Sun, 30 Mar 2003

Pleasant, but costly place to live

Singapore is one of the most pleasant places for expatriates to live in Asia thanks to the high standard of personal security, cleanliness and efficiency, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC).

Indeed, few Asian cities are more well organized. Perhaps the first things a newcomer notices are the pleasant tree-lined avenues, clean streets and free flowing traffic.

Judging from the responses to PERC's survey over the last few years, the country's more well-established expatriates have similarly positive views about other aspects of living in the country.

The educational facilities open to foreigners are well regarded, as are the nation's health-care services.

"What our respondents really appreciated, however, was the high level of personal security. On this variable, Singapore was well ahead of just about every country except Japan," the agency said in its report.

Even so, there were some areas that were found to be lacking. Judging from the survey responses, Singapore is not the place for the fun-loving expatriate. "The country's nightlife was regarded as being by far the worst in the region - a reputation triggered at least partly by strict laws relating to public entertainment and censorship," it said.

Several of the respondents also commented on the problem of transient friendships inherent in living in a regional center, where expatriates rarely stay in a country more than two to three years before being posted elsewhere. The result, they noted, is that many of the relationships formed with local Singaporeans as well as other expatriates tend to be rather superficial and "money motivated".

Thanks at least partly to repeated statements by government leaders about the continuing need for foreign talent despite the economic downturn, Singapore was one of the few places in Asia where PERC's respondents were quite positive when it came to cultural compatibility with the local population.

Compatibility problems do exist, however, and they are worth noting. "A significant number of expatriates say that they find it difficult to form genuine friendships with middle class Singaporeans," PERC said.

Unlike Filipinos, who are widely seen as having a strong internationalist outlook, foreigners often complain that local citizens are ignorant of international affairs and too Singapore- focussed to pay attention to the foreigners in their midst.

"This attitude contrasts strongly with the approach of the upper reaches of Singapore's political and business elite, which is very open to Westerners and acutely aware of the country's shortcomings even as government leaders consciously attempt to find specifically Singaporean solutions to national problems.

Expatriates were not especially enthusiastic about sporting and other recreational facilities, probably because they are so expensive, according to PERC's report.

Fortunately, numerous public sports stadiums and swimming pools dot the island, almost all of them clean and well- maintained. City planners have also been careful to provide jogging tracks in housing estates.

Most expatriate complaints about life in Singapore have to do with the high cost of living, particularly housing and education.

-- The Jakarta Post