Manila should be a blast

WISH me luck.
So what if we fall down once in a while on the playground of life?

By the time you read this, I might be fleeing terrorists and dodging bombs in downtown Manila, all in the name of art.

I'm part of a contingent of Singapore writers off to the Philippines to network with writers there, and showcase some of our own work - kinda like a business meeting-cum-concert tour, without the lackeys and groupies.

I say ''contingent'', but there's only four of us. It's a cosy bunch of friends, not a noisy, tour-bus-riding official delegation, thank goodness.

The National Arts Council generously chipped in with the airfare and accommodation when we asked nicely.

And it did all the paperwork.

The only approval we really had to get was from family and significant others, who were concerned for our safety after the December bombings there.

One of the bombs had gone off just across the street from the hotel we'd planned to stay in.

I mean, we want to be in the news, but not that way.

When contacted, our embassy in Manila had this useful piece of advice: We neither encourage nor discourage you to come. But stay away from crowded places, they said.

Er, thanks, chief.

Preparing for this trip, amid all the recent talk about Singapore trying too hard to manufacture fun, the lack of spontaneity and the need to loosen up, was somewhat freaky.

Talk about risk-taking. Try braving a terrorist bomb site two weeks after the event for the sake of ''art'' - and without diplomatic immunity to boot.

Vulnerability is not a familiar experience for most Singaporeans.

Our affluence and clean, finely tuned social environment means we have few real experiences of the big bad world said to be out there.

Crime. Poverty. Corruption. Table-dancing.

The result: Gross ignorance about the region we live in, and general apathy for world affairs.

At the same time, we end up whinging about our own rules, restrictions and OB markers, like teenagers with driving privileges withdrawn.

We're a sheltered lot - a no-no if we want to stand up to the world at large as a global city.

We need to get out more.

So what if we fall down once in a while on the playground of life?

It's part of learning.

Hence our visit to Manila - way overdue, if you ask me.

We're a sheltered lot – a no-no if we want to stand up to the world as a global city

Our friends in the Philippines may not have our per capita GDP, low crime rates, or painstaking urban planning.

But they have a world-class cultural tradition that would put ours to shame any day.

We Singaporeans might be squeamish about a mere five days in Manila's hotel rooms and university campuses.

Ordinary people there have to face up to fear and uncertainty on the streets each and every day. And they live with it.

There's something to be learnt there - about tough-mindedness, looking after ourselves and making our own way in the world, as individuals, artists and Singaporeans.

If we survive the trip, that is. Like I said, wish us luck.

© alvin pang
clm : rvw : esy : rfl