I’m in Singapore. I’ve been here for a week. I … really can’t figure out what to say.
I was here for a conference, at a convention center that’s attached to a giant upscale mall. That seems to be a common theme here: there’s more than one such place.
Singapore is incredibly British. Everything is in English and everyone speaks English that ranges from excellent to native. But it’s not just that. For one thing, it’s very Christian in a very English way. There are two churches on this block, the old-fashioned kind with a steeple, one with columns and the other (built in 1841) with gorgeous stained glass in all the windows. I saw a couple walking in in a dark suit and white dress, when the bells were ringing on Sunday morning.
There are also other signs of Britishness, like the double-deck buses, or the occasional London-style black cab. What’s really British, though, is the amount of Christmas.
In the US, Christmas shopping starts on Black Friday. It is traditional for Americans to complain about the Entire Month of Nonstop Christmas, with carols playing over the PA systems in all the stores. We should be grateful: in Singapore, in the absence of a fall-holiday firewall, Christmas starts November 1st.
The malls are all decorated to high heaven with boughs and ornaments and giant green cones that are supposed to be Christmas trees. Because, of course, we’re thousands of miles from the nearest Douglas Fir. It’s 90 degrees and 100% humidity outside, every day year-round. We are in the tropics of Southeast Asia here. Oh, and the Christmas carols are here too. I’ve heard most of the classics already, definitely Noel, Jingle Bells (!!), and White Christmas (!!!).
It’s so weird.
At least it’s not completely everywhere. I walked over to Little India after the conference was over today, and there was a clear and rapid shift, from Timberland and Nine West and Victoria’s Secret in the air-conditioned corridors, to tiny owner-operated storefronts selling everything from pasta to pianos. (That very cute store was about 1.5 pianos wide, with floor-to-ceiling shelves of sheet music all the way around.) Then in Little India, everything was “Sarees” and gold. No sign of Christmas.
On the way back I spotted a Chinese-Christian church, built in a modern style. It made me think that other areas of the city might a little different, with some actual local culture. Not here. As a friend pointed out, if you dropped an American from into this district, it could easily take them a full day to figure out that they weren’t in Los Angeles (or maybe Honolulu).
Maybe that’s really what Singapore is about. It’s a bite-sized portion of high-grade Anglo culture, in a part of the world where that is in high demand and short supply. I can understand why that might appeal, if you’re living in Kuala Lumpur or even Seoul. If you’re in the USA … you could probably just visit your local mall at Christmastime instead.