Ni Hao from Singapore,
As a two-day stopover on our way to northern Sumatra, Singapore has proven to be a pleasant surprise. For Linda – a lover of order, cleanliness and urban efficiencies – it’s been so surprising as to warrant a promise to come back (to get a better look at the orchid gardens). For me – who apparently sees everything through a Marxist lens * – it’s a multiracial monument to Asian efficiency, and more. The city famously prohibits chewing gum and littering and as a consequence is neat and tidy well beyond the norm.
order and prosperity
The city of Singapore is a glittering and expensive destination with a lot more to see than man-made crispness. It’s been built on a social contract characterised by compliance and mild fear in return for order and prosperity.
The city has been built by cheap imported labour – mainly from India. (The locals learnt this imperialist lesson from the British, of course.) This fact begets a large population of itinerant construction workers : mostly single men from the sub-continent. There is such an agglomeration of them in one suburb that it strongly resembles parts of India and is known as Little India. These men work seven days per week and visit remittance offices twice a month. Little India is the most densely populated suburb and the only place where strewn rubbish is tolerated for any length of time.
The reliance on this cheap imported labour force may well represent a form of income redistribution (not convinced about that), may give some a chance to resist homeland poverty (more likely provides a ridiculously over-populated country with a safety valve) and may be an inevitable consequence of globalisation. These guys don’t even get to feel that “we built this city” feeling. Most will never have enough money to settle here anyway. On New Year’s Day (27 January) they all had a day off work and they were all out in Little India, either buying or selling something.
Lee Kwan Yew’s vision
We boarded the Hop On Hop Off bus to get another view of the city. We were told by the commentary pair – in Australian accents, cultured from the North Shore – that Singapore is being transitioned from the Garden City (Lee Kuan Yew’s vision) to the City in a Garden. The distinction was lost on this wordsmith, but it means that more and more land is being set aside for gardens. They’re even reclaiming land for the purpose, unlike Hong Kong where they reclaim land in order to build new skyscrapers.
The street names of Singapore hold their British origins despite the transformation of the country and city after World War 2. There’s Kitchener Road and Clemenceau Road reflecting the strong expansion after World War 1, too. Then there’s Orchard Road, made famous by Leo Sayer (?). This is where the commentary team lapsed into diatribe about shopping opportunities. “I haven’t treated myself to a day of shopping for so long,” remonstrated the female narrator. Linda said, “I would prefer to see the fruit trees!”
This is when we also learned that it is on the top storey of a building in Orchard Street that the Cloud Appreciation Society have designated one of their prime viewing places in the world.
We were here on New Year’s Eve so had a chance to see the Chinese version. The giant silk roosters were resplendent, the night skyline is spectacular but the highlight is probably the greenery in all parts of the city.
We visited a huge garden with about a dozen man-made trees. This idea is not as silly as it sounds. The gigantic structures are metal but growing all over them are many different types of climbing plants. They aren’t yet fully grown but will be a terrific sight when finished, especially when so many of the plants are in flower, which they do in profusion here on the equator. That’s a few years off yet. The Indian food was also a highlight.
Singapore is a pleasant city, as cities go. Even Linda is a convert. Anyway, off to Sumatra to see if we can spot any orangutans in a diminishing habitat. Here’s hoping, anyway.
* so says Linda, anyway