Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thoughts from Singapore

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I really am quite an incorrigible sloth. It has been nigh on two months since my last blog post, and for no more excusable a reason than my own inability to motivate myself to do things that don't necessarily require to be done at that very minute. Nevertheless I shall make the most of this no doubt merely momentary pang of guilt to write.

Singapore is quaint. I can think of no word more appropriate right now to describe it. Yes, it's one of the most modern cities in South East Asia, and terrifically economically active considering the sheer size (or rather lack thereof). I'd hypothesise that this is due to mainly the economically-minded nature of the government, ever keen to invite the foreign businesses into the city-state, realising that it is the fastest way to inject capital and enterprise into the country with minimal effort on Singapore's part. Also, it has seemingly taken on a role as a kind of hub from which, at least law firms, like to operate out of as a base in South East Asia. The tax is low, and doubtless the government offers other incentives in a bid to encourage this.

But I digress. Despite the developed and ever-changing nature of the country, there's something rather old-fashioned about the place. It's as if, while the world around it evolves, and Singapore likewise adopts the changes in technology and trends, its heart remains old-fashioned. I'm not entirely sure how I come upon this theory.
Maybe it's due to the highly Asian nature of the country. It's a fairly Westernised country, though the people are some 97% Asian, principally Chinese, then Malay and Indian. So as a result, the old-school family values are still in force so to speak.
Maybe it's the air of slight naïveté. Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Singapore gave his annual national rally (which, by the way, is freaking LONG! 2 hours of alternating between pats on the back, new minor improvements to the public services that were announced with such aplomb, and policies for self improvement – not to mention he then gives the speech in Malay and Mandarin!) during which a key part was how the Singapore birth rate has dropped over the past 40 years, leading onto a conclusion that the people need to date more, marry sooner, and have more kids. Fairly simple premises, one might thing, except the first part is apparently something of a key stumbling point. People just don't seem to date as much anymore! To such an extent, apparently, that the public services are taking affirmative action. Some of the schools and polytechnics (like the vocational colleges back in England, though more academic than those) offer elective modules that are pretty much dating and human relationships 101. I guess in England we take for granted that we know how to meet and talk to members of the opposite sex, though obviously the success rate will vary greatly(!) I'm not entirely certain how this comes about, just that it does, and to my knowledge there is no such formalised education on the matter. The STATE has started its own dating agencies in addition to the private ones in effect, and there is talk of bringing back the Asian mothers' matchmaking schemes. Awww bless...?
Maybe it's the love of simple pleasures that has an air of radiating innocence about it. The average Singaporean family will crave the same material goods as any other in the modern world. Toys, footballs, DVDs... But key among their interests, Singaporeans would almost undoubtedly state food. This is most definitely a Singaporean phenomenon, with families, adults, teens and even kids will enjoy travelling a little further away from their usual circles of activity to grab a certain dish. They will drive for the sole purpose of purchasing that extra juicy durian (a pungent fruit with spiky skin and a Marmite-esque hate-it-or-love-it following), or sampling that delicious fishball soup their friend suggested, or that bee hoon (a kind of noodles) with the extra je-ne-sais-quoi about it, or that satay that brings back fond memories. It also makes the food market terribly competitive, and keeps the prices reasonable for the most part. Which is great for any tourists with hefty stomachs and a willingness to experiment.

Any mention of Singapore in these days would be lacking something if it did not mention the table-tennis. Olympic fever has truly struck the nation, the papers, the McDonald's promotion, the dominating the terrestrial television channels, it's all there. And with that comes the national pride, which this year above all recent years has peaked spectacularly. Singapore fielded a comparatively small Olympic team of 23, with a few key hopes. (I'm going to ignore for now that a not unsizable proportion of said athletes were born in China. Hmmm.) Tao Li, an 18-year old swimming sensation, the table-tennis players and the badminton players. Now, most of the athletes tried their damnedest to bring home a medal but were swept aside by more experienced, and larger countries with greater numbers and resources. But Tao Li managed to come 5th in her finals Butterfly swimming event (I forget the distance) and break an Asian record, to Singapore's delight. But the heroines of the week, and possibly year, were the women's table-tennis team. The trio of Li Jia Wei, Feng Tian Wu and Ms Wang (whom my family monikered the 'Auntie', after her rather more motherly appearance despite her young age) who fought their way to a Silver medal, and notably Singapore's first medal in 48 years, their first since the country gained independence. They were fairly easily swept aside by China in the finals, but apparently were China's longest match, and by no means just laid down and surrendered, putting up an honourable performance. Nary a day would go by since about a week before the Olympics when mention was not made of Li Jia Wei either on the TV or radio, or by people around me. The three are the Singaporeans of the moment, their faces have been everywhere today, and they are being quite rightfully lauded as national treasures. Kudos to them, I say. If not for the sporting achievement, then for bringing a nation together, giving them something to feel proud of and for reminding them that despite the size of the country, it doesn't mean you can't shoot for the stars. It was rather a strange experience yesterday, the gym and pool I went to with my family was cleared out when it got nearer to match time and the hawker centres were quiet until after it was over, aside from the middle aged men who huddled around small TVs making an enormous ruckus.

At some point later, I will probably type a brief and vague critique of some of the things I've noticed here, but I'm rather fond of the country at present and my Singapore side is rather loathe to say anything too scathing about them today :)

On a more personal note, I'm now on my second law firm internship. Now this one is a deal more interesting than that which I undertook last month. I'd venture that being a larger firm, they are able to offer more resources, in this case, an actual station to work at, and a mentor to shadow and work alongside, as well as better opportunities to go to court and sit in on meetings. On a more juvenile note, I think another contributing factor is that I'm not the only intern this time. I get to unwind at lunchtime and wax lyrical on the mild stints of boredom and occasional spikes of exciting work. And procrastinate with the others with the e-mail thread that is intermittently active. Ahem.

As a little parting memo to myself, perhaps it would be an idea to finally participate in that NaNoWriMo thing I keep finding random mentions to on the internet. For the benefit of any random readers who accidentally stumble across my mumblings, the above is an internet event that happens every year, and, though I forget what it stands for, basically calls upon people to 'write' a 10,000? 100,000? word 'story' in the course of a month, if memory serves, in November. They don't have a bar set for the quality of the work, the aim is merely to get people writing. Such a purpose, I hope, might actually spur me into writing a bit more, and satisfy that little feeling in the back of my mind that I could possible be an OK writer if I put my mind to it. What better way to test it than reading my own mini-novella? I only worry that I might be legitimately too busy to do it, but I shall endeavour. I hope.