We can’t avoid being influenced and sometimes completely transformed by our surroundings.
I don’t smoke. (What I mean is: I don’t normally smoke.)
I don’t drink. (Well, I don’t drink a lot.)
I don’t eat meat. (I hadn’t been eating meat, at least.)
It seems there are a lot of things I don’t do. I suppose I’m a virtuous person.
Correction: I was a virtuous person, until I arrived in Singapore.
In the last 5 days I haven’t slept before 4am. I haven’t woken up before 11:30am. I haven’t eaten breakfast once.
I’ve smoked a pack of cigarettes. I’ve been drinking beer, wine, and liquor. I’ve been eating chicken, beef, and pork.
I suppose I have a case of: when-in-rome-itis.
In all of my conversations I’ve had with numerous people here in Singapore, I’ve found myself constantly thinking back on my time in India and referring to it. It’s easy because it’s the only other place I’ve been on this trip, so it’s my only real point of reference.
In India it’s like this; they don’t do it like that in India.
Truly though: India and Singapore are alternate universes. SG is a culture of affluence, a landscape of glass and steel, of shop after shop after shop, a web of underground commerce. Traditional culture has been, in the country’s fifty year history, updated with the times and trends of popular culture.
While traveling outside of the United States, I used to think that the rest of the world was appropriating western culture, a culture of materialism and superficialities. Of popular entertainment. Of money and fashion.
I’m starting to wonder though.
Singapore is any contemporary city. The skyline rises and falls on cash paved streets. The bodies hustle and bustle to buy and sell all over the island’s 275 square miles. Eating is pure enjoyment. Pleasure is pure necessity. Life is a face value made unbearable when your device is drained of battery. Traditional culture no longer lingers. Life in old singapore has been programmed into the code of this island nation, rebooting as fast as fashions turn over. Tradition is nested snugly in a framework built on the foundations of democratic capitalism.
When people of any history grant for themselves the rights and freedoms to create value and pursue their own self-interest (even if limited by government), perhaps the culture, of which Singapore is emblematic, is bound to arise: a culture of a humans who have discovered and adopted the pleasure of material comfort. Hiding in plain sight, amidst millions of clones, any one is bound to become a product of a place. A city creates you, transforms you, shapes your thinking, your decisions, your feelings. But don’t worry: hedonism in it’s many guises has been redesigned from vice to virtue. You’re celebrated for your engagement. Sure, you’re judged regularly for your lifestyle, your choices, even the things you can’t change: your race, your gender, your age, your sexuality, your body. But, judgement is the growth hormone of the city, the fuel for our envy driven minds; it plants the seeds of desire to ensure the city lives.
So maybe I don’t smoke or drink or eat meat or stay up all night or party like an animal. But… this is the city; this is Singapore. So maybe, the truth is: I do.