Quiet revolution in TLA City
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Singapore has always been a very ordered and clinical place. Everywhere you look there is warning signage directing movements and behaviours, or people in smart uniforms doing the same. Multiple Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) convey a sense of urgency in most messages. Sun glints off the chromic finish of eighty five story skyscrapers. Scripting in vibrant primary colours adorn the Chinese shopfronts and residential buildings are painted a rainbow of pastel flavours. Traffic hums on every street. Despite the merciless humidity, everything is neat, precise and ultra modern.
But did my bus just arrive ten minutes late? And why is that pile of junk lying by the side of the road? They may be a heap of used telephone handsets gathering dust but it still looks like litter to me. Hey, that guy is drinking a coke on the train - contrary to the many warning notices in the station and over the train's loudspeaker clearly stating 'No Eating or Drinking'. Is that guy's haircut legal? And people are jaywalking everywhere. What's next - chewing gum? What's going on here?
According to local friend Song Tiu, since the recent ascension of Lee Kwan Yu's son to presidential power and his subsequent and very inclusive maiden speech, Singaporeans have begun to find a new political freedom allowing more critical discussion and analysis of the government - even if they don't have any more power to influence the decision making process in a system that legally promotes a high level of nepotistic corruption.
Bloggers have hit the airwaves and are voicing their views in an atmosphere of toleration - as long as the content is not racially villifying like a number of cases before the courts. In the face of traditional apathy, politics is creeping into street level discussion. Everywhere you look people are blatantly ignoring regulations in a show of quiet civil disobedience. All this even though the incumbent government holds every seat in parliament but two, and which will happily do everything from cutting bus services to dissenting neighbourhoods to regularly changing electoral boundaries in order to win those two back. Also, just out of interest, apparently Singapore has the highest rate of capital punishment per capita in the world.
Maybe I just imagined it but there does seem to be a new vibe on the street. A confidence and relaxation arising from long term prosperity and a secure place in the new global economy. It's probably a gradual change and it's no more than hearsay but take a closer look the next time you're there and see if the typical stereotypes and generalisations still fit.
So what did I get up to? A sting ray and oysters dinner with Song on Sunday was certainly a highlight - cheers for the night out mate. My visit also coincided with the mid Autumn festival so many locals were out on the streets and colour and sound was everywhere. In sweat-drenched wanderings I was also very interested to find lots of parkland and old growth trees that nicely complemented the colonial buildings found all around the shorefront and old civic centre. Raffles, a perennial favourite, was joined by the Parkview Centre (photo top right) and the Fullerton Hotel (top centre) as examples of commanding structures that exude loads of character and charm in an otherwise steel plated city. It's amazing what you find when looking around a city that you've only ever sat behind a desk in.
Because of an efficient subway system and the free wi-fi internet access they offer I spent plenty of time in McDonalds restaurants around the city. A little unfortunate because I had to buy and eat something each time but at least I got some work and research done - it was hard to find an internet cafe elsewhere. I also bought a new digital camera and underwater housing so I can start to take some snappy aquatic pictures - look out for those in the near future. A visa for entry to Myanmar was issued in my favour in less than four hours on Monday (must be a record) and as I had time and the means before an evening train to Malaysia, a visit to Kranji war cemetary was squeezed in too.
This cemetary contains the remains of thousands of allied soldiers killed in the invasion of Singapore and subsequent internment of POWs at Changi during WW2 - many of whom were Australians. It also lists on huge marble walls the names of 24,000 servicemen and women who gave their lives in the Pacific theatre, 'but to whom the fortunes of war denied the customary rights accorded to their comrades in death'. Missing in Action in other words, if I understand correctly.
Pretty grim indeed, but a major reason why subsequent generations in Singapore, Australia and much of Asia now enjoy the prosperity they find themselves living and dissenting in. Who knows what the masses in Singapore city down below would be doing now without their sacrifice. It was good to sign the register, walk the rows of graves and pay respects.
Anyway, this entry has been a bit hodge-podge due to the random nature of the visit - much like a Joseph Heller 'Catch 22' story line. Still, I hit the Malay peninsula and less humid environments from next entry so maybe I'll regain some sanity there.
Next entry -> somewhere in Malaysia
Words from the wise # 94
"All that we are is the result of what we have thought."
Buddha, compliments of Nathan Higgins
Where I stayed