29 Sep 2013

Singapore Blend

A lot of times we Singaporeans keep asking ourselves, what exactly is Singapore's culture?

We could provide a few elements: fascination with acronyms, ERP gantries, celebration of food and shopping, and probably an attraction towards queues.

But honestly, we don't have that much that's truly unique to us. We either borrow a lot of cultural elements from nearby Asian countries, or from the Western powers from USA or UK. Even "kiasu" and "kiasi" aren't completely unique terms, they're Hokkien. And the durian isn't an exclusively local fruit. The "lah"s and "lor"s and "liao"s are all borrowed from other languages like Malay and Mandarin. That Singapore Girl on the Singapore Airlines planes isn't wearing something uniquely Singaporean. We're simply a whole mixture of other cultural components.

But that is Singapore's distinctive trait: a huge-scale intermingling and cross-breeding of diverse cultures, across space and time.

Well there are dominating elements like language (quite a lot can manage English at a basic level) and race (Chinese still a majority group). But other cultural features seem to be more varied and mixed: The religions we follow, the music we listen to, the food we eat, the books we read, the games we play, the clothes we wear...

It's nice that we can pride ourselves on living with this harmonious mixing for so long. But we can do more than just simply let things mix in naturally. We can take a more proactive approach towards this mixing.

Why should we? It would be just fine if we leave things be in their natural course, but that could lead to stagnation. Cultural bubbles could form, where people within their bubbles would be doing okay, but they don't expand themselves or mingle with other communities. Not that I'm saying that niches shouldn't exist at all, but they eventually either have to develop and get more exposure, or shrivel and die off. 

Additionally, when we get involved in the cultural mixing, we can produce more bizarre and interesting results! Kinda like taking two otherwise unrelated animals, the lion and the fish, and fusing them together to create the modern mythological chimera we know as the Merlion. Or taking elements from different styles of cuisine together to form a fusion dish.

Plus, when we involve older cultures in the mix, we help to sustain them further. Music shows many examples of this, from genres like electro-swing and electro-funk, to remixes of classical pieces, to reinterpretations of vintage songs. Fashion also shows this too. By blending cultures across time, we bring back to light old cultures that might otherwise be forgotten by the later generations.

So why don't we get more active in our mixing and create more "Singapore-brand blends"? 

Sure we're not using original ingredients in our cocktail, but that doesn't make the resulting drink any less exclusive. We can still have our own Singapore Slings and celebrate them as uniquely local products. 

We just have to be more adventurous in experimenting across more "distant" cultures to make more outstanding cocktails.