I have long had a soft spot for Singapore. This is strictly classified information, since it is considered a seriously uncool position for a foreign journalist to take. But I have an unusual point of view, since I first arrived in the Lion City in 1960 as a two-year-old refugee. It is certainly possible to find bad things to say about the place, but then that is true of every country. The good news is that Singaporeans are developing a sense of humour, and have become more self-critical recently, with the resurgence of debates about kiatsu , or 'ugly Singaporean syndrome', referring to selfish behaviour. Most of the city-state's problems - the ones that get discussed - are not big ones, such as the ones faced by Hong Kong or Taiwan. 'After littering, inconsiderate car parking and other anti-social behaviour had been elevated to a national level, we had the 'mad free textbook rush',' the Straits Times said. Shocking stuff. This refers to a school book give-away for poor children at which adults were seen heaping text books into the backs of their Mercedes Benzes. Or consider this. 'Some Singaporeans still behave as if they were in the Stone Age,' Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said. 'They litter the common areas or park motor vehicles indiscriminately. And they vandalise library books.' I'm not sure which Stone Age he is talking about. In the one in my history book, primitive hominids hunted sabre-tooth tigers, and there was relatively little in the way of car parking and library offences. But the fact is, most countries would love to have Singapore's problems, because most are so trivial. And the place is changing. There are still older people who are hostile to outside influences. But the younger people have the same liberal, freedom-loving characteristics as their counterparts everywhere. Singaporean friends the other day were picturing what would happen if one of the few remaining old-school types was on duty at the immigration desk of Changi Airport during the time of Jesus's second coming. Immigration officer: 'I'm sorry, Mr - er, Christ, but you cannot be coming into Singapore, looking like . . . that-laah.' Jesus: 'I am returning in glory to claim the faithful.' Immigration Officer: 'Maybe so, but we don't like long-hairs and such hippy looks. And those sandals - no good-laah. You have foreign publications in your bag, is it?' Jesus: 'I bring a new revelation from on high.' Immigration Officer: 'Well, no, we are not all that keen on having too many international media, not favoured, you know.' Jesus: 'Salvation is mine alone.' Immigration Officer: 'I am not denying it, Mr Christ, but maybe it's better you go to Hong Kong first, get hair cut, nice Bally shoes, Tsim Sha Tsui tailor suit, mobile phone-laah - and then come back, we let you in. You don't mind me suggesting this, is it? Next please.' On Thursday, the Singapore Government announced a plan to spend S$5 billion (about HK$27.4 billion) on an underground network of 84 kilometres of road in the heart of town - already a futuristic metropolis. It seemed astonishing enough when I first visited it in 1960, and marvelled to see incredibly tall buildings, some a mind-boggling 10 storeys high. My family fled from government forces in Sri Lanka on a dark night in 1960, and our flight dropped us off in Singapore, then a sleepy fishing port which was part of Malaysia. We were two adults, two children, a toddler (me) and a babe-in-arms. We couldn't afford a hotel or a taxi, so we seemed destined for a night on the streets. Then my father announced that he had had an idea. We winced. These were always dangerous. 'Check into a cheap hotel, and they'll want cash. Check into a good one, and they'll let us sign for everything,' he said. We heaved our bags down the driveway of the Goodwood Park, a five-star palace of terrifying luxury, and my father imperiously demanded that we be housed. They housed us. On the same basis, we didn't have cash for a taxi - so we piled into the limousine that he 'bought' with his signature. (When my father needed a visa to go somewhere, he made his own, stamping his passport with an official-looking chop which said: 'Republic of Amnesia.' They didn't have a word back then for my father's cheeky methods. They do now: chutzpah .) Looking back, I realise that such antics either work or get you sent to jail. Fortunately my father managed to find a job before the bills became payable, and we escaped the debtors' prison. Last year, 35 years after my first visit to Singapore, I returned - and naturally headed to the Goodwood Park Hotel. The only difference was that the generations had moved on. Now I was the adult at the reception desk, and I had a two-year-old running at my feet. But the Singaporean economy had also moved on, at a rate of growth marvelled at by the world's economists. We still couldn't afford to check in.