Man at His Best

The Big Question: Should We Be Proud That Singapore Is The Most Expensive City In The World?

Singapore has been crowned with the title for the third year in a row. Is that worth being proud of?

BY EDITORS | Mar 11, 2016 | Culture

Singapore has retained its title as world's most expensive city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) latest Worldwide Cost of Living report. The survey covered housing, transport, utility bills, F&B, clothing, household supplies and personal care items, private schools, domestic help and recreational costs.

We ask ourselves if this is something we should take pride in.


Zul Andra | Editor-in-chief, Esquire Singapore
I wouldn’t pitch this status to anyone outside of Singapore if I’m inviting them into the city. (I’m not mentioning the locals, because the reaction I get on this topic usually come with expletives and punctuated with: “But you know in Johor Bahru, ah… .”)

Being expensive is not the kind of flag I’d wave about. I don’t think I can even afford the flag.

In fact, because we are the most expensive, I’m more concerned about the future than anything else. What’s the cultural and social cost of being the most expensive city in the world? What can we do to recognise the inequality in our country? Should the campaign tagline for Tan Cheng Bock for the presidency of Singapore be: “He’s better than a strong, dark German Beer”? Y’know, all these really tough questions need answering.

I’d rather peg our wealth towards the richness of our humanity, knowledge and kindness. If I have to say: “Come to Singapore, we have this really cute Nature Reserve under an MRT track” then you should get a trout from Johor and slap me with it.  Why? Because it’s cheaper there.

Perhaps it is this naivety that makes me a poor person in an expensive city. And that’s okay. At least it’s not at the expense of everyone else.


Janie Cai | Fashion Director, Esquire Singapore
We’ve been conditioned to become a competitive nation. Being the most expensive city in the world, though, that’s something else.

I think that as a Singaporean, the question that hits closer to home is: how does this affect me? If my pay packet tides over the increase in living costs then I don’t feel a thing. But if it doesn’t (and no, it doesn’t) then things get a bit frustrating.

Basics such as transport, food, etc are accessible but housing especially has become a sticking point. My parents paid SGD30,000 for their first flat in Marine Parade 30 years ago. A flat in the same area today costs SGD750,000.

Yes, there’s inflation and national income averages have increased over the years and prices aren’t static (we wish). But it’s also a question of expectations.

I can still eat decently for a low price, I can buy a new flat at the relatively affordable price given my status as a Singaporean citizen and the benefits of government loans, should I be applicable, and I can rely on a working public transport system that rarely breaks down (I used to live in London where the morning Metro might be delayed due to a host of reasons and occasionally, due to “man on track” or, once, the more disturbing “man under train”).

If Singapore is overwhelmingly expensive, it is because we all expect to live in awesome areas, go out for dinners anytime we want to and generally have the latest and greatest. But watching my parents, who are currently retired, I wonder if it’s really that Singapore has become so expensive or if it’s because we’ve become so conditioned to being the best and wanting the best.

In fact, I would give this more thought but I have to go back and work so I can afford my truffle pasta lunch.


Eugene Lim | Stylist, Esquire Singapore
No. Being proud of living in a country that is the most expensive in the world, to me, is akin to being proud of my tailor just because he charges me a lot of money for a bespoke suit.

On that train of thought, a tailor I would be proud to have is one that asks about my life and how I’m coping with it. He’d try to shelter me from my flaws and accentuate my strengths. He’d also dispense advice and listen to my feedback as he goes about doing his job.

And if Singapore learns a thing or two from this tailor, it’ll be something I’ll come to be proud of too. 


Lestari Hairul | Senior Writer, Esquire Singapore
There's nothing to be proud of. If the aim is to be considered a highly cosmopolitan, success-driven, wealthy city then maybe in some corner of your capitalist heart it would be a welcomed title. However, a state involves more than just businessmen and bankers.

To the rest of society, this is a horrendous reality that is known and experienced way before any sensationalised headline appeared to outrage Facebook timelines. If the workers cannot sustain a comfortable living, the repercussions will be felt eventually.

There's more to existence than having just enough for shelter, food, clothing and standard school fees for the children.

And for those myopic comparisons between Singapore's working classes and neighbouring cities? Here's a hammer to your obtuse acceptance. 


Patrick Chew | Web Editor, Esquire Singapore
No, I’m not proud of it. To be honest, it isn’t anything worth being proud of. It is just one of many other accolades and titles we can place on a shelf that we couldn’t build ourselves and had to pay a foreigner to do it for us. In the epic rush to fill our skyline with massive skyscrapers and efficient infrastructure, a few basic things got left behind. In a span of over 50 years, Singapore’s transformation has been staggering to the point I find it ironic.

Today, we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, more choices but less judgement, we chase higher incomes but have lower morals (Hossan Leong mentioned in the recent Singtel Netflix ad about how we’ve intentionally sabotaged our classmates’ homework to get higher grades, with a smirk on his face as if to suggest it is something to swell our chests about).

The overwhelming impression that tourists have of Singapore is that it is clean, safe and a country that is seemingly well put together. But what I find is that Singapore, on closer inspection, reveals many small flaws and holes like how multi-million dollar decorative facades in our airport terminals have failed to mask the unpleasant expressions and attitudes of our customs officers or our unwillingness to let foreign workers sit on trains. These are the things we need to fix before we can start feeling proud of ourselves and achievements.

Just as in Gulliver’s Travels, it is important to reverse the proportions, making something large that we would otherwise see as small, in order for us to understand just how significant the little things can be.