SINGAPORE | 2017
Well-curated vertical greens hanging along the summit edges of the noticeably neat concrete walls of Changi Airport welcomed my worn-out legs and my ticking temples.
This numbed my migraine for a while as I unresistingly fixated my glance on the suspended garden, giving me a visual morphine-endorphin combo effect inside my body.
The huge windows let the mid-afternoon sun saturated the room making the marriage of man-made nature and the simple and polished interiors of the airport as vibrant as it can be.
Soon enough, the warm and humid air infiltrated through my skin as I stepped out of the train. I felt my blood got near to a boil and did its job of giving me more color as I sensed my face turned wine-like.
Singapore did not disappoint in impressing me on my first day with its apparent cleanliness with which it gave off a breathable climate. Another was its strategically planted skyscrapers where you can tell that the urban plan was not just to “accommodate” the green environment (as is always the case in the metropolis), but to actually have the objects of globalization and nature exist symbiotically and lastly I would have to emphasize its very reliable and efficient transportation services.
As I began to walk on the pavements of what they call the “Lion City”, I inhaled a safe air which made me feel somewhat acutely strange but it slowly faded away. Growing and living for a little over three decades in the densely populated and my beloved city of Manila, they (Singapore and Manila) maybe similar in profile and character to some extent, but I will put Manila as the actor in the story who always has its twists and turns and that you must be on your toes most of the time. Ha! :)
The thickness of crowd I experienced in train stations, street markets and other public spaces of Singapore let not waned my concentration on profiling, sight-seeing and photo-taking of this ambitious city. I can say that this country has capitalized on the now-technology and the intimidating presence of the shining steel skyline; which they say are signs of a progressive republic. However, for me, it has to be a sustainable safe milieu despite these days where terror can be anywhere anytime and lastly I would have to say it also includes the interesting proportion of locals and expats.
From its main gateway to the world- a highly controlled environment: Changi Airport to my first couple of days in the open and hustling streets; I believe safety is one of the many faces of Singapore. It seems implausible to juxtapose the feeling of remarkable security despite being a heavily multi-national society, yet you are on top of your game! That is beyond excellent work. A real game-changer!
What was even more amazing was when I discovered that Singapore is a very young independent republic (just 49 years old). But it proved that age did not matter as it has become the story of what a progressive nation is all about. Progress was everywhere as I strolled around. But I was more kind of drawn to one sign I mentioned: the many slices of people- locals and expats in this part of Southeast Asia.
Traveling to Singapore ranked as one of the world’s strongest passports tied with Germany at number 1 for 2017, I remember at first I was quite uncertain of what a Singapore native is or looks like. This was even truer for me in this recent vacation as I visited some of the busiest spots of its capital where I was pretty amused by the glaring number of Asian expats (as likely to be from Malaysia and India) on the streets, food districts, malls and others. I asked myself “Where are the Singaporeans?” Ha! :) Albeit 74.3% was comprised by ethnic Chinese (which puts me in assumption that these are the locals), the blatant sight of expats everywhere is not to be discounted for. I think majority of these Asian expats from Malaysia, India and other groups are middle-class earners whether professionals or not. And from the looks of it, they made this country a place for greener pasture.
For me that is a significant sign of economic power: you have earned the confidence both of your citizens and middle-class income earning expats.
As the young night closely approaches from the horizon, I told myself to cut off my habit of people watching as I have other things in hand. I thought maybe it was time for some touristy activities. I thought again that I can get to know this country and its people by going to a place that is for me the best substitute for a national museum tour and it’s absolutely FREE! Where? - the riverbanks in the heart of the city.
I was catching my breath when I hopped off from the Raffles Place train station and climbed one flight of stairs. My hand-held device was guiding me to look for 'The Fullerton Hotel'. Few more steps led me to a corridor in between buildings and I saw a peaceful stream of water- the Singapore River.
The stretch of the riverbanks in the cities of the world is the lifeblood of the building of a nation. Cruising by the river, is like flipping the pages of your history books coupled with real objects mounted on the edges to describe what was life like back then and understand how it became what it is today.
Others find walking by the riverbanks dull and mundane, but I suggest to do the reading beforehand. It makes it all worthwhile.
You will care to notice lying along the Singapore River are shrines, shop houses, temples, docks and bridges before the mouth of the river that empties into the Marina Bay. This is the melting pot of Singapore. The place where diversity became one. The heavily multi-cultural country, where individual dreams overlap with the vision of the nation at large: to thrive.
From the humble beginnings and remnants of the past along the Singapore River then coming in the way at the end of the stream is the symbolic presence of its national emblem- the Merlion.
The Merlion is what joins the past and a glimpse of what Singapore is now-- the view of the impressive and ambitious architecture of Marina Bay Sands. Singapore’s future is like the waters of Marina bay, the sight is limitless.
As I watched the sun set across the horizon and saw the waters touched the deep orange sky, I thought to myself that if Singapore had done all of these as a very young independent republic, despite being one of the heavily-bruised nation of the World War II and multi-cultural at that; only imagination can stop it from what it could still be.
Suddenly, the cacophony of the huge crowd of tourists wanting to take selfies, family picture and the obligatory Merlion pose where one has to open his mouth catching the water from the half-fish half lion structure broke my introspection. Then I heard a familiar language. I spotted a group of young Filipino men and women.
In a week that I spent in Singapore, I rarely came across of Filipino expats even in trains. In my experience, to name a few places that Filipinos can be caught in a quite good number were on street markets but they are mostly tourists and in Jollibee fast food chain- never a miss! Ha! :)
If my above observation is the opposite, this brought me to the idea that Filipinos can really blend well and have mastered that art of acculturation. But interestingly, this has alarmed me. Did we lose our identity? (My take on this next entry)
Moving on, I read from my recently discovered author, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in one of her critically acclaimed novels- ‘Americanah’, she said “But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.”
As a nation and as Filipinos we may have our flaws and always find hopelessness in everywhere and maybe on each other’s faces but we can take a lot from the story of Singapore.
We will never come to the best times if we always want the new things or always want to escape to a new place. Forward-looking means a deep understanding of the past, an open eyes and passionate hands with what we have now and a heart that believes that the best is happening.
And to Singapore, thank you for your story. Yours is a story of possibilities and you taught me that time is of irrelevance of being best. It is a choice to do best today and be the best version every day.