Our second week in Singapore was nothing shy of amazing! Granted, it was not as busy as our week of arrival, but we were still able to embrace several new ideas and experiences. The initial portion of the week allowed us to catch up on some much needed rest while going deeper into our study of Asian topics. In doing this, we embraced many new thoughts and ideas which were either supported or contradicted with our previous impressions of Singaporean life. The class watched a movie entitled Singapore Dreaming which particularly sparked my interest and raised some interesting questions among the SEAS group. The film centered on the notion that money could not entail long-lasting happiness, but included various topics regarding Singaporean life. The movie in its entirety was quite pessimistic when viewing it with an American perspective. A part of being an American typically entails one’s hope of achieving the “American dream” especially in the land of Hollywood. However, the irony of Singapore Dreaming was found in the fact that the ending of the movie left the viewer craving for more happiness in the dream- contrary to death and sadness which was at every corner of the film.
This week has truly left me with many certainties and questions regarding the true life of Singaporeans. We visited the Housing Development Board (HDB) and I must admit that I left wondering how everything could appear to be so perfect. With a high level of efficiency, and eighty-four percent of Singaporeans living in flats provided by the HDB- it all seems too perfect. Our group was fortunate enough to have a question and answer session with a representative from the HDB, and there was no doubt that the representative was tested with questions ranging from private property ownership to racial equality in the distribution of flats. It is difficult to always disregard liberal American concepts such as the negative effects of discrimination and the need for people representation instead of governmental influence- but it is necessary. We were able to tour mock flats on our visit, and everything was beautiful. Rock gardens, beautiful colors on the walls- everything was shining. HDB models showed well-designed, simplistic representations for housing gave a modified view of true Singaporean living-styles. In contrast, I was able to see more of a personal touch in the flat of my host-sister.
Speaking of my home-stay, only one word comes to mind- worthwhile. My friends and I who were blessed to stay with a wonderful family had an enlightening conversation with my host-sisters father or “Uncle” as I call him. When asked whether or not he liked the many laws of Singapore, he basically said that he did not have a choice. In layman’s terms, whether he agreed or disagreed with the laws was insignificant, because his opinion was ultimately meaningless in terms of change. I am not quite sure if it is because I study Political Science and the importance of certain freedoms, but this struck a chord in me. For a second I paused and tried to understand what he was saying. He continued to speak about the importance of happiness and the insignificance of wealth and personal belongings. Uncle was by far one of the wisest men I have ever met. Not only did he speak words of wisdom, but he proceeded to teach my friends and I how to do the cha-cha! His love for life was encouraging and the simple thought that he was content made me put things in perspective.
As an American, contentment is hard to find. Everywhere you go, the idea that bigger is better is a major concept in American life. I have thought about what would happen if reform occurred in Singapore. What if the people put a strong-arm to the government, but then I realize that they are content. The homelessness rate is low, family values are enforced, and the economic life seems to be booming. The last point makes me think a bit about the extravagance of the malls I have explored. I went to two shopping centers in one day with my host-sister, both of which differed in style, but I left with bags in hand. These points make me wonder why people would want to differ from their lives which are influenced by the government and the housing system found in this portion of Southeast Asia. Ultimately, the size of the country is so small, that the Housing Development Board is a necessary governmental influence. There are too many people to do much of anything else. However, there is always room for improvement. This improvement will only come when the level of contentment decreases and there is an apparent need for change.