CULTURAL HARMONY IN THE PROSPER ISLAND-STATE
“Mazel Tov," shouted Singapore’s chief Rabbi, proudly, concluding a circumcision ceremony on the early morning of January 2015. As I leave the traditional Jewish naming of a baby boy’s eight day of life, I get stuck into heavy traffic. I look outside my car’s window and realise the road blockage is due to the observance of the Hindu festival of Thaipussam.
In an exemplar orderly manner, thousands of Tamil Hindu devotees make their way in procession from Little India’s Sri Srinivasa Perumal to River Valley’s Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, carrying milk pots and kavadis (physical burdens, or skin pierces) during the 3 kilometer-long route. The celebrated act of body’s sanctification, or mortification, is another reminder of Singapore’s multi-ethnic society living in complete harmony.
Surrounded by massively populated neighbours, the island-state's entire territory is not larger than 50 square miles (130 km), yet, its economy is more powerful and developed than most countries in Southeast Asia. The commerce, finance, and transport hub’s workforce and education is second to none, and together with strict police rules - including death penalty for crimes such as murder and drug-trafficking - the Little Red Dot, how the country is affectionally called in reference to its red national flag, is one of the safest and most prosperous places in the world.
Singapore is divided into district, each of them portraying individual characteristics. There’s vibrant Little India, home to flower-garland vendors, eateries, boutique hotels, fresh food markets, and a mix of Hindu and Chinese temples, mosques and churches. There’s Chinatown, featuring distinctly Chinese culture elements in a sharp contrast to the rest of the city, including low rise buildings, old shop houses, traditional Chinese food, as well as a motley of Buddhist, Chinese and Hindu temples. Geylang, a district located on the East Coast, is considered an atmospheric quarter which maintains the city’s old world charm, and where one can eat one of the best Malay, Peranakan and regional Chinese food on the island. Orchard Road, Asia’s most famous shopping street, is a shopaholic's paradise, and Marina Bay, with its impressive-skyline and financial centre, is an example of world-class architectural design.
By far my favourite place on the island, nested amongst the lush and tropical vegetation, is Dempsey Hill. Adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, the area is dotted by charming black and white colonial houses, beautifully kept to their original design. Walking around the neighbourhood is like going back in time to the old British trading post era.
In the current volatile world we all live in, being able to call home a place where every culture and nationality is tolerated and accepted, and where your front door can stay wide open, day or night, it’s a complete privilege. It makes the incessant equatorial humidity, daily scorching temperatures, and abundant rainfall all worthwhile.