Churning cities

Chinese and Indian Singaporeans have had to face up to migrants that undermine their conventional definition of their communities; now Malay-Muslims face the same as Alami Musa calls on mosques to accommodate immigrant Muslims. New York and London too have seen huge waves of immigration; Austin some, Trinidad has not. Would we rather that Singapore resemble Trinidad? Full essay.

(Includes links to photos from New York, Port of Spain, Austin and London)

6 Responses to “Churning cities”


  1. 1 chasbelov 19 December 2009 at 16:17

    Interesting. When you referred to Canal Street as a third-world country that New Yorkers no longer went to, I thought you meant that it was crime-ridden and dangerous. When I scrolled down, I found instead a photo of a street vendor selling vegetables much as I might see here in San Francisco at a farmers’ market. Indeed, the images of Canal Street in your photo gallery give no sense of a third-world country, simply a non-English-speaking one. Is there more (or perhaps less) to Canal Street than you show in the pictures, or did I misunderstand your point?

  2. 2 Chris 19 December 2009 at 17:22

    Cities change–people should get over that. When I lived in New York (1970-1991) the spot for gay life was Christopher Street. Lots of bars, boutiques, hangouts, cruising spots on the pier were either on that street or close to it.

    Just as I was leaving for Chicago in August 1991, gay life seemed to be moving uptown from there, settling in Chelsea (between 14th and 34th Streets and 7th and 10th Avenues). It is an area that I was familiar with (as my church there is on 28th and 9th Avenue) but it has utterly changed into the happening gay area of Manhattan. Rents have gone up and the bars are hopping. Christopher Street, on the other hand, is dead, dead, dead. There are still bars down there, but several have closed. The pier has largely been dismantled (it was unsafe and people kept falling through holes in it) and the area is now “seedy”.

    New York has always been a polyglot of races, languages, aqnd cultures. Canal Street used to be the centre of Chinatown–is it not still? I shall have to go down there next time I’m in town. The strength of New York is that each wave of immigration reinforces the next, and pushes them up the economic ladder. My area in the Bronx, largely Jewish and Irish when I moved there in 1978, is now totally Hispanic (except for the Jewish Home for the Aged on Kingbridge Road). Dirty Nelly’s, an Irish bar I used to frequent, is now a Mexican restaurant. But the area is more vibrant now than it was when I lived there.

    I suspect that in Singapore, the immigrant Muslims will, once they have a critical mass of people, found their own mosques which will use their own languages (Urdu, Arabic?) and cultures. This has happened here in London, where a mosque behind the Rockingham estate was built by the Saudis for a largely Nigerian immigrant population. There is a Sufi mosque on the Old Kent Road. And the posh mosque near Regent’s Park is nearly all Arab. Helping this is the fact that Islam, by and large (except for Shi’ite Islam) is non-hierarchical so mosques generally just spring up when the need arises.

  3. 3 Mosque banner in English 19 December 2009 at 20:10

    I saw a banner (in English) outside a mosque on some Islamic events and activities organised by the mosque.

    I was then quite surprised until I read your article.(I don’t read the Straits Times). Now I get the rationale why in English.

  4. 4 yawningbread 20 December 2009 at 02:52

    Chas – It’s interesting you brought up the question of what I meant by “Third world”. I use the term to suggest backwardness and a degree of poverty. Scenes that come to my mind when I say “Third world’ would include crowded bazaars, rickety buses carrying twice its safe number of passengers, pot-holed roads, slum housing without proper sanitation, fake goods sold on the street, clinics with peeling paint.
    .
    I don’t associate Third world with crime at all. Most Third world countries are safer than many cities in the United States.
    .
    But it’s interesting that you brought it up… makes me realise that expressions like that aren’t very helpful since different people understand them differently.

    • 5 Chris 21 December 2009 at 05:32

      Canal Street has always been a bit run-down. It is not like Chinatowns elsewhere. New Yorkers revel is “slumming”, if I can use that word. They love to go to outdoor markets, discover fabulous noodle shops in basements in Chinatown, and find a bargain in a store that looks like the stock hasn’t been rotated in decades. When I first went down there in 1970, it was “Radio Row”, with scads of shops catering to radio amateurs and shortwave listeners. That part of Canal Street was demolished to make way for the World Trade Centre.

      Little Italy, on the other hand, has always been neat, tidy, with little cafés, restaurants, and shops. Even if you go to the Little Italy in the Bronx, it’s neat as a pin and everything centres around the church. Even though it’s surrounded by slums, there’s little or no crime there.

      The Lower East Side still looks backward. However, some of the best delis are there (Katz’s Delicatessen is fabulous but do go with someone who knows how it works or you’ll get an anemic pastrami sandwich).

  5. 6 anony 20 December 2009 at 11:45

    If I am not wrong, there has been a gradual rise in immigration by Sporean Malays to Malaysia. I do not think the Spore authorities like to crow about this. By immigration, I mean renouncing their Spore citizenship eventually. The Spore Malays most of all have nothing to lose but everything to gain by obtaining Malaysian citizenship.

    I believe Anita Sarawak a popular cross cultural English-Malay singer, who used to be a Singapore citizen, is now a Malaysian citizen for quite some time. Once you become a Malaysian citizen and you are of Malay ethnicity, you qualify for Malaysian bumiputra status which means you get privileges. Over here in Spore, Malays get nothing and they face discrimination if they were to apply for jobs in the private sector. That is why the Spore civil service is the best bet for Malays to find a non-discriminatory workplace.

    Even before the influx of other immigrant Muslims to Spore, I know for a fact that Sporean Indian Muslims seldom pray together with the Malays in the same place. The Indian Muslims have their own mosques. I once had a Sporean Indian Muslim colleague way back in the early 1990s who told me that he would go all the way from Shenton Way to pray at an Indian Muslim mosque in Orchard Rd vicinity. I am not sure whether that Indian Muslim mosque still exits. And they also regard the Malays with a very critical eye cos that Indian Muslim colleague commented to me that they find their Malay youth too wayward for their liking.

    Spore is too small a country to absorb so many PRs & foreign workers. Spore cannot use USA, UK or Europe as a yardstick to measure and aspire to the hip-vibrant-cosmopolitan lifestyle that they imbibe. For the Americans & British folks, there is so much landbank for them to exercise their mobilities, if they feel crowded out, they can always move away & find something better within their own country. Where can Sporeans move to given our landbank constraints?

    The influx of foreigners into Spore is still going at such a rapid rate despite the govt announcing publicly that they are gradually reducing the inflow. Just last week, I noticed that my suburb had suddenly seen an increase in Filipino families. Yes, I mean families, fathers, mothers with children in tow. No its not in Tao Payoh.


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