Lion City receives Asia’s Ugliest Building Award

Singapore’s hopes of becoming a health tourism hub suffer a slight bruising as a surgeon bills a member of Brunei’s royal family US$20 million for treatment that, as it happens, was followed by the patient’s death. (The doctor argues that her practice lost money on the case.)

My recent visit to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok left me in little doubt that when it comes to the international general health-care market, Thailand’s comparative advantage is hard to beat. The hardware costs much the same worldwide, so much of the difference must come down to labour costs; Thai nurses and doctors are paid a fraction of what their Singaporean or Hong Kong counterparts get.

The word ‘hub’ provokes an instant Pavlovian salivary response among Hong Kong government officials, so it goes without saying that they would like to push health tourism here. Of course, if you offer mainlanders discreet delivery of illicit second children and throw in free citizenship for each baby, mothers-to-be will be lining up outside the hospitals. But strip away market distortions, and the Big Lychee’s high salaries and rents surely leave it incapable of competing with the likes of Thailand or India for most medical procedures. (It would probably make sense for the Hong Kong government to outsource some of its public-sector medical work to overseas suppliers like Bumrungrad, though our economically illiterate policymakers would freak out at the idea.)

Hong Kong can get by without exporting heart bypasses. Since its manufacturing base moved, and massively expanded, across the border it has thrived on trade, investment and finance. As well as serving as a vast cut-price manufacturing location, the mainland offers Hong Kong opportunities via all sorts of market distortions that produce a ceaseless appetite for untainted milk powder, stock market listings, money-laundering services and much more.

Singapore, on the other hand, has no such opportunity on its doorstep. Unlike Hong Kong, it sees its poor and corrupt hinterland as a threat. Where the Big Lychee blows billions on absurd bridges and rail links to Shenzhen and Zhuhai, the Lion City spends even more billions on F16s, C130s, Apache attack helicopters, Leopard tanks and a generous handful of frigates and submarines. Where Hong Kong sees a wall of cash bursting to get out, Singapore spies jungles full of resentful, machete-wielding Muslims with a track record of burning down Chinatowns.

Net result: Singapore is insecure and desperate on a level not even the most panic-prone Beijing-appointed Hong Kong leader can imagine. And when you’re desperate you do extreme things, some of which you might later regret. And it doesn’t come much worse than this…

Singapore comes at or near the top of my List of Cities I Haven’t Visited for Years Because I Can’t Be Bothered. Although I was vaguely aware that the place had recently built a casino and some sort of tacky mega-resort complex, I hadn’t realized the full, horrifyingly nauseating lengths officials would allow the architects to go to in an attempt to stand out from Dubai, Shanghai and all the other loser cities out there with their Formula 1 racing and Potemkin financial districts.

That monstrosity in the picture (any resemblance to Stonehenge purely unintentional) is called Marina Bay, and it is apparently all about seamless connectivity and new lifestyle options. I assume the planners were sitting around, watching the three towers rising from the construction site, and one said, “Hey, do you think they would support a massive concrete banana thing balanced along the top?” And his colleague said, “Yeah, you mean something that looks not merely ill-proportioned, unbalanced and misshapen, but just plain vile?” And the third added, “Yeah, with an infinity pool.” And Asia’s ugliest building was born, and Singapore finally became number-one at something.

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7 Responses to Lion City receives Asia’s Ugliest Building Award

  1. Maugrim says:

    Ssssh not so loud or HK will build one. We already have Tim Fok in this morning’s paper opining that we need a F1 race. We already do, it’s called the green minibus from Stanley. To get an idea of Singaporean ‘thinking’, in particular how it feels about its neighbour to the north, have a look at the comments surrounding the strip searching and detention of two Singaporean girls by customs officers in Jahor.

  2. Sir Crispin says:

    How could HK ever become a medical hub, when our hospital system is so woefully underfunded and our nursing staff so heavily over-burdened that they quit or transfer or make silly and easily avoidable harmful mistakes? Making HK a medical hub would require spending some of that surplus…and that would take vision and imagination, two things absent from the vocabulary of every single civil servant.

  3. Gerald says:

    You don’t have to go to Singapore to see some hideous building.
    Surely the new HK Govt HQ is as ugly?

  4. Stephen says:

    I agree Gerald – utterly hideous. But remember the silver lining (especially as they will be finishing soon) of the new HK Govt HQ.
    When the artistic “representation” of the finished article was first done it showed a large grass area, underneath the monstrosity, where citizens of the Big Lychee could sit. I wonder if that’s still the plan or some other idea, more in keeping with HK’s usual love of concrete and exclusivity, is being mooted?

  5. Mary Ma says:

    With the ongoing Shanghai-takes-over-HongKong debate, how could you have missed the piece of news that Shanghai has to close down shopping malls and office buildings because they don’t have enough electricity to power them during the summer peak ? Get your priorities right, man.

  6. Vile Traveller says:

    That large grassy area under the new GHQ is what happens when architects think they can do landscape architecture (they simply colour the bits around the building plan green). Not to worry, once emergency vehicular access, maintenance paths and essential acres of manholes are placed, there won’t be much left. And there certainly won’t be any “sitting on it” once management staff get busy with their little plastic fences.

    Oh, and the whole point of the thing, that it would link the hinterland to the waterfront – nah, too much trouble to talk to the owners of the Admiralty Centre to connect the walkway.

  7. Ross says:

    Not quite fair, Singapore can and does make plenty of money providing hk style money laundering services to corrupt Indonesian politicians. Why else would it be their favourite place to run when on the lam from the Indonesian police?

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