But, well, how should put this? You’re corny and unctuous. There is something sycophantic in a culture that posts hand-wringing apology signs at the slightest possible inconvenience that could have been caused by the tiniest of construction sites, closings or shifts in schedule. There is something Orwellian in the behaviour of the people in the Singaporean service industry, who resemble robots with plastic smiles and wooden gestures.
When politeness becomes such a matter of form it ceases to have any meaning. It’s not nice that I’m handed a receipt every time I buy the smallest of items, such as a newspaper or cup of coffee. If I want a receipt, I’ll ask for one. Otherwise it is an intrusion. And no, I don’t need you to put my breath mints into two plastic bags, it’s wasteful and unnecessary, not friendly.
And how is it that you just managed to call me “sir” four times in the brief exchange between us when I bought a six-pack of Tiger beer?
Singapore, you’re wonderful but you get on my nerves.
And now it seems that the government wants the people to be hipper and more creative. It’s worried that the dynamics that made Singapore successful in the past are changing and it thinks that it can simply shift gears and tell people to start churning out intellectual wonders and creativity.
But creativity isn’t something that can be had on demand – it often grows in hostile circumstances with much less social restrictions than what can be seen in Singaporean society. Nothing creative is going to come out of such a puritanical society. The Straits Times runs absurd stories about contests for teenage bands with foolish pictures of teenagers “rocking-out” in their most outlandish manner. It’s a good example of how the only “artistic” things that will come out of the Singapore will be cheap imitations of the real deal (“Hello, Singapore Idol?”)
A rock band of consequence couldn’t come out of Singapore because it’s too dangerous to do drugs or engage in any sort of rebellious behaviour. Try to name a decent rock band that hasn’t derived at least some inspiration from psychotropics? But you have to be a lunatic to mess with drugs in Singapore, where you face the cane, huge jail sentences and possible death.
I read through The Straits Times daily and I’m constantly amazed by the donkeys that complain that Singapore isn’t tough enough on social deviants. On the same page a few weeks ago was someone complaining that people pick their noses on the MRT and that the city should put up signs to discourage this. Another letter – obviously from a dorky and sexually frustrated teenager – expressed outrage about a young couple necking on a playground in the evening.
Singapore, you have a good thing going here but don’t expect to be a “world city” when your society applauds the censors. I realise that you’re an immigrant society and many of your people have known, either directly or through their ancestors, the horrors of social chaos. But, Singapore, you can’t have your cake and it eat too.
Be happy being a wildly successful little country of out-sized importance to the global economy, one that gives its people a safe and well-functioning society. But don’t think you can be New York, London or Tokyo without really changing.
Perhaps below the strait-laced surface there lurks a wild Singaporean beast, experimenting with mind-blowing drugs, painting beautiful murals in empty lots and having shameless and decadent casual sex, something like the beatnik generation that flourished under the restrictions of conservative America in the 1950’s. I’ve heard some pretty interesting rumours.
If you’re out there, you Singaporean Kerouacs, Dylans, Pollacks and Learys, let your freak flag fly. Your government is calling you to duty and apparently requires a revolution of the mind.