “big names” to produce publications, win prestigious grants and receive international recognition, all of which sees young Singaporean graduates being passed over for the job.

Maybe Singapore is following Hollywood and America, magnets for foreign talent. This is a playbook that works. NUS is 26th and NTU 76th on the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings.

NTU, in fact, has leapfrogged up the rankings. It was not even in the top 100 a few years ago, ranking 169th in 2011-12 and 174th in 2010-11.

University rankings and similar league tables of countries and economies are, of course, of more interest to economists and educators than to the man on the street, but there’s no doubt that Singapore has prospered. From Third World to First. Yes, the book was written by Lee Kuan Yew. So?

Tomorrow is National Day. Celebrate! I remember what a joy it was last year. Here’s to a festive weekend!

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