[LIFE] What does “The Fine City” mean, anyways?

Singapore has many different nicknames. The name Singapore itself comes from its Malay name Singapura, which translates to “lion city”. According to local legend (but mostly the internet), the Prince Sang Nila Utama spotted a mysterious animal while hunting and established a city in the same location as a sign of good fortune. In present day, the closest you will get to seeing a lion in Singapore is the iconic merlion statue (there are actually 5 of them across the city). The merlion brings together the lion in Singapore’s name and its roots as a fishing village. Even before that, the main settlement on Singapore was called Temasek, meaning “sea town” in Old Javanese.

Merlion by Marina Bay

More contemporary nicknames include the “garden city”, a nod to Singapore’s infrastructure and, of course, the “fine city”, a pun on the many rules and fines in Singapore. Most famously, there is a ban on chewing gum in Singapore (unless it’s used for medical purposes, like nicotine gum). Eating and/or drinking on the train could set you back $500.
Smoking in non-designated areas could cost you $200-1000. Littering may land you a $200 fine and/or community services to pick up garbage in public spaces (an eye for an eye?). Vandalism will cost you $2000, imprisonment for up to 3 years and possible caning if it’s not your first offence (they really don’t mess around). You’re probably not surprised to hear that being naked in public caries a hefty fine ($2000), but I recently learned (not from personal experience) that you can also be fined for being naked in your own apartment if you are exposed to public view.

A typical subway sign

My take? None of these laws are personally inconvenient to me, and generally serve the purpose of keeping public spaces clean and running smoothly. I’m not sure how many people are actually prosecuted under these laws, and I wonder if a strong threat is enough of a deterrent.

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