We spent a lot of time at last week's conference talking about the concept of "Web 2.0". As I went about my business in Singapore, I mused about taking that idea in the other direction, because Singapore is really Globalization 1.0--an example of globalization from before a theory of globalization existed. If you look at all the common notions of globalization (intermingling of cultures, free-flowing exchange of goods, readily available money), they're all there in Singapore, and apparently have been for decades, ever since Sir Stamford Raffles established a British East India Company trading post back in 1819. Singapore subsequently became a center of British power in Asia, attracting substantial immigrant communities of Arabs, Chinese, Indians, and Malays, and in the modern era, flourishes as a major international port and financial center.
The continuing influx of immigrants at all levels of society nourishes an established, thriving, and multi-faceted expat culture. On my last day, I had a chance to sample a cross-section of Singaporean culture and commerce with my friend S., who had come from the US for the conference and who I hadn't had a chance to spend any significant time with in about five years. We planned to spend the day walking, talking, and eating, plus whatever else struck our fancies, and that's what we did. We started off wandering the spotless, gleaming, air-conditioned malls that seem to go on for ever, featuring chain shops and restaurants that I recognized from the US, the UK, Australia, France, Germany, and beyond. When we'd had our fill of that, we headed over to the open-air markets in Little India, teeming with noise, heaving with people, saturated with color, soaked with sweat. It would be difficult to imagine a bigger contrast in such a small place.
Even our meals reflected the paradox: breakfast was a quick last sampling from Toast Box, a mall chain putting a Singapore spin on classic western staples. Lunch, on the other hand, was a foray into the Little India hawker markets, where we saw virtually no other westerners, but rows of stalls selling fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables (including the guy who tried hard to sell me some goat meat and, when I told him I had no place to cook it, cheekily offered to find me one). There was also a huge section of tiny stalls selling prepared Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, and Thai food, so we each picked one dish--S. chose the Indian with a long queue out front and I, true to form, chose Thai--and split them. The quality of the meals we were served, in those no-frills surroundings, confirmed my opinion one more time that the food, as I had been promised, is the best thing about Singapore.