The Great Singaporean Experience

A blog I like to read, Illusio, asks what would constitute the Great Singaporean Novel. She gives several examples, which I quote:

Protagonist(s) contemplating emigration
A taxi driver (perhaps contemplating emigration… to Perth?)
Compilation of Xiaxue’s online posts
A researcher/scholar finding out some discrepencies between official history and actual history (Major whoopass and conspiracy follows??)
The rise and fall of civilization with 3 generations, a story of transition and transience.

I think the days of writing Great Country-Based Novels are already over, but if you held a poll about the matter, I believe the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans can probably be counted on to vote for the third option or some combination of things similar to the third option (ie, Heartland Affairs). Let’s face it – there are more moving emigration stories from other countries set in more exciting periods in history, more exciting historical facts to cover up than Singapore’s and rather a lot more civilisations that have more than three generations to write about. But only Singapore can pull off our brand of artificial nationality with any amount of ease.

You have to give credit to the Government for being so effective in creating our sense of national identity – second generation migrants are calling themselves Singaporeans and fiercely believing it when migrants to other nations consider three generations to be the minimum for complete integration. In the tiny amount of time that we have, so many of us have almost completely lost our roots and would be piqued if we were mistaken for Chinese nationals, something strange for people whose parents or grandparents can still remember their crossing to the island.

Impressive, even if it does mean that most of us become more interested in the amount of ERP shares we’re going to get than the number of people being executed in our country this year. (Implicit assumption in this statement may be erroneous, but I do believe it’s one of the reasons)

Because I worked for a while doing stuff for a company in the tourism line, I had to pay rather close attention to tourism news in the region. It always made me a little sad whenever I noted the Singapore Tourism Board in its desperate scrabble to place Singapore on the world map somehow, with its fake Dragon’s Tooth rocks and Uniquely Singaporean balloons. It was always a good effort, but ultimately artificial and easily duplicated by countries with more resources, more people and more land.

Thailand and even Indonesia are planning casinos following Singapore’s decision to build one. I have yet to see analyses of these reports in ST. Following our decision to construct the world’s tallest ferris wheel (beating the London Eye), China announces 10 new ones, all of which will be taller than Singapore’s. Our Great Shopping Sale is touted as being one of the most profitable in the region, but this is possibly because unlike Singapore, shopping takes place in other countries year-round, rather than just one month of the year.

And the worst part of it was that Singapore has so little of the tourist attractions that can draw tourists that other countries have such as natural scenery or historical gradeur. The little that we do have just don’t justify a trip to our little country when you could, for the same (or less) price get more in another country boasting probably friendlier people in straw hats with whom you can take National Geographic-y pictures.

Of course, there’s a bright side to the story too. We’ve still got a magnificent airport, though it may have already been stripped of the title of being the largest in the region, and it’s extremely popular as a transit point (even drug traffickers like to transit here). Our casi Integrated Resorts will cater to the uber-rich and feature family-style entertainment, something our poorer and sleazier neighbours cannot easily emulate. Our people are being trained encouraged to become friendlier to tourists and shoppers so perhaps in several years time visitors will be snapping pictures with us perhaps not in the style of National Geographic but for Social Engineering Monthly-esque montages. Business tourism is thriving, since Singapore is known to be safe and comfortable and you can generally count on there not to be subversive protests for conventions here (or at least protests will not include Singaporeans). We’re also not so far away from our poorer and sleazier neighbours that some fun can’t be obtained, if needed. Our unique cuisine has gained popularity even in foreign countries, and it’s possible to find Singaporean-themed restaurants in the most unlikely corners of the globe.

We’ve got hope! And more importantly, we can buy time to survive a little longer, perhaps so that we can gain some semblance of culture and history with which to lure more migrants and tourists.

Perhaps, though, it’s time to consider some Truly Uniquely Singaporean tourist attractions. Perhaps visitors could be treated with a viewing of a hanging or some form of corporal punishment, since it’s likely that they can’t get it back home (popcorn/vomit-bucket at extra cost). We could give them the experience of living in a Uniquely Singaporean Small Flat complete with Uniquely Singaporean Indifferent Neighbours and write Uniquely Singaporean letters to the forum about how indifferent their neighbours are. Being part of a Uniquely Singaporean Crime also has meaning, considering our low crime rates – perhaps they could be robbed by Ah Bengs (sporting handphones nicer than theirs) in a manner that is safe and hygienic. They could queue up at six in the morning to buy a Hello Kitty doll and get into cat-fights with forty-two year-old unmarried men who collect Hello Kitty when trying to cut the queue. Surely there must be some part of our culture that hasn’t been exploited yet to give us that cultural edge.

Because I think the majority do have a culture – we’re just not all willing to admit to it.

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