i love my city!

U & I - we miss you
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.

Top of the World...
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!


monk said…
i'm racist, or biased or bigoted. i notice the differences, sometimes.

diversity is what strikes me. it wakes me up, in all its variations. if i'm surprised or shocked, it's only short.

the contrast and interplay is what i experience as alive. los angeles is considered one of the most polyglot cities in amerika, but i experienced it as dead -- everyone seemed to be trying hard to be one variant of the same person.

i'm not contradicting anything you've said here. i think i understand, and flash hard with recognition.
avalon said…
You've got me thinking, whether I like this city, my city, or not. Will write about it too. Thanks for inspiring.
i think its only natural that you want to "defend" this city. i mean, it's where we are from, and it's the only one we've got, soul-less or not.

i would have felt the need to defend it as well, especially from "foreigners"/tourists, etc. not out of love for this city, but like you said, perhaps more out of irritation and reaction to what could possibly be an unfair "judgement" of this city. but we can't blame them for not experiencing this city as we do.

i have grown to love this city precisely because i can sit on pavements chatting late into the night, and also possibly satisfying whatever food cravings i have at any time of the day, and most importantly, have the world's best bbq wings!
Unknown said…
mm i dont think i really love singapore as such. at least not in the kallang wave-y kind of way. but having grown up there, i learn to love parts of it.

we still cheer when singapore doesn't come in last in commonwealth games etc. so even tho i live overseas some kind of pride exists i guess.
Anonymous said…
i agree with samuraibunny. i don't think i love the current Singapore. However, i am still proud of being a Singaporean. Staying in Australia for almost 10 years, i really dislike the lack of space in Singapore.
ampulets said…
40c - i guess we'll always notice the differences. it's how we respond to them...and in some cases, made more complex by history.

avalon - looking forward to reading it.

and ru - hey, some streets in this city are always special because of you! ;>
ampulets said…
sb, downunder - like you, i'm not sure if it's pride that i feel either. in fact, i'm quite sure it isn't. i'm not terribly proud about the profusion of malls, its intolerance of spontaneous activity, its lack of spaces for community, its imported but second-rate architecture... i'm not proud even of the bits i love most, and won't claim them to be the best or the loveliest streetscapes in the world.

i love this city because of the relationships and memories it contains for me, not necessarily for its achievements or successes or some universally acknowledged feature. i guess it's the way you love someone and feel loyal towards that person - but not necessarily think of him/her as the best whatever or boast about him/her. you love him/her because he/she is yours, in one way or another- your father, mother, brother, friend etc. and it is hard to love a city (or a person) if there is no real relationship - at best an infatuation, which is how i feel towards tokyo ;>

of course that's just me being romantic - imagining the city as a person. hehe.
tcn afen said…
there's nothing wrong with making such a declaration...
and that's a very good analogy on loving someone not for their achievements but for who they are.
and the city is like a person don't you think?

anyway i'm back. we can talk about giving you some website space.email me please!

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