lunedì, giugno 20, 2011

That's not a cultural vaccuum . . . Now THAT's a cultural vaccuum.

Going from L--- to Shanghai is, I think, at least as refreshing as going from Shanghai to L--- would be for a Shanghaiese. Going to a place where the entire population of my present hometown could be accommodated on a single block is a good antidote to a lot of things. The truth is, as astute readers will no doubt have noticed, I've hit a pretty vicious wall of culture shock as far as Australia goes. If we were in one of the big cities it'd probably be different, but this place is the equivalent of my real hometown - the Australian equivalent - which means even more insular and even less cosmopolitan.

On the way home, I got stuck in Singapore for the night because of delays out of Shanghai. But as I was flying with Singapore Airlines - which I advise you to do if you have any choice in the matter - that meant the airline arranging for me to spend the night in a five-star and have a delicious multi-ethnic breakfast (and yes, the Asians have utterly won me over to the wisdom of a noodle or dumpling broth for breakfast), and then some time to chill out in Changi Airport which contains, I shit you not, a range of gardens, including a butterfly house. It vies with Vancouver Airport as the nicest I've ever seen, and I'm reasonably confident that I've seen a shitload of airports. I've just tried to count how many, and I can't. To put that in perspective, I can count the number of men I've had sex with and I used to be a card-carrying roundheels.

Anyhoo, I remember when the Singapore Airlines guy met us coming off the Shanghai plane around 1 am on Sunday morning, and handed me a pre-prepared envelope containing the boarding pass for my replacement flight and my Grand Hyatt voucher - I remember thinking as I stared at him, are you the same fucking species as an Air France or KLM or European or North American airline worker? If you fucked one of them, could you produce offspring? And if so, could you please have custody of it, you beautiful, beautiful Singaporean man, and raise it in your ways?

And then when I went to the Grand Hyatt, like so many Singaporean buildings, the hallways going to the room aren't hallways, but extended balconies. And I stepped out into the balmy deep night - I sniffed that baffling and deeply Singaporean smell of a tropical city that isn't dirty - and I regretted that the F-word and I hadn't moved there instead of here.

The sentiment probably shouldn't have come as a surprise going by what I've written in the past, but it did. The thing is, when were in Singapore in November, everybody told me it was an anodyne place, an uninteresting place, a culturally vacuous place. I believed them. I still believe them because even the Singaporeans said so. And you know what? Maybe it is, but there is no way Singaporean culture is more anodyne, uninteresting and vacuous than Australia's. As I was walking down that breezeway or whatever I remembered every person who'd said Singapore was culturally bland as hell and had a little mental fit thinking about that idea of vacuity versus the Australian cultural vacuity.

The port mentality of Singapore - its cosmopolitan, outward-looking quality - suddenly provided such a gut-wrenching contrast with the deeply insular quality of Australia. The contrast got even worse when I read the Singaporean papers the next morning, and realized that despite the country not having a really free press, the papers have immeasurably, immeasurably better foreign news coverage than Australia's do - that fucking monopolistic mess of what they call a media here, this damnable Velveeta of a national newspaper industry, compares poorly with the newspapers of an authoritarian, undemocratic state that canes and executes people.

Well, I'm still in the boat of not regretting moving here; I'm making a shitload of money, we have a big garden, good friends, kayaking, etc. But at that moment - if not for the garden, actually, it's the garden that stopped my hand - I had a real temptation to call up the F-word and tell him to come meet me, cos' I wasn't going back if he was willing to do so.

I suspect I'm mostly feeling this way because of weather - Singapore is endless summer, while Australia is having winter, a hard one for me to tolerate because everybody has spring and summer back home, and also because this place is even worse than Belgium when it comes to notions of keeping your house warm in the winter. As I type this I'm wearing five layers of clothes, despite feasting on animal fat in Shanghai, whose cuisine rivals that of northern Italy in terms of making animal fat deeply, astonishingly, mouth-wateringly delectable. But we'll see.

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