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Nation's Passion Is Playing Cupid

Singapore hopes a Valentine's Day-inspired campaign will motivate residents to get to work shoring up the island's declining birthrate.

February 15, 2004|Yeoh En-Lai | Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE — Looking for love this Valentine's Day? The Singapore government will be happy to assist.

From an online dating guide at www.romancingsingapore.com to a lover's boat race, tango party and mass wedding planned for May, everything the unattached could ask for is available, with taxpayers' help.

But this time the social engineering for which this city-state is famous has gone a bit too far for some.

"The government's like a girlfriend you can't dump.... They keep on telling you what to do, even how to love," grumbled Daryl Gan, 28, a computer engineer and bachelor.

Despite the skepticism, the government-backed Romancing Singapore festival returns for its second year.

But now the Valentine's Day-inspired campaign is being extended from one month to nine to motivate Singaporeans to get passionate -- and get to work shoring up the island's declining birthrate.

"Someone has to take the lead," said Claire Chiang, co-head of the government-funded Romancing Singapore festival.

"There is nothing wrong with the state wanting to send a message to the population," she said. "It's the same with bird flu -- the government has to do something."

Authorities worry about a growing trend among young Singaporeans of putting their careers before starting a family. To build a family, says Chiang, "we have to throw away all pragmatic considerations."

The government has made boosting the birthrate a priority for 2004 after the number of newborns last year fell 25% below the 50,000 target, which was intended to maintain the economy in the country of 4 million.

Singapore maintains an array of behavior modification programs to teach its citizens to speak English properly, to wave politely at fellow motorists, to keep public toilets clean.

It runs a dating agency, offers subsidized, better-located housing for married couples and gives about $3,500 to couples who have a third child.

Radio, TV and newspaper ads have put Romancing Singapore everywhere. Couples tying the knot in February will receive his-and-her "Romancing Singapore eau de Parfum" -- created by local college students as "a gift to the nation," specially for the festival.

The government-funded website links to a local magazine's "Female Dating Guide 2004," featuring such entries as "Where to Scout for Men" and "What Men and Women Want."

It also leads to Pizza Hut's offer of a "three-course romantic meal" and a "lovely new heart-shaped Lovestruck Pizza."

More than 80 private companies have been enlisted to help, offering spa discounts, hotel stays and freebies for newlyweds.

"It's too much, and it's tacky," said Jean Wang, 25.

It would help, she said, if Singapore looked more like Paris or Venice instead of a spick-and-span financial center.

But Chiang says many out there need help finding love.

"If you have time for golf or for those big meetings, you definitely have time for romance," she said.

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