Musings and conversations on Singapore
In the darkness, the waters looked deceptively calm. I leaned out of the window and saw the outlines of several boats floating down below.The lights slowly came into view . The entire island seemed fast asleep. The watch said 3 am , as my flight touched down on Changi airport in Singapore, half an hour early. I set my watch to 5.30 am and thought about my first trip to Singapore, way back in early 90s, when I was an awkward , excited teenager .
India had not yet discovered mobile phones, malls and internet then . And I was yet to see any other city other than Chennai. Bangalore still was a pensioner’s paradise then. My concept of the tallest building was the Utility Building in Bangalore . And the Singapore that I had heard of was the Singapore of the 70s as shown in the Rajini-kamal starrer , Ninaithalai Innikkum and in Priya which also had Rajinikanth in the lead .
But the Singapore that I saw in the 90s was more colourful and vibrant, celebrating the Chinese New Year . It was the shoppers paradise , either at the 24 by 7 Mustafa in Little India or at the Robinsons and Takashimaya in Orchard Road depending on your wallet’s size. It was the country that got me to buy electronics – brought back big box like DVDs much to the delight of custom officials back home. And my holiday reached dizzying heights as I stayed in the 20th floor of the Pan Pacific hotel and later on in Marina Mandarin.
Slowly I discovered many facets of the island country as I made multiple visits here. It is an international city , which wears its multi ethnicity on its sleeves. Futuristic and cosmopolitan, the country is home to Indians, Malays, Chinese and many others. My guide, Najeeb , a fourth generation Gujarati connects more with Singapore. “Theres nothing left for me in India, ” she says as we have breakfast together , 30 mins later in the airport. Friends from India who have moved here as expatriates feel the country woos them and they get the best of both worlds. A real India which is hardly a few hours away and a little India, where you get the sights and smells along with local groceries . “You dont miss India here at all.”
I was both excited and disappointed on seeing Little india during my first trip. Excited because you see a mini T Nagar here so far away from home and yet, disappointed because, you didnt come on a ” phoren ” trip all the way to see a replica of a Chennai suburb in Singapore..But Singapore goes beyond the idlis and the dosas , the temples and the movies, the flower sellers and the astrologers and the rangolis and the bangles. Its where the east meets west. This time around, I see a Tamilian teaching Rangoli to European and Chinese kids in front of the Peranakan museum. The museum has an open house where the Ramayana is being staged – by the Chinese Opera among other groups.
The city is a microcosm of various ethnic groups – like Chinatown for instance where you would find old chinese playing chinese checkers on the roads , hawkers selling bright red feng shui artefacts or doctors prescribing ancient herbal therapies . Yet, it presents itself as a homogeneous international city, with a cosmopolitan flavour.” I dont feel Im from the PRC , I am more Singaporean than Chinese, ” says one of the members of the STB.
It may be nothing unusual for Indians like us, who are used to the amalgam of cultures and civilisations, but for Singaporeans, it is their identity. It is probably why they have every community represented in a national event like the inaugural of the youth Olympic games. The merlions and the dragons are followed by Malay dancers, the Chinese and then the Indians shaking a leg to Bum Bum Bole . Now India is being represented by Bollywood than Kollywood. But Amitabh Bachchan still needs to be introduced as Aishwarya Rai’s father in law. “I loved three idiots,” says an Indonesian blogger, who was one of the media delegates . But I am deviating..
Singapore has indeed reinvented itself. ” Thanks to the government,” says a friend. But what about living in Singapore ? I remember a guide telling me that the wait for a government house is long and its often given to couples. ” Many couples marry or pretend to get married only to get a house..many times, they are divorced by the time you get the house and you just cant afford a private house here ” she had told me then. I asked Najeeb and she shrugs . ” Singaporeans encourage living with parents unlike western concept of independence, ” she adds that the waiting period has now reduced. ”
And your provident fund takes care of the mortage, where you put in your share and the company adds its share .” But the amount, my friend says takes care of the house only-so all your life, you are paying just for your home. “Even old people work here as they are discouraged against retirement And everything is regulated by the government- from the car you buy to the school your kid studies in and the best part is if you travel on the main roads in one of the peak hours you have to pay a penalty-so you need to plan your day accordingly.
It is a regulated life, alright, but the control – the rules and the laws have changed Singapore from a third world country to a developed country in just one generation. ” Yes, Singapore is indeed man-made – with hardly any natural resources, it has become a world class city. “Its a fine city as the T shirts say. break any law and pay a hefty fine !
All these conversations are probably more towards living in Singapore.The expats Im told have it relatively easy .But what about the tourist or the business traveller ? And what is Singapore ? A global city, a financial capital ? A cosmopolitan hub luring the business traveller with a vibrant night life ? A family destination with several attractions ? A multi ethnic city with cultural fests ? A naturalist ‘s haven ? A sports destinaton with the launch of Formula races and Youth Olympic games ? The tourism board sells it as Yoursingapore, trying to personalise it…I am still trying to get under the skin of the country even after five trips..but what do you guys think ?
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