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Be yourself, don’t be swarmed by globalization July 10, 2006

Posted by kentneo in General.
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By Tay Kheng Soon, 7/9/06

Lee Kuan Yew is right that culture today does not have the isolation or time to develop naturally its own distinctiveness. He is wrong that therefore no culture with distinctiveness will ever arise in Singapore. Precisely because of the homogenising effect of Western influences, people will react; they do not want to be nobodies.

As Linda Lim had argued not long ago at her ISEAS talk that Singapore is not a Nation, it is only a place; a place to do business. The thought rankled. My counter argument is that, be that as it may, a place will still have place-value. It is up to the people, especially the creative people of the place to make place-value consciously. There needs to be many more opportunities to do so. Place-value cements people to place. It gives tangible emotional and sentimental grips to hang on to in the whirl of change.

Transplanting iconic cultural products from the West to Singapore reduces its place value. The Crazy Horses, Cats, Phantoms of the Opera, et-al do nothing to make place value. They make us more like some other place. Economic reasons accepted but some knowledgeable “tweaking” is needed to enhance place-value.  Unless foreign talent have a feel for this place they will only add to the erosion of place-value.

Culture can be tweaked as Mr Lee says but to tweak well, ‘tweakers’ need the courage to believe in people, a depth of local perception and have sentimental attachment to the place themselves. Firstly they must have courage to trust in local endeavours. Secondly, they need to set up the right situations. And thirdly they must themselves appreciate the intrinsics of the place. Always relying on foreign talent to make place-value is no solution. We need local talents to do so. The tree-planting program of LKY was one such local initiative, it spawned a whole coterie of local talent. The Sub-Station by Pao Kun was another, it spawned many creative spirits in the arts. Architectural discourses on place-value are needed. URA inadvertently promotes foreign architectural values in their zeal to have the “best”. The time has come for local talent to assert themselves.  

Where to start? Start in the communities, let communities make community books; large folios of photos and reminiscences. Let there be hundreds of such storybooks in a special room for this. Let community centres institutionalise the memories of the people, let there be many such memories; the more the better. Memories are the necessary part of place-value making.

Develop neighbourhood centres celebrate these through design and innovation in style of services. Promote diversity and the aesthetics of our common places. Celebrate the lush landscape all around. Working with people to make such places wonderful, designers will celebrate the richness on the foods, the colours, smells and textures, the dressing and elevate all these to a new level of style that is “Uniquely Singapore”. Budget is needed. No need then to vex over homogenising Globalism. Just be ourselves creatively and local culture will emerge progressively; modern yet local.     

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