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Postcard from Singapore: dogs in diapers and moral dilemmas

December 5, 2021

Our fortnight in Singapore is nearly over. It’s not been without the odd hairy moment, mostly COVID-related, but also dog-related.

The other day my wife and I met up with a British friend who has been living in Singapore for 12 years. He was rather surprised that we were here for such a long time. Until lockdown, his life consisted of weekday trips to neighbouring countries where he has business interests. He and his partner would then spend their weekends here.

But lockdown has been different. He’s been suffering from a touch of islanditis, which explains why he finds it hard to understand why we would wish to be here for such a long time. After all, the country is not exactly overrun with tourist attractions.

Another friend, on reading my description of people-watching on our balcony that overlooks a boardwalk and marina, launched into a bit of a grumpathon about exploitation, and Priti Patel’s aspiration to turn Brexit Britain into Singapore-on-Tees.

To the first comment, I would reply by saying that we came here with very limited objectives. We wanted to exist for a few days somewhere miles away from Boris Johnson and his malevolent turd of a government. Somewhere in a warm climate where we can swim every day, enjoy fabulous food and can get through half a dozen books. And now, retrospectively, you could say that we’ve come to a place where we can avoid Omicron by spending as much time as possible in the fresh air. Plus take PCR tests in exotic locations. As a guy who no longer has a career to obsess about, what would I be doing differently at home? Apart from the alfresco dining, the swimming and the PCRs of course.

And anyway, travel doesn’t have to involve running around doing lots of stuff in the cause of broadening the mind, especially if you’re visiting somewhere you’ve been to many times before. But it does shake up the perspective for a while. It reminds you that not everyone gives a stuff about Britain. Nor are they bothered about Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine. They care about their jobs, their kids and maybe about China’s designs on Taiwan.

And, of course, their dogs. How much was evidenced by a woman we saw pushing a small mutt in a pram with a nappy on its hindquarters, and a couple who ordered a birthday cake with a candle for their dog in a restaurant  where we were eating. It wolfed the cake down. God knows what it produced on the owners’ carpet a few hours later.

Watching such people reminds me that not all of us have the inclination to sit around thinking great thoughts.

As for my dear friend whose dyspeptic remarks lit up my morning, I can only say that on Facebook you shouldn’t be grumpy, only old. According to some Gen-Zers interviewed by Robert Crampton in last Saturday’s Times, the place to go if you’re angry is Twitter. Though try telling that to the conspiracy theorists, insurrectionists and bigots who swarm to Facebook like bears to a rubbish dump.

Be that as it may, I’ve long given up trying to find a country whose government and population live up to my lofty morals. Where to you go if you want to be in a place where people aren’t exploited. France? New Zealand? Denmark? Cleethorpes?  It’s only a matter of degree, surely. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. The bigger the better, so that I can bow before them in admiration.

I’ve certainly been to some countries that have pretty dodgy records when it comes to exploitation. Some were founded on it. The United States, Australia and most of the British commonwealth can point to a greater or lesser degree of exploitation in their histories, though most of them can point the finger of blame at my ancestors. Most of them, however, continue the tradition in different ways with different masters.

My point is that exploitation, depending on how you define it, is as endemic as COVID.  So should you refrain from travelling for that reason? Or do you make a judgement, and chose countries to visit that are a only bit exploitative, as opposed to heavily so?

And how do you rate Britain, with its vast gig economy that relies on minimum wage labour, where young girls in poor districts are preyed upon on a scale that makes Jeffery Epstein look like a minor offender? Where kids are bribed to carry drugs from one town to another and illegal immigrants scrape a living in nail bars?

That said, since I live in a rathole of bigotry, lies, incompetence and inequality, I’m not in a rush to visit another one any time soon, which Is why I’ve avoided visiting the US got the past five years.

Yes, I know I’m straying into “what about” territory here. As my old Mum used to say in her dotage, I don’t know what the answer is.

But what I do know is that if you live in a country that gives you a vote and doesn’t punish you for making the “wrong” choice, you should use your vote whenever you can.

Meanwhile, I shall continue travelling far and wide in the hope that I will learn a few things on each journey, and in the knowledge that for those who exploit others, what goes around eventually comes around. Maybe not immediately, but certainly sooner or later, even if you have to wait until you’re a statue before you’re torn down.

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