When we first learned we were moving to Singapore, expat friends said, “oh, Asia-light.” It has the reputation of being a bit antiseptic, where traditional culture and charm, have been abandoned for modern sleekness and conformity. It’s Asian but it’s a Western-Asian, lacking some of the unique identities of it’s less developed neighbors. And so, for the adventurer in us, maybe less…satisfying.
I think it’s still too early for me to definitively declare this as true or false, but so far I have found it to be surprising enough to remain interesting. Sure it has all the modern conveniences of a developed Western country – fast, reliable internet; fast, reliable electricity; modern grocery stores and malls where anything you need is available; clean and efficient public transportation; good health care; safe streets. But it also has character.
We took a longer walk this weekend and found plenty of hidden charm. We passed what appeared to be people praying and holding some kind of offering to the gods – with a complete roasted pig splayed out on a table, watching us pass by. We saw what appeared to be ceremonial fires burning in garbage cans with incense fed by paper thrown in methodically by those in charge. We passed shops that reminded me of China with all sorts of garbage/treasures.
This is our neighborhood.
There are newer, trendier, western restaurants next to older “authentic” places. There are hawker centers and traditional chinese medicine places. There are a Western style grocery stores and even a ghostbuster!
And I still can see fun things I wouldn’t see in the US…things like this:
I’m guessing the Surgeon General could get sued for printing something like this in the US. Besides, based on the number of people who smoke here, I think its success rate of deterring smokers is nothing to brag about.
Down the street from us is a “French” bakery next to a store that sells all kinds of Indonesian snacks. I hear English, Chinese and other languages I do not know. I see women wearing bright saris and black burkas and khaki shorts. There is one convenience store whose smell instantly brings me back to our days in Bangalore. I finally found that wet market I was looking for it and it is just as…wet…as those in Shanghai. You can find all manner of animals being butchered and all kinds of fish ready for gutting.
And yet, I don’t have to deal with the inconveniences of a developing country. The days of wondering if the lights will go out at any given moment, of brushing your teeth with bottled water, of waiting and waiting and waiting for a 10 second video to load, of hoping nothing too bad happens because you’re not sure you’ll get the care you need, don’t seem as fun. Relying on your phone to get you where you need to go because you can’t read the street signs or communicate clearly does lend itself to unplanned adventures but sometimes, you really just want an ordinary, reliable trip. Maybe because I know what all that is like.
Or maybe, I’m just getting old.
But to me, Singapore seems to have the best of Asia and the West and if that makes me soft, then maybe Asia-light is just right for me.