Friday, April 14, 2006
It's hard to see Singapore for itself. First of all, given the American fixation on individual freedoms, you're always aware of it as a police state. You can't help studying everything for signs of authoritarianism. Then there's the additional layer of weirdness imposed by a month in Jakarta. Getting out of the airport taxi, you look around in bewilderment. If this is a city, where's the grime? the rickety roadside vendors? the potholes? where are all the poor people?
Singapore is clean, that's for sure, and the air smells pretty good, and traffic actually stops for you when you're in a crosswalk. In that sense it was a massive relief. We went to the zoo and walked all around just breathing in the smell of vegetation and enjoying the fact that there weren't any motorbikes trying to kill us.
But despite its charms, you can't help looking around and thinking, is this place a little dull? Or is it just that everybody's told me Singapore is dull?
Then you notice the government notices and public-service announcements murmuring in your ear. It doesn't feel like a police state so much as a nanny state - there's this constant drumbeat of posters urging you to treat service workers nicely, and billboards encouraging you to speak good English, and placards forbidding you to take durian-fruit on the bus (durians smell really bad). After a while they blend in with the advertisements. Keep Your Engine Caltex Clean: is that an order?
So I enjoyed Singapore, and I'll be perfectly happy to go back again, but it's not the kind of city you can cozy up to right away. It's not like Paris, which swept me off my feet in half an hour. I can imagine getting friendly with Singapore. But love? It's just not that kind of town.