Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our culture is novelty.

When I just broke up, my aim in life is suddenly stunted because plans we used to make together, are now made apart. The loss is as painful as the knowledge that it is necessary to abandon the path once forged together. Like my very wise driving instructor used to tell me, "our basic instinct is to survive, to give up - now that's something we have to learn."

So give up I have, and moving on I shall. And in true Yoda fashion, I pledge to write again and while finding a topic to comment upon, an article about the frequent SMRT breakdowns struck me.

Mr Desmond Kuek, President and Group Chief Executive Officer of SMRT, added: “We apologise for the rail incidents over the past week. Our transport professionals are giving their all to make your journey a better one. The SMRT team will stay focused on safety and reliability improvements as we work to renew Singapore’s ageing rail network to the benefit of our commuters."


Honestly, it's such a joke to call our rail network ageing when it's barely 40 years old. I don't know SMRT's definition of old, but I'm pretty sure we can all agree that 40 years in public transportation years is hardly a prick in the fabric. I am of course not here to find fault (hahaha geddit) with SMRT, but that phrase struck me about Singapore and our obsession with The New.

Even our Chinese phonetic translation of the Malay word Singapura - Singapore, has 新, which pretty much means new.

Our history is riddled with renewal and more specifically, the expulsion of what came before for what is coming. The British and the indigenous community, Raffles's schemes to establish a British trading port by out-manoeuvring the Malay royalty's influence. The current history (of you know who and what) also echoes of such patterns of supersucession and our people are immigrants embracing change of a better life.

This current hipster movement, to cherish the old through the commodification of items past their practical use - to memorialise childhoods that no longer apply to your own children is both a symptom and a cause of our own approach to cope with a culture who never knew how to cope with anything but being "new".

We see the old in contempt, our children chase the latest gadgets, our cars have an expiry date of 10 years, employment restructuring takes place a every 15 years, a rail network is considered old at 40.

We are a nation who are not obsessed with the new, because it suggests that we are shifting from the old to the new. Truth is, new is all we ever knew. We don't know how to cope with the old. What do you do with old bits of history? CHIJMES. What do you do with old memories? Who needs them? In our school textbooks, heritage is taught as a  duty, to keep the old as something inherently valuable and as a culture where new is all we ever know, we cannot resonate with such a concept. We were never taught why it was valuable because that would raise awkward questions about how some things are done...If you get my drift.

Our solution to old things is to demolish, refurbish and gentrify. We wipe the slate because there is so little resistance and start anew. I think there is also a sense of arrogance because we measure time and chart changes within our lifespan, I don't think we stopped to consider that some things will exist beyond us. We also find a constant need for the "new and improved" - and we are intolerant to quirks that old things bring.

What does it say about how we treat our old? What does it say about how we maintain relationships once they are past their due? What kind of stories will our children hear, and in turn tell their own children?

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