After realising I’d been here for practically 6 weeks, and STILL not really properly explored Singapore, I decided to take a few days to really explore. Living on exchange puts you into a sort of bubble, and so far we’ve tended to stick with the ex pats and the exchange students, rather than properly integrating into the local community.
Singapore is dubbed the ‘pearl of asia’ but maybe it’s just too perfect? The streets are spotless, the architecture is incredible, every thing is so modern, every 3 year olds have their ipod touches… but is there any soul in this city? We went to visit the Asian dance festival on the Theatre on the Bay, over looking the lights at Marina Bay and watching dancing from Cambodia, Thailand and Bali. That gave us our dose of culture from the countries surrounding Singapore, but Singapore itself lacks a unique identity. It’s a blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indo, Eurasian… but then, maybe there’s even more to learn from that? Little India, the Arab town and Chinatown really do feel authentic here, and so I’m getting to experience so much of Asian culture all within one tiny island, that only takes 45 mins to drive from end to end!
After watching the shows on the Theatre on the Bay, we walked around the city for a bit, and realised… no one was around. This city, whilst gorgeous, breathtakingly complex designs, a platonic country, seems to not really breathe, or have any pulse. It is very tranquil and still at night. I see several lights still on in offices and realise back in my halls that the student stay up until 3am studying, take a 5 hour sleep, then rise and straight back to work. Whilst the hardworking ethic is admirable, I don’t think I could endorse that as my lifestyle. People, laughter, fun, are all needed to compliment work! The one-party regime of government has clearly created very disciplined and unquestioning citizens, whose freedoms are very much restricted. It hasn’t affected me but I have learned how open and accountable our government is in the UK, and how much we focus on civil liberties.
Back to some more touring of this city in which I am living… Singapore is very ‘manufactured’. Lots of it is copied from other cities, e.g. they have the Singapore Flyer, which is an exact copy of the London Eye, only 30 metres taller, just to be thaat bit better. And the Esplanade Theatre is based on the Sydney Opera House. When I get the ‘manufactured’ impression from looking around and exploring, I get that impression if as the creators of the country said “we’d like a beach” so the build the man-made island and beach called Sentosa, and then “we’d like a nightlife hub” so they build Clarke Quay, which is very Disney-esque. However, as I look around I do see the benefits of a strict government and well disciplined citizens: no litter, spotless streets, polite people, very mannerly, ordered queues, low crime. I can walk around and feel 100% safe that no one is going to come up and mug me, or pick pocket me… mainly because the citizens here are simply too terrified of the brutal consequences of being caught by the Singaporean police, which, trust me, are incredibly strict. Death penalty for possessing cannabis, caning for overstaying your tourist visa, random days in prison the police come and cane you 8 times. The highest turnover from conviction of a death-penalty crime, actually being executed, is in Singapore, making it amongst the highest death penalty per capita in the world! Severe punishments, but good results….? or too strict? Sterile, clean, incredibly economical efficient… but where’s the city’s personality?