If you want to have a snapshot view of how dramatically Singapore has changed politically, economically and socially just take a drive around Sentosa Cove, the only residential enclave that boasts exclusive oceanfront living for Singaporeans and foreigners.
Executive Adrian Tan, who had the rare chance to drive in, described it this way: “It is like driving into Beverly Hills. The bungalows don’t have fences and the beach is all yours and only yours.”
Throwing S$30 million at a bungalow is quite common. That is also the only place where foreigners can buy a landed property without asking for permission.
The Merdeka Generation that joined in the gamble with Lee Kuan Yew to build a “democratic nation based on justice and equality” might wonder if this is the Singapore they had put their money on.
Politically, the country has moved so far away from the socialist roots the ruling party was embedded on.
The PM’s N-Day Rally speech has given some hope that this shift could change.
The white and white attire (to show a sense of ideological purity) worn by the People’s Action Party politicians at party functions, the official dictate for ostentatious (including waterfront) living and the principle of giving every Singaporean a good life were examples of its socialist ideals.
Economically, the country was Singaporean-centric that made sure every citizen had a decent-paying job and equal opportunities. As it transformed itself from marshland to metropolis with foreigners, especially the super rich, cruising in to work, live and play here the national core is showing signs of distress.
It is the social sphere that is seeing the biggest impact. As the Sentosa Cove people float in their private yachts enjoying champagne and caviar, a growing group of Singaporeans are struggling to make ends meet.
Singapore’s Gini coefficient, designed to show income inequality, was 0.435 last year, say OECD reports. It is the worst in the developed world.
At the other end of the scale, the country has the dubious distinction of being a place where the super rich amass their wealth super fast.
A Barclays report out early this month shows that 51 per cent of high-net worth individuals in Singapore became rich in less that 10 years, topping the world’s charts.
The number of people with more than $1million in investible assets is expected to reach 133,000 by 2015, about double the level in 2010.
Singapore is becoming one big party town with people like Eduardo Saverin, the co-founder of Facebook, and Australian mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler setting up home here and entertaining their friends and clients in trendy nightspots where their bills can go up to tens of thousands of dollars.
But not everybody is part of this party as the everyday stresses of living in a tight squeeze of a city are more in many people’s minds.
So, when PM Lee Hsien Loong said at a conference recently that if he could persuade 10 more billionaires to move to Singapore, he would, even if that worsened the income divide, there was a sense of resignation all round.
“…billionaires bring business, they will bring opportunities, they will open new doors, they will create new jobs,” said the PM.
No one, not even the Merdeka Generation, would want a return to the backwater days of old Singapore.
But the question is whether this relentless pursuit of the fleshy and the flashy should continue at such full speed – and whether
Singaporeans should be allowed to claim back some aspects of the nation’s old-world charm.
A fitting time to reflect as Singaporeans look towards marking the country’s 50th birthday in two years.