The Island of One?
Island of One
Many Singaporeans lament that our island is small (just 3.5times the size of Washington D.C.), hence boring. What is there to see or do in this country that is still struggling to free itself from its many labels - amongst the more stubborn ones are "cultural dessert", "sterile", "nanny state", and the more recent "air-conditioned nation". We are Nemos in a dentist's aquarium!
For close to 2 years, I've kept a sketchbook with me wherever I go. It has become a habit that whenever I am in a train, waiting or alone somewhere, I'll take out the sketch book and something or someone interesting will inevitably wander into my line of sight. I just have to wait - and see.
I have always wondered if those who lived before the days of the internet, air travel, the locomotive, the automobile... in villages whose piece of sky is as large as the dense vegetation allowed... had had similar misgivings about their homes. Are their palettes less rich? Their imaginations reined in? Is the immediate, the personal, the domestic, always less interesting or valuable than the national, the foreign, the international? Is it really a case of "nothing to see" in Singapore, or have we not trained our eyes to see?
Something reminded me and I dug out an old copy of Emerson - he who saw the whole universe reproduced, in miniature, in a drop of dew, would have this to say:
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans...The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home,and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still...But the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is a vagabond, and our whole system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. - "Self Reliance"
It seems a little contradictory on a post urging the value of the domestic to be quoting Emerson, a foreigner (i.e. dead white guy). Emerson was writing at a time when America was writing and fighting itself into existence as a nation - metaphysical, political and geographic, so maybe there's a narrow common ground as this country is nearing only its 40th anniversary in its current definition. What I mean to say is, of course, simpler: that there are things on this island worth documenting, writing or singing about, taking a photograph of - or worth as much as you make of it.