A couple of days in the ultra efficient island city of Singapore. A meeting, another appointment and a chance to visit a place I’ve never been before, yet heard so much about.
“Singapore and you will get on well together.”
So said a Malaysian before I left. Yet somehow, I wasn’t all that excited at the prospect of visiting a shopping mall nation.
“Singapore is the only shopping mall with a seat on the UN council” – William Gibson
First impressions of Singapore
Jacked up I arrived with my usual over planning for a new country. Rail link to hostel mapped out, bus mapped out, taxi price known. It was rush hour, I was expecting the worst. I was at my accommodation within the hour, stress free thanks to a very efficient public transport system.
The highlight of this was the friendliness of this financial cities population. No one was rushing, everything was orderly, and people were happy to stop and give me directions. Where had Asia just disappeared too?
“Within thirty minutes, it became apparent Singapore really was very different to the rest of Asia if not beyond”
A $22 hostel, coupled with a free meal with the owners and I was settled in faster than any other country. Just how different would I find Singapore? The city was about to take me to a place I thought was dead and buried.
Experiencing Singapore’s mass of shopping malls
I hate shopping malls. I really can’t stand the sterile white interiors, perfumed dry air, and cloned interior stores. However, it’s Singapore, and to escape the weighty humidity they are a necessary respite in this city.
“On average I survive about ninety seconds inside a shopping mall before getting lost”
Everything looks the same to me. Small white framed shops with clothes, gadgets. Then more of the same on every floor, upon every floor, upon every floor. It’s an attack of the cloned store fronts to me.
Just looking for the MRT exit has me baffled and spinning in circles. Sadly, all signs point in similar directions And, so I end up lost, annoyed, late, and slowly loosing my cool amongst calm orderly Singaporeans.
Bearings, appointments, humidity, and rain
Don’t worry though, Singapore’s ultra efficient light rail system makes up for a lot. It’s simply the best I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. A near impossibility to get lost on. Fast, clean, and every so orderly. People really do queue up on the printed arrows on the floor next to the sealed platforms. Waiting for people to exit, before entering.
Daring to do otherwise seems like a social “no, no.” And, if one does stand in the wrong place, it seems to create a disruptive buckle of brief confusion to the daily order of the Singaporean way of life. And, possibly a “fine”.
And so, I see the first chinks in this cities efficient armor – disorder
A very soggy end to an over-packed day
Dripping with humidity, splashes of rain fell from the dark sky. And again I was forced to seek shelter in Singapore’s giant blocks of shopping mall heaven. My mind was going numb.
I was also becoming a sightly soggy mess. Not so good for a first impression in a meeting. But, such is life on the road.
Very sore, tired, dehydrated, and knowing the humidity was sucking energy from me, I waited out the next downpour surrounded by ever increasing shoppers. I know not what planet they are from. A fast MRT ride later, tripod in hand, and I was at Marnia Bay for “those” nighttime photos. Only, what happened next, was something I did not expect.
A dark beast rises within me
The Marina boulevard is a nice little green area surrounding a body of water. I looked around and began my long walk around it. Soaring high above were the new Standard Chartered blue glass encased buildings. They oozed financial power. In front of me were the three tower blocks and the massive ship styled Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
I walked towards the designer hotel hoping to avoid the shopping mall below. But dripping from the humidity yet again, and with dusk approaching, I figured another cooling off period was in order.
A strangely familiar scent hit me as I pushed open the glass doors to the cylindrical shopping complex. Linen mixed with affluent cologne. I looked around as men in sharp suits marched by. Pretty girls in tapered blouses talked on blue tooth headsets and grinned those smiles of being on the company power list.
It was my past hitting me squarely in the jaw. I was looking at what I once was.
The Marina Bay Sands shopping center: a hangout for the corporate power trippers, affluent holiday makers and the odd celebrity
This was a shopping mall, but one that was very, very, different to the other’s I’d near on been forced to visit in Singapore. This was no stark white-walled clinical box. Here, the floors were wooden and the walls dark fashioned on black granite and marble. Gold and silver were now the contrasting colors instead of bright cheap neon lights.
Shop front windows were no longer just glass, they were emblazoned with large sleek designer names. Gucci, Versace, Armani, Dior; the names went on along the long sleek elegant three floors.
Memories came flooding back. The angled suits, the woven cotton shirts, the perfect fit black shoes. That walk.
Men in styled gelled hair laughed as they made their way with purpose. Sharply dressed ladies with picture perfect faces took long elegant steps in unison. Everything was with purpose.
I had the urge to take up a similar corporate stride; but the smell of the salty sweat on my ill-fitting travelers clothes held me back.
A corporate life before travel
I remembered back to my days of power suits. I looked at the latest Versace collection set into an elegant display, and raised a muted eyebrow. I was never that way inclined. No, I am afraid I enjoyed hand tailored suits. Something original. A watch, sure, Omega, the weight was good. But Gucci was what the others aspired to.
Cologne, yes. The name and scent depended on the task at hand that day or night.
Now I only wear “Season De Humidty“
Before, the purpose of good attire and appearance was not to impress, but simply “to be.” It was the essence of business, you were what you wore, and I wore it with perfected purpose. Sharp angles, minute details, and efficiency were my keywords for original attire.
Through mirrored glass
The unusual thing is, I did not feel jealous right then and there. Why? No, it was not because I had “broken free of the cubicle.” But, because I was invisible to them. I was not the competition.
I was just another scruffy wet tourist
A polished smile walked by, flanked on either side by two power suited girls. I remembered my old team. I remember the lunches, the dinners, the late nights. I remember the girls, I remember the hunger, I remembered the life.
And, at that moment, I felt that dark predator instinct rise up again. That lifestyle, the purpose, that power of influence by design, and position.
Then I catch a refection of my stature in the luxury shopping centers dark walls. I am overweight. My skin is shiny from the effects of the humidity. My clothes loose, worn and slightly disheveled.
“I chose a different path, I accept that with ease. But to feel the light crisp sharpness of a handmade suit over fresh two-fold cotton shirts again … that would be nice”
Jewel in the sky
Taking a side entrance out to shake off the inner grin of my memory I look around the boulevard. Tourists taking photos, kids running around, and yet there are no suits out here. They remain inside for an evening of power dinners and influential corporate positioning.
Looking up I catch a glimpse of the moon shining above the $1800 a night upper rooms in the hotel. Only now I was looking up through the new Helix Bridge to see it.
I was now at the very bottom of the ladder looking up once more. Barred from an invitation to take my place in a luxury hotel room, I am now relegated to a shared dorm. I am indeed on the other side of the fence today.
Such strange feelings. My corporate life was a short one, a means to an end to achieve what I am doing now. But, that feeling never leaves you once you’ve lived it.
Travel does not teach you about the world … you do
I hear it all the time. Break free of your corporate cubicle and travel the world, it’s so much better, and you’ll learn so much more.
“I remember the cubicle. And ,I remember breaking free of it. Only when I broke free of my cubicle I reached up to own the box that contained all those borrowed partitioned walls of my colleagues. Yes, I remember becoming a puppet master to all those working within the cube.”
The corporate life above the cubicle can be a great one. Full of the trappings life has to offer. And, you learn everyday from it. True, you might not see the wrinkled grin of a beggar in Delhi, but you will see plenty of smiles from a room of people when a shrewd deal has been sealed that influences many more people.
I know both worlds, and they are equal in many respects. And, you learn from both.
The future is now
As I mentioned at the start, William Gibson, and so many other writers of the future have often pontificated that behind fake political celebrities it will indeed be the mega corporations that will rule our nations.
Perhaps such a vision is already upon us?
So for the first time on my journey I stand looking at familiar sparkling glass towers. I recall the corporate rise to power, and the security it brings. I remember the dog eat dog mentality, and the knife proof back one needed. I then think about my journey, the travel, the new things discovered everyday, and the freedom it contains.
Then I remember the tiredness, the old clothes, the bargaining, the tourism, the non-stop street food, and the lack of a place to simply call home.
Muted feelings and an eerie dark passenger
Looking back at what could have been, I walk on.
If I had stayed in the corporate world; where would I be today?
By logical deduction, I guessed, Japan. The result? A different solution to finding a place to live; by way of different road.
Travel has taught me not to take things to heart. This feeling is also deep within the very nature of the corporate beast.
Now it would seem, I have a new passenger to contend with on my journey.
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Dystopian or utopian society, can I handle the truth