Strait of Malaca

Singapore And Lee Kwan Yew

He died March 23 at age 91

March 23, 2015 in Strait of Malaca | Comments (1)

Tags: , , ,

 

By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

Some Singaporeans can ride the Mass Rapid Transit trains without holding on. They can stand there texting or reading or even napping, confident they will not be toppled. It’s a matter of experience-based trust. They know the ride will be smooth, no jolting, just as they know the doors will open precisely on the platform marks and the electronic MRT cards will debit accurately according to time traveled.

So I tried it, standing without holding on, but lacked the faith (too many rides on the New York subways). I compromised by leaning casually against a silver pole and reading. I chose something that did not require turning a lot of pages, “The World in Pieces,” an essay by the late great global anthropologist Clifford Geertz.

Leaving the Outram Park station on the East-West line:

“Since 1945 we have gone from a situation in which there were perhaps 50 or so generally recognized countries, the rest of the world being distributed into colonies, protectorates, dependencies, and the like, to one in which there are nearly 200, and almost certainly more to come. The difference, of course, is the decolonization revolution.”

Approaching Tanjong Pagar, the enclave of Chinese migrant workers between the docks and the town in colonial days, later the constituency of Lee Kwan Yew:

“The revolution has been generally understood. . . as liberation from foreign domination. . . the last wave of a global thrust toward self-determination, the rule of like over like, the modernization of governance, the unification of state and culture, or whatever. . . “

(more…)


Looking For Culture In The Malls Of Singapore

Suppose the Asian city-state is the experiment that will survive

in Strait of Malaca | Comments (1)

Tags: ,

 

By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY

Shopping for cameras in Singapore would be a cultural experience, I thought, a story to take home like eating in a hawker market or posing among the eerie manikins depicting the Japanese surrender in 1945. I thought I might discover that salesmanship is a cultural thing, that sales techniques vary with cultural diversity, if there is any such thing in global merchandising. All this helped me rationalize the intention to resist buying a fine Lumix camera made in Japan.

Our first stop was luxurious Orchard Road, where the Ion complex features designer franchises (Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior, Armani) with men in black suits at the doors and Takashimaya, a Japanese department store with a fine expansive international book store. The cameras were across Orchard in the many small shops of Lucky Plaza, a less exclusive mall, where salesmen in white shirts watched professionally for, I suppose, a telltale gleam in the eye of a wandering tourist. They were team players, quick to display the merchandise and ask opportunistic questions – How long you been in Singapore? This your first visit? How long you going stay? – tests of naiveté and finality of purchase. These places were too like Times Square in New York, I thought, no ethnological material here.

But now I was in the Jurong area on the southwest part of the island at the camera counter of a big retailer that served local people (it has its own rapid rail station, a bus terminal, and expressway access, against a backdrop of high colorful new residential buildings. The amiable and studious young sales clerk watched helpfully as I toyed with the camera. Her name tag said (probably) Ling Hong. She was Chinese.

Chinese? Singapore, off the tip of the Malay peninsula and across from Sumatra, is not anywhere near China and Ling was speaking English, not Mandarin. Identifying her with cultural certainty would require knowing “whatever it is that defines identity in borderless capitalism and the global village.” These were the words of the late Clifford Geertz of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, an alarming cultural anthropologist whose essay, “The World In Pieces,” I had been studying. If he didn’t know, after a lifetime of study, what defines culture, how in the world could I? Still, if you study history rather than anthropology it’s clear that discrimination came easy for Singapore strangers, among them:

(more…)


A Tale of Buddhism Revived

The man who rode away

June 10, 2010 in Strait of Malaca | Comments (0)

Tags: ,

It seemed odd to me that Singapore, where 70 per cent of the population is Chinese and the biggest annual all-consuming holiday is Chinese New Year, would have a Chinatown. But there it was, as promised by the tourist map and guaranteed in the name of a subway station: a few colorful lines of old shop houses against a backdrop of tall buildings in the mumble of traffic. (more…)