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Alice Yang
Yang is a contributing columnist for the Fort Bend Star.
She is a student at Stephen F. Austin High School-FBISD.

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.

Singapore: Scared for your safety? Or can safety be scary?


1994. That was when American teenager Michael Fay pleaded guilty to acts of vandalism in Singapore. Guilty of spray-painting and egging cars, little did Michael, nor the world, know the punishment that awaits him.

Or his lower body.

Three whips on the bare buttocks by a rattan stick executed by a trained martial arts official while being tied up standing. One on each side and then an extra cheek swat to boot. Now thatís how Singapore punishes young hooligans who damage private property!

Supporters of the law contend that only this kind of strict order can prevent vandalism and inner-city crimes. Indeed, a look at urban America shows that our Constitution needs a little whipping up to do. After all, Michael lives in Singapore, goes to school there, knows full well of the consequences; itís true what they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Contenders argue that the law abuses human rights. Michael is just a misguided teenager who deserves some jail time and fines but not flogging. His sentence will heavily affect US and Singapore relations, given that heís the first American to be caned there. The punishment is grossly disproportionate with his crime.

This case made international headlines as Michael lost and was sentenced to three swats of the mighty rattan along with four months in jail and a hefty fine. But whether he deserved it or not, one thing remains clear: donít mess with Singapore.

In fact, many restrictions that sound absurd to us are very serious to Singaporeans. For example, pornography, smoking, eating, drinking, chewing gum in public places and not flushing a toilet can all mean prison time and or work/ fines.

Dealing in drugs means punishment by death.

So imagine my paranoia as I stepped out onto the immaculate Singapore road. Wary of accidentally brushing a grass blade, of possessing a misplaced Juicy Fruit, or of not carefully reading some sign of law by the sidewalk, I literally tip-toed, tensed my way down the tour bus all the time looking around frantically, almost waiting for the crack of an invisible whip.

The first site we visited was the Supreme Court and executive building. First thing I noticed was the disproportionate size of the two structures. The Court was grand and looming, shining in the sun like a beacon of divine justice while the little rectangular executive building was almost half as tall and caught in the shade.

Apparently, their contrasting size is deliberately symbolic of their roles in the city-state. The court represents law, the written constitution, the only power that definitively rules the country; the executive building, its leaders and officials are mere workers of society, in no way to sidestep or to triumph over Supreme Justice.

Directly across from the government buildings was a long boardwalk by the port. Skateboarders were zooming in and out under the bridges, and teens were gathered in clumps hanging out in the balmy afternoon weather. There was also a performing arts theatre where a group of girls dressed up in uniform was practicing for a dance.

In contrast with Malaysia and Thailand, Singapore has no historical attractions or geographical gems. No mountains, no ancient temples, just skyscraper and sea.

And Singapore knows that. It takes pride in being a model of the modern city, with manufacturing as its main industry and shopping, its main attraction.

We visited a couple of jewelry stores. Both had glass counters chocked full of the most delicate and intricate gem pieces. Rubies, sapphires, diamonds, onyx, Singapore takes crude gems from countries like Thailand and South Africa and carves them into the multi-faceted luxuries seen under the glass today.

At night, we went to a laser, water, music wall show. Water was shot up from different places, at different times, in tune and moving with the music. Fire puffed out of pipes as well, and the mixture of orange flame and clear water in the indigo sky backdrop was mesmerizing. Added with the colored laser rays that shot through the sprays, it felt like the music was coming alive, a fantastic representation of a technology-driven country.

However, despite the wonderful show and shopping, I was glad to be leaving the next day; too many safety laws made me feel unsafe.

Alice Yang is a student at Columbia University. She can be reached at gy2151@ Columbia.edu.

Alice Yang is a student at Columbia University.
She can be reached at gy2151@ Columbia.edu.

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   Last Update:  August 29, 2007