One of the strangest and most striking things about living in any major Asian city of today can be embodied in a single word: landscape. The word as a concept is fixed, but the skylines it represents in real life are anything but static.
Four years ago I visited Singapore for the first time. When I returned last October I couldn’t feign my wonder at how much the city had morphed in such a short time. The train of development was hastening forward. Ticket in hand, it was my turn to take a first hand glimpse.
This concept of change isn't a new one on this little island or in Asia’s other Little Dragons (Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea). These long-shots began their epic ascents into the developed world at unprecedented pace following WWII, even as the dual tsunami of industrial and technological revolution made landfall at nearly the same time.
In Singapore, after independence from Malaysia in ’65, there was nowhere to go but up for this city state occupying an equatorial island with a mere 225 square miles of territory to its name. And up is just what they did - literally and figuratively - with decade after decade of unhindered double-digit GDP growth as the proof in the board-room pudding.
If you look back over history, these kinds of developmental feats are relatively rare, especially to the scale and speed of Asia’s modernization. And there’s much said on this fact. But it’s the same I think in looking on a simple level of humanity - where we see lingering stints of status quo marked by sudden surges of greatness: New inventions, social and religious theories, the burning of coal to power a steam engine, becoming the self-proclaimed masters of our own fertility.
Mathematically these surges forward are an anomaly, and yet are often the defining factor of generations. Think about your own life and the glaring niceties that make your everyday life so removed from your how your parents lived, or even how you lived only a decade prior.
In Asia, change has been the faithful compatriot of the past generation, the latter bent on upward mobility and a slice of the Western-dominated pie. Numerically these new players at the table have been shockingly successful, though there remain untold millions who still can’t even afford the ante.
But still, it’s nearly impossible for me to fathom the reality that virtually nothing looks the same as it used to only 20 years ago in this little island, let alone 50 years earlier. Where small village type compounds shaped the previous generations, looming apartment blocks now fill the need – all in a single generational bound. Childhood homes and memories are only those, as are most green spaces and waterways of yesteryear.
It is fact that millions have mutually benefitted and live relatively more safe and comfortable lives, that much is undeniable.
Even more interesting than the physical dimension though, is the social change, inherent in any major shift of habitat – in this case to urban jungle from actual jungle. While concrete and rebar can be fashioned in a number of months, flesh and blood, the ways of communicating, social norms, neighborhood loyalties and the way mores are all imparted by means of the physical space – these changes to the heart and soul take time. Years, decades, lifetimes it seems, in my own observation. It’s so much harder to unlearn than to learn.
I can’t say for certain toward what end this barreling express is porting us, with me an inconsequential beholder on this unprecedented train ride of modernity. I have my opinions, to be sure.
But if anything has been made clear to me so far, it’s this: I know I ought not to blink, because if I do, I might just miss it.


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3 Responses to 'Tickets, please: a first class seat to modernity'

  • Hannah said...
    http://justpixels2.blogspot.com/2011/11/tickets-please-first-class-seat-to.html?showComment=1322020534418#c4232611257235334194'> 9:55 PM

    Some hefty observations. I look forward to hearing more as you move ahead with eyes wide open.

     
  • NurseJulie said...
    http://justpixels2.blogspot.com/2011/11/tickets-please-first-class-seat-to.html?showComment=1324191687624#c997269620155198820'> 1:01 AM

    Nice analogy; can sense the bustle and pace of life in Singapore. Keep writing!

     
  • salangane said...
    http://justpixels2.blogspot.com/2011/11/tickets-please-first-class-seat-to.html?showComment=1344321611459#c1993551271245650262'> 1:40 AM

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