No Place Like Singapore: Tree Tops, Starbucks & Christianity (Part II)

[This blog post is Part II of two Parts.]

I recently had an opportunity to spend two weeks in Singapore.  I was doing a presentation to the leadership team of Far East Organization, teaching a course on “The Soul of Innovation” at Biblical Graduate School of Theology and speaking at some churches.  Although I’ve been in Singapore in the past, with my first visit dating back to 1986, I have learned twenty things—from faith to food—about the unique city-state.  The city-state has no natural resources, surviving and thriving on its wits, ingenuity, intelligence and innovation.  There’s no place like Singapore.  Here’s the second 10 of the “top 20” interesting things about Singapore.Singapore fancies itself as a “garden city.” 

11.  Virtually all boulevard and medians—and even overpasses—are festooned with various plants.  It’s quite amazing—but it must also be expensive to keep up the pruning.  The “garden city” vision was introduced by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1967 to transform Singapore into a city with abundant lush greenery and a clean environment in order to make life more pleasant for the people. It was also envisaged that the presence of ample greenery in an environment clean of litter would signify that Singapore was a well-organised city and hence a good destination for tourists and foreign investments.  The number of new trees planted increased from about 158,600 in 1974 to 1.4 million by June 2014.  Quite amazing.

12.  One of the great parks of Singapore is MacRitchie which comprises a reservoir, hiking trail and “tree tops” bridge.  The tree tops consists of a narrow bridge between two peaks so that when you are walking along the bridge you are at the same level as the tops of the trees.  I made the mistake of going on a public holiday.  To get to the tree tops you need to walk up a paved path through the forest.  When I arrived I discovered that a lot of other people had my same great idea!  I ended up in a queue of about 200 people waiting to cross the bridge and into the tree tops!  Only in Asia!  In Canada, the bears would outnumber the people.

13.  Malls gone wild.  Along high-rise dense Orchard Road, Singapore seems to be an endless stream of underground malls.  Each tower complex seems to have 5-6 levels underground, like a corkscrew, with a packed food court at the base.  You wonder where all these people come from!  It’s quite a site—but an outgrowth of 5.6 million people in a relatively small space.

14.  Starbucks is very expensive.  A Starbucks drink is relatively expensive so that begs the existential question: “Is it worth it?”  A drip coffee sells of SNG$4 – which is about CDN$3.75.  That’s a hefty 75% more expensive than Canada.  For Singaporeans, judging by Starbucks' popularity, the price is not much of a disincentive.  Singaporeans seem to have enough disposable income for a high-end coffee!

15.  The Economist Magazine issues “The Big Mac Index,” comparing the cost of McDonald's in various countries throughout the world.  In Singapore, McDonald's is not cheap!  It costs double what it does in Hong Kong.  I would spend SNG$20 for breakfast for two.  Also, McDonald's has halal items incorporated into the menu.  So, whether you want it or not, in deference to the Muslim population, you are getting turkey bacon as part of your breakfast!

16.  Singapore is very deliberate about being a secular society and impartially respecting different religions.  This is especially important as a tiny city-state surrounded by about 300 million Muslims (Malaysia has 33 million and Indonesia 261 million).  Singapore can not be in a situation where they have aggravated their Muslim minority who will call on Big Brother to help them out.

17.  Behave Yourself.  “The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act” came into force in 1992 and empowers the Minister of Home Affairs to make a restraining order against a person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or institution if the Minister is satisfied that the person has committed or is attempting to commit any of the following acts: causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups; or promoting a political cause, carrying out subversive activities, or exciting disaffection against the President or the government under the guise of propagating or practising a religious belief.

18.  There is a deep continuity of Christian influence in Singapore, dating back to the 1840s.  There is St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, a magnificent and prominent structure in the downtown core, dating back to 1861. There is Prinsep Street Presbyterian church founded in 1841 by Benjamin Keasberry who arrived in 1837 via the London Missionary Society.  The church maintains a strong evangelica presence in the city to this day.  Christians comprise 18.8% of the population and have a significant presence throughout society.

19.  There is a body called the National Council of Churches in Singapore which seeks to unite the Christian leadership community.  By coincidence, I was in Singapore when they were having a “Unity Lunch” to begin mapping out some cooperative ventures.  I had an opportunity to attend a lunch that brought together a wide swath of Christian pastors and business leaders.  There was clearly a great spirit of cooperation among different denominations.

20.  One of Singapore’s leading businessmen is Philip Ng of Far East Organization (FEO), a prominent property and hotel owner and development company.  They have publicly declared themselves to be a "Christian Enterprise."  They wish to reflect Christian values in their actions.  This is a bold stand.  I had an opportunity to do a presentation to their leadership team on ethical challenges for the Christian enterprise.  FEO is a significant positive Christian influence in the business community.

The bottom line is that there is truly no other place like Singapore.