Friday, July 23, 2004

Thoughts at Changi Airport

Thoughts at Changi Airport

I've always felt comfortable at airports and Changi Airport is probably the one I'm most familiar with. Changi airport is Singapore in miniature--the showcase of Singapore's kiasu-efficiency. Here everything is planned to the tiniest detail; nothing is ever left to chance. Service is quick, efficient and professional--none of that "rosak" or "tutup" treatment that we encounter way too often in Malaysia.

Security here is also the tightest among all the airports that I've visited in the region. Armed guards in military uniform guard the entrances. Bags are scanned before check-in and again before immigration and again before boarding. Even the metal buttons on my cargo pants seem to trigger their metal detectors.

But one shouldn't complain. With terrorism and crime rising everywhere in the region, who would mind that added sense of security? The Singapore government does all that is necessary to ensure that. There's nothing wrong in being kiasu when it comes to security.

Singapore is a social laboratory, tinkered and tuned to perfection by a paternalistic government. But are the people happy?

Yes, if we define happiness as the freedom to consume. And what a marvelous consumer society Singapore is! Wander through that catacomb of underground tunnels and walkways--one will be bombarded with half-naked images of sultry women adorned with the latest designer brands. Gaudy advertisement billboards flash, wipe and flicker across your vision wherever you go.

One can't help but feel like a laboratory rat being subjected to all sorts of experiments in consumer behaviour. They tease, tantalise and tempt your innermost longings. When you succumb to them, you are immediately dissolved into a string of statististics to be fed back into system to further enhance this perpectual cycle of consumption.

And wherever you go, you see these Singaporean laboratory rats: jostling into the underground trains, scurrying up and down escalators, moving and stopping in complete obedience to the rhythm of the traffic lights --these curious automatons drabbed in designer garb, ever-hurrying to their unreacheable destinations.

I have absolutely no idea where they are all heading, but I'm catching the next flight home. Happiness, wherever one might be, always seem to reside at our next destination.

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