A nation of change

February 2nd, 2011

History, often, has a propensity for fading away. But when pushed by the human desire for transformation, the past can relegate itself with even greater speed.
In a mere half-century, a tiny island at the southern end of the Malay Peninsula has radically changed itself from a colonial trading port into one of the world’s major financial centres, with among the highest gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates globally in the last year.

The achievement is staggering; there are no two ways about that. But Singapore, except in very small zones, belies that sense of history that is invariably pervades the great erstwhile colonial cities of Asia. Kolkata in particular, and even Mumbai and Delhi, to an extent, conserve a certain old-world charm, which seemingly has been lost here in the Lion City.

That, though, is solely the physical appearance.

Over a meal recently, consisting of delectable Char Sui pork and rice, at a food court in one of the city’s countless malls, a relatively senior government official was kind enough to entertain my numerous questions about the city-state and its people.

In what turned out to be a rather extended session, Mr Chen, if I may call him so, rather unreservedly shared his perspective. But what struck me most, during this conversation, was a particular feeling of lamentation at the breakneck physical transformation of Singapore.

We were in the heart of the city. And the very mall we sat in, the gentleman described, was once a vibrant set of streets, known for its shopping options. Pointing at another direction, he recalled where his house stood and gesticulating again, at what was once his primary school. There was definitely a tinge of regret for what had been lost.

He wasn’t the only one. A real estate agent, of all people, once told me how in his youth he could not locate a particular street, known for its colourful evenings, as the entire block had been demolished and rebuilt in a matter of months.

Singapore, from the outside, mostly does seem like a contemporary construct where change, more than history, is a constant.

But to understand Singapore from the inside is another story. A nation, which consists of 74 per cent Chinese, 13 per cent Malays and the remainder formed of Indian and others, is not as easy to decipher as its architecture.

del.icio.us:A nation of change digg:A nation of change newsvine:A nation of change reddit:A nation of change Y!:A nation of change