Singapore is an aberration of sorts. But it is an aberration in a nice way. Compared to its ASEAN neighbors, it is a city-state, so unlike the archipelagos that are the Philippines and Indonesia and the nations located in the Asian mainland like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. In fact, her history tells us that Singapore was originally part of Malaya, which was for some time under British Rule and part of the Empire where the sun never sets. It seceded and declared independence back in 1965, establishing its identity as a distinct nation and eventually setting the standard for economic development in this part of the world.
Some people would say that Singapore would always be suspicious and to a certain extent paranoid about Malaysia. After all, the former is still quite dependent on the latter for water and other essential resources. In recent years, however, such paranoia has been lessened as the Malaysian economy grew and with the latter experiencing a measure of prosperity that itself is a deterrent to unrest.
Singapore will always be an exceptional case for Southeast Asia. For one, it never had to contend with population growth and rural concerns like its neighbors - with the exception of another rich state, Brunei. Thus, it is not surprising that in academic fora, some care is applied when mentioning Singapore in the same breath as Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Such exceptions notwithstanding, the city state is a fine example of how a city with limited resources must develop. It has reinvented itself, using technology as a tool for leverage in a very competitive world. It has provided excellent template for urban planning and development including welfare and healthcare in the sense that it has evolved into a people and environment friendly haven that should, in spite of its size, be emulated by cities claiming to have similar targets.
A friend always mentions that he doesn't mind visiting Singapore as long as he didn't have to live in the country. The city is "too clean," he says - pointing to what many would term as sanitized, too orderly. He even proceeds by comparing Singapore to Tokyo and other first world cities that seem to have more (much more) character than the city state. Perhaps Singapore's weakness is also its strength. While being a model for stability, it is too sanitized, too perfect for people who are used to the hustle and bustle of "regular" cities. While being a welcome destination for people is search of order and stability, it is also often taken as a symbol of artificiality and a reminder of something that would just be too difficult to attain, unless you had a leader like Lee Kuan Yew.
Nirvana it might be for people seeking to escape from such turmoils as that brought about by recent inundations. I myself welcomed the trip to Singapore a couple of weeks back and almost right after the floodwaters receded in Antipolo. Singapore will always be a necessity in this part of the world where chaos and change are part of the norms of life. It is always a welcome alternative to a country that evolves according to political and social dynamics that have significant, though hopefully not detrimental, impacts on our lives.