Singapore is a wealthy, thriving country in southeast Asia, renowned for its strong economy and beautiful sights, but it also has some of the strictest rules in the world. Singapore has a number of controversial laws, from a ban on chewing gum to laws against bad singing. And the punishments are harsh - they can range from fines to jail time or even caning.
As for what it's like to live in Singapore, that depends on how well you follow the rules. Drop a cigarette butt on the street or toss some crumbs to a pigeon and you could be under arrest. Divorced people can get kicked out of their apartments. And wait until you see what happens if you pee in an elevator.
Throughout history there have been many countries with strange laws and places with oppressive governments. But unlike the people who escaped East Germany in a hot air balloon, many Singaporeans don't mind the strict rules. However, though Singapore's stringent set of laws may seem silly on the surface, Amnesty International reported in 2004 that "the small city-state [had] possibly the highest execution rate in the world relative to its population" as result of its codes. This has led some to question the necessity of what they view as Singapore's draconian legal system. But are these controversial laws one of the reasons Singapore is so stable and beautiful? In 2018, CNBC reported that the laws in Singapore are so effective retail stores don't even lock their doors when closed. In fact, a Starbucks in Singapore doesn't even have doors at all; it has ropes that get pulled across entrances to indicate that it's closed. Anyone could walk in and take merchandise off the shells, but in Singapore, people don't.
Located at the southernmost tip of Malaysia, the first description of Singapore appears in a 3rd-Century Chinese text, and the earliest-known settlements there were established in 1298 CE. In the 14th Century, legend has it that a prince visiting the island named it "Singapura," which is taken from the Sanskrit words for lion, "simha," and city, "pura." Later, in the 19th Century, the British Empire established a trading post on Singapore, which was followed by the Japanese invasion of the island nearly a century later during Word War II. Though the Japanese ceded control of the island in 1945, it reverted to British control in 1946. It wasn't until 1959 that the island had its own election for self-governance, electing Lee Kuan Yew as the first Prime Minister of Singapore. Though initially part of the then newly formed Malaysia, Singapore only remained a part of the larger block for two years, splitting off as its own sovereign nation officially in 1965. Though its history may suggest a lot of control turnover, now Singapore is known for two things: its laws and its wealth. Both of these are attributed to the trailblazing first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Remember "Ugly Naked Guy" from Friends? That story line would be a lot different in Singapore - more Law and Order and less sitcom. That's because Singapore bans being nude in your own home.
That's right, according to vagrancy laws, appearing nude in a private place that is exposed to public view (i.e. people peeping through your windows) is a crime. The offense carries a fine of up to $2,000 or 3 months in jail. And that's not all: the police are legally allowed to kick down your door to arrest you if you're reportedly nude near a window.
Housing is expensive in Singapore. The country provides multiple public-administered housing options for residents, including Bishan New Town, that boast public transit access and lower prices. There's just one catch: it's very difficult to buy a public housing unit if you're single. As Samantha di Silva told The Guardian, "You can’t buy a flat if you’re single, which my generation isn’t too happy about... You feel you have to get married to get a flat, which is a strange economic transaction.”
And Singapore is serious about prioritizing marriage. People who get divorced face a three-year debarment from the housing board, meaning they cannot own a subsidized flat.
Have you ever visited the famous Gum Wall near Seattle's Pike Place Market? If not, don't worry - you aren't missing much. But Singapore is different. You'd never spot even a single wad of chewed gum in Singapore, because the country bans gum.
Singapore banned chewing gum in 1992, and since then the entire country has been gum-free. It is illegal to import gum, with only one exception: starting in 2004, pharmacists and dentists are allowed to sell "therapeutic" gum to customers who have a medical prescription. And Singapore's laws don't go easy on illegal gum importers - the first conviction carries a fine not exceeding $100,000 or imprisonment for up to two years, or both.
Watch out, fans of 50 Shades of Gray; Singapore has strict laws about material defined as "obscene." It is illegal to have in your possession "any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure, or any other obscene object whatsoever." The crime comes with a fine and up to three months in jail.
As for what counts as obscene, the law is fairly broad. It includes anything that could "deprave and corrupt" people. What does that mean for your street vendor business of selling knock-off Davids? It's probably best to avoid Singapore.