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Singapore is one of the economic, financial and technological capitals of South-East Asia. It has taken years of development, immigrants, and change in order to establish this. The nation-state has undergone years of globalisation in its culture, architecture and economy. Being an extremely small country, Singapore's main resource is humans; however it still required a foreign workforce to help get its economy to the position that it is in today. Multiculturalism was promoted in order to facilitate nation-building. The government aimed to inculcate a sense of commitment and patriotism amongst the various racial groups. Today, Singapore is regarded as a cosmopolitan nation-state with inter-racial harmony being one of its renowned qualities; however there is always more than what meets the eye.
The Globalised City State
The creation of the global city was an effort of internationalising aspects of its architecture, economy, and mentality of its people. This was done in order to help build the country, as the government wanted to attract people from all over to come and work in Singapore, providing a familiar environment, would ensure their immigration to the country. Whilst still attempting to retain its Asian culture, architecture in Singapore has greatly leaned towards more western and contemporary trends. Initially the architecture reflected traditional Malaysian style homes, and then the transition into shop houses incorporating European neoclassical, gothic, palladianand renaissance and art deco styles. The passage into European style architecture was in effort to boost the country's economy by creating a familiar environment for foreigners to come and work and live in. However, one might argue otherwise. Singapore was established as a trading settlement for the British East India Company in 1819. This brought an infusion of western culture into the land and people; this can be argued as one of the main contributors to the globalised look of architecture in Singapore. Even though it is evident that efforts have been made to make architecture more contemporary and 'modern', they do have rather historic roots in western architecture.
Singaporean's mentalities have also changed over the years due to globalisation. Again, in an effort to internationalise the country, the way that the masses thought had to be changed. Singapore never had a distinct group of natives that have lived there for centuries, its population is made up of 3 main ethnicities; Chinese, Malaysians and Indians. Each of these racial groups came with their own ideologies and cultural values; however there must be a sense of unity amongst the people of a nation if it is to flourish. Therefore, for the establishment of a strong economy, and unity of the country, international, namely western, culture and ideologies were thrown into Singapore. The newer generations embraced the 'western' way of life, and developed a common ground for thinking and culture within themselves, and with the immigrants that came into the country. This made Singapore a more approachable nation as opposed to other countries in South-East Asia. However, even though the mentality and ideologies had changed, the various ethnic group's cultural values were not eradicated, and continue to be a source of friction to this date.
Re-branding Singapore: Cultural Re-Development
Asian values are a set of ideals which include an emphasis on the community rather than the individual, the privileging of social order and harmony over individual freedom, an insistence on hard work, a particular emphasis on saving and thriftiness, a respect for political leadership, a belief that government and businesses need not necessarily be natural adversaries, and an emphasis on family loyalty. These values have been promoted by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed.
Prior to the popularity of Asian values, the Singapore government's first step towards nation-building was to eradicate any sense of communalism amongst its multiracial immigrant population. Their aim was to develop a sense of Singaporean identity which rejected the privileging of individual ethnic groups, in particular the majority Chinese. They were determined to preserve and maintain the cultural roots of their respective racial groups but in order to avoid the dangers of racialism, it emphasised on industrialisation and economic development as a metanarrative to frame Singapore's national identity.
"We must give our children roots in their own language and culture, and also the widest common ground through a second language...Then we shall become a cohesive people, all rooted in their traditional values, cultures, languages; but effective in English, a key to the advanced technology of the West, from where all our and new advanced industries come from"
-Lee Kuan Yew (1971)
The PAP leadership (People's Action Party) had come to terms with creating a society anchored in traditions, and on the other hand, because of its small size, also has to plug in transnational economic flows. The leadership was therefore committed to ensuring that both objectives were kept in balance.
"If they are to develop, people in new countries cannot afford to imitate the fads and fetishes of the contemporary West. The strange behaviour of demonstration and violence prone young men and women in wealthy America, seen on TV and the newspapers, are not relevant to the social and economic circumstances of new underdeveloped countries. The importance of education, the need of stability and work discipline [...]: these are vital factors for progress."
-Lee Kuan Yew
The remark shows that imitation of western culture and social behaviour were undesirable and looked down upon. However, the West was still a symbol of wealth, progress and prosperity. These kind of thought and values inculcated into Singaporeans created opportunity for confusion as to whether they should be looking to the West, or disregarding it. This opposition of thought has now begun to play out in present day Singapore.
Domesticating Singaporeans and Attracting Talents from Overseas
The government's efforts to boost the economy involved the immigration of foreigners to Singapore to work and live in the country. Its first serious turn towards cultural policies came in the economic recession of the late 1980's. The Economic Committee came up with possible solutions for growth. The solutions mainly comprised of the development of cultural and entertainment services to make Singapore a more attractive tourist destination and also more interesting for foreign work professionals so that they would come to work and develop their careers.
A marketing strategy was adopted in 1995 by the Singapore tourism board; Singapore- Global City for the Arts. The government also promoted the idea of attracting and staging Broadway musicals, films, popular music concerts, dance and theatre.
In this process of attracting foreigners, Singapore has lost much of its cultural identity, becoming more and more westernised with time.
"How can one be polite about this? Singapore can be pretty dull - for an Asian city it can seem strikingly un-Asian and sterile, although the government is trying to bring back some of the colour drained away by zealous redevelopment and sanitisation of raffish places like old Bugis Street. The very things that make it attractive to many- such as the neatness and orderliness- make it anathema to true Asiaphiles. You can't chew gum, spit or jaywalk for fear of substantial fines, which is probably no great loss."
-Gary Walsh (1998- Australian Travel Commentator)
The marketing strategy created in 1995 worked very well, according to the 2000 census, the number of foreigners working in Singapore is approximately 755,000. However the immigration of such a large number of foreigners created issues amongst the Singaporeans. Many worry about competing with foreigners for jobs. A poll found that 72% of respondents agreed that foreign talents had contributed to the country's success and that more were needed. However six in ten respondents were worried that these foreigners would pose more competition for their children and saw them as an unwelcome source of competition in the job source market. (Straits Times, 7th September 1997).
Despite the growing discontent expressed by many Singaporeans regarding the foreign talent recruitment policy, the government had responded by pointing out the economic benefits of their presence.
"We can build the best home for Singaporeans only by tapping the best talent from around the world. To have world-class universities for our children, we must attract the best students and professors here. To have good jobs for our workers, we must attract the best employers- which means the most talented professionals and entrepreneurs, and the strongest companies in the world. Attracting talent is essential for creating the best for Singaporeans."
-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Straits Times, 24th August 1997
The increasing discontent amongst the Singaporeans has now filtered through to the foreigners. Many are beginning to feel alienated and out of place in the 'cosmopolitan' city which puts the country's economy in jeopardy. Tension between the various racial groups is also beginning to increase as the government is actively trying to increase the Chinese population in Singapore because other communities are beginning to feel like they will become a minority soon.
At 'Home' in a Globalised City-State?
Many Singaporeans often associate themselves with their race and not just their Singaporean nationality. Many choose to address themselves with their ethnicity first and then their Singaporean nationality i.e. Chinese-Singaporean and as a result take on a dual identity. So one might ask, do these people actually feel like Singapore is their home, or do they feel a sense of loyalty to their countries of origin?
As mentioned before, the government has taken a lot of action and effort into turning Singapore into a 'global city'. These efforts include the 'modernisation' and transforming Singapore into one of the best places to live in terms of material living standards like transportation, cleanliness, and technology. However, is this enough for Singaporeans and foreigners to call Singapore home?
Globalisation has resulted in the transformation of Singapore into one of the world's top places to live because of its high standard and quality of living. From its high tech and extremely efficient transportation systems, to its almost clinical cleanliness, it attracts a wide variety of people in search of a quality lifestyle. However there is a high price to be paid, many spend years working to obtain a lifestyle they may never have and some choose to move out of Singapore because of this;
"One reason I came over here is for better opportunity. We all work hard for a living. But yet in the process of working very hard, you don't have time for family, time for leisure and all those things. Here [in Sydney] I do the same amount of work but yet I do have plenty of leisure time, plenty of time that I can relax back... quality of life. Any many factors, you know, when you grow older, if you work in this country, you pay high tax, but in return when I grow older the society is going to look after me. And I am going to live in a society where that is not much stress. But if I were to live in Singapore, I work all my life and earn as much money as possible. And then I am paying mortgage until the day I die or until I get sick. I still pay until the day I die. There is not much benefit for the people [...]"
Kadir Aziz (went to Sydney in 1999, works as a health officer in a local hospital)
Many Singaporeans feel like they are just pieces of a puzzle to an economically driven society, this makes many of them question their sense of belonging and in turn their loyalty to the country. This creates a domino effect as this just emphasises the issue of increasing separation between the ethnic groups, there is a fundamental sense of oneness that is missing.
The foreigners that come into Singapore begin to feel the effects of this problem as they get alienated not only from the 'locals' but from the different ethnic groups as well due to an array of reasons, some of the main ones being that (1) the foreign professionals are 'stealing' job opportunities away from Singaporeans and (2) the foreign workers that arrive create a nuisance for Singaporeans.
Since foreigners are not always welcomed with open arms, the majority does not feel a sense of belonging or loyalty to Singapore. Most of them come to live and make money for a period of time, and then leave to go back to their home countries, or move to a new country.