Singapore prides itself for being a highly cosmopolitan and globalised city, with a plethora of well-known international brands and MNCs on the little concrete island. Ion Orchard is the latest development in the heart of the city and is set to be a playground for predominantly the ultra rich and high society folk.
But seriously, whats so great about Ion Orchard? Yeah its glitzy, yeah its got all the big labels under one roof… and hell yeah its seems to exude a rather pretentious and socially stratifying environment. The higher up you go in the mall, the higher the prices in the stores.
Few will remember (and perhaps even less) appreciate what existed before Ion Orchard – the lush greenery, which provided some inkling of peace and sanity in the midst of all the concrete in Orchard Road. It was also often a place where many congregated for picnics – especially the migrant Filipino community on the weekend. Indeed, the common public space seemed to cater much more to the layman on the street back then.
But to developers, that green space did not make “economic sense” and was a waste not to be “utilized”. The idea of it being a hang out for migrant workers also perhaps didn’t gel well with the “globalised consumer” image of the surrounding area. The solution: more shops! more malls! buy! buy! buy!
Consumption is rammed into our psyche yet again. But seriously, what proportion of Singaporeans could afford this lavish lifestyle? I know I can’t, being the struggling research analyst and masters student that I am. The point here is not about being a sour plum and criticize those who are economically more well-off, but rather to raise the following concern: How much of the development in Singapore is really catered for Singaporeans?
My cynicism for Ion Orchard (and extreme opulence) has become more apparent after a recent incident, which only served to highlight the stark economic inequalities in Singapore. Yes, there are poor people in Singapore.
Close friends will know how I’ve found this Ramadan to be a lot tougher than previous years – a lot more tired, sleepy, and falling sick for a few days. But my situation is of course nothing compared to that of two people that approached me, as I was walking past Ion Orchard yesterday.
Singaporean #1: An man in his 40s or 50s, who wanted to know how to walk to Ang Mo Kio from Orchard Road. He only had 50cents left in his pocket but wanted to go to church in Ang Mo Kio – a suburb way too far for a walk. He also mentioned later ” two guys I asked just now didn’t help me”.
Singaporean #2: An elderly woman selling pens so that she could “buy some rice to eat”. Looking sad and even tugging on my arm at one point to buy the pens, because other people she asked would not stop to entertain her.
I could not help but think this situation was rather surreal. Nevertheless, the words of my late grandmother kept playing in my head “If someone asks for alms, just give.” as I handed them some money. Some self-reflection was inevitable as I walked down Orchard Road after the two incidents – Was God testing me/giving me the opportunity to do good on this last day of Ramadan? Although I have seen people asking for help in one way or another along Orchard Road, the odds of having two of them ask within a span of 10 minutes and approximately 50 metres apart would seem rather rare. Are the urban poor of Singapore more obvious now just because of the financial downturn? And moreover, why was it so hard for them to seek help? Are we becoming consumers to the point that we forget to be samaritans? Why is it so hard to exercise that simple universal principle of compassion?
Food for thought indeed. It has nevertheless made Ramadan for me much more fulfilling.
Eid Mubarak to one and all.