There is a story, the details of which must remain vague, about the Australian author of a book which was mildly critical of a close political associate of Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Singaporean independence. The writer, who was visiting the former British colony three years ago, had ordered a cab to attend a function and was picked up as arranged, only to be surprised - and not a little alarmed - when the cab driver took an unplanned detour to a quiet spot.
This "driver" then delivered a homily, with thinly veiled threats, about the dangers of being critical of Mr Lee or any of his associates. The message was clear: Mr Lee might no longer have been in power, but his influence remained extremely powerful in the island state that he had nursed from its days as a British colonial possession to one of the economic powerhouses of South-east Asia.
Singapore under Mr Lee gained a reputation as one of the most authoritarian non-communist nations in Asia.
"Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right," Mr Lee famously said. "If nobody is afraid of me, I'm meaningless."
His reach extended into virtually every area of social behaviour - and even affected the hairstyles of visitors to the country (in the 1960s and 70s, hippies were famously offered haircuts on arriving in Singapore).
There were few signs of a shift in this authoritarian stance under Mr Lee's hand-picked successor, Goh Chok Tong. Westerners were horrified in 1994 when a young American, Michael Fay, was given eight strokes of the rattan, the bamboo cane, for defacing cars, despite the protests of President Bill Clinton.
This authoritarian attitude even stretched, famously, to a ban on chewing gum in 1992 on the grounds that it made a mess of Singapore's proudly clean city streets. The ban was eased in May this year for nicotine gum as the Goh government started a thaw in social policy that has included the lifting of a ban on gays in the public service.
And now, following on from the change to the legal status of gay civil servants and gum chewers, there are signs that the newly elected government of Lee Hsien Loong, 52, also known as Baby God, the son of Mr Lee senior, may be prepared to allow, even foster, further liberalisation in Singapore.
Mr Lee jnr, a graduate of Cambridge university, who served as Mr Goh's deputy and has solid business credentials (not to mention his impeccable political pedigree) announced in his first policy speech on Sunday that a casino may be on the cards, sending gamblers and property speculators into a seventh heaven.
More interesting still, though, was the open grumbling this proclamation was greeted with by political conservatives and religious leaders who say casinos will only open the doors to criminals and money-launderers. This open expression of dissent is another new phenomenon in Singapore promoted by the new Prime Minister - and a complete turnaround from the old order so cherished by his authoritarian father.
Just two years ago, an opposition politician Chee Soon Juan was in effect prevented from contesting the next general election when he was fined S$3,000 (pounds 970) for speaking in public without a permit. Mr Chee had made a speech at Singapore's lone public soapbox about three Muslim girls who were barred from state schools after they wore headscarves to class. Although registered to speak there, he did not have the specific police permit required. Such a fine prohibits a person from standing in a general election and in any case Mr Chee, a university lecturer, had done two stints in jail for refusing to pay fines for making unlicensed speeches.
Mr Lee says he will drop the licence requirements, and allow more topics for discussion at a "Speaker's Corner" inspired by the British tradition at Hyde Park. In an uncanny and, some might say, unsettling echo of Mao's "Let a hundred flowers bloom" speech Mr Lee, in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday said his critics "want to plant one hundred flowers" at Speaker's Corner. …