Upper class verandah talkers love to compare Singapore to Jamaica. “How much better off we would be with a Lee Kwan Yew!” they lament. Now you have to admire Singapore’s accomplishments. Starting from virtually the same level as Jamaica in 1962 it has become one of the 10 richest countries per capita, and is spotlessly clean and crime free.
Of course the place dubbed “Disneyland with the death penalty” is one of the world’s most tightly regulated countries. You can be prosecuted for chewing gum or not flushing a public toilet or wearing your hair too long. Press freedom is non-existent. And with 82 of 84 parliamentary seats the People’s Action Party rules unchallenged, regularly suing and bankrupting those who criticize it and never losing a case. But are economic prosperity and freedom from fear not worth a few inconveniences?
Singapore became rich the way all non-oil producing countries do, just look at this list of office space in the city! They did have an exceptionally intelligent and energetic founding leader in Lee Kwan Yew, but a coach can only be as good as his team. One thing that struck me in Lee’s 2001 book “From Third World To First” – a surprisingly popular work with the Jamaican intelligentsia – was how threatened Singapore felt in its early days. Having left the Malaysia Federation under acrimonious circumstances this minute mostly Chinese island not only lived in constant fear of being overwhelmed by its much larger Malaysian neighbour, but had virtually no natural resources. No wonder its people were and remain so relentlessly driven. As Sam Johnson remarked, the threat of being hanged concentrates the mind wonderfully.
Our island paradise on the other hand is incomparably blessed by nature and has not faced an external threat since 1655. Independent Jamaica has never had any pressing reason to put its nose to the grindstone, and hasn’t.
Now I’ve often wondered if given a choice the average Jamaican would swap his lifestyle and all it entails for the Singaporean equivalent. Would we be collectively willing to work like bees in a hive and give up our exceptional emotional freedom in return for wealth and security?
Personally I doubt it, and the Jamaicans I know who have been to Singapore tend to agree. I’ve only made one short visit there and certainly have no desire to return. It was clean, rich, safe, sterile and boring. And while not visibly miserable the people were no bundles of joy – I didn’t hear much laughter. As a friend joked, in Singapore everything works and people should be happy but aren’t. While in Jamaica nothing works and people shouldn’t be happy but are.
Apart from its economic success Singapore has made practically no mark on the world at large. Lee Kwan Yew is the only Singaporean whose name rings a bell outside his country. Contrast this to – and these are but a few – Usain Bolt, Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Merlene Ottey. As far as I know there is no such thing as a recognizably Singaporean culture, while the Jamaican lifestyle and its music are admired and imitated all over the planet. All this must count for something in a national comparison.
But these are the opinions of a relatively well off Jamaican. Maybe, I used to say to myself, poor people here would gladly welcome a Singaporean mode of existence in return for a good education, well paid job, comfortable house, nice car, first rate health system and crime free environment. But then I read this article.
“Singaporeans have little time for sex”.
“Work is killing Singaporeans’ sex drive. Too stressed from their jobs, they have little drive to make love at the end of the day, a study shows. The result is that Singaporeans below the age of 40 have sex six times a month, far lower than many other societies, said Professor Victor Goh from the National University of Singapore…. The low sex rate is a dilemma for the government which has come up with a variety of schemes to boost declining birth rates among a wealthy population obsessed with chasing careers, condominiums and cash… And do Singaporeans want more sex? Results from the study are not promising. About 40 per cent of men and only 20 per cent of women below 40 said they wanted more. ‘Sex life should be more important.’ Goh said. ‘You have to prioritise and make the effort…’”
At first I thought this was a joke. Only after re-reading did I realize Goh was serious. When I mentioned it on the phone to a friend he laughed in derision – “That is one sick and perverted country!”
This study is incontrovertible proof that Jamaicans will never adopt a Singaporean lifestyle. There is no way on God’s earth jobs or money will ever rank higher than sex on this country’s list of priorities. No one will ever be able to say with a straight face that “Sex life should be more important to Jamaicans”. And hell will freeze over before any study shows 60 per cent of Jamaican men saying they don’t want more sex.
It’s definitely possible to place too much emphasis on sex. But as Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote to his wife “…all the rest is determined by it.” And while one can understand individuals choosing celibacy, a country that has no time for physical intimacy must be fundamentally unhappy. For are not a people who spurn the act of procreation in essence committing national suicide?
Now the “six times a month” Singaporean figure made me wonder what the Jamaican rate is. The AIDS society and the UWI sociology department don’t know of any local study on the topic, but perhaps the nation’s resident sex expert Daddy Oh can shed some light on the subject. Although you have to wonder how such a thing can be measured accurately.
In 2000 Durex asked people in 27 countries how often they had sex. Responses ranged from 132 times per year in America to only 37 in Japan. But as the BBC website commented, “this probably says as much about bragging as actual sexual behaviour”. And the average Jamaican man would no doubt answer “Every day, and twice on Sundays!”
Written by Kevin O’Brien Chang