Saturday, December 18, 2004

Forced diversity

I've only been here in Singapore a few days, but there is one new thing I've noticed since arriving. While there is great ethnic diversity here (Chinese, Malay, Hokkien, Indian, etc), there is very, very little cultural diversity. Not to say that every city in the US is culturally diverse, but I've always figured that when there is high ethnic diversity, cultural diversity follows, especially after a few generations.

But in Singapore? Far from.

The only mixing of races I've seen so far has been American (more correctly Caucasian) ex-pats dating locals. There really isn't much else. Chinese folk stick with Chinese folk. Malays stick with Malays, etc.

And I don't think this phenomenon is linked to new immigrants. Singapore seems to have relatively little permanent immigration. Those that move here tend to fill labor intense jobs, but they are here only on temporary visas. This lack of cultural mixing is amongst people who have been raised here. And that's what puzzles me.

So connected to my previous posts about the Singaporean government's parental attitude, the only place where I see any attempt to learn about other cultures is in the newspaper or connected to governmental programs. I suspect the debates in newspapers are something which the government "encourages", otherwise I doubt we'd even see that in the papers. Regardless of the reason for including it in the op/ed pages, this seems very contrived.

The types of things I've seen in papers are op/ed pieces about Non-Muslims and Muslims getting along better (preventing "extremism" is one of the government's new published goals). I suppose wanting to get along better with people of different backgrounds seems only natural for Americans, but it's really wierd here. Like I said, it seems like only the government wants this. They support ethnic diversity amongst neighborhoods by forcing a mininum diversity in apartment buildings (e.g., if there are too many Chinese living in a specific building, more Chinese can't buy places there). They support various programs to get people together in public ways.

But in everyday life? The most common places for Singaporeans to congregate are the mall and food court. In these places, both young and old only mingle with people of the same ethnicity. One would expect school children to have friends from all backgrounds, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

My point here? Well, there's not much of one. Just that even though the government goes to great lengths to support cultural diversity, the people of Singapore seem to have turned their backs on the slightest notion. Considering the amount of ethnic diversity crammed into a place as small as Singapore, this is very wierd, especially for an American who has lived in relatively diverse places all his life.

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