Shitting on Happiness

A post by another Singaporean travel blogger went viral for the wrong reasons last week. The premise? ‘Singaporeans are are racist, ignorant, Instagram-obsessed sheep who are not maximising their freedom to visit 180 countries without getting a visa in advance.’

Unsurprisingly, the said blogger removed the post due to the backlash, despite having writing about his countrymen like this for years. Thankfully, for those who missed out, the Internet never forgets.

If our dear blogger intended to spur other Singaporeans to leave their comfort zones, a sea of smugness and tired epithets drowned the message. Let’s quickly examine what was wrong with the post.

A Serious Lack of Reflexiveness

So, our dear blogger says he has already been to 70-odd countries.

I’ve already outlined elsewhere on this blog why counting countries is problematic. A person’s worth doesn’t depend on this and it says little other than that you’re privileged enough to do so.

While we’re at it, let me get personal here. Go ahead, claim that people are weird for saying that travel is expensive when they have no problem buying a $1,000 mobile phone or a $50 meal. However, you earn enough to not even have to make that choice. You can save more than what the median Singaporean earns in three months. Unless you write for Tatler, pontificating like this shows how out-of-touch you are with your audience. As for the ‘you can do X, therefore you must also do Y’ fallacy, burns don’t get better than Mothership.sg’s.

In the end, our dear blogger is the typical Singaporean who boasts about how he/she is better than “typical Singaporeans” without realising or admitting how much they have in common.

The Right Way to Travel

To be fair, there’s a ring of truth to that post. Some Singaporeans will definitely be alright if they can visit only Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan. Avid travellers from countries further down the Passport Index definitely wish for a passport like ours – just ask the Indians about all the visas they’ve paid for. A few of my relatives were concerned for my safety when I went to Iran.

However, Singaporeans do not have a monopoly on ignorance – my American friends had major reservations about me visiting Guanajuato in Mexico too. Our dear blogger may claim on his website that there is no “right” way to travel but he certainly doesn’t show it by calling popular destinations “sheepy” places.

Come on. It’s not that difficult to remember that travel isn’t just for seeing new countries all the time. If a relaxing getaway in a familiar, nearby country makes them happy, why shit on it? If they would rather pay a company to make all the arrangements to a proven destination, does it make them lesser people? I really wanted to go to Siem Reap to see Angkor’s monuments, since I learnt about them in university. If tourists (non-Singaporeans included) want to go there because it’s beautiful, who are you to dismiss us?

Angkor Wat sunrise from the east
As this photo shows, there’s more than one way to explore a “sheepy” place.

I’ve done my share of places where I was the only Asian around at the time and the first Singaporean that some of the locals met. After the first two, you realise that it’s nothing worth bragging about.

I’ll say this: If there is a “right” way to travel, it’s called being responsible and sensitive. For a start, avoid places that exploit animals and children (including “orphanages”) and harm the environment. Take photographs where you’re allowed to and leave footprints only where they won’t cause damage. After that, you can consider patronising places that sustain the communities they belong to and their culture. You can even do this on a weekend break in a “sheepy” place; it takes only a little research.

Final words

Dear reader, please don’t be ashamed to take that trip to Japan, Paris, Iceland or wherever the hell you fancy. Ignore the cynics and enjoy your time there. When you want to “make good use of your passport” to go off the beaten path or see a familiar place in a different way, you can turn to blogs like the one you’re reading now for information and inspiration. Over the coming weeks, I’ll publish a couple of posts on how I prepare for my indie free and easy trips.

First: How to decide whether you should travel solo, with your friend(s), or on a package tour