An Inside Look at Singapore, Through the Eyes of Outsiders
When Alvin Amadeo Witirto moved to Singapore in 2000, he was there to study.
Fast-forward 12 years or so, and the Indonesian analyst is still there, currently working for a financial institution.
After more than a decade of living in the Lion City, Alvin said “understanding Singapore turned out to be like peeling an onion, as each layer of understanding begets another one.”
His experience of living in Singapore is part of a new book called “Singapore: Insights From the Inside”, published by the Singapore International Foundation, which fosters intercultural exchange.
It is the first of what will become a biennial publication, with the aim to “bridge and nurture enduring relationships between Singaporeans and world communities,” according to the foundation’s director, Jean Tan.
In the book, 31 people of different nationalities and backgrounds have been invited to share their views on Singapore. By highlighting different aspects through the eyes of individuals, the book offers a colorful kaleidoscope of the cosmopolitan city-state.
Contributors are able to quickly find common ground on what they appreciate most about Singapore: its diversity.
Chris Davies, who was based in Singapore from 2008 to 2010, writes in his essay that “Singapore is so much more than [a] grown-up child of the end of post-war colonialism. Always a polyglot place, founded on trade and commerce, it has become one of the world’s great global cities. Singapore, as it always has, straddles the crossroads of East and West.”
This becomes obvious to anyone taking a stroll through Chinatown, when ordering mouth-watering local dishes — Indian, Malay, Chinese — at one of the many hawker centers throughout the city, or paying a visit to the modern shopping malls.
But despite its many positive traits, Singapore is not perfect — something David Fedo, a scholar who has lived in the country for five years, remarks in the foreword of the book.
“In some places on the island, sidewalks for pedestrians are inadequate, and people with physical disabilities face many challenges. Punishment by caning may make sense in the country’s judicial system, but it is globally a public relations disaster.”
Some of the writers were only passing by, while others have stayed on for several years and still reside in Singapore.
Alvin, who after a while has come to ask himself the question “where is home?”, has come to the conclusion that he considers both Singapore and Jakarta to be his home, mainly because Singapore is the place where he works and the place where most of his friends reside, while Jakarta is still home because his family lives there.
“In a way, I have one foot in each city,” he writes. “Simply put, Singapore is a home away from home.”
Be it the city’s lush greenery, the rich cultural scene, or its ideal location as the hub of the region — Singapore has enchanted many visitors over the years.
Clifford Wong, an ethnic Chinese with a New Zealand passport and now a permanent resident of Singapore, perhaps summed it up best.
“If Singapore is anything, it is a hothouse flower,” he writes in his contribution titled “Born Again Asian”.
“A flower that has grown between rock and a hard place, sprouting despite early stormy weather. And this flower has been constantly tended to, monitored and cultivated. Each new leaf and petal is a conscious decision rather than an organic one. But cultivation is precisely why this flower has thrived and flourished despite the unforgiving conditions.”