I’ve been looking at this post on and off for a few days now:
…and I’m starting to wonder if maybe the universe is just a giant bio-luminescent jellyfish.
May each of you enjoy happiness and the roots of all happiness!
Every city has its own culture. Clearly here in Asia that is true. Food, religious traditions, racial and ethnic diversity, political discourse all help to define it. In Singapore these realities are even accentuated because the city is the country itself. Every moment is made amplified by the scale of the city’s history and Singapore’s unique identity.
My intention is hardly to downplay Singapore’s culture, only to point out what is of interest to me; I’ve been writing about the effect of capitalism on society for a while now. If you go back through the blog you can find, here or there, my thoughts on it: especially the impacts of capitalism and consumer culture on traditional cultures, which was made more apparent to me when I visited Yunnan, China and Turkey last year. There “progress” is happening so quickly; you see the new and the old confront each other on every street. And there’s both a harmony and a tension present. It’s exciting to see what develops from it, but also a little sad to see the way the old and traditional is left to erode out of excitement for a rapidly raising standard for living.
Every country, as it learns to embrace capitalism and develop a consumer identity chooses a unique path based on the values of its people (there’s no denying that), but as I travel the world and see cities, it’s shocking to see the extent of the similarities among them when what I expect is differences.
Thanks for the comment.
I just want to take a live moment, as I sit in this Singaporean coffee shop and share some of the thanks, which has been welling up in me.
When I left India, I boarded a plane alone, looking back on my time there as unforgettable. I met a lot of interesting people, had time to myself to explore both the place and my own inner workings. Now that I’ve been in SG for a week, I’m tapping back into the social experience of modern life. Where India is a place confused in time, Singapore is singularly contemporary.
The coffee shop I’m in feels so familiar: it’s environment is focused on design, its market enjoys quality coffee, its management clearly wants to create a boutique meet-up environment for today’s consumer-worker. It’s like every upscale indie coffee shop everywhere. And that’s why it feels so comfortable for a guy from the US. It welcomes while it gives you your own space. It lets you be an individual in a social setting. It aspires to the archetype that Starbucks started developing all the way back in 1971.
"Come! Don’t be bothered. Just be yourself." Maybe this is Singapore’s unspoken slogan. Or maybe I’m missing one thing: "Just make sure you can afford it."
I’m not sure why I’m always prompted to critique modern consumer economies. It’s a timeless past-time. Every generation has its thinkers who are bound to focus on the injustices of economic systems. I’m surely no exception, because even though I’ve been lucky to live a life of middle class affluence, I always feel the pressure of affordability.
When you’re poor, everything on the menu is out of reach. Your options can’t even be limited because, in truth, you have no options. When you’re middle class, you come to expect a certain level of material comfort, but because the marketplace is democratic, you’re bound to browse the items that are just out of your financial reach. You’re the class of bedroom posters! Of expensive cars on your desktop background! Of magazines which feature luxurious resort vacations! Of secret dreams of liposuction and plastic surgery!
When you’re rich, a whole new pocket of advertising content and technique emerges. Marketing to the rich and super rich is a product of its own. They have unlimited options - could choose anything - but want the things that set them apart from everyone else. What’s the point of having so much money if they can’t somehow distinguish themselves from the crowd.
Singapore is wealthy compared to the nations by which she’s surrounded. She’s a country of indoor, air conditioned malls stretching vertically from the underground into the airspace above, too many to count.
Is this why it feels so easy to be here? Not a care in the world about survival. A place where you can wonder as you wander in clean efficiency along every block and at every corner. To be middle class here is at once to be desensitized to the consumer culture in which you find yourself. It’s easy to become blind to the fact that you’re always being marketed to. In the ever-present eyes of the city, you’re never more than a credit card to be swiped, a ATM pin to be punched. And you’re too distracted with your latest purchase to notice.
Survival is simply making sure the numbers that define you, your account balances, are always higher than cost of daily living.
Comparably, a middle class person in India is wealthy. Cities are poor because the people are poor and there’s no way to transform the marketing environment until a class of people within a certain income range can rise up. Until high paying industries can make use of skilled labor there. But India has an education problem, and until they somehow innovate that system, they will never have a skilled labor or administrative force to raise the standard of living.
So when you’re in India and you’re a regular middle class person from the developed world, you can afford almost everything. But even so, the comforts of developing countries are nothing compared to the developed world. You might be rich in India, but you’re still bound to have your comfort zone threatened by the ever present reality of the uneducated, of the unwealthy.
And therein lies the injustice of the modern global economy. We are not made better by our economic system until the conditions are right, and then we are nothing without it. As economic participants, we are all addicts, craving at the core a growing bank balance. In the process our addictions spread like tentacles. We become addicted to work, or to cheating the system, or to living frugally, or to credit. Each of us in the modern economy is a type, and there is no releasing ourselves from the bondage of those definitions. We want to think we’re individuals. We want to think each of us is unique. But we are only products of our environment, sorted into categories.
Could you call this oppression? Luckily for most, we repress and hide the consequences that some might call oppressive; they’re made invisible by the system itself. We can all go to the mall and enjoy the shopping environment, even if we can’t afford everything. And in that way we can go on living and participating in the economy.
Wow! I started this post thinking I would write about gratitude, about the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. But maybe what I have to thank for all those things is the system which underlies it all and of which we’re all a part here and now in Singapore.
So thank you consumerism. Thank you capitalism. Thank you desensitization. Thank you desire. Thank you quality. Thank you marketing. Thank you infrastructure. Thank you planning. Thank you banks. Thank you government. Thank you for making it easy to live a life we never realize is actually hard.
Never underestimate the power of sleep
When in the midst of smiles, you recognize the basic loneliness in life.