WARTS OR NO, I'LL TAKE SINGAPORE

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I'm aware of Sinapore's warts, at least the more-publicized ones: an autocratic government; myriad legal strictures, down to outlawing gum; harsh punishment (whatever we may think of Michael Fay, caning is barbaric, never mind hanging for drug possession), and censoriousness regarding communications, including advertising. My dilemma: I like the place; and I don't think I have draconian leanings.

Some impressions, based on two trips to Singapore in three years:

It is sparkling, well-manicured. Some guidebooks complain it is not "exotic enough." Maybe, but if you want Asian mystique, try Hong Kong and Bangkok.

As a mosaic of cultures-Chinese, Malay, Indian-and religions, Singapore seems to display a healthy mutual tolerance.

My Singaporean friends are open and generous, showing no hint of a "Big Brother" looking over their shoulders. In fact, the police do not seem overly evident.

The commercial/shopping district along tree-lined Orchard Road and its major tributary, Scotts Road, is the most aesthetically attractive I have ever seen. And the variety in the granite vertical shopping malls is impressive, including Esprit, Guess?, Benetton, Chanel, Dior and even Kmart and Toys 'R' Us.

As much as I enjoy Singapore it's impossible to separate its accomplishments from the methods used to achieve them. An inescapable question: To be clean, graffiti-free and drug-free (ostensibly), must one also have a government that limits freedoms to the degree that Singapore's does?

So I'm unrealistic, but I'd like to have my cake and eat it too.

AAI invites you to submit your view. Send no more than 350 words to AAI, 220 E. 42nd St., New York 10017. Fax: 1-212-210-0200.

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