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March 21, 2004

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Singapore is a city state of 4 million people, a grain in the hayfield of Asia. How it became independent seems to be controversial. History books simply say that Singapore left the Malaysian Federation (which itself won independence from the British in 1957). We met some Singaporeans who claimed that Malaysia kicked Singapore out of the Federation, mainly because the city state is ethnically Chinese and Malaysia pursues a "Malaysia for Malays" policy; Malaysia reserves the most important civil posts for Malaysians.

In either case, no one disputes that Lee Kuan Yew became prime minister in 1959 and kept this position for 31 years. He suppressed all political opposition, imposed a strict social order, and banned everything from drugs to spitting. Lee resigned as prime minister in 1990, letting Goh Chok Tong take over, who holds the post today. Many citizens complain that Singapore isn't really a democracy. No one dares cross the government and no effective opposition has existed for years. In order to suppress corruption, cabinet ministers earn salaries as high as those offered in the private sector, over $1 million per year; they sign contracts like professional sports players.

McDonald's offers free wireless Internet at all store locations. Perfect for us to catch March Madness over the Net. Now if only Maryland would win...