If you lean forward at Singapore’s Changi airport and close your eyes, you will eventually end up in your hotel room. The airport is efficiently designed so as to take you through the four steps that everybody arriving at an airport anywhere in the world must complete; go through immigration, collect your bags, go through customs and get a taxi. The road into town is smooth, with nice fresh black tarmac, clean lines, English road signs and plenty of space between the cars rolling past the newly planted flowerbeds. As your Mercedes taxicab pulls into the hotel, the meter displays the amount owed. You give the hotel desk clerk your credit card number, take your plastic key, ride the elevator to your room, lie down on the bed and try to sleep. After staring at the ceiling for five hours you sit up, turn on the television and watch CNN.
This facility is apparent throughout Singapore – the time it takes to have an operational local cell-phone is determined merely by how long it takes to charge the battery. To go to a location on the subway you simply press the station on the subway map and the machine issues you the appropriate ticket. As time goes by you begin to feel like someone has figured out everything you want to do and organized it ahead of time. Ordinarily, I am all in favor of that – who isn’t? It would have been wonderful if American Airlines had taken the fact that I booked my ticket to arrive on the 17th as a strong clue that I did not want to be rescheduled so as to arrive on the 18th. But convenience comes at a price – paid in coins of spontaneity, madness and elan. In Singapore there are no “angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” And frankly I am torn on the issue of whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Personally I like a little edge (as long as it doesn’t cost me too much) – it keeps things fresh and interesting. On the other hand – the world is full of poverty stricken, corrupt and hopeless societies with enough edge to send you running like a cheetah towards the crisp white linens of the Raffles Club.
So here is the question that Singapore seems to ask me – for the sake of a better life for the majority – isn’t it worth giving up the edge? I am not sure that sterility is the cost of wealth – I think it may be the price of developing so fast. Singapore has gone from the Third World to the First in a single generation and they should be congratulated for that because so many other nations have for centuries failed to deliver economic growth to their citizens. But the best minds of Ginsberg’s generation are still young in Singapore, Mohammedan angels patiently wait for elevators and people buy insurance for the only past they know.