Commentary on "No culture in kitschy Chinatown" – The Straits Times June 19 2008

Stephanie Yap’s article succinctly sums up the cultural value and heritage in which Singapore carries as an entire country.

She raises the interesting point that in the heart of Chinatown "stands Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman Temple", right next to it is Jamae Mosque and in Telok Ayer there is the "Al-Abrar Mosque and [the] Thian Hock Keng" Chinese Temple being close neighbours.

The view of any society’s mixed heritage in a country would have been thought by the existence of distinct cultural villages. (With Chinatown being the most common) However, when it comes to the real culture (especially in Singapore), one need not go to a heritage sites in order to see how different ethnic groups in Singapore maintain their traditions.

In Singapore, we are a nation that is as diverse as any culture – even though there is the majority of the Chinese. While a country’s culture would have been considered by the majority of the people living in it, I must beg to differ to that concept. How a nation’s society lives and exist is hardly the same to what you obtain in another nation. The majority of Singapore may be Chinese, but we are infused with the values of each race, such that coexistence and friendship can take place.

Essentially, because of the different walks of life in which many Singaporeans come from, we have created our own distinct Singaporean culture.

Perhaps when I go to another country, I would take note of the uniqueness in which that country has to offer. And perhaps to my interest, how different races has adapted to the values and traditions of the entire society as a whole.

I remember reading an article from the newspaper about how cultural sites have slowly (or even expeditiously) become tourist traps. The notion that a country’s ethnic society and community is unique and interesting is often dangled as a tempting carrot for many tourists to want and view "how" the people live. Nonetheless, sites in which tourist groups visit are often plagued by countless of souvenir shops for the tourists and hardly any real living being observed.

While we look back at our past, perhaps that was the era in which real and distinct culture actually existed in groups of people located in community.

Recall the past in which Singapore had even more cultural uniqueness – The laundrymen in Dhobi Ghaut, the trishaws bustling about the roads, the crowded Singapore river. If by any extent, that was culture in its very essence.

However, perhaps in our globalized world of today, we have reach a stage in which our cultures are slowly becoming less apparent as distinct ways of living. Even though we cannot expect much for culture to spring back to life in a community with the re-emergence or creation of a cultural village, perhaps what anyone could do if they want to experience the culture of a city is to interact with the citizens themselves.

It is the people that make up the life of the city, and it is the people who make up the identity of a nation. From my perspective, to know a ethnic culture, mingle in the heartlands and the real villages. To get a gift, go to the gift shop.