Monday, August 21, 2006

Observing Singapore

Singapore is a rather complicated country, I'm noticing. It has a tendency to contradict itself.

On the one hand, there's a part of me that enjoys the little things that native Singaporeans take for granted: the convenience of public transportation, the efficiency of things like garbage collection, landscaping and upkeep, road repairs and the seemingly ongoing construction of the newest of malls and shopping centers and flats. Everything is in its proper place, and everything functions like clockwork. It's very rare to see a homeless person sleeping on the streets - in the one month that I've been here, I've only seen ONE homeless person lying on newspapers in front of the steps going up to Raffles Center. There are no shantytowns, no black plastic garbage bags littering the side streets, no floods - in fact, an ongoing joke is that the government controls even the weather, and I can understand why. It only rains here for at most 30 minutes, and usually during the hours after lunch or a bit past midnight.

But on the other hand, there's something not quite right about the attention it gives to certain kinds of artistic freedom, to certain modes of expression. The practice of censorship is a very real threat here, and it rankles me to no end that even on the Internet, which is supposedly a level playing field when it comes to information distribution, is also closely watched and monitored. And there's a great deal of concern here about money and accumulation of it - a noble thing in itself, because we do need the cash, but somehow it's becoming an obsession. Even kids in primary school have the latest iPod, the latest mobile phone, spending power that amounts to hundreds of dollars every weekend, and parents who seem to have forgotten the value of family time and actually focusing on their kids rather than the office and work.

What we hear about Singapore is always about how it's a First World country (a problematic term in itself), that everything is clean and sparkling and nice, and that everything works. But underneath the shiny exterior, the country's people is another matter altogether. The disparity is seen in the way that the corporate ladder is always half and half - half-Singaporean and half-foreign. Most new graaduates prefer to move to another country in order to find work; during the last National Day celebration, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that out of the 8,000 new jobs created by the government during the first half of the year, he was proud to say that half of those jobs were taken by the local populace. There's something slightly wrong with a country when its own people are deciding to leave despite the presence of available jobs and housing and convenience of life.

Even the family unit is slowly disintegrating - women's magazines say that married couples have sex on average of less than once per month, something which really boggles the mind. I mean, if you were married, wouldn't you WANT to take advantage of the fact that you now have someone that every facet of society APPROVES of you jumping on your partners' bones as often as you can? And when I asked a Singaporean acquaintance about that, he seemed quite unsurprised. "We really don't know anything about good sex." Which doesn't really surprise me - after all, the local sex store at Lucky Plaza, House of Condoms, requires the customer to be at least 25 years old before he or she can purchase a dildo. O_o

And yet, the Filipinos I hang out with here are mildly surprised when I tell them that I am planning to go back and work in the Philippines, and oh-God-forbid I'm looking forward to applying for a teaching job at UP, which isn't exactly known for their incredibly high salaries and bureaucratic efficiency. But somehow, I can't really imagine myself staying here - though apparently permanent residency is always offered to an international student once they finish their studies - because...I don't know. As much as the Philippines can drive me insane, and the two-hour traffic is an exercise in zen-like patience, there is something about the dog-eat-dog (and sometimes in the literal sense as well as metaphorical) society that appeals to me. Here, everything is too sanitized. Give me my excitement in a country where the shadows are as important as the source of light.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This is a comment box. It is for comments. Please do not leave your Giant Squid of Anger here.