Lots of people don’t like travelling to Singapore. For dedicated travellers it’s almost a badge of honour to dislike the city. They cite the sterility of the city, the comfort, the ease of travel. They think that the laws are too oppressive, too controlling, and that the whole city is like a shopping mall, with no pockets of authentic life to enjoy. And all these things are true, to a point.
But when did we get to decide what is authentic?
People live in Singapore. They raise their children there, and they do their jobs and fall in love and get divorced and die there. So how exactly is the city inauthentic? I sometimes wonder if the reason why people don’t like it, is because the city works so well. Singapore sprung up overnight. It went from a port city with shanty houses and lots of poor people to one of the most beautiful, efficiently functioning cities in the world. And it did that because of a leader who believed it could happen and because everyone who lived there worked hard to make it happen.
And it works. Almost everyone in Singapore owns their own home, there is little to no poverty or crime. The city planners work hard to incorporate nature into the city in a way that is both beautiful and environmentally sustainable. For crying out loud, some of the innovations there to incorporate nature are said to be futuristic examples of what our world will one day look like. That is if mankind ever gets its act together and realises we can’t go on as we have been.
As I have said before, I’m fifty/fifty on whether that will happen before we manage to destroy ourselves.
So is that all it is? Do people dislike Singapore because of the much talked about ‘tall poppy’ syndrome? Humans do have a shameful dislike of those who do better, do more, be better, than the bulk of humanity and will often try to cut the outliers down to size. So perhaps that’s a part of it. But it isn’t the whole story. Singapore is a modern city that is designed to work for everyone. For all the talk about equality and making sure that everyone in the world has the same opportunities, we don’t seem to like the reality of it.
Because the reality means there are no ‘authentic’ little shops where people struggle to make ends meet and serve strange foods that their parents taught them to make. The reality is a country where the majority of people are taking advantage of all that the modern world has to offer, leaving behind old customs and ways and inequalities. Those old ways might be interesting for travellers, but they weren’t as interesting for the people who had to live them, struggle to survive in them, and then bequeath that struggle to their children. Asking people to keep those ways would be like asking parts of England to return to the days of Jack the Ripper, with filth in the street and people dying of starvation and consumption.
And isn’t that why a lot of people don’t like Singapore? Because the country has moved forward, leaving behind all the old things that didn’t serve them in this new, technology driven world? We seem to expect them to hold onto those old things, at least in places, just so we can have something ‘authentic’ to look at. But what is more authentic than a country that is designed so that the maximum number of its citizens are healthy and happy and have access to all the modern amenities and a comfortable way of living?
I like Singapore. It gives me hope that our cities can be different. That countries with ‘authentic’ areas, full of poverty and disease and sadness and struggle, can be brought out of that hardship and given a way to prosper. That might be a naïve thought, to hope that the comfort and prosperity of Singapore could be studied and used to help other places in the world, but it’s one that I hold on to.
Singapore shouldn’t be hated. It should be treasured as a symbol of what we could be.