Believe me, it has happened many times as I’ve heard from friends who are here in Singapore on a student exchange.
Here’s their recollection: they tell their friends and relatives that they’re leaving for Singapore for a 5-months exchange. All the research into accommodation, courses, and fees would have been made and for some, even light reading on TripAdvisor.
Spirits are high with travel nostalgia.
At the point of announcement, though, things take an abrupt turn.
A friend or relative would say, “Oh, really? Have fun in China!” – and the cold winter day suddenly darkens, sending shudders down their spines.
Singapore, for the record, is not China – neither is it in China. But that’s not the point of this article. The point is, rather, that this small island state and its people deserve at least to be known for what it is – a country. Forget the vibrant economy during the global financial crises, or the fact that it has Asia’s top university; just a country.
By now some of you would think that this article is going to be a rant. While it certainly seems like it’s heading in that direction, fret not, it isn’t. Instead of lauding the achievements of Singapore, making this a political article that is not the focus here at Vulcan Post, I want to share some of the interesting high-tech things that are ubiquitous all around Singapore, enabling a lifestyle that is quite unique. Then, maybe, you could learn that we are not a third-world country. But that may be too much to ask for now.
Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system
Let’s begin with the evilest of technologies – those that cost money. The ERP system was introduced by the Singapore government in 1998 as a way to ease traffic congestions in certain parts of the city. The project involved a massive overhaul of existing automobile infrastructure by installing a device called the “IU” (in-vehicle unit) in each of the millions of cars that were already on the roads. Then up came the gantries – tall, blue and white metal structures with multiple grey boxes hanging from the top like mini Sauron eyes watching every car that wheezes by.
Cars pay a toll ranging from 50 cents to S$3 (Singapore Dollars – yes) every time they drive by the gantry, which is deducted from a stored value card known as the CashCard. It is similar to other cities’ congestion charges like the one in London, except it is a little more subliminal and way too efficient (typically Singaporean). Speeding pass one will not avoid the toll, though it might lead to a speeding ticket issued by an automated speed camera. Who knew technology would be such a pain to the common man.
On a lighter note, Singapore is really a country of convenience. Technologies are quickly adopted by businesses and people. For example, being here you would quickly realise the utter redundancy of your limbs, because the long walkways in Changi Airport arrival halls are accompanied by travellators, doors are mostly automated (both sliding and swinging kinds), passenger lifts are widely available for access within high-rise buildings, entry into underground carparks and fee transactions are done via the IU and CashCard (see “ERP”), and so on.
You get the picture – Singapore is for lazy, smart people.
High-speed Internet infrastructure
In 2010, a private-public partnership unveiled plans to lay more fibre optic cables around the city and retrofitted access points to many homes and installing them in new ones. The move, dubbed “Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network”, has boosted home internet speeds phenomenally – from 1 MB/s to 1 GB/s. With a router and Wi-Fi, the actual speed does vary, though.
Notably prior to that announcement, Singapore had Wireless@SG, an island-wide (in reality, only almost) free Wi-Fi service provided by the major telcos. However, this service has ceased to be free since March 2013.
Now with all that connectivity, which most would agree is absolutely crucial for business, the only thing that remains a pain for locals is censorship. But there are ways around that.
Heard of hydroponics or even aquaponics? You must be local.
But seriously, food security is a real thing in Singapore where food is mostly imported.
The market response was hydroponics, and more recently, ‘aqua-ponics’. The former is a soil-less farming technique used in highly controlled environments. In 2012, the hydroponics industry produced 21,000 tonnes of vegetables.
But that’s boring. Singapore is moving towards aquaponics – a newer technology that combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soil-less agriculture), which circulates nutrient-rich fish poop to crops.
Commonly used in space constrained spaces like cities, some innovative local startups, like the social enterprise ComCrop, have began adapting the technology to fit Singapore’s landscape. The pipedream of roof-top food production and vertical farming is slowly becoming reality. Communities would congregate on roof tops to grow and share crops grown with the aid of innovative technologies and design.
NeWater: from Toilets to Bottles
On to the last technological quirk in Singapore. Aside from food, we have water security issues too. Singapore’s answer to scarce water supplies is to buy water from its neighbour Malaysia, establishing 17 reservoirs, and most impressively, state-of-the-art water reclamation.
In a simple sentence, NeWater is basically reclaimed sewage (read “toilet”) water that is ready for drinking.
Now, assuming you’re still here, you’d be happy to know that it is mixed with freshwater for ‘rehabilitation’ before being piped to homes and the favourite restaurants. But if you get to attend the National Day Parade on 9th August, you might be able to taste the unhindered richness of NeWater from the bottle – the result of a spate of nationalism. If you didn’t read this article, though, I suspect you would find it tastes quite similar to mineral water. Since you’re still reading, I’d like to apologise.
In all truthfulness, I hope this article gives you a small insight into the life in Singapore. If your eyes just moved along and nothing really got absorbed, that’s ok. Just remember that Singapore is a country.
Ok lah, have a good day.