While I was on a Holiday, I Heard a Foreigner Bad-Mouthing Singapore…


He is a white male, from the United States.  He had neatly-cropped hair.  He wore rectangular specs that made him look like a goody-two-shoes.  I think he is in his late twenties or early-thirties.


When I overheard him bad-mouthing my motherland, Singapore, the Gf and I were on a boat … sailing out to sea with some other tourists whom we were going on a snorkeling trip with.  We were off the coast of Cebu, Philippines.


“When an economy gets too advanced, the whole country just becomes some soulless, corporate fixture.  Singapore is so corporate, so sterile!” he quipped.


An awkward moment on a boat

The moment I heard that, I interrupted him and told him I was from Singapore.  Just to stop him from saying anymore things that could potentially cause a tensed atmosphere between him and me, on the boat. Immediately he got slightly embarrassed and said that he worked in Singapore for 5 years until he got tired of it and left.  As if by saying that, he had the justification to continue his bad-mouthing. This guy is a tax-accountant (or probably some other boring shit-ass job that caused him to have such a grim outlook on our nation.)  He worked in Changi Businesspark for 5 years.


“A better word to use is efficient,” I said, smiling.  This was not my genuine, you-are-my-bro kind of smile.  This was a ‘You-Better-Watch-What-You-Say-Next’ smile.


“Too efficient! It’s sterile!” he replied awkwardly. “But it’s a nice country.”


Nice save there.  It’s like when you meet a boring person and can’t think of anything to say about him… you say… “He’s a nice person.” Anyway. I left the conversation at that.  Partly because I did not want to get into an intellectual argument with someone I barely know, in the middle of the ocean, and on a holiday!


This guy continued talking about how he loved staying in Manila, where everyone is happy, and how Philippines is a country full of culture, and all that other Eat-Pray-Love crap.  I wondered if he knew that 1/3 of the population in Philippines is living in abject poverty.  I wondered if he knew that every time election season comes, someone gets shot.  I wondered if he knew that things we take for granted here in Singapore, like good roads, public transport, education, clean water, electricity… are not that easy to come by in certain parts of Philippines.


A Skewed Perspective

Now I am not dissing Philippines, or USA.  Please don’t get me wrong.  But what is infuriating me is how this guy, who comes from a First-World country, can make these kind of stupid comments just because he comes from a financially-stronger position.  To put it in context, it is like us Singaporeans going to Malaysia or Thailand, and remarking out loud how great it is to have a stronger dollar and how cheap things are over there.  But ask any Singaporean if they would want to GROW UP in a third world country, with no education or facilities or internet and wifi…. I bet most of us would say NO.


What I am trying to say is this… This Guy, is comparing the pros and cons of a country, as an expat or a tourist, coming from a RICH country.  He is failing to take into account the lives of the citizens in that country.  He is failing to ask himself the question: “Where would I rather grow up in?”  He is failing to consider other factors like safety, efficiency or wealth over his so-called plus points – culture or a more stress-free lifestyle.


He is a RICH guy living in a less-expensive country and saying that the country is awesome… that’s because he can freaking afford to pay for it!!! ( But what about the locals who cannot afford the things he can afford?)  And apparently, THIS GUY, has been going around telling all the other Aussies and Europeans in the resort we were staying at, about his perspective of Singapore.  He tells them his negative experiences in Singapore with his clear, articulate English, that makes him sound smart and convincing.  And all the other tourists lapped it all up.


The thought of other people looking down on my country, without considering our History… SERIOUSLY. PISSES. ME. OFF.


I know of many foreigners from Third World countries who’d love to be in Singapore.  I have students from Cambodia, Myanmar and India who say that they would rather grow up and study here…even though it is more stressful.  Even while we were travelling in Philippines, our Pinoy tour guide was happily recounting the times when he was working in Singapore, and how he was so sad that his Visa application was rejected after it expired.


I think that THIS GUY, is just one of your pasty, over-worked white-collared executive, who can’t achieve a positive mindset, hates his job, barely makes enough to cover his bills…and instead of taking massive action, he packs up and leaves to a less expensive country, where he can spend freely and live more easily… and spend the rest of his life blaming Singapore for his failures.  The problem is not with our country ( or any other country for that matter).  The problem is that —  HE IS A WHINY LOSER!


singapore flag

And then I got a 2nd Chance to Defend Singapore…


Miffed that I didn’t get to engage that loser expat in an intellectual debate, I spend the rest of my trip debating with the Gf, who wasn’t interested in what other people think of our country.  So she just nodded and listened.  The fire was still in me, waiting for a chance to pounce and defend my nation at the next opportunity… and yes, that opportunity came.


On the last night while we were hanging out at the bar in our resort, we struck up a conversation with the managers of the resort.  When they heard that we were leaving tomorrow… one of them sneered…


“Back to your concrete pavements and work… huh?”




Confident, smiling, and full of #swag.  I lifted my nose and said…


“Hey man, those are just First World Problems.  I would choose First World Problems over Third World Problems any day man…”


Sensing that this chinese guy was protective of his country, the other manager ventured to say…


“The Philippines government is trying to turn Cebu into Singapore… not sure if that’s a good idea.”


What an ambiguous statement.  Is he worried that this beautiful island will become a concrete jungle of hectic work but wealthier citizens?  Is he worried that this paradise, where he can come and live like a king because of his stronger European currency, will be taken away from him?


“Nah… not easy,” I replied. “Singapore’s advancement within the region… or even in the world, is a statistical anomaly.  It’s going to be very hard to replicate our pace of urbanisation.  Just 50 years ago, we were still a nation of pig farmers living in attap houses and kampungs.  Heck, my father was so poor he had to eat leftover food from his British colonist neighbours when he was a child!  Look at us now!  Holidaying in Cebu, driving on smooth roads back home, sleeping in air-conditioned rooms, earning good incomes… eating steak… It’s not easy to replicate Singapore’s success man.”


The 2 managers glowed with understanding.  Suddenly, this corporate, soulless country…. seems like a miracle island that transformed into one full of wealth and riches.


Singaporeans, don’t let others talk down OUR nation!


Yes there are many things to hate about Singapore.  There is no lack of Singaporeans who HATE Singapore.  And they raise valid points!

  • high stress
  • high-standard of living
  • homework and exams
  • no natural wonders like lakes or waterfalls or mountains
  • pavement and concrete everywhere
  • crowded public transports
  • lack of the Arts

and so on…

But do remember, all these problems are trade-offs from our past.  These are ‘First-world problems’!  In case you need a history lesson, go talk to your parents or grandparents to remind yourselves what living in POVERTY was like! We are just a little dot, with no resources, no land, no water, no nothing. We had hostile relations with neighbours who bullied and picked on us.  We were laughed at and sneered at by others… who thought that we were doomed to failure.  We were just a bunch of immigrants who stumbled upon this island, in search of a better life.  We were a tiny nation that nobody gave a shit about.


But look at us now…

marina by sands

This concrete, soulless nation looks pretty good huh?




I don’t know about you…

But I’d rather live in the world’s most expensive country, than in the world’s poorest country.

I’d rather have First World Problems than Third World Problems.

I’d rather have efficiency and safety than culture and crime.

I would rather have soulless concrete pavements than sandy roads full of potholes and ‘character’.

I would rather be stressed but rich… than be stressed about being poor.


I am not saying Singapore is super awesome and all other Third World countries suck.


( If you are thinking of putting in a hate comment, please re-read this sentence again: “I am not saying Singapore is super awesome and all other Third World countries suck.”)


I just want to put into perspective that –  when a country advances, we simply substitute our old problems…for newer ones. But, it is up to us, how we view such ‘problems’.


Our current problems… are really not as bad as they seem!  ( Compare Singapore’s problems now vs Singapore’s problems in the past.)


Also, from my personal interactions and observations, I want to point out that… I realise many nationalities – Malaysians, Thais, Cambodians, Pinoys, Americans, do not hesitate to speak proudly about their own countries.  They will happily tell you about the all the wonderful things in their countries.  And I admire their patriotism!

But when… they question us about Singapore, I noticed most Singaporeans have nothing good to say!


So please, if you are a Singaporean reading this… act like the song you sang in primary school –  Stand Up for Singapore!


And finally… one last thing…. Whenever we want to complain, or whine about our country – Remember your roots, remember your history, remember how our forefathers lived in the past.


My dear Singaporeans, we have so much yet we don’t realise it.


Thanks for hearing me rant.



From the Bf Gf Money Blog


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  1. min

    I hardly comment in websites but thumbs up! Singaporeans need to stop whiny and start appreciating what we have. We are extremely fortunate as compared to many others.

  2. Kel

    Other posts gave me cancer, your post gave me hope. 😀

  3. Steve

    This is a great city / country – a lot to be proud of.
    One of the success stories. Possibly the best example of harmonious multi-culturism as well. I as an expat feel privileged to work and make friends here. You are right not to let others mouth off about it.

  4. Rolf


    We need to defend and love this country that we have us what we have today. Even if there are lots of flaws, it is still a place where we grow up with friends and family.

    This is our home.

    Perhaps it is easier for them to speak badly about others, somehow they forget to look at themselves!

  5. Daphne

    I’m Singaporean and whilst I agree we should be proud of our country’s achievements and how far we’ve come, I feel that there is really no need to so overtly compare (third world etc) and up in arms about how great our country is. I feel your stance seems to be one that is more elitism than a First-World graciousness I had hoped (well-travelled) Singaporeans would by now, be growing towards.

    The American tourist in the boat, he may not have liked Singapore and probably had some different experiences as compared to you , that leads him to openly express his dislike for our country. He was polite enough as you observed to add in a few redeeming justifications. same for the Filipinos. Yes perhaps you think they wld rather have first world problems than live in abject poverty, bad conditions but I think the classier and more respectful thing to do when visiting another person’s country is to accept that they may not wish to live like you, or they fear erosion of their culture too when further strides in industrialisation/internationalisation/or even model-city replication sets in.

    Who really is to say they are wrong and we are infinitely better because of our economic progress?

    End of the day – we are not better people because our forefathers struggled, or because our government or economy is superior.
    We become better people because of a certain graciousness, a tolerance and a respect for other people, other cultures and their opinions.

    1. Jerry (Post author)

      Hi Daphne,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Sorry if I sounded like some elitist, pro-Singaporean, first world country nutcase. I can assure you I am not. In fact, I considered migration as a kid!

      And to anybody else I offended with my super strong speech – I sincerely apologise.

      Looking at the number of hate comments I have to trash, I think my wording has sounded overly-extremist. So let me try again.

      I just want to stress 3 points:

      – Singaporeans shouldn’t let ppl put down our country ( based on personal observations – all other nationalities support their country, warts and all.)

      – Different country different problems ( just because you run away from Singapore, it doesn’t necessarily mean all your problems are over — you get new ones! And… if you divide your problems into Good Problems and Bad Problems… you will see that you have many Good Problems in Singapore.

      E.g – Problem 1: I have to spend my whole life paying for a HDB flat??? Good problem: I have a roof over my head! I just need to find a way to pay it down fast.)

      – We may not be a better country compared to others… We shouldn’t compare with other countries… We should just compare our past progress and present progress. We are definitely much better than what we were in the past.

      Oh yes and 1 last point:
      Singaporeans please don’t whine so much. We seriously got it good over here. Don’t let others think we are pampered, spoilt brats!

      1. rolento

        1) Seriously i dont think he is trying to put down singapore, and he is raising very valid point. Even if he is, a really great country can never be “put down”, right?

        2) yes, different countries has different problems. that does not forbid anyone from discussing any countries’ any problems by anyone, right?

        3) I am sorry but i cant agree with this point. the other country that i know FORBIDDING their own people from criticizing (constructively and objectively)their own country is North Korea and China

        no offence, but i am a singaporean that chose not to work in singapore exactly due to the reasons discussed by the american

  6. AMA

    Singapore may not be perfect but it’s my country n my home.it’s where I m king.it’s where my voice can b heard n I can make a difference.
    Our forefathers have worked hard to make it the envy of many.May my efforts n blood be worthy of my homeland.

  7. Boon Leng

    Kudos. I am proud of you for standing up for Singapore.

    Well done !

  8. Jay

    I am not a Singaporean , but have spend good 10 years in Singapore and interacted with many Singaporeans and still have some good Singaporean Friends who are just like my family.
    I can vouch for Singapore , being the no.1 brand for honesty, hardwork and perfection and what not.
    Saying anything bad about Singapore is like spitting on the moon where the spit falls back on your own face.
    So Singaporeans, Just realx and chill , you are the most beutiful and sweet and honest people on the earth.
    I am proud that i lived in Singapore and still Cherish Singapore and Singaporean friends in my Life.


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