Notes from a Tidy Town
The Art Student and I have just spent a couple of days in Singapore en route to Turkey. Apart from the fabulously welcome heat and the pleasure of walking about in an unfamiliar place, I’ve noticed:
the absence of graffiti, to the extent that an installation in the Singapore Art Museum was accompanied by a note saying that even though graffiti was awfully antisocial it could sometimes inspire artworks (though we did see a couple of lonely tags under a bridge near some equally rare skateboarders).
excellent, cheap underground rail, with a ticketing system that’s cumbersome for blow-ins like us who just want single-trip tickets, who have to pay a refundable deposit of a dollar on each ticket (the tickets are plastic – an anti-littering strategy?), reclaim able only from a machine at the other end
‘Do Not’ signs that indicate customary practices: I only saw one ‘pedestrians must use crossing’, and it was in one of the few places where they mostly didn’t; ‘Do not lean on door’ was on the wall above two young men engrossed in their phones and leaning as if there was no other way to ride the subway; and my favourite, ‘$1000 fine for riding here’, failed to deter the gentleman who came zooming past us, who looked as if he wouldn’t have managed a fine of a tenth that size.
a definite child-friendly feel to the art galleries: Sakarin Krue-on’s installation ‘Cloud Nine’ in the Contemporary Asian Art exhibition at the Singapore Art Gallery featured stray dogs with beautiful wings that reminded me of S. D. Schindler’s magical illustrations for Ursula Le Guin’s Catwings; more substantially, we caught the tail end of a city-wide Children’s Season in museums – a whole building of the SAG was given over to interactive works that invited children’s participation, real works that made me want to join in, and a video art room that showed excellent children’s cartoons.
a system of pricing in which things aren’t always what they seem: if for instance you bought Dr Dre earphones for your iPad for $430 ( very cheap, it turns out, probably because they’re fake) you might find yourself paying more than $500 because of the 7 per cent GST, and if you challenged the maths of that, you might discover there was a government levy on credit card transactions. Not all of this is swift talking by clever salespeople – I saw a price tag on a Tiger beer tower (don’t ask) that read ‘$68 + +’.
It’s a terrific city. We walked a lot above ground and a lot below ground. We ate Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and ice cream. We discovered deep fried cereal prawns, which we ate but didn’t understand. Today as we swam upstream in Bugis Street against a current consisting almost entirely of cheerful young people, I thought to myself, ‘This is no country for old men.’ in a couple of hours we’ll be flying to Byzantium, those dolphin-torn, those gong-tormented seas.