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Supported by free education and subsidized housing, Singapore's citizens have become among the wealthiest in the world. (Illustration by Daniel Garcia)
The Big Story

Is Singapore's 'perfect' economy coming apart?

Once hailed as a model of progress, poverty and nativist resentment are on the rise

PETER GUEST, Nikkei staff writer | Singapore

SINGAPORE -- From around 10 p.m. until the early hours of the morning, Aziz drives a private hire car through the streetlit hinterlands of Singapore. On weekdays, he shuttles from the airport to downtown condos and back; on weekends he patrols around Tanjong Pagar where the upscale bars kick out late, picking up drinkers, bar staff and other nocturnal tradespeople. On an average night, he can book upward of 150 Singaporean dollars ($111). His situation, he said, is "jialat."

Jialat, a Singlish word taken from Hokkien, literally means "drained." In his early 50s, Aziz -- not his real name -- was retrenched from his job in a professional services company two years ago, and turned to the gig economy to make ends meet, joining hundreds of other former white-collar workers in a nocturnal demimonde of midrange saloons and weary discontent. "Cannot retire. Cannot take my [pension]," Aziz said. "As soon as they let me take it, I'll buy a house in Indonesia and retire there. If I stay here, what am I going to do?"

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