Top of the Pops
Pardon our Prime Minister – he was on live TV after all when he muttered those words.
I had a hard time deciding whether it was another one of those Marie Antoinette moments that our leaders are prone to lapse into, or if our PM was just being brutally honest (a hard truth as his old man calls it) when he was asked on Singapore’s future population. “Six million or so should not be a problem”, he said.
No doubt, you can’t fault his logic. We can build taller flats, reclaim more land and build more train lines. And after all, 6 million is hardly that many more than what the population is currently.
But is this what we want to hear from our prime minister in this national conversation that we are having, when we have been trying so hard to get through to them that our roads are clogged, that our trains and stations are breaking apart, that housing costs are rocketing because there isn’t enough to go around, that everywhere you go bar Sungei Buloh you see lots of people?
No, some words are better left unsaid. We need a little mollycoddling sometimes.
That our infrastructure is not ready is a no brainer. The HDB, after years of complacency, is now rushing to build more flats. Transportation links – the highways and the train lines – will take years to construct though just to alleviate the current problems. And how much more land can we reclaim?
It is also a good idea to start decentralising. Right now we seem more keen on packing more and more buildings into the downtown area (MBS, MBFC, MBWTF, etc). Even all the future train lines end there. It is time to move out and not move in, much like what London did in the 90s when the banks started relocating from the City to Canary Wharf.
As it is now, Singapore already has the dubious honour of being the densest country in the world with a population above 1 million (selective statistics, I know). Sure, there are cities in themselves which are more packed, but therein lies the difference. Singapore is both a city and a country. In London, when it gets too crowded, people move to Surrey for cheaper housing and a breather from urban madness. The daily commute into London is often quicker than travelling within London itself. In New York City, they move to New Jersey. Here in Singapore, our city and country, it is all there is. It is all we have. Where do we go? Where can we go to escape from all this?
Cue melancholic violin solo with vocal recital:
The tenant men looked up alarmed. “But what’ll happen to us? How’ll we eat?”
“You’ll have to get off the land. The plows’ll go through the dooryard.”
And now the squatting men stood up angrily. “Grampa took up the land, and he had to kill the Indians and drive them away. And Pa was born here, and he killed weeds and snakes. Then a bad year came and he had to borrow a little money. An’ we was born here. There in the door—our children born here. And Pa had to borrow money. The bank owned the land then, but we stayed and we got a little bit of what we raised.”
“We know that—all that. It’s not us, it’s the bank. A bank isn’t like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either. That’s the monster.”
“Sure,” cried the tenant men, “but it’s our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours. That’s what makes it ours—being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.”
“We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.”
“Yes, but the bank is only made of men.”
“No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”
The tenants cried, “Grampa killed Indians, Pa killed snakes for the land. Maybe we can kill banks—they’re worse than Indians and snakes. Maybe we got to fight to keep our land, like Pa and Granpa did.”
[Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck]
Not advocating any violence of course. Just a little melodrama to brighten the day.