As you have probably guessed by now, I’ve been in Singapore this week. What you won’t know is that this is my first time here since 1969 (my dad was in the navy, which exited the island around then, along with the rest of Britain’s colonial baggage – Singapore promptly took off and has never looked back.)
While the street names and the humidity brought back memories, most of my childhood haunts are gone. Except for the Tiger Balm Gardens, now renamed the Haw Par Villa, a completely insane sculpture park built by the two flamboyant founders of the Tiger Balm ointment empire (check out the tiger themed car they drove around Singapore).
The sculptures evoke various Chinese myths and legends, of which the most grisly (and so most interesting, to me at least) is the ‘ten courts of hell’. This is the graphic depiction of the Chinese equivalent of Dante’s inferno, full of weeping, wailing (and presumably gnashing of teeth) as the departed are subject to a series of really quite imaginative forms of torment.
My attention was caught first by the approach to educational misconduct:
Crime: misuse of books
Punishment: ‘Thrown onto tree of knives; body sawn into two’
Seems fair to me. How about something more serious, like cheating in exams? ‘Intestines and organs pulled out; body dismembered.’
Now you’re talking. I’m beginning to understand the basis of Singapore’s stellar school performance.
But as I moved past the rest of the ten courts, I realized that here was the potential for a whole series of ground-breaking policy recommendations for NGOs working across the spectrum. Here are a few options, with pics. No need to thank me.
NGOs: Save the Children and Helpage International
Crime: Neglect of children and old people
Punishment: Impaled on a stake
NGOs: Transparency International
Punishment: ‘Thrown into volcanic pit; frozen into blocks of ice; thrown into pools of blood and drowned’
NGOs: Tax Justice Network, Christian Aid, ActionAid
Crime: Tax Dodging
Punishment: ‘Pounded by stone mallet, grounded by large stone.’
My host in Singapore, Max Everest Phillips of the UNDP’s ‘Global Centre for Public Service Excellence’, was just as entranced as me, but wanted to do a development version (‘excessive organization of awaydays; brain sucked out through nose with a straw’). But I had to catch my plane, so that will have to wait til my next visit.
Meanwhile, I am going to have to ask my mother what on earth she was doing bringing her kids here for a nice day out…….