i love my city!
what did you just say? - image of toys in our kitchen by J
During the Q&A session at a talk at the art museum this evening, I volunteered this public declaration: "I love this city!"
And immediately regretted it.
It was a talk by Charles Landry on city planning and the role museums play in shaping the social, cultural, intellectual and physical landscape of a city. During the Q&A session, there were 2 comments made about the lack of education or rather, an educational system that is rigid/counter-creative etc and the absence of art education "at the most elementary level". The second comment was made in the context of or suggestion that this city is not humane, lovable, livable.
At that point, something in my head went "that's not true"...and after a quick chat with a colleague on my left, this came from my lips - "I love this city. This city is lovable because..."
I regret it because I knew that my protest was a mere reaction to the fact that both comments were made by caucasians, probably foreigners working or teaching in Singapore. Ah, it's that postcolonial defensiveness again. But it irritates me. It irritates me even if the condescension is only slight. It irritates me when judgements on this city - my city - are made possibly by folks (my assumption) who do not love it and frankly have no reason to - because they have not spent years walking along its streets, watching it change (for better or worse) from the window of a car or the public bus, wandering into its shops and kopitiams and damnit, its "soul-less" shopping malls, spending evenings and nights in pubs or sitting by the pavement, riding its trains, doing nothing, running errands, finding something or someone special, recognising faces, discovering a new graffiti, discovering a favourite graffiti removed - an old building ridiculed or "re-newed". It is not lovable because it is not the city you grew up in, not your city.
So herein my regret - this reactive prejudice against a speaker who is not Asian (in contrast, I had no issue with Taiwanese Li Ao's remarks that Singaporeans are "stupid"), and not the substance of what she said. And it is this sort of bigotry that clouded my judgement and my declaration of love. Of course I also regretted making such an impassioned defense at a forum of academics/architects/artists who demand a more intelligent discussion.
Image by J - click for a larger view and check out the 2 chaps having an evening chat on the Esplanade rooftop!
A city is only as good as its people make of it. In spite of its buildings, its urban planning - even if these influence behaviour and culture. This is what makes a city "organic" in its growth - not the urban sprawl and the lack of planning, not the proliferation of "independent" projects versus "institutional" projects (arguably, the independent Substation founded by the late Kuo Pao Kun is every bit an institution as the government-sponsored Esplanade). It is people and the relationships we make (with others, with ideas, with the landscape, with our own memories) that shape this city.
OK, this has been a rambling confession. But I learnt my lesson today. This being my own virtual space, it is perhaps more appropriate and safe that I reserve future declarations of love for here instead...so let me say it again - I love my city!