Qui tangit frangatur.

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Our memories reach back no further than yesterday; we are, as it were, strangers to ourselves. . . . That is but a natural consequence of a culture that consists entirely of imports and imitation. . . . We absorb all our ideas ready-made, and therefore the indelible trace left in the mind by a progressive movement of ideas, which gives it strength, does not shape our intellect. . . . We are like children who have not been taught to think for ourselves; when they become adults, they have nothing of their own — all their knowledge is on the surface of their being; their soul is not within them.

A most apt and pithy description of Singapore and Singaporeans, one might be tempted to conclude. However, this passage is an excerpt of a letter by one Russian aristocrat and former army officer, Pyotr Chaadaev, published in the Russian review journal, Telescope, in 1836.

Applying Chaadaev's letter to 21st century Singapore is an anachronism, but the sociological, cultural, and psychological relevance — and dare I say, veracity — of his sentiments and observations still hold. ku10, who spent a year here, felt the same way:

Singapore is boring. Really, it is, and not for lack of things to do. Singapore has everything you’d expect in a major Western city: stores, clubs, fancy restaurants, art galleries, museums, movie theaters, F1 racing, F1 powerboat racing, an aquarium, concert halls, even a really big Ferris wheel. And that’s the problem: Singapore has a huge, generic crush on the West. It’s clear, with its constant “biggest, tallest, most,” it aches for international approval. It’s obsessed with buying what all the other cool cities have, and that’s about it. Sometimes it feels like the founders threw a bunch of Lonely Planet Best of… guides at the city planners and said “I want to see every single one of those bullet points right here! We’re going to be world class!”

The wisdom of the aphorism, "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it," is lost on this nation of culturally-insecure lemmings fixated on acquiring their first million, attracting a mate, rutting, and then scheduling an endless parade of tutors for their brats, to land a place in a SAP school.


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