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Struck Dumbfounded by the Empty Consumerism of Singapore
I recently had the opportunity to observe 2 events at the Gardens by the Bay. Couple of months ago, I brought a class of students to the Singapore Garden Festival. Tonight, I went to the Winter Wonderland Showcase. In both examples I left feeling hollow with the empty consumerism that afflicts this prosperous nation.
At both events, I noticed the exorbitant prices of food and drinks served. Mineral water went for no less than $3 and the simplest of sandwiches cost $5; a packet of chips $3. There was no lack of choices, the vendors were varied and they had clearly come expecting the crowds. No doubt the rentals must have cost a tidy sum as well.
At the SG Garden Festival, food n drinks was provided by a single gourmet vendor. Clearly they had won the bid for it. And the prices they charged for a bun or a slice of pizza reflected this. The meal choices at Winter Wonderland were creative and exciting: kebabs from Middle East, tandoor from India, wizardry meals from Potter lore, pub bites from Harrys & Brewerkz. Each platter a cool $10-12. Artisan booths were set up manned by sweet young part-timers, the new and the trendy gathered here to show their fare. And with each passing booth, an endless list of prices which masked the true value of the items. Yet the crowds thronged.
Tokens purchase at $2 a piece to be used 2 or 3 at a time just to sit on train rides or the Ferris wheel, perhaps a chance at a carnival game with the prospect of winning a cheap soft toy. To enter the Ice Palace, to skate in the rink or to encounter the frosty attractions inside, I would have to shell out another $12. There’s a Hi-5 fun house, entrance is another $24 for a 45min session. Oh there’s Santa! But taking a photo with him was another commercial affair requiring more $ to be paid for the prints because you couldn’t use your own cameras. Such is the joy of Christmas.
So I watched this and soaked it all in. And I realised my $4 entrance fee entitled me to some sights n some sounds but everything else was a premium. Water coolers did provide me water of course. What does it mean if one was poor and tried to bring their children for an outing here hoping to be entertained?
At the SGF it was the sights and display of the wonderful plants and flowers. But you better come prepared with food for a picnic and water because everything else is going to blow a hole in your pocket. At the Winter Wonderland, you gonna have to explain to your child why he/she does only the most basic of activities whilst everyone else seems out for a fun time.
I’m not poor and I’m not a penny pincher. I have a higher than average household income. And I could afford everything at the SGF and the Winter Wonderland. But I saw the lack of value in them. How the pricing and consumerism of items now drives a social wedge in our society.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” this affluence we now have makes us wanton consumers who no longer seek the true value of our wants. We spend and we feed the beast of consumerism. The vendors drive the beast harder and harder. Each business from owner to manager down to his sweet young part-timer works toward milking every person who steps into the Gardens. Cold hard cash rules. And we keep feeding the beast.
And so you are left wondering as you stare into the crowd. How many fathers or mothers have to disappoint their child because they couldn’t afford the $12 Ice Palace premium. Or they ate the biscuits from home instead of the $8 truffle pizza slices. Because nobody caters for the poor. Who are they to afford the artisan coffees and popsicles?
A tale of two Gardens, one for the haves and the other for the have nots.
But why only now do I feel the emptiness? Weren’t we always a nation of haves and have not? What is different now? Because I don’t recall it being like this in the past. This wasn’t how our forefathers envisioned Singapore to be. The haves and the have nots used to share in more common experiences. The premiums were always there and they weren’t so varied and prevalent and in your face. You could sit to enjoy the same coffee or perhaps share the table.
But we are overwhelmed now. Consumerism has taken root and it rings hollow. Water is now a choice of tap, filtered, mineral, soda, distilled, ionised, charged, Evian, Perrier. Each added premium a further wedge to divide us.
Tonight I watched and my heart grew heavy. I saw fellow Singaporeans splurge and spend their way to happiness. Those tokens rang no end at the arcade and carnival. A brief fling of fun, an experience but only for those who could afford it. The premium experiences for the premium folks.
My resolve is to teach my children to see the true value in things. To help them enjoy the greatest and most free entertainment there is – the outdoors. To be happy with the basics and not be towed away by a culture of consumerism. To have a decent job so they can spend when they need to; and yet to know not to spend when they want to.
It’s not easy, I am no saint. I have been swept away before. But as I grow older I hope to grow wiser and to learn from each passing day. I don’t want this empty sense of consumerism I saw today to be what my children grow up to have. How the value of a man is too often defined by what he earns as opposed to what his character is.
This emptiness of consumerism will be Singapore’s bane if we do not stop it.
Eugene Ng Ming Teck