Singapore is hypermodernity in a few hundred square kilometres. Hyper-efficient, hyper-clean, hyper-sped. A friend said to wait ‘til I see what crawls underneath. I said I do not need to see to know. Money sloughs off every gleaming building, every zipping luxury vehicle, every tinker of laughter at the night spots. But the ostentatiousness is relatively restrained. It is matter-of-fact, tasteful, very Chinese. Professor O says they are renovating the faculty for the nth time because they need to keep workers employed to stimulate the real economy, versus the fictitious one, ‘money laundering.’ I said they must call it something else. I had a mental picture of the city-state sitting in a bathtub of its plastic notes, sudsy, with rainbow-coloured bubbles on top even as grimy particles accumulate below the surface of the South China Sea.
It takes a little getting used to, the orderliness of everything when one has grown up where the default mode is chaos and uncertainty. But predictability earns money. Cleanliness is but a facet of orderliness. Recently I was in Paris and lamented the sorry state of the métro. I didn't remember it to be cramped or stinky. The Paris métro of my youth was a marriage of the modern and the romantic. Now it pales in comparison to the hyper-neatness of the Singapore MRT. Perhaps everything is more romantic when one is young. Perhaps age grows to prefer comfort.
The environment grows its inhabitants. Nearly five months I’ve been here and I feel myself trimmed, snipped, cropped into something that fits the local flora more appropriately. It isn’t something as sinister as an omniscient authority looming, monitoring. The roads, the buildings, the rhythm of time and the little rules one must follow impose a collective order. It isn’t one identifiable thing. I fear many things have been sacrificed at the altar of predictability and money. Life here is artificial, as plastic as their notes. Human beings are nothing but replaceable, interchangeable automatons, programmed to do only a range of motions. How they relate to one another is greased by the medium of capital, Singapore’s lifeblood.
It is no wonder then how so little art can thrive under these circumstances. There is nothing to provoke, nothing to incite. One is placid, pliable, quietly floating above the suds. Once in a while some beings are too weak to tread and sink. It is the elderly begging in the underground walkways of the city centre. It is the outburst of the insane in the bus stops. It is the unspoken of sex trade servicing the automatons in search of meaning. Blind mice, circling the drain of this tiny city-state. I suppose there is art in that. It is just as gruesome as the social realism of home.