PM Lee: You Need to Hire a New PR Company

I went to the Night Show 2012 yesterday. If you haven’t watch it, you should. It makes Singapore feel like Melbourne and Bangkok all at the same time – messed up, completely insane and it works your senses all round – boom, boom, boom and *flashes of light*. People were bouncing to the beat of the concert – I was bouncing! There wasn’t any government propaganda in the light installations, not like the I-am-pretty-sure-MCYS-also-sponsored-Marina Bay Sands Wonder Full – “an amazing convergence of light, music and sound”, and children, and kids, the family, growing old, getting hitched, blah, blah, blah. Get married and give birth already, Singaporeans!

It was indeed such a delight standing in the middle of the SMU grounds, watching the concert and swaying to the beat, as some girls holding hands nearly jumped over my head as they ran screaming to the stage to the performance, and looking at the beautiful light installations light up the museums, making the city come alive! Remember how the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) wants to turn the Bras Basah-Bugis area into the arts and entertainment district. They are not kidding – they mean it! And as I stood there yesterday, loving how the place was allowed to run itself down, almost as if the government had intentionally constructed the mess to create this pseudo-authentic feel of messiness, and seeing our homegrown performers DJ KoFlow & BeatBoxer Dharni actually make one of the best remixes I have heard and bobbed to, on a very classy-looking stage, I felt great!

You know, it’s such a paradox that in spite of the dynamism that our city has, we continue to feel the stresses of city life and think that we are pinned down by the rat race, that we forget about the cheap thrills and excitement that Singapore has – wait let me omit that, some of it isn’t quite cheap. But then, most global cities operate under this paradox – New York, London etc – a melting pot of cultures and life and a business that transcends the city. Of course, in Singapore, it can be argued that in Singapore, this dynamism is pretty much constructed by the government, whereas in the other cities, they grew from a confluence of everything else. Pretty much, you want a life, we will build it for you. You want excitement, we will build it for you! You want the universe – sorry, we can’t blast off a space shuttle here, not without decimating a large chunk of Changi and Tampines, but we can bring Miss Universe to you – does that count?

Indeed, I have to admit that the government has performed some really neat tricks to turn Singapore into the dynamic city that they have envisioned – the Bras Basah-Bugis arts precinct, the Marina Bay district, the Punggol Waterway, the renovations to Bishan Park as part of Public Utilities Board (PUB)’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme, among others. Forget about the some-might-consider-to-be-failed attempts to turn Chinatown into a bustling tourist hub which the URA had started in its earlier days (which has evolved into its own), and the 15,000 attempts to rejuvenate the Geylang Serai Malay Village, but the URA and PUB have successful transformed parts of Singapore into very sexy places. Remember the i Light Marina Bay light art festival and ZoukOut? (Note to self: remember to buy tickets to ZoukOut!)

Which leads me to this point – the government hasn’t been selling itself to Singaporeans. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) does a fantastic job selling Singapore to every Tom, Dick and Harry, and Mary, Jane and Tianwei, but it has forgotten to sell itself to the Ahmad, Siti, Muthusamy, Ah Boy and Auntie Lucy of Singapore. At one point, Singaporeans felt that the government was selling Singapore away with STB’s Your Singapore campaign. Ironically, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had appointed Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to head a committee to look into redefining what our society would be in the next 20 years, and Mr Heng has decided to call this project – Your Singapore. So, finally, its back on our laps.

But in some ways, it has always been. The problem here is because we are so busy with our lives, we sometimes just don’t remember everything that happens, even if we get excited by them. Some other reasons could be because these events, though dynamic, are very much spear-headed by the government and might not have rallied Singaporeans in their making, and not forgetting my personal bugbear – we have to pay $20 (what??) to go into the domes, $30 to the Art Science Museum and our museums are not free?! I’ve been to London, Seoul and Sydney, among others where I’ve mostly been able to enjoy their museums for free or at very low prices, so I do get dismayed when I can’t walk into any of our museums as and when I like and not pay a single cent. But then, who am I to complain when the museums had been free for Singaporeans for this August weekends and I have not yet step foot into any of them, except to lament that they are not free on my blog. Pretty Singaporean, eh? Another Singaporean trait that I have – Punggol Waterway and other than the domes, Gardens by the Bay are free, and I still want to complain? *blushes* Let me pick on something else!

Ah – the government! See, my dear government, you’ve actually done some very exciting and amazing things for Singaporeans (though there’s the common saying – there’s nothing money can’t buy and so, we can build up the infrastructure to recreate any experience to emulate any other city atmosphere!) but we don’t remember it! Come the next elections, we are going to complain that our wages haven’t gone up and I will still complain that I cannot get married – but first, I do need to find a partner! But that’s beside the point – you have turned Singapore into a dynamic city and you’ve taken great pains to tell Singaporeans that you have done it. But you know what, instead of just telling or reminding us, why not put something together and show us? I am quite sure STB can divert some of those funds to create flashy advertisements of Singapore to the world and channel it to creating advertisements for Singaporeans – to put everything together for us. We might say that self praise is no praise but like any child who hasn’t learnt to praise him or herself and have started denying his or her abilities, the government might want to rethink why we have also learnt to deny the excitement that our city can bring.

So, PM Lee, maybe you should change your PR company, or at least tell them to start flashing Singapore to ourselves – a bit of flashing is good sometimes. Look at A&F and David Beckham on the TV screen facade H&M. Oh, and to also stop rehashing the government’s agenda so obviously in national newspapers. It’s really hard to stomach when it’s so obvious that the government is trying to shape its own agenda in the newspapers.

As Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean would say, what do you think?

One comment

  1. Keebored

    indeed. I had attended Vivid Sydney – in her glorious expression of art – thru lights, movement and sounds. So… with muted expectations, i attended Night Fest.

    Was pleasantly awed by the splendour of the beats and the vibes of the folks; It felt heartwarming… (in a novel way), to partake in the easy atmosphere of the crowd, bumping into old friends at the museums, and watching bright-eyed kids strolling along… way past their bedtimes 🙂

    a nice juxtaposition of familiar food flavours/ Singa the kindness lion, and modern expressions of art – jamming bands and street performances 🙂 sg is growing, and we’re kinda part of it.

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