What Does It Mean When the Average Joe Puts Visiting Singapore on His Bucket List?

The line at San Francisco Domestic Airport’s gate was long, which was not surprising. It was a weekend at the start of summer and the vacation season had just started.

At the front of the line was a burly Transport Security Administration (TSA) officer, checking identification.

He was in a jolly mood and while loudly dishing out advice to passengers on how to cooperate so that the queue could move briskly, he would crack a few jokes, bringing smiles to people’s faces and making the wait more bearable.

My turn came and I handed him my passport. “Where are you headed?” he asked. “Yellowstone National Park, it’s on my bucket list,” I said. Advertisement

He flipped my passport open and gasped. “Ah, Singapore!”, he said. Turning to everyone in the line behind me, he hollered: “Hey if you guys think it’s hot here in summer, wait till you get to Singapore! It’s hot all year round!”

I smiled, and said: “Yeah, it is indeed, have you been there?”

“No, I haven’t but I will! It is on MY bucket list! You’ve got the best airport in the world!” he said, grinning widely.

“I’m gonna go to Singapore one day and I want to see the Marina Bay Sands, the gardens, Sentosa Island, Orchard Road and UOB Tower!”

I did not get the chance to ask what it is at the UOB Tower that he wanted to see, but Mr TSA certainly caught me by surprise.

I did not expect to meet a random stranger in America who could rattle off a list of names of places of interest in Singapore without having to Google it on his phone.

In my many travels to the United States, including my one year staying there while doing my Master’s degree in 2009, it was quite rare to find Americans who would know about Singapore, what more to have it listed as a bucket-list destination.

Those who had heard of our Little Red Dot were often people who work in government, banking and finance, or immigrant taxi drivers living in cities like San Francisco, New York, Boston and Washington DC.

Many of my classmates and professors at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, too, had heard of or had been to Singapore.

Beyond that, the response I would usually get when I say that I am from Singapore would be either silence or remarks like “Yes, that is in China, right?” or “Ah, you do not have chewing gum! And people get flogged in Singapore right?”

I am cognisant of the fact that my anecdotal encounters are not representative of what Americans are like as a whole, but this trip in June led me to many chance encounters with Americans who have not only heard about Singapore, but have seen pictures and videos of our country.

While Mr TSA could be generally more aware of global geography given that his job at the airport involves meeting people from all over the world, there were people in rank and file jobs in Utah and Wyoming who declared that Singapore is a “must-visit place” and it is on their bucket list.

Some examples include a middle-aged salesperson in Utah who had seen images of “a futuristic looking garden”; a waiter who had seen videos of “that awesome pool on top of a building”; and a Lyft driver who had heard that we have “the best airport in the world”.

It seems like Singapore has captured the imagination and attention of Americans whom I had randomly crossed paths with during my two-week trip.

Could it have been the after-effect of key events last year such as the Trump-Kim Summit and the movie Crazy Rich Asians?

The summit, which came with a S$16.3 million tag was said by the Singapore Tourism Board to have a huge marketing value for us. How big, no one knows, but it was reported that Google registered more than two million hits from the US on the phrase “Where is Singapore”, one day before the summit.

Does this matter? Some may argue that it would be normal for an average person anywhere in the world not to know Singapore, given that there are 195 sovereign states and 48 cities with a population of between five and 10 million people in the world.

Furthermore, we are relatively young as an independent nation and a very small one too – 943 times smaller than Texas and 23,000 times smaller than Russia.

Being young and small comes with many constraints, and it is easier to be forgotten and more difficult to be heard.

As a small country with big dreams, it is not despite these constraints that we have come this far, but because of these constraints that our leaders and people have had the resolve to make Singapore work.

Whether it is our ability to punch above our weight in economic, regional and global affairs, our openness in trade and migration, our creativity in creating something where we have none (Newater), or our ability to treasure diversity and preserve peace and harmony over the last 54 years in an increasingly divided world — it is all these that makes us not “just one of many”.

For that reason, the more we are known to others, the better it is for Singapore.

We will never have the charm of Paris or the beauty of Greece to capture the romantic imagination of people all over the world.

However, if the places that are 20 minutes away from my home — Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands and Changi Airport — are appealing enough to put Singapore on some Americans’ bucket lists, it means that we are doing some things right.

And this warms my heart, particularly as we mark the nation’s 54th birthday.

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/what-does-it-say-when-average-joes-put-visiting-singapore-their-bucket-list

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