Why I'll Return To Singapore, Over and Over Again

On 5th November, Danny Dover shared his reasons as to why he would never return to Singapore.

He claims that Singapore is a parody of "what happens when everything goes right", "that people simply do as they should do", that Singapore is "sterile" with a "spirit (that) stagnates".

After reading his somewhat-backhanded compliments about Singapore's achievements, I sighed and wondered if there is any point in responding. Maybe I should be spending more time with my school essay.

Every now and then, there will be foreigners who visit our shiny island set in the sea and decide that eeyer, Singapore isn't culturally exciting or historically stimulating or sexily palatable.  

Every time I read such an article, I wish to pretend that I'm a foreigner so that I can blog about why I'd return to Singapore, over and over again. You know, to offer an alternative perspective, a balance of some sort. Somehow, people tend to pay more attention when a foreigner speaks.

But since I'm a Singaporean, I'll have to offer it from a Singaporean's perspective.

Now, what is it about the insidious claim that Singapore is "what happens when everything goes right"?

The fact that MANY THINGS DON"T GO RIGHT IN SINGAPORE. One doesn't have to travel to France, Italy and India to experience train breakdowns. Singapore offers terrific experiences of being trapped in underground trains, squashed alongside other commuters.

On rainy days, there may even be floods! (How exciting!!!) Feel free to scoop rainbow-coloured guppies besides flooded canals, maybe even on expressways. Snap photos of those meandering lines of branded cars mired in brown murky swirls of rainwater. Dance in the storm and sing la-la-la.

The idea that "people simply do as they should do" is reductionist, if not very innocent.

In every country, there are always meta-narratives that many people adhere to. There will also be counter-narratives that others script. To discover people who don't do what they should, it all depends on where and how hard you look. 

But what such visitors seek may not be readily found in Singapore! They want the dizzying stimulus of venturing into jungles and coming across orang utans. They may expect the delights of being fawned over by sarong-clad people or sledging down hills covered with fresh snow.

If the intention is to be dazzled with a minimal and superficial engagement, it's quite difficult to learn much with limited time. If the intention is to find a place that is akin to a romanticised idyll, then one will be doomed to disappointment.

Singapore is at an exciting phase now, with a spirit that is being contested at almost every level. There are talks on nature, history, literary and visual arts happening so frequently. These discussions contest the opinions and experiences of people from very different spheres.

Should Danny be interested, the recently concluded Singapore Writers Festival would have been an illuminating experience. The ongoing Singapore Biennale is an excellent opportunity as well. To hear people passionately discussing the intrinsic humanity in the arts, to make like-minded friends, to broaden one's horizons.

A few commentators on Danny's article have pointed out that such sterility is also perceived in some American and European cities, notably in Sweden as well.

Perhaps the misconceptions that these places are unimaginative and unexciting come from the speakers' fleeting and very superficial engagement? Or maybe we're casualties of the modern times who expect gaudy excitements every single moment? (Ahh, tourists, always wanting to be entertained.)

The main reason why I'll return to Singapore, over and over again, is because this is my country (duh!) and because I understand that when I find a country boring, it's probably because I've romantic notions of what an overseas adventure should entail.

Or maybe I am just too lazy - or too busy finding problems - to fully engage with and experience the richness of that country.

Singapore isn't a red dot. It is a Red Pulse.
Source credit: Google