Ang Moh longs for Chinatown slums and polluted river ’cause they got character?

In Environment on 30/11/2014 at 4:28 am

This appeared in the favourite reading material of people with leftish leanings in the UK and elsewhere in response to a very banal, rubbishy piece on the S’pore arts scene

Singapore is a considerable economic success, largely thanks to the iron control, long term planning and discipline of the People’s Action Party government over the decades, but this has been achieved at the cost of an almost robotic society, continually told what how to behave by Big Brother campaigns run by a government which feels the need to micro-manage everything. If this obsessive control has marginally improved in the past decade, it remains generally true.

The country’s historic Chinatown survived Japanese bombing but didn’t survive the People’s Action Party, nor did the character of the Singapore River – once bustling with traditional boats but now clinically empty. A vast swathe of tradition and history was scythed down in the name of progress and modernization, producing one of the blandest cities in the world. Malaysians may be envious of Singapore’s economic success but their nickname of Singabore is not without substance.

It is thus understandable that the SIngapore Tourist Board should wish to recreate something culturally distinctive and appealing, but these new galleries appear to share the same ethos and attraction as the profusion of unoriginal corporate-brand shops which choke Orchard Road, and the very spirit of what used to be a fascinating country – half a century ago. Mammon is the God of Singapore, and there’s little room for any Art which does not bow down before it.

I don’t dispute that much character and history has been erased, with sterility and blandness replacing them . I personally miss the boats in S’pore River that serviced passing ships. Some even provided aunties for the sailors.

But I remember the river as a dirty, oily place too. And some of the buildings on its banks, as filthy rat-infested places, even within walking distance of the AG’s Chambers.

And Chinatown while colourful and full of character was a horrible place for many who lived there. If anyone thinks the dorms of FTs are bad, the living quarters of elderly folks were terrible.

It would be nice if we could have retained the colour and character but got rid of the squalor. But we could argue endlessly on whether this is ever possible in practice.

But rather than moaning and fighting past battles, let’s try to remove the blandness from the present scene, rather than long for a past that never was: a past dominated by the memories and views of ang mohs.

The great thing is there are people who are trying. There is a lovely park situated between two urban areas.

It’s empty most of the time despite its position. It could be like London’s Hyde Park, but it isn’t. Someone is trying to change this: Founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society (WWS) Eugene Heng has dreamt up an ecovillage on a 400m stretch of the park to ignite a green spark in park users.

The environmental group is the first non-governmental organisation to sign an agreement with the National Parks Board (NParks) to organise and run activities in a park.

– See more at:

I hope the ang moh tua kees who are grumbling about the loss of colour, and the sterlity of modern S’pore follow Mr Heng’s example, and do something about it. But I’m sure they prefer to moan and groan. It’s the ang moh (pleb version) way after all.




  1. The place is full of nehs & pinoys on weekends.

    Btw, the proposal sounds boring. Not sustainable unless allow alcohol eateries.

  2. Why get so defensive? This is an article written from a traveller’s point of view. I’m sure there are no lack of Singaporeans who go overseas & complain abt the poor hygiene, unsanitary conditions, crappy food, touts, crime, traffic jams, bad weather, etc etc in their host countries. Why don’t you tell those Singaporeans to “do something about it” the next time they complain? 😉 sounds ridiculous to me, though, cos obviously non-citizens can’t do things to change another country.

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