"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


twenty-two. lv. Bangkok, arr. Singapore
oddly, my two most geographically adjacent cities are also two of the more disynchronous. my last night in Bangkok, wined and dined by a kind friend, we looked down on the dizzying city from the 64th floor of the hideous State Tower building and wondered how the scattered panoply had come to be. Nu told me about the Thai phrase, “mai bpen rai,” roughly translated as ‘it’s all good,’ or ‘it doesn’t matter.’ I thought of the phrase driving to the airport the next day, following the columns of the unfinished Skytrain airport express line (meant to have been finished a couple years ago). I thought of the phrase in the departure terminal, a vastly different space from the ominous cavern of the arrival hallway where I was 3 weeks ago. the architectural effort put into saying goodbye to its travelers far surpasses the airport’s welcome, suggesting once again that perhaps what is important here is the memory making – the dramatic farewell after the days spent in paradise. does this have something to do too, with the lack of coordination between node and linescape? the airport, relatively new, is the node sluggishly pushing the completion of the airport Skytrain. the Skytrain is the line sluggishly driving the transformation of Skytrain stations into glistening malls. it doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s done ‘correctly’ or congruently. just that it’s somehow, slowly, getting done.

Singapore…what a contrast. glass was invented for the likes of this city, which has mastered the art of environmental control so much that it seems to have tamed the mosquitoes which should be swarming in this humid warmth, but aren’t…glass, which keeps in the a/c air, allows the view of gorgeous greenery and immaculate skyline, and perhaps most importantly, allows transparency of behavior in such a way as to prevent the aberrant. I have been here less than 24 hours but the impressions are strong: flying in, the water such a serene deep blue, dotted with so many shipping vessels that looked like miniature toy boats; the buildings of such clean, calm pastels everything looked freshly painted (from the frequent rain? lack of weathering sun?); the Oceanside golf-course, as velvety as archi-fuzz grass; the CBD tightly huddled and distinct; in fact, all districts tightly huddled and distinct, as Stamford Raffles, the city’s founder, planned back in the early 19th century. (he even delineated the ethnic enclaves, such as Little India, Chinatown, and the Arab quarter, which are now tweezed and groomed for a perfectly comfortable museum experience; likewise all the hawker food markets, now roofed, signed, numbered, houred).

our budget Tiger aircraft was relegated to arrival in the ‘budget terminal: enjoy the difference’ (I wondered what difference that might be?),the terminal swathed in the same candy-colored tropical pastels that the aerial landscape revealed. the plane emptied quickly & efficiently, the immigration line moved at a snail’s pace, my officer actually paying grave attention to my document. I had to ride a free shuttle to the famous main terminals, where I had to register, with passport, for my global SIM card; the bus ride to the city revealed a seductive, pristine coastal park which begs for runners; the street beneath the bus wheels was busy with bright white arrows, signs, directions; the roadside no less saturated with information on how to get where/ how long the travel time is; the roadside is also saturated with public service announcements, my particular favorite being the woman’s face plastered at most bus stands. her mouth is falling off in a leprosied gaping wound: “quitting smoking is hard. not quitting is harder.” inside the bus itself are enticements to be a considerate bus-rider: “why is a soccer field warm after a game? move to the back of the bus for the answer!” nothing is overlooked, or so it seems, but am I just reading into it all? is the fully glazed pool hall full of teenagers playing pool under bright lights just an ideal pool-playing environment, or is it meant to prevent the hazy, smoke-laden ‘loose’ behavior I myself so easily associate with pool, and game halls?

I haven’t recognized an ounce of irony here. I went to the edgy-looking red dot design museum today for the Sunday ‘Market of Artists and Designers’ to find Ah-Ha and Belinda Carlisle belting their happy-go-lucky 80’s tunes while young & hopeful crafts-sellers sat at their tables, awkwardly adjacent to the gleaming industrial design exhibits. upon first impression, it seems as if everything potentially ‘informal’ or impromptu has been legitimized, and thus, organized, and tamed. my first day’s stroll through the length of the city’s eastern sectors encountered no resistance, no discomforts. I thought of Mumbai, the challenging exhaustion of simply stepping out of the door -- and pondered what it means for a city to have resistance -- social, political, economic, spatial & aesthetic. do the latter 2 have any relation to the former? does physical comfort and spatial order, such as is unparalleled here, breed social complacence with the status quo? an acceptance of authority and the efficiency it provides?

I am trying hard to relinquish Rem’s sardonic and dense description of this city from SMLXL (Singapore Songlines). walking around town, and reading snippets from the free visitors guide handed out at the airport make this somewhat challenging (ex: the Singapore Discovery Centre boasts a “security pavilion: A series of interactive games and exhibits that tell how Singapore maintains her security with a state of total readiness.”) however, there is still the on-the-ground reality of a multitude of cheap, good food stalls, readily available and open until all hours, patronized by locals and tourists alike; the on-the-ground reality of a vibrant, multi-ethnic Sunday pick-up soccer game in a lush stretch of public lawn; the on-the-ground reality of the guesthouse keepers who, late last night, dealing patiently with my disgruntled self who refused to pay for a dirty room, simply smiled kindly, apologized, and asked if I’d like to see another? it is, undoubtedly, an incredibly wealthy city with a high standard of living for both inhabitants and tourists; it is rare to see a dreadlocked soul-searcher even in the backpacker’s enclaves. rooms, beer, massages…all are too pricey to support Thailand or India’s “come here cuz it’s cheap” crowd, although providing ample attraction for some of the most well-dressed traveling families of rosy-cheeked children, well-endowed polo-shirted parents, and high-heeled teenagers I have ever seen. Singapore is, after all, the home of Raffles luxury hotel, parent inventor of the Singapore Sling (a bargain $25), and only an easy ½ mile away from the tidiest backpacker enclaves I’ve ever been in. 10 days here promise to be eye-opening…

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