Two things can be true at the same time. That is a paraphrasing of the second law of classical logic, the law of non-contradiction. What it means is that not everything is mutually exclusive.
A week ago, TimeOut released the results of its 2018 City Life survey. Singapore ranked 31st out of 32nd on the list. The survey based itself on issues like culture, food, drink, friendliness, liveability, affordability and happiness. 15,000 people took part in this survey.
We were rated the worst for culture and the second worst for drinking. Chicago was rated the best city in the world (you know, apart from the gun violence and the deep dish pizza). In a forceful reply, the Singapore Tourism Board spun out a video challenging TimeOut’s notion. It was a sensational video. See it for yourself if you don’t believe me.
The thing is, TimeOut didn’t call Singapore unexciting. It called it boring. It’s semantics, I know. Merriam-Webster defines that as: “causing weariness and restlessness through lack of interest”. It defines ‘to excite’ as “a call to activity; to increase the activity of and energise”. The former is more of a state of mind. The latter is a physical state.
To clarify: I am not calling Singaporeans boring. But we don’t often try to break out of our routines either.
Singapore is sensational
There’s no doubt that we live in a stunning looking city state. It’s a well-balanced mix of greenery and city space. Anyone who’s ever seen our skyline will agree. Ok so the Flyer isn’t working anymore, but that’s a minor thing as far as I’m concerned. We’ve geo-engineered an entire island to become an entertainment hotspot and tourism attraction. The Zoo’s got night and river safaris. The Bird Park is… well, it’s there. We have a ton of great bars and world-class bartenders who cook up some of the best concoctions. And we have a ton of art galleries, museums and theatre spots for great performances. There’s even a Natural History Museum now.
We’ve created a ton of spaces, platforms and ways for people to engage in culture, make a tiny city state lively and friendly. It’s accessible to all who speak some fragment of English, and good food is inexpensive. We’ve got laser shows at MBS nightly that are stellar, we’ve hosted music and entertainment performances to international stars. Even comedy acts are becoming filled out. (Check out Netflix’s recent list of comedy performances on the island.)
That makes our country an outsized sensation. We have a fame and influence that is beyond our country’s population and size. After all, we were the first to present a night race on the F1 Grand Prix circuit.
But is Singapore boring?
Boring isn’t just about whether we have plenty of things to do. It’s also about what we actually do. If ‘exciting’ is a call to action and activity, ‘boring’ may be our response to that stimulus.
Ask yourself: what’s the average workday routine like for most of us. We get in to office around 9, spend the next 10 or 11 hours at work, and go home. We are an industrious people and that focus takes time away from other things we do. A standard date night is probably a movie and dinner. A typical day ends with us watching Netflix on the couch or perhaps some HBO, and going to sleep around 11 or midnight. Unless it’s football season. Then we take sick days and watch soccer until 3am.
Asking my colleagues/friends out for drinks on a workday usually ends with a resounding no. We are family-oriented and loath to change. Even checking out a new bar or club is an exhausting process. Then there’s the invariable flaking out. “Sorry, something came up at the last minute. Can’t make it. Another day?” I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else.
Ask the average Singaporean if they have a glass of wine with dinner at home, or a cocktail after. Probably not. Ask them how often they head for a symphony concert or play. Maybe thrice a year. How regularly do they visit the National Gallery apart from when Yayoi Kusama’s show? Of course, that’s all changing, and rapidly. But when I went to the Colours of Impressionism show at the Gallery recently, there were but a handful of people wandering the galleries, and most of them were not locals.
We’ve found ways to change this up, with Light and Night Festivals and street walks. And there are plenty of people who do indulge in such events. On the average, however, we aren’t an easily excitable people. And we like routine. That translates to… well, in a lot of people’s eyes, boring. Malls, rather than parks, are where we tend to congregate on weekends. It’s not an indictment on Singaporeans’ attitudes towards arts and culture. There’s nothing wrong with liking movies and Netflix. But let’s be honest, it isn’t too exciting.