Yesterday afternoon, I was downtown in pursuit of a Chinese cookie mold and I stopped in a kitchen supply store to ask the shopkeeper for some guidance. While suggesting other stores I should try, he looked down at my map, shook his head, pointed and said, “This map is old. That street isn’t here anymore.” Wait. The entire street is gone?
My map was from 2010.
While traveling to other parts of the world, I’ve always admired each country’s rich history. The story of the architecture, the paintings and the land are not only insight into the culture, but also a glimpse into the past. But, here in Singapore, astonishing change is constantly happening as buildings are erected and renovated before you can eat your next bowl of curry. So, really, it should not have come as surprise when streets on my map had suddenly disappeared.
Although there is a documented history in Singapore’s many museums (The Asian Civilisations Museum, the Peranakan Museum and the National Museum of Singapore), it is not a visual history surrounded by great monuments or important buildings.
Instead, the mark of Singapore’s past can be seen in its fervor for reformation, consumerism and efficiency. WWII (the dawn of Singapore’s independence) left the message to survive independently without the inadequate protection of Colonial rule, to move forward, carry-on, advance and succeed. And that is exactly what it has done.
Sitting on the bus, traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood, I see little evidence to what Singapore might once have looked like. Instead, there is a maze of malls, schools and brightly painted apartment buildings. And rather than musing about the past, I am astonished by the change and wonder how Singapore will continue to transform itself in the future.
While the sterility of modern improvement travels from block to block, Singapore’s culture remains undeniably rich. Peranakan influences, Chinatown, Arab Street, and Little India infuse the contemporary infrastructure with spices, smells and color. In each neighborhood Hawker Center and even in each mall, all you have to do is order a plate of noodles and dumplings to know that culture runs deep.
I’m only just beginning to understand what makes Singapore tick and the more I explore, and certainly, the more I eat, the more mystified and charmed I am by this country of many cultures, stronger than concrete, that continue to persist through so many changes.