back in 1990, the MRT engineers were going to tunnel right
through the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Victoria
it comes to creative destruction, far-out imagination
and sheer impact on our cityscape, artists pale
before urban planners
hundred-plus years of neo-Gothic stained glass and convent
girls, about to go kaput.
remember signing a petition to save it.
was aesthetics; it was heritage.
fact that a pretty ex-CHIJ girl was circulating the name
list had nothing to do with it.
is: Church was saved, but look at Chijmes now.
would you China Jump fans be without us arty types, huh?
practically built this city.
else would Chinatown opium-dens morph into salmon-pink walk-up
studios and Taiwanese tea-houses?
but a playwright would make students symbolically climb
to higher degrees on those steep NUS hillsides, or stage
landlocked Braddell Heights as a sea-side town?
a screenwriter's devious imagination could have let the
Information and the Arts Ministry regulate the Internet,
and let the police license theatre.
got to be a poet in office somewhere - Singapore probably
has the highest number of national metaphors per capita
of any modern state.
last count, we have Singapore the MNC, best home, marathon,
stock market, the air-conditioned, wafer fab, Disneyland,
and of course, the boat (as in, don't rock it).
who says we don't have a rich mythical tradition?
the last time I visited the Merlion at Sentosa, I learnt
all about our founding legend.
the island of Temasek used to be this small fishing village,
when the mother of monsoons broke out and threatened to
hit ''delete'' on the villagers all at one go. Until this
half-lion, half-fish creature, taller than Godzilla, rose
from the ocean and calmed the stormy waves with one blast
from its laser-beam eyes.
that's why the Merlion stands today, proudly staring and
spitting into space, a monument to our ancient guardian
also how Singapore the Lion City got its name, according
to the Sentosa website.
there I was, thinking all along that the Merlion was a tourist
icon dreamed up by the Tourism Board in the Sixties.
didn't they ever tell us these things in National Education?
course, I'm not the first writer to have encountered the
cross-bred beast which - for better or worse - is an apt
symbol for our hybrid city.
it struck me as still the best illustration of how, when
it comes to creative destruction, far-out imagination and
sheer impact on our cityscape, artists pale before urban
sculptor had a say on the sweep and arch of Sheares Bridge.
painter sketched that breathtaking aerial map you get from
3,000 metres up in a Boeing 747.
don't consult literary historians when building the next
condo, mall or parking lot.
Singaporeans think of the arts as, at best, an unnecessary
complication in their lives.
go to all that trouble for something that no one appreciates
and which doesn't pay very well, and risk getting arrested
art in the city is more than just flypaper for disaffected
architect Tay Kheng Soon considers a city's structures to
be the expressions of a society's psyche.
fields such as architecture, design and music, aesthetic
sensibilities (or the lack thereof), which have a direct
bearing on the way we live, work and play, and on the names
and places we call our own.
a signpost say ''Zhu Jiao'' or ''Tekka''? Plant bougainvillea
on those ugly ERP gantries?
a lion or an orchid across Block 47?
are real aesthetic decisions city-builders have to make
there are signs that ordinary citizens do care about these
is why the National Library on Stamford Road is more than
just bricks and mortar, or a convenient flashpoint for civic
why folks speak out on the side of parks or against golf-courses.
be fair, urban planners are paying more attention to their
craft. Marine Parade Community Club, for instance, was purpose-built
with a black-box theatre, library, Starbucks and odd cubist
designs on its exterior facade.
could be our true national artform, as no less a craftsman
than Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew has alluded.
recently referred to Singapore as his work ''on a small
frame of an island'', relative to the ''wide canvas'' other
leaders got to work with.
that canvas - our city - has been handed over to us, his
can either trample all over it not knowing any better, or
have a care how each stroke and daub is applied.
all, artists are judged by the result of their work.
tell us the next time you see something that's out of place,
the wrong colour, or manages to take your breath away.
artists need to know.