Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I felt like I was in a foreign country

Yesterday I attended a full day conference at the Suntec Convention Centre – the 2011 Business Excellence Sharing organised by Spring Singapore. I decided to take a bus instead of driving to save on the cost and the hassle. I took SBS 174 which brought me through Orchard Road, Bras Basah Road and alighted at North Bridge Road near St Andrews Cathedral. I took the opportunity to take a good hard look at the new buildings along the route. I must tell you, I felt like I was in a foreign country. The two places that looked totally alien to me was Orchard Road where so many new buildings have come up since the mid-1980’s when my office was at the National Productivity Board in Cuppage Centre, and Bras Basah Road where the Singapore Management University campus is located. When I alighted opposite the former Capitol Theatre, I was disoriented for a few seconds and thought that I got off at the wrong bus stop. Expecting to see an open field and the St Andrew’s Cathedral, I was staring at a modern building with a glass façade instead.

Currently, I am reading Simon Tay’s City of Small Blessings, and I am beginning to understand why he managed to connect with many older Singaporeans. The notes at the back cover says that the book is about a Singaporean retiree who migrates and then returns to a Singapore he barely recognizes.
I am not a retiree and have not been out of Singapore for longer than a couple of weeks in the past two decades; and yet the scene captured on my mobile phone camera below made me feel like I was “on the fringe of a city I barely recognize”.

15 comments:

kirstenhan.me said...

From 2006 - 2009, I lived and studied in New Zealand. Every time I came back to Singapore for a visit, it would seem like something had changed. Either something had been torn down, or a new building had gone up, or an empty field is now a construction site, etc.

I'm only 23 this year and I understand what you mean. I find that the speed at which things change in Singapore can be quite scary. And in a way it also makes me sad that we are evolving so quickly that it is as if we are taking on a new skin, and that young people like me are fast losing touch with the Singapore of my grandfather – we can only hear about it but it can get so difficult to feel a connection, because it's just not the same Singapore.

noelbynature said...

I felt it too - in the last two years when I was based in Malaysia, I'd come back every two or three months and I can notice the change in the landscape then. New buildings up and familiar buildings gone or modified. I'm coming back again next month after being away for three months - I wonder what I won't recognise then.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

Great photo. Illustrates your post very well.

Zen said...

Basically Singapore has limited land but we want a lot of good things in life like: investments, foreign talents, more cars, many condo, additional universities, polytechnic, improved housing, and a multitudes of other things(not forgetting the two IRs). We do all these in order to generate more revenue for the country in order to 'survive'. So old buildings which are deemed of not having economic value have to make way for the new. The shortage of land area is so great that slowly and gradually a new city is emerging under ground. Meanwhile more Singaporeans are moving to johor to have a second home there, so as to escape the stressful city life. So not only the local landscape is changing rapidly, we even change the landscape of southern malaysia - all these is made in the name of progress.

Andy Young* said...

Walk the streets of Orchard Road too and I have the same feeling of being in another country.

The people in front, behind and on both sides of me are foreigners.

And a 'Maverick' architect interviewed on local TV suggests that the Sands Casino Resort building is our new icon.

Icemoon said...

How about if we go ethnic enclaves like Chinatown and Little India? Haha!

peter said...

I dont even know where water-hole to go nor operate those AXA (????) payment machines. am still in Singapore. I didn't know there were so many medium size office blocks or can handle the building names.

The only way to learn is to sit a double decker bus and that's where I find there are so different nationalities in Singapore (and some so hot too). Mind you I didn't know the bus service numbers and I got lost.

peter said...

Even in Kuala Lumpur, I never seen so many buildings, new building anesm. One time I took airport taxi and directed the driver to go to KL Hilton. That's where he brought me to KL Hilton next to KL Sentral Station. Hotel look so different and I told him this not KL Hilton but he still yes. Then I realise the "older" KL Hilton got a new name and now I hear demolished.

Same with Makati. I dont find this problem in Hong Kong.

Singapore Man Of Leisure said...

I echo your sentiments.... I am working overseas, and only can come back to Singapore once a year during CNY.

I used to worked in Robinsons, but now I can hardly recognise the space opposite Centrepoint....

I guessed it's progress.

My mom used to lived at Singapore River. Now she totally lost last time we brought her there.

jade said...

On a recent bus ride on the double decker, I sat on the front row of the upper deck and was quite fascinated by the changes of the buildings, roads and places before me. Cannot recognise any place anymore! I felt like a tourist.
When I went shopping, the salespersons were mainly from China, Philipines and Malaysia, giving you the feeling that you are actually on tour to these places, especially when they speak in their heavily accented Ehglish and Mandarin.
Singapore is so changed now, bearly recognisable.

peter said...

Chun See
As frequent drivers, we never get to see buildings. As passengers we get the chance to do. Why not get your chidlren to drive you around? As parents we have been too long being the chauffer.

I agree with Jade. I walk into Bodyshop or Robinsons, there's a Pinay salesperson. I walk into supermakrtes, I find Maindland Chinese assistants. I walk into Tekka, I find Mumbai. I take a stroll I find Banglas. I walk into a hospital, chiang wai yue or the pharmacist is a pretty Filipina. I see a doctor, he's from India. Gives me the feeling I am a tourist. How nice!

Icemoon said...

We may have to go Malaysia to find the "right mix" of people in future, haha

Tekko said...

It not just Singapore. The same thing is happening all over the world. In China, Brazil, India - all those emerging countries.

With rapid population growth, new technology, the old buildings cannot accommodate the crowd, the load and the infrastructure. so no choice they got to go.

That is the price we have to pay for 'progress'.

There is currently an exhibition at the URA featuring the various proposals for the new Capitol building. You must go and take a look. After they finish with it, you won't recognise Capitol even if they retain the facade.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. I remember reading a newspaper article not long ago about the citizens of Beijing lamenting the loss of many historical/heritage-valued buildings. Unfortunately here in land-scarce Spore, we cannot afford to be too sentimental. Nevertheless, I think the authorities can be a little less 'ruthless' in their destruction of old buildings and places.

For me personally, I attach more 'sentimental value' to the lesser-known places like Queenstown & Margaret Drive, Beauty World as compared to the well-known places like Capitol and Orchard Road. To be crowded shopping belts like Orchard have very little 'soul' in first place and their value lies more in attracting tourists and shoppers.

Edward said...

Peter, some label this change “internationalisation”. It’s the same in Melbourne. The ethnic migrants have made Melbourne such an interesting and vibrant city, it’s hardly recognisable today. For example, in the past 35 years the Indochinese community have brought with them their entrepreneurial spirit and culture and establish centres of commerce in many parts of the state. Markets where fresh meat, vegetables, fruits and imported produce are readily available have sprung up in suburbs like Clayton, Springvale and Richmond. Asian cafes and restaurants are also a common sight in these suburbs. You could be forgiven for thinking you are in Saigon if you travel along Victoria Street in Richmond at night. Neon lights showing signs in Chinese and Vietnamese characters filled the entire street. The majority of the local businesses are Vietnamese and Chinese. In fact Victoria Street has been nicknamed “Little Saigon”. Melbourne is now such a cosmopolitan city. Other migrant groups have also played a major role in the transformation of the city. For the long term residents the pace of change is fairly quick; the character of the city appears to have undergone a metamorphosis, a big contrast from what it was about 30 to 40 years ago.