Sophisticated Singapore

Sophisticated Singapore
Singapore embodies all the defining attributes of a world-class city state with its all-round efficiency, incorruptible government, and cultural and intellectual diversity. To be even more attractive, the country can offer the world more immersive local experiences beyond the usual Sentosa-Orchard Road-Night Safari circuit. The campaign to promote Singapore's sophistication calls for collective public-private effort to not just promote entrepreneurship and creativity, but also unlock them from the people.

SINGAPORE - Precisely one year since my family's arrival in Singapore, the honeymoon seems far from over. In my last column, I had written about Singapore's many hidden virtues and how such traits can help reboot the country's international brand. I continue to wonder why, of the many adjectives that Singapore is associated with - wealthy, efficient, smart, clean, strict - one does not hear the word "sophisticated" mentioned often.

No doubt, one should heed the cautionary aphorism of my first boss Les Gelb, emeritus president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who quipped: "If you have to say you're tough, you're not".

Still, a good reputation is earned through actions and is spread by word of mouth.

In the various city rankings that flood our inboxes, sophistication is associated with cities that are simultaneously global financial, diplomatic, and cultural capitals. This is often measured by the number of world-class museums, opera houses, theatrical productions, and other historical sites.

But I freely admit that in over a decade of living in New York, I barely ever visited the high-modern Museum of Modern Art, and went to the Metropolitan Museum even fewer times. In London, we were regulars at the British Museum, but mostly for the kids on frequently rainy days.

What makes New York City and London arguably the two greatest cities in the world is not their dominance of traditional metrics such as cultural institutions but also the fact that you could spend a week or month exploring their many neighbourhoods inside and out at your own pace.

Things to do and see

There aren't any fixed instructions to follow to enjoy them. A worldly and refined city constantly offers an array of things to do and to see.

Sophistication in this sense is a process, not an event or place. People increasingly want, and pay for, experiences over things.

In just the past few weeks, I've attended the Shakespeare in the Park performance of Othello, a midnight disco rave at the Gillman Barracks, the high-level International Institute for Strategic Studies' Shangri-La Dialogue, and the opening of a unique exhibition of avant-garde Arab installations ("Terms & Conditions") at the Singapore Art Museum.

I frequently argue that Singapore is the (unofficial) capital of Asia. Showcasing the best artists, performers, entertainers and intellectuals representing more than half the world's population that is within easy reach of Singapore should not be difficult.

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