Cargo Cult

Singapore was a good place to visit. I’m not usually a fan of hot places, but since more or less everywhere is air conditioned, there’s always somewhere to retreat to if the 30 °C heat and 70% humidity become too unbearable.

A colleague today referred to what turns out to be William Gibson’s description of Singapore in Wired: Disneyland with the death penalty. Gibson’s article is over 10 years old now, but some of what he says still rings true. What makes Singapore a nice place to visit is that it is Asia-Lite: cheap (at least in Sterling), yet clean and safe, with ethnic areas laid out for the visitor to browse around. The people are friendly and pretty much all speak English to some extent. We saw few policemen about the place: the opinion of our party was not, as Gibson said, that the people had succumbed to the policemen of the mind, but rather that the policemen were among us, plainclothes. But who knows? We weren’t about to drop some litter and find out.

Wired is too hip to like the place, but for all the Disney, Neal Stephenson (him again) and Orwell resonances, I can’t help but admire the vision behind the place. I doubt I’d want to live there, but that’s not because of the problems Gibson has with it. I can imagine that after a while the island would start to seem very small and lacking in scenery. The beauty spots that exist are cheek-by-jowl with construction sites and container ships offshore, just out of shot. But given the choice between what seems a benevolent, if paternal, government and one which mucks around with foreign misadventures while people back home are getting murdered for their mobile phones (a headline to welcome me back, there), it’s not really obvious that the latter is the right one.

The hotel had a phone in the loo. What’s up with that?

6 Comments on "Cargo Cult"


  1. My Pa is very fond of Singapore. He says that at first, it seems clean – clinical? – and not that exciting, but once you come to know the place over a few visits it develops hidden depths. And the metro is supposed to be fantastic.

    My family all got food poisoning at Raffles. So beware buffets, even at internationally famous five-star hotels. They really liked the long bar, though.

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    1. The metro is very good. There are smart cards for the tickets so you just slap them on top of the machine and the barrier opens. Whizzy.

      Raffles wouldn’t let us in because we were wearing shorts. Apparently it’s not the done thing except if you’re a little boy, so the only people you see in shorts are the tourists. In general the food was good: the Chinese stuff was not coated with MSG so I could eat it without upset.

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