Modernity and Money

The last time I visited Singapore was in the mid 90’s. Even then it stood out…the cleanliness, the discipline, the order. And that hasn’t changed. I was bemused as two Singaporean men were on the verge of extreme distress that as I joined a queu at immigration we weren’t precisely in line. Both the man who I stood behind and the one who came behind me graciously, but pointedly, urged me to take my placed directly in line with them. None of this western casualness for them.

Then there was the giant roomba cleaning the airport floors…with a neat vest and tie painted on it’s “torso.” It was quite a sight. But everything was orderly. Everything worked. Everything was clean. Even construction sites had an orderly look to them. It was impressive.

There are few signs of the small fishing village that marked Singapore’s origins. Nor are there that many vesitges of it’s colonial past but there are some remnants in the Victorian era buildings that are still sprinkled through the city. And Little India offers a distinct ethnic feel and Chinatown, which we didn’t get to explore (at least not yet) also has an “identity” I’m told.

But, overall, what you see and sense is the modern, dynamic, thriving financial center that Singapore has become. The corporate headquarters lodged in skyscrapers bearing their name tower over the city and are a mordernistic backdrop to a quiet cruise on the Singapore river past the quays that once were home to the early traders as well as houses of ill repute and dens of iniquity.

Most striking, I guess, was that in the twenty plus years since I last visited, Singapore’s allure as a shopping Mecca has only become more intense. The shopping centers are bigger, glitzier, and more overwhelming than ever. Floor after floor…a bewildering array of escalators going in multiple directions…a fervent pursuit of the latest, the most fashionable, the most expensive, the glitziest.

It’s feels like money. And more money. Lots and lots of money driving the wheels of commerce. Keeping the ultra-high end shops buzzing and trickling down to the countless shops even in the underground walkways. Basement levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 all have shops, restaurants and services to offer. Commerce everyday. I don’t know how they all survive but all present the face of thriving businesses. It’s a bit overwhelming.

Modernity and money. That’s Singapore today. It was a great place to catch our breath and recover from jet lag before setting sail but a different Asia awaits. We’re looking forward to seeing it.

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