Monday, August 8, 2016

5 things I'm thankful for this National Day

Ah, Singapore. Sometimes, we love it, other times, the claustrophobia living in this tight 719 km² of space makes us want to run (swim? fly?) screaming. However, since it's National Day tomorrow, I thought it would be timely to reflect on some of the things I'm thankful for in this country. It's by no means a complete list, just a rojak aggregation of items that came to mind.

1. Healthcare

Healthcare tops the chart on my list because I don't think Singaporeans know how good we've got it. In many countries, especially in the West, people don't go to the doc for coughs and colds, partly because it's very expensive. In addition, Western docs are sometimes tight-fisted with meds. A couple of friends recounted that they went to the doc with a hacking cough or painful sore throat and all they got from the doc was: "Go out and get some fresh air! Your flu will cure by itself." Getting antibiotics from the doc is almost unheard of.

Even in specialist treatment, I've seen again and again how public healthcare staff really care for patients. Recently, I discovered that if you're referred to the National Cancer Centre, whether you're a subsidised patient or not, you will receive an appointment within 6 days. Do you know how unusual that is? I was even more amazed when I found out that the NCC sees 70% of cancer patients in Singapore. In most other countries, you wait yonks to see a specialist and when you finally get to see one, they treat it like it's your privilege to see them. A friend who was living in Los Angeles for a few years finally received an appointment for her special needs son to see a child psychologist, after months of waiting. The appointment lasted only a few minutes and they were treated very condescendingly. The psychologist asked a few bored questions and dismissed them with barely any explanation or diagnosis...and a bill for a couple of hundred bucks. In contrast, when my mil goes for her Singapore National Eye Centre consultation, her doc, a very senior specialist, always treats her with respect and sometimes even waives consultation charge because of her age.

The efficiency and service are even more admirable when you consider the quality of healthcare we receive. The standards of our docs, treatments and equipment really are top notch. An aunt living in Perth always comes back to Singapore when she needs medical treatment because she's wary of the Australian healthcare system and how it commonly botches up simple things and records, leading to wrong treatments being given to wrong patients, for example.

And it's not just the medical service I appreciate. I'm amazed that whether I need to go to KK Hospital or SGH or the National Skin Centre, there's always a shuttle bus from an MRT station. FREE. The fact that the hospitals care enough to provide patients even with transport - that's huge.

2. Food

Of course, food! We're not a nation of foodies for nothing. Eating out in restaurants here is expensive, I'll grant you that. I hate that the GST and service charge significantly increases my food bill so I end up paying more than I expect (although in the US, you have to add a minimum of 20% service tip, which is also enough to make you cry). I don't see why many other countries can have GST incorporated in the menu pricing so you don't get saddled with the extras, but ours has to be charged separately.

But the appeal of Singapore's food is simply its abundance of cheap local food, and the variety is staggering. When we were in Hong Kong, which many consider a food haven, we got bored after 5 days. Seriously, what they have is nice lah but how much dim sum and roast meats can you eat? After a while, we were longing for prata and carrot cake.

2013 photo of Andre enjoying an Indian meal
And prices - gosh we were quite shocked. They don't have hawker centres so the closest to street food would be those little hole-in-the-wall stalls. A bowl of noodles in an ordinary no-name shop would cost at least S$8. Milk tea (which is nowhere as nice as our teh, in my opinion), is S$3. And I hear that in Hong Kong, they think nothing of raising prices every year. Whereas in Singapore, people complain when a hawker raises the price of fishball noodles from $2.50 to $3 after 6 years. For me, I'm so glad I can get Indian rojak down the road, next to the bak chor mee, almost any time I want. Wash it all down with a $1.20 cup of teh tarik.

Funny story...Lesley-Anne's ang moh schoolmate: "This bread I bought from the bakery is unbelievable! So soft and delicious. Singapore has the best bread ever!" It turned out to be chiffon cake. :)) Bread or cake - it's cheap and good!

3. Internet

Cannot live without. No internet for a couple of hours and I start to experience withdrawal symptoms. Cannot check Facebook! Cannot check email! And for some friends, cannot play Pokemon GO! How??

I often hear Singaporeans complain about how slow our internet is and jeer when they read that Singapore has one of the best internet connections in the world. Seriously, you have no idea what it's like in many parts of the world. When I was in Australia and New Zealand, I was completely taken by their scenery and pace of life. Such serenity and beauty! But by the time we had left, I decided that I could never migrate there because their slow and expensive internet connection would make me want to drown myself in one of their picturesque lakes.

By the way, when we were in Hong Kong, we visited a cafe which advertised "free wifi". By the time we had ordered, polished off the dim sum and paid our bill, we were still waiting for the wifi to connect. Mega fail.

4. Online Services

We probably have one of the largest number of government services available online and as a child of the internet, I appreciate it loads. Whether it's opening a utilities account, renewing my passport, declaring my taxes or renewing library books, I can do it quickly and hassle-free online. No need to queue up for half a day or fill in onerous forms. I even get reminders via SMS or email which is such fantastic service.

For me, because I run my own business, I appreciate online services even more. I can make my CPF contributions, bid for government jobs and send invoices without ever leaving my desk. And because all government records are centralised, I don't have to keep refilling forms asking for my particulars. A real time-saver.

5 Transport

This one is a hot potato. We all know the MRT system has its kinks and the breakdown rate is alarmingly frequent. We all complain about this (me included). However, the way you hear some people talk, it's like train breakdowns are unique to us. Guess what, you just have to google "train breakdown *insert country* and you'll find news of breakdowns all the time, everywhere. Yes, even in Japan and Hong Kong. In some countries, strikes compound the issue. I'm not saying it's an excuse - it's not. I'm saying some perspective would be good.

What I do appreciate about our trains is that they're very clean. I guess it's not something that immediately jumps to mind, unless you've seen trains in other parts of the world. The London Tube seats are filthy. And the Paris Metro? Gosh, it's not just the trains. The Metro stations stink to high heaven because people pee against the walls at night. And these are first world countries hor.

Our fares, while not the lowest, are also pretty reasonable, I feel. When we were in London two years ago, planning a Tube trip had to be as strategic as preparing for a PSLE Maths exam. A single ticket in Zone 1 (central London) cost £4.40! Yes, per person. Even for just 3 stops. That was more than S$9, by the way. Imagine a family of four. I hear prices have since risen.

As for road traffic, yes, the COE is a pain and yes, jams are a pain. But once again, traffic jams are not unique to Singapore - they're a problem in most cities. In London, we once moved 100 metres on a bus in half an hour. Of course, the Bangkok traffic is legendary. We were once stuck 20 minutes at ONE traffic light. Lesley-Anne took a nap on the coach and when she woke up, she found that we were still in the same spot. Singapore is such a tiny country and building more roads is not the solution. So until we can convince more people to go car-free or until we invent the flying car, I guess the COE and ERP are here to stay.

I'm not naive. I know Singapore is not perfect and there are lots of things here that could do with improvement. However, in the spirit of National Day, I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that there are many things to be grateful for. #Championgrumbler for 364 days, surely I can spare one day to give thanks.

So here's wishing our sunny island many more peaceful days to come on her 51st birthday - wave your flag and be proud. Happy National Day!

1 comment:

Kids Bedroom Furniture said...

Very well chosen 4 that summarizes why it is best to be Singaporean.

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