In Perspective

Is Singapore – still – a boring city?

By Alywin Chew       14 September 2020

What makes a bowl of laksa truly great? Is it the gravy? Is it the noodles? Or is it the cockles? Like many things in life, the answers to these questions are subjective.

But such queries are pointless. The same can be said of the debate on whether Singapore is boring. Naturally, many Singaporeans beg to differ. After all, we’re too accustomed to being first. Year after year, Singapore’s port has been ranked the best in the world. Our shining jewel of an airport, too, has consistently topped world rankings. How Singapore came to have a reputation of a boring city originated chiefly from the fact that compared to other global cities, it does not have many attractions to offer.

Well, that’s true. I mean, we are a small nation. Here’s something for perspective: The Malaysian state of Johor is around 27 times the size of Singapore. What galls me, though, is when nature lovers from elsewhere bemoan how Singapore lacks snow-capped mountains and rolling pastures. Excuse me, but would you say Tokyo is boring because it doesn’t have murtabak stalls? On the other hand, epicureans would no doubt find Singapore’s diverse selection of food exciting.

Like I said, it’s subjective. A couple of years ago, my wife and I went trekking in Bhutan, a place many of our friends have raved about. With a tourism slogan like “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, I’d expected to be enthralled. I was bored to tears. Besides the “scenic” landscape, all we saw were temples and more temples, and phallic objects. So is Singapore boring? I’m inclined to say yes.

Not because there is a lack of “exciting” things to do, but because everything is so predictable (with the exception of Sengkang, of course). You see, Singapore has this inexorable sense of orderliness that pervades every aspect of society. Just look at our famous “street food” – technically they’re not in the street but at squeaky clean hawker centres. This fixation with order has even trickled down to how we live our lives. Find me another country where its citizens would resort to calling the police because they are annoyed with a Facebook post.

As such, we detest anything that leaves a blemish on our picture-perfect society. We are quick to rebuke those who don’t share our sentiment – just like how the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), in response to the TimeOut rankings, cited having $2 Michelin-star soya sauce chicken rice as something that is exciting. Dear STB, the only people who would find cheap chicken rice exciting are NSFs stuck outfield.

You know what is also boring? Our ripostes. The most common one we can muster for those who call our country boring is that we can walk along the streets at 3am and not get mugged!