Sunday 9 March 2014

World’s most expensive city? Don’t shy – own it!

The news was so big that even Stephen Colbert reported it.

On his US TV show The Colbert Report on Comedy Central last Tuesday, Colbert said: “Singapore is now the world’s most expensive place to live. For the world’s cheapest place, check your clothing label.”

I checked my clothing label. It said: “Made in China.”

But according to the 2014 Worldwide Cost of Living survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the world’s cheapest place to live is actually Mumbai, India.

So Colbert was wrong. That’s the misleading Western media for ya.

Or perhaps I’m taking a programme that’s on a TV channel called Comedy Central a little too seriously.

There are quite a number of international surveys like this with Singapore being ranked somewhere that pop up regularly throughout the year.

Last week, Singapore was ranked the second safest out of 99 countries, according to the US-based World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2014. We were beaten by Finland, of all places.

My daughter is still upset by a survey two months ago that ranked Singapore as the No. 1 place in the world where you can find the best schools and the happiest kids.

The survey was by another organisation I have never heard of, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The daughter, who is in Secondary 3, was not happy that the survey said she was happy.

“Do I look happy?” she demanded to know. “Who did they ask to take the survey? They should have asked me!”

And it’s not just kids whose happiness was being ranked. In 2012, a Gallup survey said Singaporeans have the lowest positive emotions worldwide. In other words, we are the unhappiest people on the planet.

Then in 2013, the United Nations-sponsored World Happiness Report 2013 ranked Singapore as only 30th happiest globally, but it was good enough to make us the happiest country in Asia.

Then in January, another survey, called the World of Work Report by recruiting firm Randstad Group, said that Singapore workers are the unhappiest in Asia.

Unhappiest, happiest, unhappiest – I suspect if there’s a survey for the most bipolar country in the world, we would top that as well.

Personally, I always look forward to the results of the Durex survey to learn how much sex I am having – I mean, Singaporeans are having compared to the rest of the world.

But the EIU survey, which ranks Singapore as the world’s most expensive city, is getting more attention than most other surveys.

Even Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam addressed it in Parliament last week.

He said that surveys like the one done by EIU are “basically aimed at comparing cost of living for expatriates in different cities or countries” and “measuring something quite different from the cost of living for an ordinary local in different cities around the world”.

I know how expensive things are in Singapore. I live here.

I still can’t get over having to pay more than $2 for a can of spiced pork cubes. I remember when a can used to cost just $1.15 only a few years ago. That’s like a 100 per cent price hike.

I still love spiced pork cubes, but they’re now a luxury, like caviar and cable TV.

But what bothers me even more than the rising cost of living is this AFP headline for a report on Mr Tharman’s speech: “Singapore downplays ‘world’s most expensive city’ tag.

Another headline I’m not happy about: “‘World’s most expensive city’ not happy to top the list.

The smug tone of these headlines rankles me so much that I say instead of being embarrassed by the “most expensive” title, we should own it and rub it back in their faces.

We beat Tokyo, Paris, London and New York, man! That’s no small potatoes.

Look at it another away. You know how unhappy many Singaporeans are that we have so many foreigners here?

Just two days ago in Parliament, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that more than 50 firms have hired disproportionately more foreign executives than they should.

With Singapore now being the most expensive city to live in, fewer foreigners will want to come and work here. The EIU ranking may be a blessing in disguise.

And if that doesn’t scare foreigners away, we still have the haze.

And the dry spell. And the heat. And the increasingly frequent train delays.

And the threat that Ris Low’s movie will eventually be released, like the Kraken.

If only we could also make Singapore a little less safe...

That would be priceless.

- Published in The New Paper, 9 March 2014

EARLIER: I’m not so positive these surveys are reliable