I must be getting older and slightly boring (in the best sense of the word: sufficiently responsible and adequately risk-averse), because I am finally beginning to understand how friends of mine may actually want to work and live in Singapore.
What’s not to like about the place, where the sun always shines (and if the weather is bad, don’t worry. There’re enough temperature-controlled shopping malls and underground passageways that you don’t really need to confront the elements), the streets are immaculate, the food is great, taxi drivers don’t try to rip you off, and no one jay walks. It sounds like the ideal city in which to raise trilingual law-abiding children—you don’t even have to take them to Disney, because Singapore itself is a physical manifestation of a virtual—and a virtuous one at that, reality without an entrance fee. Meticulously planned and aptly implemented, it’s the ultimate gated community, the gate being Changi Airport.
Singapore is picture-perfect. Which I guess is what bugs me the most. It’s probably human nature to be intimidated by perfection, just like we can’t stand or trust people who appear too beautiful. We try to scratch and scratch to find faults with them, because flaws make us human, and having weakness allows us to communicate and connect.
Recently, I went on a short business trip to Singapore. When I wasn’t sitting in my temperature-controlled, all-amenities included office complex looking over Pleasantville, this is what I saw:
- Litter! People do litter, especially at outdoor food courts. Is that why napkins are never provided at hawker food courts, so that people don’t have anything to throw onto the ground? Mind you, almost all litter is picked up by staff with all deliberate speed.
- Despite a social marketing campaign featuring graphic and grotesque cigarette packaging (think red-tinted photos of lesions and cancerous growth), Singaporeans—including youngsters, smoke.
- Grumpy residents. Rude people I encountered included hotel staff, taxi driver and food court woman.
- Other residents of Singapore include cockroaches and mosquitoes. The former fed on my leftovers, the latter fed on me.
- Tattoo parlors that you can trust. Apparently a thriving sector-- I’ve come across no fewer than 3 of them.
- Rampant public display of affection. It’s the equivalent of spitting in mainland China—no matter where you turn, there’s someone doing it. I guess Singapore is so safe, clean and comfortable that there’s really no need to “get a room”.
Ah ha. Perhaps I am being slightly unfair to the Singapore tourism campaign, but my recent visit makes me feel that there’s hope, after all. It’s reassuring to realize that Singapore is inhabited by humans. And that is why I think perhaps one day, even I might be able to work and live in Singapore.