5 Years ago, I received an email confirming my admission at Singapore Management University. My excitement was palpable. For someone who had experienced it through the lens of a tourist, making it to the Merlion city was a dream come true.
The broad roads, the well-laid pavements, efficient integrated transport systems, skyscrapers, and malls; all added to the city-state’s magnanimity. I was ready to shed the chaos of a developing country and embrace the privilege of a developed one. Unlike the demons of race and religion that plague the west, Singapore seemed averse to discriminate based on the colour of your skin or the place of your worship. From temples that lit lamps during Diwali or mosques that sounded prayers during Ramzan and churches that sang Christmas carols, Singapore was and is home to all.
I must admit, I still feel the privilege of cycling through well-lit pavements in the wee hours of the night, without a hint of fear. But, Singapore is no longer the same to me. At 9 am, I board the MRT, both out of the compulsion of routine and the demands of work. Once there, I witness the most bizarre sight, I have been privy to. Hundreds upon hundreds of people, with their heads pointing south, some with earphones and others going commando, but all mesmerized by their phone screens. Not a word exchanged, even friends by one’s side, spoken to, by the finger taps on mobile screens.
Singapore, can boast of culture and still persists with tradition. This is evident in its celebration of diverse cultures and festivals. But it is very much guilty of having the trappings of a developed pseudo-western Asian country. The order that substitutes the chaos, starts right from school, tuitions, and borderline cruel academic requirements. Rules and order breed discipline and good conduct but also trade off the semblance of a free spirit. Asian tiger parents get access to the necessary education and state infrastructure to satiate their appetites. Having such an organized system, that advocates a particular path to success also prevents one from deviating from the norm or colours one’s intention of doing so.
I hate to complain, but if you choose this safe haven, make that choice if you have accepted the rat race. You need to earn the big bucks to enjoy its many gifts. You must accept that on occasion the skyscrapers that generate awe can be the prison that obstructs your view of the seas. Perhaps, this very rat race can be attributed to Singapore having the highest rate of depression in Asia, in the year 2015, as reported by Channel News Asia.
Singapore will give you an unobstructed efficient and proven routine but if you’re someone who needs the chaos to break the monotony of life, this might end up being your beautiful prison.
Painting By Goh Chye Kee