On February 14th our family experienced a loss. Admittedly we never met these individuals but yet their demise is still painful. The fallen are four bottles of a beautiful ruby-red 1998 Aussie shiraz that Andy had purchased online to celebrate the year we were married. To make a long story short, they were not properly labeled for delivery to an age appropriate person and they were destroyed (aka poured down the drain) by the local police and alcohol commissioner lest they go down to gullet of some poor vulnerable minor. They were blameless victims of society that often replaces reason with bureaucracy.
Ironically the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred not in Singapore which has a reputation for having many strict rules but rather in the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire. The event led me to reflect on some of the reputations of the laws and crime in both countries.
We have been in SIngapore for two months and I can tell you that the culture is very “rules” orientated. There is not much room for flexibility. It starts early in the young. Last week we were at the Children’s Garden and Aidan was playing in the dirt as usual. Around him gathered a group of pristine looking preschoolers none of them were playing much in the sand or grabbing at his toys.
Contrast that with my own American child in his brand new school picture clothes this fall.
The most frequent question heard when I told friends I was moving to Singapore was “Isn’t that the place where you can’t chew gum?” It is true gum is not sold in Singapore. The ban on chewing gum actually had a logical beginning. Singapore invested a lot of money in a subway system and when it was newly opened a few doors were broken by wads of chewing gum. This happened once or twice which was a few times too many for the government.
“Gum control” however is loosening up. One can bring in a small amount for personal use. You can legally chew gum just don’t throw it on the ground when you are done. Apparently, to the locals it does have a forbidden quality. I recently tried a Supa Street exercise dance class at a local gym. The teacher was a young man dressed in a hoodie and sporting an elaborate goatee. When he entered the room I saw a woman slip him a baggie. “What’s this?” he asked. The response…”Bubble Yum from the States.”
Singapore has an international reputation for being very strict on illegal substance use. To put it mildly drugs are a definite no-no. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting a set weight of drugs. For example having just over a pound of marijuana. Possessing these quantities is deemed as prima facie evidence of trafficking. In other words, if you possess these quantities (and possession means you had control of them), you are deemed to be a trafficker and therefore subject to the death penalty. For better or worse, the law has been effective in keeping out drugs in a country just a little over an hour from the Golden Triangle.
One of the most valuable aspects of travel is the mirror that suddenly reflects back on own culture. America certainly has its peculiarities, foibles and stereotypes. One area where our reputation is particularly bad is the level of gun related violence. A woman from New Zealand told me she wants to visit the States but she is afraid of getting shot. Is her fear that invalid? On Facebook this weekend I read of one gun related injury and a suicide at a North Beverly Massachusetts Starbucks I pass on my way to work everyday at home.
One story about how crazy our gun laws are has stuck with me. A few years ago in Massachusetts an eight year old boy shot himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun show. It is apparently not illegal for a child to fire an extraordinarily powerful automatic machine gun as long as a parent gives permission and there is someone with a gun license nearby. His father, ironically an emergency medicine doctor, was standing right next to him, so all was fine minus the wound to the boy’s head. I would argue that the laxity of America’s gun laws is a little bit more messed up than restricting the sale of bubble gum to or maybe even capital punishment of drug dealers.
The other area that I get a questions about from foreigners pertains to our health care. People are especially interested when they find out I am a family doctor. A woman from France was surprised that in a country as wealthy as America everyone does not have health insurance. Unfortunately this blog entry is already too long to delve down that path. To begin the scratch the surface would take me days to write.
For now we are simply trying to stay out of trouble. Let’s hope we have no more run-ins with the law and drink one tonight for our poor lost “friends”…