A cosy red dot away from it all.

You feel it’s a different place from the very moment the jetway disgorges you into the main concourse at Changi Airport. It’s a quick walk on the world’s plushiest, softest carpet to immigration, past ornate flowerbeds erupting with tropical plants, a botanical explosion arranged with gusto. Above, the ceiling flows on in a harmonic wave of thinly perforated metal panels, a mechanical synchronicity of straight lines that looks like a bobbing sea suspended over the travellers’ heads. Or a Minecraft landscape, just a lot more pleasing on the eye. Immigration comes shortly thereafter, each and every desk equipped with a bowl filled with candies and a small bin for the empty wrappers, the agent inviting you to help yourself before stamping you in and saying “Welcome to Singapore”.
Morning brings rainshowers, rolling waves of deluge pounding the streets of East Singapore. Still, despite the onslaught of water, it’s stifling hot and why wouldn’t it be: it never gets chilly one degree north of the Equator. I’m hosted by friends, dipping momentarily in this married couple’s expat life, savouring the pleasures – the air-con, the sweeping vistas, the gym, the pool – of their gated community with security patrols moving snails and centipedes should they venture onto the stone paths. After all, this is the place where people leave iPhone 7s on the food court tables to keep their places.
Shopping arcade follows shopping arcade in a ring around, and inside, the city centre. It’s just four steps between the air-conditioned bubble of our cab and the equally icy atrium of the Japanese supermarket-cum-deli sitting one level below our designated food court.

We eat upstairs at a table commanding imposing views of the financial district’s towers, of the Ferris wheel and of the towering monstrosity of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Around us bubble, hiss and gurgle dozens of pans, woks and bamboo steamers loaded with Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Cantonese and Malay specialties. Red labels on every booth proclaim that every establishment under that particular roof received top marks for cleanliness, food safety and quality. Singapore: the only place in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of kilometres where you can set about drinking the melted ice scooped in your plastic tumbler without so much of a thought about the trots.
Everything, here, is manicured. Orchids grow in flowerpots. Neat vines sneak up the concrete pillars of flyovers and highways in such orderly fashion that you’d think they’ve been planted that way. Inside a futuristic bubble, built on land reclaimed from the sea, an ecosystem capable of generating its own cloud steals the breath of children and adults alike with its perfect beauty whilst, a stone’s throw away, the man-made cliffs of Marina Bay Sands rise to the skies, its inner atrium reminiscent of a Marseillais HLM, just with four-digit room rates and champagne on sale at $200 the bottle on the rooftop bar. Even the campsite for penny-pinching tourists erected along the shoreline on East Coast park is, to quote from a well-represented fast food chain, “Tip-Top”.
I’m a cynic. Tell me something’s perfect, and I’ll doubt you. Tell me something’s flawless, and I’ll be calling it. Tell me something’s got nothing to hide, and I’ll go around lifting the carpet to check for the dust swept under there. Singapore, I reason one night as the skyline shimmer outside the bedroom windows and enormous lightning run from one stratocumulus to another, has to have one such carpet.

A bus ride offers some insight. Despite having an uncanny resemblance to the 94 bus to Acton Green – same double decker coach, same interiors, same seats – the ads plastered on the inside and of the outside of the no. 14 bus can’t be more different from London’s Routemasters. There is nothing claiming the virtues of junk food, apps doing exactly the same job of a massive CRM system for a fraction of the price, or the latest Old Vic play: the two adverts stickered at eye level on the frigid main deck of this Singaporean bus are warnings. Calls to exert caution against cybersex in exchange for online payments and other scams coming, inevitably, from abroad. Outside, as we notice once we alight and the bus drives past us, a giant-sized photograph has been plastered on the side of the vehicle. It shows a multi-storey building engulfed in flames and thick black smoke, out of which three obviously alarmed yuppies are fleeing. A fourth man in shirt sleeves and burgundy tie indicates something with a steely gaze worth of John Wayne, a pose that reminds me of the statue of Augustus in Rome’s Forum. Below the slogan read something like Be prepared. Our response matters. Not even London, where the IS morons had emerged from the gutters three times lately, thinks necessary to peddle this heavily fear propaganda.
My hosts both are recruiters. One evening, they speak about the traipsing of their work, of what it means to be the ones shovelling new resources into the thousands of businesses that make this island nation the economic hotspot it is. They talk, in desperate tones, of the local youth, so pampered and unaware of the workings of the outside world to fail in almost comical levels of farce. The guy who gave away his company’s secrets after just a drink with a savvy competitor in a Manila bar. The one who forgot to the delete the name of the candidate from the CV sent to the client, effectively making the recruiter useless. The other guy who succeeded in getting his company card cloned by giving it to a stranger he’d just met. Examples, sure, behaviours undoubtedly common the world over, but those were, they argue, symptoms of a new generation of Singaporeans grown in economic abundance, total protection. A generation scared of setbacks, afraid of having to fight for something, imbibed with propaganda magnifying the dangers of anything that lurked outside their nation, where everything was safe and ‘tip-top’.
Peppered around the city are more reminders of this situation, advices against employing illegals, diseases carried from the hic sunt leones of Indonesia and Malaysia and, times and again, new warnings against the modern day’s favourite bogeyman, terrorism.
What is the purpose of this policy, besides the raising of an enfeebled generation that runs away, much to my friends’ dismay, from jobs after three weeks? I couldn’t quite grasp it until, on my final night, I pick up a leaflet from a MTR station rack. Printed by SG Secure, the nations’ police force, it is an encyclopaedia of street smartness and, crucially, shows a photo of a man, kneeling and in handcuffs, a couple of batons lying next to him and a cop standing in front of him, writing something in the characteristic pose of police officers worldwide. The caption below reads Rioting achieves nothing but caning and imprisonment. 
I board my flight and, as we climb out through the warm equatorial air, things feel clearer, so much so that I can even hear that leaflet’s soothing voice whispering, George Clooney-esque, in my ear. Enjoy the perfection, he said. Enjoy the parks, the spotless sidewalks, safe eateries and air-conditioned malls. Enjoy this tranquil safety, enjoy security teams taking straddling snails back in the undergrowth, enjoy all this regardless of how artificial and plasticky it sounds. Don’t rock the boat to much, he soothed in my mind. Enjoy this, unless you want our oasis, our comfy little red dot, to go to the dogs like the all the unspeakable hell-holes all around us. And, obviously, unless you want the cane and ten years in gaol.
I recline my seat as the plane leaves the red dot behind. As it does, I wonder how many Singaporeans actually buy the story.

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18 Responses to A cosy red dot away from it all.

  1. richandalice says:

    Those 1st 3 paragraphs in particular form a beautifully written description. They really paint a picture in my mind of the look and ambience of the place. I think you may be in the wrong line of work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anna says:

    You write so well! Loved this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is the most immediate transfer to (and escape from) a place I have ever witnessed. Great for the snails though.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bama says:

    I echo some of your sentiments about Singapore. Did you also realize that it is probably one of only a few developed countries without press freedom? They value “social harmony” more, or at least that’s what I read from one of their media outlets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Hey Bama! I didn’t know there was no free press in Singapore, but with hindsight it isn’t that surprising… The problem is that the kind of “social harmony” they value seem to be a bit too similar to those families who maintain a facade of happiness but which, secretly, hate each other. Don’t you think?


      • Bama says:

        All media outlets are practically owned by the government. But one thing that separates them from other countries with no press freedom is that the Singaporean government is highly transparent — it has one of the lowest Corruption Perception Index in the world. So yea, the people are less free to say what they want to say, but they have a reason not to complain.

        Liked by 1 person

      • awtytravels says:

        Funny how that is! What makes the government so transparent, then? Normally, over here in Europe, the moment people look the other side that’s when the powers that be nick everything that isn’t nailed to the walls! Thanks for the insight Bama.


  5. J.D. Riso says:

    While reading this, I couldn’t help but think that you were taking us into our global future. The sinister order of it all, where all the unpleasantries are taken care of by authority and all you need to do is shut up and and be a Good Citizen. Sounds a lot like another place in that part of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Yeah, it had an Orwellian side I’ve to say. I don’t know how much a part is played by that tendency to prefer group harmony to individual rights, but it’s undeniable that 1984 came to mind more than once…


  6. lexklein says:

    I like to be in control and I like things (very!) neat, but I still don’t think I could stomach a forced tidiness, a fake climate, coddled youth, or any environment where the messy parts of life – from the physical and beyond – were hidden from view. Holding sludge like that down (or sweeping it under the rug, as you say) seems to me would be like to erupt in quite an ugly way at some point!

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Well, I’m one for hoping that it doesn’t, and it might as well be that Singaporeans there like it that way; surely people are flocking to the place rather than leaving. Still, I see what you’re saying Lexi, and I had the same feeling when in Dubai for instance.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave Ply says:

    Well written, as usual. As I read your word images, I couldn’t help but think of “The Stepford Wives”, a book/movie about a community of artificial perfection, peopled by robots.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. loshame says:

    I like your post 😊.

    Liked by 1 person

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