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Crossing Continents Wednesday, 5 August, 1998, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Singapore: state and family
Night boat in Singapore harbour
The hi-tech 'intelligent island' has its flamboyant side too....
Listen to the programme in full

This week, Crossing Continents reports from Singapore - one of the most prosperous, cosmopolitan and technologically-advanced places in the world. The streets are clean, the laws are fierce, and you can even pay a parking fine with a smart card. But as presenter Julian Pettifer finds out, the state once described as 'Disneyland with the death penalty' is in the throes of some major changes. Socially, it's torn over the proper way to run a family; economically, there are worries about how best to respond to the Asian economic crisis, and on the cultural front, Singaporeans are starting to appreciate the joys of unconventional ideas.

Julian Pettifer in Singapore market with banners - 7/98
Julian Pettifer explores the city's markets
In a state where it's a crime to sell chewing gum, urinate in a lift or busk without a license, it might seem there's not much left to pass laws about. But now the government is extending its reach right into the family home.

With an ethos combining rigorous economic self-sufficiency and time-honoured family values, Singapore is now the only state in the world to legally oblige grown-up children to care for their parents. Under the Maintenance of Parents Act, passed last year, old people who can't support themselves can actually sue for cash and care from their children; and so far, the courts have been squarely on the elders' side. For some, it's a rare victory for the rights of the elderly, but others feel the state has finally gone too far by intruding on the delicate relationships between children and their parents. Julian Pettifer meets those in charge of the Act, some of its critics, and the families who must make the policy work.

Singapore map showing neighbours
Since its founding in 1819, Singapore has been a tiny city-state, making its living from trade and depending heavily on the fortunes of its neighbours. So what happens when those fortunes founder? Recent reports suggest that even the sturdy Singapore economy, once labelled 'the rock in the storm of the Asian crisis', may now be threatened by the financial implosions all around it. Julian Pettifer talks to one of Singapore's most respected business analysts, Lim Say Boon of Crosby Corporate Advisory, about the struggle to stay afloat.

Julian Pettifer in Singapore bookshop + Eleanor Wong & Eva Tang
At Borders, Julian talks to playwright Eleanor Wong and poet Eva Tang
For all its obsession with tidiness and order, Singapore isn't just a bastion of conformity. We examine the cultural event of the year - the opening of a local branch of the American chain Borders Bookstore. A vast emporium stuffed with more than 140,000 titles, all available for browsing and arguing over, it's been hugely popular, most notably with the burgeoning number of young Singaporeans who're eager to soak up anything to do with arts, books and culture.

In the store, we talk to playwright Eleanor Wong, journalist and poet Eva Tang, and marketing manager Lily Teo about the trend towards a looser, more creative approach to life.

Chinese drama in Singapore street, July 98
on some of Singapore's (licensed) street theatre...
Playwright Eleanor Wong in Borders, Singapore
on the Singaporean view of culture and commerce
See also:

26 Jul 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
28 Apr 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
15 May 98 | Asia-Pacific
14 Apr 98 | Asia-Pacific
19 Feb 98 | Asia-Pacific
14 Nov 97 | Far East
12 Nov 97 | Far East
Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.

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