From ‘Queenstown visit was an exhibition’, 13 Sept 2012, article by Tessa Wong, Singapolitics, ST
Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah has responded to online criticism of the staged scenes put up at the Queenstown Green playground for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. “The pictures that people have posted do not take into account the context of the visit,” she said.
She was referring to several pictures surfacing on the Internet showing the playground before and during the visit, accompanied with sarcastic captions. Many netizens felt that the sight of residents performing taichi and silat, and using the playground and fitness equipment in the middle of the afternoon presented an unrealistic slice of Singapore life.
She told Singapolitics that the organisers – made up of grassroots groups, the Housing Board, the People’s Association and the British High Commission – had two objectives for that visit. One was to showcase HDB living. The other was to showcase the various cultural and community activities of Singapore.
“At the same time, the organisers were also given a very short timeframe of about 25 minutes to show all of that,” she said, adding that they felt the best way to achieve it was to “do it in little exhibition spots…The demonstrations were to showcase the different types of activities themselves. It was not to suggest that these activities take place at 3pm everyday… It was meant to give a snapshot, and in that sense it was no different from a demonstration of activities,” she said.
Ms Indranee said that as she toured the area with Prince William, he had asked her if Singaporeans actually practice taichi and silat in the afternoon. “I explained that they wouldn’t do so at 3pm because it’s hot, and that these groups were just here to demonstrate… So it was explained to our visitors that we were just showcasing activities,” she said.
The Queenstown wayang is the Singaporean way of laying the red carpet to welcome aristocrats, and somewhat of a hospitality overkill. The image of a playground JAMPACKED with activity looks like a scene taken off a staged musical, a real-life collage of local kampong pasttimes squeezed into a common space, people PRETENDING like they JUST happened to be there at the time. I wonder who’s the director of this conniving carnival set-piece, thinking it could fool the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge into believing that Singaporeans owe their success today to afternoon playtime and chapteh kicking (Who plays with chapteh these days, anyway?). One can imagine what Will must be thinking while fumbling with a toy not many children actually know about these days: ‘Bugger. Back home we hit these feathered things with racquets. This game is bollocks, now I appreciate Polo better’. Still, he would get thunderous applause even if he so much as tossed the chapteh to a commoner. WITH HIS BARE HANDS.
Will was also cheeky enough to ask if uncles do taichi at 3pm in the afternoon, probably long aware that his trip here is one elaborate, but fishy, show and tell after another. Kudos to the couple for pulling through what seems like a laborious globetrotting courtesy call to celebrate the Queen Mother’s Jubilee, while grinning and bearing with the phony Potemkin-ness of it all. Anyway, the Queen would have spoilt the surprise for them by now. In 2006, she dropped by Toa Payoh to the same rousing lion dance routine, watched a demo of SEPAK TAKRAW (not the most elegant of sports I must say), and of course had to endure some uncle performing TAICHI like waiting for painting on a wall to dry. She also planted a tree. There’s nothing uniquely Singaporean about taichi and lion-dancing anyway. At least a flash mob of the Great Singapore Workout would have meant something.
In 1989, the same Queen was greeted by pom-pom schoolgirls while touring Townsville Primary School. She was also caught wearing shoes into a resident’s home during an Ang Mo Kio Town Centre visit. Of course one doesn’t just tell the QUEEN to take off her shoes before stepping into your abode. It’s like asking her if she’s the one who farted at a dinner table.
Exhibition or not, one can’t help feeling that this outlandish choreography is an insult to royal intelligence. I’d assume Will and Kate have done their homework on Singapore before trotting over here. These blue-bloods are probably secretly wishing to see the things low-lifes only whisper about in seedy underground London bars, like:
- The auntie who feeds stray cats and leaves a mess the morning after
- The rats that are bigger than cats
- The stained underwear and sanitary pads which were tossed out of windows
- People hanging flags of China on their window ledges
- Children doing homework at void decks
- The ‘No Urinating’ sign in the lifts
- The hidden CCTVs which track residents’ every move
- Loan sharks’ O$P$ calling card
- And of course, the MILLION DOLLAR flat barely big enough to house the Queen’s corgis
Viewing a slum in a country like Singapore is an eye-opener, not something ‘been there, done that’ which can pass off in a bid for the next Happiness Olympics. After all, these guys spend their entire lives in pageantry, the last thing they need is trying to act like they’re thoroughly impressed. Adieu, Will and Kate, you have been obliging, sporting, very noble and if you’ve been disappointed by this patronisingly sterile charade of Singapore, a hub of stress, sleaze and scandal rather than a picture of spotless, blissful ‘gotong royong’, then I offer my humble apologies.