Traveling this holiday weekend? Whether you’re headed to New York or San Francisco, Singapore or Tokyo, we’ve put together a list of your destination’s must-see attractions and activities. So if you want to hit the tourist hotspots, or if you prefer to see how the locals live, these ideas will make your Labor Day planning a bit less laborious:
A recent crackdown on publications discussing homosexuality sheds light on Singapore's traditional moral values and notoriously restricted press
State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and legally verboten in Southeast Asia’s most developed state.
Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year, but the ban is only just now coming to light — a week after another state agency removed three children’s books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships from the national library’s shelves.
The third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character whose creation in 2010 earned writer Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award last year. (In the latest volume, Archie dies taking a bullet for Kevin, now a U.S. Senator.)
As critic Alyssa Rosenberg noted Wednesday in The Washington Post, the 75-year-old comic book franchise has in recent years adopted a distinctly political subtext, taking on issues of topical significance as they come: Kevin, a gay solider, was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Archie’s interracial marriage made the cover in 2012.
Social progressivism isn’t really Singapore’s forte, though.
“[We]… found its content to be in breach of guidelines because of its depiction of the same sex marriage of two characters in the comic,” an MDA spokesperson said in a statement to TIME. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets.”
In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss “alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices,” listing homosexuality as an example of such (alongside “group sex and sadomasochism”).
Such stringent regulations are par for the course in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns supreme and strict curbs are placed on the dissemination of information. The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index — between Iraq and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world.
Concerning the recent purge of homosexual content, though, these restrictions may not be completely unwelcome. Sodomy, although rarely prosecuted, is criminalized as an act of “gross indecency,” and the majority of citizens, according to one survey, still take a “conservative approach” to marital and family matters. Indeed, the MDA claims to predicate its censorship decisions upon “public feedback or complaints,” and only turned its attention to the Archie comic after receiving a number of grievances.
One of the books, the multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three, recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York's Central Park Zoo
The Singapore government has ordered the National Library Board (NLB) to remove from library shelves and destroy three children’s books that portray gay, lesbian or unconventional families.
The multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The other two banned titles are The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, which features a lesbian couple, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families, which describes unconventional parental set-ups.
The move has resulted in a torrent of opposition in mainstream and social media, the latter largely via the #FreeMyLibrary hashtag. An open letter criticizing the ban has also received more than 4,000 signatures.
“This is a very unfortunate step backwards,” Kirpal Singh, associate professor of English Literature at Singapore Management University, tells TIME. “While we try to balance the conservatives and liberal minded, do we remove anything or everything that gives offense, especially if this offense is quite problematic, quite complex?”
Homosexuality is a sensitive subject in ostensibly modern Singapore. Gay sex remains illegal but is rarely prosecuted, and an estimated 26,000 revelers thronged this year’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally — one of the largest public gatherings of any sort seen in recent years. Nevertheless, society remains conservative.
According to a NLB statement, “We take a cautious approach, particularly in books and materials for children. NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”
The ban was reportedly spurred by a complaint from a single library user who is also a member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore.”
The NLB boasts a collection of more than five million books and audio-visual materials, and a spokesperson told Channel News Asia that it acts on less than a third of the 20 or so removal requests received each year. (James Patterson’s Kill Me If You Can, which depicts incest, was the subject of a complaint but remains on the shelves.)
Naturally, gay rights activists are outraged. “This unfortunate decision sends a message of rejection to many loving families that do not conform to the narrow father-mother-children definition of family that it has adopted,” said Pink Dot spokesperson Paerin Choa by email. “Pink Dot believes that Singapore can be an inclusive home for its people in all their diversity, and that constructive dialogue should be the way forward for a truly embracing society.”
For Singh, the furor may at least have the positive side effect of prompting debate. “This may contribute to a more vital discussion for Singapore in terms of where we are and where we are not when it comes to values, freedoms and an open state for discourse,” he says.
While praising the NLB as an institution, acclaimed Singaporean author Alvin Pang writes: “This is a serious impoverishment of what books are and what knowledge means, and it can only harm our intellectual development and broader social discourse.”
Justin Richardson, co-author of And Tango Makes Three, would no doubt agree. “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”
Militants from Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, are being lured by ISIS's hard-line Sunni extremism+ READ ARTICLE
Men in balaclavas are cradling Kalashnikovs as they look into a camera, somewhere in Syria. They are university students, businessmen, former soldiers and even teenagers. One by one, they urge their fellow countrymen to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the jihadist group so extreme that it has been denounced by al-Qaeda. But these aren’t Syrians, or Uzbeks, or Chechens. They are Indonesian.
“Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah … especially here in Sham [the Syrian region] … and because, God willing, it will be to this country that our families will do the holy migration,” says one in Bahasa Indonesia peppered with Arabic phrases. “Brothers in Indonesia, don’t be afraid because fear is the temptation of Satan.”
A fellow jihadist, a former Indonesian soldier, calls on those in the police and armed forces to repent and abandon the defense of their country and its “idolatrous” state ideology, Pancasila.
The video of the Indonesian men in Syria emerged shortly before ISIS seized the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, in landmark victories on June 10 and 11. It reflects the growing attraction that the Sunni extremist group holds for the most militant jihadists from Indonesia — the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population, and one that has long battled threats of terrorism.
“Like in Syria, the Sunni jihadi movement is split in Indonesia,” Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, tells TIME. Some Indonesian jihadists, including many senior leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah (the group behind the Bali bombings in 2002 and other terrorist attacks) are loyal to the alliance around the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda, she says, “while most of the more militant, non-JI groups are supporting ISIS.”
According to a recent report, the Syrian conflict has lured an estimated 12,000 foreign fighters, mostly from neighboring Middle Eastern countries, but also from Europe, Australia, the U.S. — and Southeast Asia. In January, Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency reckoned about 50 Indonesians had gone to fight in Syria, though it is not known how many of them joined ISIS. A Malaysian security official said more than 20 Malaysians are known to have entered Syria to fight Bashar Assad’s regime.
On Saturday, Malaysian media reported that Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, who bombed an Iraqi military headquarters, earned “the dubious honor of being Malaysia’s first suicide bomber linked to” ISIS. Some months earlier, in November, reports emerged that Riza Fardi, who studied at the infamous Ngruki Islamic boarding school in Central Java — the same school attended by the Bali bombers — became the first Indonesian jihadist to die in Syria.
While terrorist threats have waned in Southeast Asia, thanks to imprisonment and deaths of senior jihadist figures, the civil war in Syria, and now in Iraq, has raised the specter of fighters returning home with the terrorist know-how and a militant outlook — not unlike the returnees from the Afghan war in the 1980s. “Returning fighters will have deeper indoctrination, more international contacts and perhaps a deeper commitment to the global jihad,” says Jones.
The three-year Syrian war has attracted even more foreign fighters than the Afghan war. One possible reason is a prophecy, popular among global jihadists, about the final battle before Judgment Day. “There are hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, that predict an apocalyptic war of good vs. evil, and according to one hadith, it would start in Syria,” says Solahudin, a Jakarta-based terrorism expert.
Indonesia has a different approach to jihadism than its neighbors. Though terrorist attacks are punishable by death, it is not illegal to raise money for or join a foreign jihadist group. In contrast, in late April, Malaysia arrested 10 militants — eight men and two women — who planned to travel to Syria to take part in the war. In March, Singapore said it was investigating the departure of a national to join the Syrian jihad.
Emboldened by Indonesia’s more tolerant attitude, ISIS supporters there have become more visible and openly solicit funds. They held a collection in February at an Islamic state university on the outskirts of Jakarta and held a rally in the capital’s central business district in March. On June 15, a Sunday morning when one of the main streets in the Central Javanese city of Solo is transformed into a weekly car-free zone for strolling families, militants from Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, a JI splinter cell, paraded in ISIS insignia, waved ISIS flags and wreaked havoc on a music performance.
They are also quite active on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Iqbal Kholidi, who tracks and observes Indonesian ISIS supporters on social media, has culled photos of them training and posing with the signature black flags from across the country — in Jakarta, Central Java, South Kalimantan and Poso, Central Sulawesi. They have become bolder in recent months, Iqbal says, and that is likely “because there is an impression that the authorities are just keeping quiet all this time.”
The gloves came off between the U.S. and China during a defense conference in Asia over the weekend, following Beijing’s forays into disputed areas of the South China Sea early last month
Diplomatic platitudes took a backseat to tough talk in Singapore over the weekend, as Beijing slammed Washington for investing in a “containment fantasy” after the U.S. accused China of overseeing “destabilizing” maneuvers in the South China Sea.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laid into China for allowing a state-owned drilling rig to drop anchor in the heart of heavily contested waters off the Vietnamese coast. He was speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims,” Hagel told the conference. “We also oppose any effort — by any nation — to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation, whether from military or civilian vessels [or] from countries big or small.”
Beijing did not take kindly to the forceful criticism.
“Hagel’s speech was full of hegemony, full of words of threat and intimidation,” said Lieut. General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, on Sunday.
“It was a speech to abet destabilizing factors to create trouble and make provocations. It was not a constructive speech.”
China’s stated-backed Global Times on Sunday railed against the Obama Administration’s renewed diplomatic thrust into Asia, which Beijing derides as a thinly veiled effort to contain China’s rise.
“Strengthened military alliance against China does not contribute to regional stability that the United States has touted for, but rather constitutes a provocative and hostile move that stirs up regional tension,” read an editorial.
This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue came at an increasingly hostile time in the region. Just four days before the meeting commenced, Hanoi accused Chinese vessels of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat near the controversial oil rig in the South China Sea.
The incident was the latest flash point between the countries since the drilling platform entered waters claimed by Vietnam last month.
During a keynote address on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered to supply both the Philippines and Vietnam with patrol boats. Japan has its own bitter territorial disputes with Beijing.
“Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies,” said Abe, according to the BBC.
Wang later dismissed the Japanese Prime Minister’s comments as “provocative.”
The city-state has done all it can to succeed in the global marketplace, only to end up feeling some unease at having its distinctive sense of place eroded.
You land at Changi Airport after flying for what seems a lifetime, and you’re disoriented even before you hit the customs booths with bowls of mints, dire warnings about the death penalty for those bringing in drugs, and digital comment cards asking if the service was to your liking.
Duck into a public restroom and you’ll be exhorted to aim carefully and to “flush with oomph” for the sake of cleanliness. Outside, it’s tropical sticky but impeccably clean, in a city is inhabited by Chinese, Malays, Indians, and guest workers from around the world—all speaking English.
Singapore is an assault on one’s preconceptions.
Singapore calls itself the Lion City, but it would be more accurate to call it the Canary City—the canary in globalization’s gold mine. Arguably no other place on earth has so engineered itself to prosper from globalization—and succeeded at it. The small island nation of 5 million people (it’s really just a city, but that’s part of what’s disorienting) boasts the world’s second-busiest seaport, a far higher per-capita income than its former British overlord, and a raft of number-one rankings on lists ranging from least-corrupt to most-business-friendly countries. So long as globalization continues apace, the place thrives.
On the event of its 50th anniversary as an independent nation, Singapore’s defining achievement is summed up in the title of its longtime leader Lee Kwan Yew’s memoir, From Third World to First. When it split off from Malaysia a half-century ago, Singapore had little going for it, other than a determination to become whatever it needed to be—assembly plant, container port, trustworthy banking and logistics center, semiconductor hub, oil refinery, mall developer, you name it. But the brilliance of its founding fathers—OK, it was mostly one father, Mr. Lee—was in realizing that the precondition for all of this was good governance.
Over a recent week of briefings with Singaporean business and government leaders sponsored by the nonprofit Singapore International Foundation, I heard one business leader say that he has never had to pay a bribe in his lifetime. To an American audience, that may seem like a fairly modest boast, but as this speaker noted, it’d be a difficult claim to make in neighboring Southeast Asian countries (or developing nations anywhere). Like Americans, Singaporeans worship the concept of meritocracy. Unlike Americans, Singaporeans entrusted their society to an all-knowing one-party technocracy that has delivered the goods across two generations—including affordable, publicly built housing for a majority of the population and a system of private lifetime savings vehicles that are the envy of policy wonks the world over.
Still, even at the height of its success, Singapore doesn’t get much love from the legions of foreigners who avail themselves of its First World amenities. It’s almost obligatory for Westerners visiting or residing in Singapore to complain about the “sterility” of the place, and joke about the pristine shopping malls, contrasting Singapore unflatteringly to the grittier authenticity of nearby Cambodia and Vietnam.
It’s a form of colonial prejudice to begrudge Singaporeans their lack of Third World “charm.” But the interesting new wrinkle is that Singaporeans themselves are joining in the second-guessing about the price of development.
Opposition parties are gaining some ground, capitalizing on unhappiness with strained public services, soaring prices, and an influx of super-wealthy foreign investors. Having taken care of its population’s basic needs and then some, it must be galling for Singapore’s relentlessly pragmatic leadership to see a surge of yearning for rooted authenticity. The few older neighborhoods that haven’t been demolished—including the first generation of public housing complexes—are now heralded as historic landmarks.
This ill-defined sense of nostalgia reflects the tensions inherent in globalization. You can leverage all of your comparative advantages to succeed in the global marketplace, only to end up feeling some unease at having your distinctive sense of place eroded.
Until recently, Singapore was among the most welcoming places to outsiders, with one out of every three residents born elsewhere. But with fertility rates dropping, the country opened the floodgates to immigrants to ensure continued growth—turning immigration into a lightning rod. One triggering event for a national debate on the subject was a modest riot late last year in the city’s Little India Quarter. A government official, off-script, said with some relish: “Imagine that, we had a riot: we must be a real place.”
In the aftermath, the government slowed down its intake of immigrants and tapered its growth projections. The move was a testament to how responsive Singapore’s system can be to its citizenry’s needs and desires, without being terribly democratic.
It was a testament, too, to how perfect Singapore—and its paternalistic, technocratic cosmopolitanism—is for this age of interdependence.
Andrés Martinez is the Washington editor of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column, and Vice President of the New America Foundation.
TIME’s Global Invention Poll, in cooperation with Qualcomm, surveyed 10,197 people in 17 countries around the world about the subject of Invention. The poll, which accompanied TIME’s annual list of the 25 Best Inventions, revealed a wide range of opinions about the subject of inventiveness. In the poll, and in the article “The Spark of Invention” by Jeffrey Kluger, TIME explored the questions sparked by the subject: who are inventors, how do they do their work, and what is the relationship between countries, culture and inventiveness?
TIME continued the conversation with a special panel discussion, The Future of Invention, on 28 May, 2014 at the Studio Theatre, School of the Arts, Singapore. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore sat down with TIME Editor-at-Large Jeffrey Kluger to discuss the inter-connectedness of Inventing Globally. Hannah Beech, East Asia Correspondent and China Bureau Chief moderated a session, Inventing By Design which explored the lessons and ingredients which influence success in the inventing process with leading inventors and thought leaders from around Asia, including Susmita Mohanty, CEO-India of Earth2Orbit; Raj Thampuran, Managing Director, A*STAR and Wong Meng Weng, Co-Founder and Chairman, JFDI.Asia. Kluger then sat down with Edward Jung, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Intellectual Ventures to explore the idea of Inventing Ecosystems and the best-in-class models that fuel invention and offer insights into where those ecosystems could lead the future of invention.
Watch highlights from the panel discussions below.
Has Ann Osman shattered your stereotypes yet?
In the first round of her professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut, Malaysia’s Ann Osman took close to 30 knees to the mid-section from her opponent, Singapore’s Sherilyn Lim.
“You’ve broken her!” Lim’s trainer could be heard shouting, as Lim leaned against the cage of the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
In the second and third rounds, Osman took more devastating knee and head strikes, but responded with knees of her own along with takedowns and crushing ground and pound. Both fighters were unloading whopping lefts and straight rights as the final bell rang. But after 15 minutes of brawling, Lim’s hand was raised in a split decision victory.
ONE Fight Championship’s Total Domination event, held last October, was a disappointment for Osman, but “I definitely gave my best during the fight,” the Malaysian tells TIME.
And despite her defeat, the bout captured the public’s imagination. On Mar. 14, following immense pressure from both fans and media, ONE FC, the largest MMA promotion in Asia, will host a rematch between Lim and Osman — only this time in Osman’s home country.
The fight, which will be broadcast in 28 different countries, will contain several firsts. This will be Osman’s first fight in front of her fellow Malaysians, and it will be the first time a female Muslim fighter has competed on the global stage in a country where the official religion is Islam.
“There’s an empowering element to women in Asia to see a strong, confident, fit female competing on a world scale, on a world stage, especially if you’re Muslim or if you’re from a Muslim country like Malaysia,” says ONE FC CEO Victor Cui.
Not many sports give women similar prestige as their male counterparts, but the growing prominence of female UFC stars such as Ronda Rousey, Liz Carmouche and Misha Tate has almost given MMA that distinction. And with the meteoric rise of MMA in Asia, ever more women are taking up the sport, and breaking fresh ground as they do.
“Having a female fight in a Muslim country like Malaysia is going to be a first,” says Cui. “There’s a huge cultural implication.”
Malaysia may not be Saudi Arabia or Iran, but religious conservatism is increasingly prevalent there. In October, the country’s courts ruled that only Muslims have the legal right to use the word ‘Allah,’ sparking fierce protests from the nation’s Christian minority, who have longed used the same word for God.
Nevertheless, Osman, 27, says she’s has never felt ostracized because of her gender or decision to push boundaries. “I’m fortunate to not have felt any of that pressure about me being Muslim and a female MMA fighter at the same time,” says the Sabah native. “I’m very fortunate to have the support from everyone I know.”
According to Malaysian MMA pioneer Melvin Yeoh, Osman’s acceptance comes from both ONE FC’s assertive marketing in tandem with MMA’s official recognition by the Ministry of Youth and Sport, one of three such sports to have the state’s blessing.
“She’s a Muslim and people saw what she can do and then they thought, this we can also do,” says Yeoh.
While only 10 or so women trained at Yeoh’s fighting camp in Johor Bahru throughout 2013, in the wake of Osman’s October bout, and the hype surrounding the upcoming rematch builds, interest in MMA from female athletes has snowballed. In January alone, he has seen more than 20 women sign up.
According to Cui, it’s emphasizing narratives like Osman’s and playing off historical geopolitical rivalries like the one that exists between Singapore and Malaysia that is essential to MMA sinking deep roots into emerging Asian markets. “It’s Malaysia versus Singapore and those guys have a very, very extremely heated competition,” he says.
When ONE FC started investing in Malaysia in earnest two years ago there were only a handful of MMA gyms. Fast-forward to 2014 and there are now more than 30 operating in the capital Kuala Lumpur. This only adds to the competition between the nations. Singapore currently has around 10 fighting gyms.
“Singapore says they have better fighters, Malaysia says they have better fighters, so it’s a never-ending debate,” explains Yeoh.
But its not just regional rivalry that is stoking anticipation, as these women can actually fight. MMA blog Bloody Elbow nominated the third round of their previous encounter for the site’s “Round of the Year” for 2013.
For Osman, though, there’s only one prize in her sights. “I am definitely taking home the win in front of my hometown crowd,” she says. “First round knockout!”
Financial difficulties following Fukushima disaster edges out Japan's capital, while both the world's most and least expensive cities remain in Asia
In the aftermath of the Fukushima power plant disaster, Tokyo has forfeited the dubious merit of being the world’s most expensive city.
In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s biannual report, ranking 131 global cities, Singapore is instead throned, while the Japanese capital slumps to a sixth place.
Singapore’s ascension is on the back of soaring living costs, currency appreciation and solid price inflation. The city-state’s meager natural resources makes it heavily reliant on energy and water imports, transport costs are almost three times higher than New York and it is the most expensive place to buy clothes in the world.
The world’s 10 most expensive cities to live in:
6. Caracas, Geneva, Melbourne, Tokyo
The bottom of the list features a scrum of South Asian metropolises. “Although India has been tipped for future growth, much of this is driven by its large population and the untapped potential within the economy,” says the EIU.
The five least expensive global cities to live in:
127. Damascus, Kathmandu
129. New Delhi