I have recently relocated to Singapore. Life here is supposed to be easy and tax free but following Nguyen’s
sentencing and some other horror stories, many of us expats are questioning the city we
have chosen to live in.
As far as I’m aware there has been hardly any mention of the Nguyen sentencing in the mainstream media,
and I doubt there will be anything mentioning him after he’s dead. For
a while there was a rumour circulating around Aussie expats that he had
already been executed.
Prior to Nguyen’s case, I, like most expats,
had no idea of how many people are sentenced to death each year. An Aussie
lawyer residing here wanted to forward an SMH article about Nguyen to his
polite, religious Singaporean secretary but decided it wasn’t his duty to “burst
Singapore is a small place, it’s amazing that Nguyen and others like
him are waiting in a cell 15 minutes away and I have only been made aware of this
by the Australian media that I access online.
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Aside from Nguyen’s sentence, I have also watched a close friend be
arrested and charged with an extremely minor issue (not drug-related) as well
as heard other countless stories of naive expats getting into trouble.
In Singapore, you can feel safe walking down the street by yourself at
4am without looking over your shoulder but I’m not sure it’s worth the
cost. Often expats, upon arriving in Singapore, aren’t properly prepped
by the companies sponsoring them. Instead they learn from the rumours
that circulate around this quite insular community of young, ambitious
foreigners here to climb the career ladder and make a lot of money in
You hear rumours of mobile phones being bugged, people being watched in their
apartments, or hear stories like the couple who were jailed after being caught
having sex in their car. Expats lead very separate lives to the Singaporean people, and this is what the
locals seem to prefer, so their perception of Singaporean society can be quite skewed, as
they view life through the safe prism of the company they work for, the club
they belong to and the high rise they’re placed in.
Everything is very neat and orderly, a little like Pleasantville, but
there’s an eerieness to it.
Apparently Singapore’s zero tolerance extends to people in transit
testing positive to marijuana. Yes, even if you didn’t take the drug in their
country, and you have no intention of entering their country (other than to get
on another plane) you can expect to spend some time in prison.
Since my friend’s
experience, I now know that Singaporean criminal law is based on the Indian
Penal code and not the British system as most people think. We have also heard that Singaporean
prosecutors have something like a 96% chance of winning convictions. So
basically, if you find yourself on trial in Singapore you know you’re buggered.
Fortunately my friend had his charges dropped but the experience has still left
Obviously Singapore is not Melbourne or Sydney but
I naively assumed that a place driven by economics and trade would have a legal
system not unlike our own. Had I known what I know now, I’m not sure I would be