Mon 09 Aug 2004
We are Singapore
Category : Singapore/singapore.txt
It's National Day in Singapore. This marks the 39th time we've celebrated Singapore's birthday. Amidst the rush of red, Singapore's national colour, worn by the schoolkids let out early last Friday to throng the shops and theatres along Orchard Road, I came across two books that typify the conception that people abroad have about Singapore.
"Police state", subservient population, dictatorship - these are the usual adjectives. One finds them in abundance in a couple of pages devoted to Singapore in "The Book of Cities". If the people are subservient, I didn't meet them in the army when I was doing National Service. You get the same problems you get everywhere when you're trying to get people to do what they won't naturally want to do. It's much like herding cats. No more and no less.
And the squeals of laughter that resounded from the corridors of the top floor of the Heeren, where 77th Street resonates with the pulse of our youth - street-smart clothing and fashion accessories, stashed haphazardly in delightful spaces in a chaotic maze. These are smart, intelligent kids you see. But what you see most are expressions of pure delight, filled with the joy of living.
Do I sound like I live in a police state? The more I travel, the more I've come to appreciate the place we call our home.
There's this other book I found - Gerrie Lim's "Invisible Trade - High Class Sex for Sale in Singapore". Ahh, Gerrie Lim. I enjoyed his other book, "Inside the Outsider" - a collection of interviews with rock icons like Patti Smith and David Bowie. I found the Patti Smith interview most memorable. Intelligent questions and an easy writing style. His latest book doesn't disappoint. It's well written and I learnt some new things.
But what saddens me is the need to turn to people like Paul Theroux to lend credence to the book. Writes Mr Theroux in the blurb, "At last, after thirty years of my avoiding the city-state, this book restores my faith in the Singapore character and gives me reasons to return." I actually read the book to figure out what he means.
I just watched the National Day Parade on television. This is Goh Chok Tong's last day as Prime Minister. The affection that most Singaporeans feel for Mr Goh is genuine and unforced. Who would have known, fourteen years ago when he stepped into Lee Kuan Yew's big shoes, that we're going to miss his thick Hokkien-accented English and straight talk.
Talk about faith. I watched the faces of Mr Lee and Mr Goh during the parade. We know, and I think they know, that they've done a great job.
Who cares what Paul Theroux thinks.