As I wrap-up my time in Singapore on this particular journey, I will begin my comments by stating right up front that I’m the newest member of the Singapore Fan Club. I’m a fan of Singapore’s openness, cleanliness, energy and enthusiasm, politeness, innovation, diversity, infrastructure, drive and ambition, order and structure, and their amazing success. The numbers suggest I’m not alone in my belief that Singapore is pretty amazing. There are more than 2.1 million foreign nationals that live and work in this city-state of just 3.4 million citizens. In fact, the government of Singapore has begun to carefully control the ratio of nationals to foreigners to ensure they’re not completely overwhelmed by non-citizens.
I was fortunate to make new connections with several people and organizations, and even reconnected with an acquaintance from the past. I received an unexpected message from an old high school friend who learned that I was in Singapore (it’s still amazing to me how information can spread through various social networks in no time at all). He works for AirBNB in Singapore and his entire family are over-the-moon with their experience in Singapore. I’m not sure the U.S. will be able to win him back. I volunteered to open the first Lunt Capital office in Australia in a blog post a week or two ago. I’m amending that location list for Lunt Capital offices to include Singapore.
If I were forced to identify something I didn’t genuinely like about Singapore, I suppose I could say, “It can get little hot and humid.” Again with the heat… I know, I know… enough already. Perhaps I should warn you that this may not be the last time I mention the climate in my musings. It’s a well-known fact among my friends and colleagues that my overall temperament is inversely correlated to the outside temperature and humidity level. The hotter it gets, the less “polite” I tend to be. Give me temps in the 40s and 50s and I’m as happy as can be. So there you go, I didn’t completely drink the Singapore Kool-Aid, but I certainly got very close.
In all seriousness, Singapore has a really good thing going… and they know it. They’re very proud of their progress thus far and are aggressively pursuing the future. What comes next for Singapore will not be left to chance and it will not be an accident. In this highly structured, well-planned, and forward-thinking society, wide-reaching plans have been made, reviewed, re-made, and implemented. Singapore has already enjoyed dramatic success since their founding 50 years ago and all indications are that they’re continuing on the path to increased prosperity.
Speaking of their birth as a nation, I was fortunate to be in Singapore as they launched their 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee celebration. And what a celebration it was. Massive crowds flocked to Marina Bay on Saturday where the skyline is impressive and the jubilee events were even more so. Red dots with white letters “SG 50” absolutely everywhere and on everything. I wandered around the festivities as I made a circle route around Marina Bay. Parades, dancing, music, booths, games, singing, fireworks, and people enjoying the atmosphere. There were excerpts of recordings of Singapore’s founder and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, being played over loud speakers in between different segments of the formal program. There were several military fly-overs, from jets, to cargo carriers, and even helicopters towing a massive Singapore flag in tandem. There was even a fly-over of military jets in a tight formation shaping the number “50” – very cool indeed.
I must admit that the order and structure of Singapore is highly appealing to me (and perhaps some of my OCD tendencies). I love how boarding and exiting trains is a pleasant, easy, orderly experience. No pushing, no shoving, no “me vs. them” mentality. Reserved seating on the trains for the elderly, infirm, or pregnant mothers is actually reserved. I saw people offering their seats all the time. There’s a politeness and helpfulness that I haven’t witnessed in many other large cities. A young military recruit politely informed me that I had unwittingly boarded the train out of order and said, “I just thought you’d like to know since I didn’t understand how it worked when I first came to Singapore.” I found that fascinating. No confrontation, no consternation, no passive aggressive eye-rolling or mumbling… just some polite instruction to help ensure the order is maintained, even with someone like me who was just passing through.
People wait for traffic signals. Pedestrians only cross where and when they are supposed to, even if the street is free from traffic. Traffic lanes and lights are not mere suggestions (as in many other nations), but rather, the cold, hard law… and everyone follows them to the letter. Singapore citizens appear to thrive in the order and structure they’ve created and actively work to maintain it.
People seem to look out for each other and self-police. While I’m not naïve enough to believe that Singapore is devoid of crime or less desirable elements, security and safety are paramount in Singapore. In my somewhat jaded view, I’ve become accustomed to believing that thieves and thugs are often lurking around every corner. When I travel, I’m extra cautious to ensure my passport, wallet, laptop, and phone are always guarded carefully. After spending a few days in Singapore, I’m no longer quite so skeptical… at least while visiting Singapore. The skepticism and cautiousness will undoubtedly creep back in as I visit places that aren’t quite so… “Singapore-ish.”
The use of CCTV and security monitoring is extensive. There are cameras at every turn, and those were just the ones I saw. As a freedom-loving American, I’m a big believer in privacy rights and that there should be limits to what the government can and cannot monitor. In Singapore, I’ve observed a different approach that has some real benefits as well as challenges. In addition to extensive CCTV monitoring and self-monitoring by its citizenry, the police are an ever-present, albeit subtle, presence.
I read Singapore was a clean city… but there’s clean, and then there’s Singapore clean. It’s amazing to me that such a large city could be so clean and well-kept. No graffiti, no trash or litter, and of course, no gum on the sidewalks (we all remember those stories about lashings for spitting or haphazardly discarding chewing gum). Even a rogue leaf or errant tree branch has a short-lived walk on the wild side should they decide to abandon their assigned place. If something hits the ground that shouldn’t be there, it doesn’t stay there for long. I learned as I wandered around the city early one morning that the cleanliness is thanks in part to an entire army of workers who are up early to sweep, scrub, wash, and ensure everything is as it should be.
Some might suggest I should temper my enthusiasm for Singapore as I may have been lucky and just happened to visit when it was all “dressed-up” and looking particularly good for the jubilee celebrations. That could be true, but my sense is that a city the size of Singapore, with the freedoms it enjoys, doesn’t just “fake it” for a week or two for a good show. This is not China or Russia and there are no Olympic games taking place. A city running like a well-oiled machine, a citizenry who are polite, disciplined, and driven, and a country that is clearly on the rise… no, that doesn’t just magically “happen,” nor can it be turned on and off like a switch. What I witnessed and experienced first-hand in Singapore is the result of five decades of vision, focus, and effort. Sure, there have been some bumps along the road, but all things considered, Singapore has a good thing going… and they know it.
Of course, the Investment Trek question about Singapore has to be, “How do these unique traits characteristics translate into investment opportunities?” Singapore is an established player on the global financial stage. What they lack in natural resources, land mass, and population size, they make-up for in ambition, ingenuity, openness, and focus. It’s an enviable combination of traits that are likely to continue to create promising opportunities. Even with all of its structure and planning, Singapore isn’t immune to down-turns, slumps, or market shocks. Lunt Capital will continue to evaluate Singapore, as well as over 30 other countries, for the most promising tactical opportunities and follow the opportunities, wherever they may be.