does a city dream? it’s 9.30 in the evening and my companions and i have just started our walk around marina bay, beginning at esplanade – theatres on the bay (also known as durian… the only fruit i know of in this world that is not allowed on an entire public transport network) and we’ve been assailed by the smells or should i say aromas of makansutra where local food is selling at a brisk pace, when elvis walks past us.
today he favours red bell bottom pants with loud gold embroidery on the bells. my friend says had it been the states where she lives, she’d have called out, “nice costume” or something to the man who is obviously dressed for some event or show, but here in singapore she has no idea how that would be taken. i feel like telling her to go ahead and say it, because singapore just may surprise you… there might be a smart happy quip back from the guy. soon we realise he must have been part of the rehearsals going on for the chingay parade during chinese new year.
our evening for unusual sights, i think. on the way traffic was slow as men with bodies pierced by spikes and skewers, carried large “kavadis” or burdens and swayed at a leisurely pace amid a procession of devotees and curious viewers winding through the main streets on its way to a temple. it was thaipussam, the tamil hindu festival i had never seen in india, nor heard of.
we walk onto the helix bridge with its purple lights and snazzy futuristic look, i remember we had bid for the marina bay advertising campaign. the brief had said it would be a 24×7 sort of place, with constant action drama shopping and work, oh yes, casino too and a fabulous new botanic garden with “super trees”, also a barrage that would help turn sea water into potable water (i think that was it)… an ultra modern space, international in tone and feel. there was a worry that the everyday singaporean might say “expensive lah” and sort of avoid it.
three elvises walked past. this time chingay will not be lonesome tonight.
nothing in the brief had said, this place would be so damn pretty at night. lights, blue, purple, red, yellow, twinkling like stars in an unknown planet. reflections on the waters of the not too large body of water, the marina bay. it was concrete and steel and glass yes, but also air water light… dream.
nothing almost of what i was looking at existed when i first came here in 1997. the fullerton building was there… but it was not the seven star hotel it is now. clifford pier was there too, but it was a pier still, we took the ferry to kusu island from there. now that is a part of a hotel, custom house is a cluster of trendy eating places and bars, after that it’s all new… a flank of massive highrises gleaming with lights (no no i am not going to worry about energy consumption and electric bills, not tonight, it’s just so lovely to gaze at and let your mind roam off to another place), the mbs with its three slopy lit up towers and “banana” on top, and look at that… a magic ship to take you away to some fantasy land, okay, it’s the louis vuitton floating showroom but so what, looks like that ship to me, so i am off… past the lotus shaped arts and science museum, under the helix bridge, under the sea…
we walked for an hour, the breeze was cool tonight, again unusual… i couldn’t stop being astonished at how much had been built and put in place in just eighteen years.
on land that was till recently water.
now a whole sparkling city lay across it.
can lah. cannot lah. can also can, cannot also can… i have, like many foreigners, been at first a little surprised by the usage of this simple english word here, and then happily joined in all the jokes around it and also learned to say it with a straight face without thinking about it, adopting this bit of singlish… as i look around i feel the excitement of a city that says, “can”. it cribs and complains and even yells “how can?” but yet it never stops and says “cannot”.
can (the a is elongated and dipped up and down a little, like water, something fluid).
road to singapore, marina bay area, 03/02/2015 #SG50
end of 1997, we moved to singapore from india. in 2015, the country celebrated fifty years of independence. singapore has given me much and i am fascinated by the spirit of this gutsy city state with hardly any land or resources, but oh what dreams and chutzpah (the finest interpretation of the word), the ability to reach big, hunker down and hold and strategise and act and grow. despite my many years here, i haven’t seen a lot of the island, which started out at only 28 miles by 18. now of course it’s bigger, thanks to that spirit i spoke of. so anthony john or aj as i call him, my walking partner, and i decided to do fifty walks in the island to celebrate #SG50. well, we didn’t stop at fifty; couldn’t. there was still so much to see and feel and also how not to let the hot, merciless, climate-change sun not have its way with us. so the walks continue, as does the walk talk. hope you enjoy, try to bring an umbrella.