Boring is the new black, Singapore, so don't be embarrassed to embrace our dull persona

In age of polycrisis and terror threats, the stability that the Little Red Dot provides has never looked more attractive

Auxiliary police officers patrol along a beach at East Coast Park.
Auxiliary police officers patrol along a beach at East Coast Park. (PHOTO: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

A STOLEN wallet, a faded identity card and a racist, stray dog are the sum total of my interactions with the Singapore Police Force across four decades. They are not material worthy of a series of crime thrillers, but they are worth recapping for titillating reasons to underline a broader point about the island being magnificently boring.

The stolen wallet was laughable. In 1997, I left my wallet on a table at Toa Payoh Library for an hour, practically leaving a sign that read, “take me”. When filling in the crime report at the police post, the officer worked hard not to giggle; not hard enough, I hasten to add.

But the faded identity card was something else. The peeling address sticker on the back needed replacing, a routine job that a young officer in Hougang confused with the painting of the Sistine Chapel. He printed a new address sticker. He trimmed the edges. He stuck and re-stuck the sticker until he was satisfied. He laminated. He re-laminated. Time passed. Ice caps melted. Worlds ended.

When I finally expressed admiration for his devotion to duty – a polite way of saying that he was slower than a sloth with a limp – the officer shrugged and said, “Nothing else to do.”

He was manning a tiny police post in Hougang. He wasn’t in The Wire.

But the most surreal encounter occurred in a dark, far-flung corner of Lim Chu Kang’s forest, where an officer was shocked to find a 1.94m-tall ang moh loitering with unclear intent in a coastal area presumably popular with illegal migrant crossings. (Because, as everyone knows, the easiest way to slip into a country undetected is to swim across the Johor Straits and step ashore in front of a police post.)

But the police officer wasn’t the problem. I explained my reasons for being there (an author exploring the island’s ulu bits) and we talked football. He was a Manchester United supporter. Funnily enough, so was I. (I wasn’t. But he had a gun.)

And we chatted as I waited for my bus back to Choa Chu Kang, when I was attacked by a racist stray dog. Technically, I cannot prove that the dog was racist. But there were two sets of testicles available to the slathering beast and he was only interested in removing mine.

The police officer was a tower of strength, restraining the brute, calling for calm and urging me to make a run for the bus. I was a wobbling blob of jelly, screaming at the canine to leave my nether regions alone and ordering the officer to shoot the dog. Neither complied.

But I made the bus, wiped the blood specks from the back of legs (true story), thanked the officer, via text, (true story) and pulled away from the mad dog, who was barking a message that sounded like “go back to your own country” (not a true story, but one I still tell anyway.)

But that really was the extent of my police engagements, across 28 years in Singapore. In the same period, family members in the UK have filed police reports on violent assault, armed robbery, drug offences, domestic abuse and more humdrum incidents such as car theft and street muggings. Yes, those crimes occur in Singapore, too. There’s always that ridiculously handsome officer, in cardboard cut-out form, reminding us that low crime doesn’t mean no crime and reminding my wife that I’ll never look that good in a uniform.

Just as there’s the risk of parroting right-wing shock jocks and transforming the western landscape into a Mad Max prologue, which would be an exaggerated and unfair depiction, but it is a numbers game. For the most part, we are safer here.

Singapore is boringly safe. There. I’ve said it. And you should, too. Luxuriate in our collective dullness. Set up Boring Anonymous groups at your community club and stand up and say, “I am a Singapore bore and I’m addicted to boredom. Yesterday, I went for bak kuh teh in Balestier at 2am and nothing remotely interesting happened.”

For years, I was in denial about my own addiction. I smiled politely as expatriates (mostly from safer, affluent backgrounds) and atas Singaporeans (entirely from safer, affluent backgrounds) ridiculed our island's boredom and pined for the gritty raciness of Paris, London and New York, with their distinct colours (graffiti), unique smells (urine) and eclectic residents (homeless souls in sleeping bags) and glossed over the obvious naivety and hypocrisy of such statements. They could afford to sidestep, often literally, all of the above.

And then Taylor Swift happened. And performers, artists and comedians either skipped neighbouring countries or they were banned for video clips made in the previous decade. Or they simply did their sums and figured that playing for a week in calm and quiet Singapore was better than playing in volatile destinations elsewhere, where the risks of being gaslit, cancelled or threatened were not worth the gate receipts.

And then the Johor police station terrorist attack happened, an unspeakable tragedy for our neighbours and an awful reminder of what happens when unchecked populism bleeds into extremist ideology. It’s boring to bang on about radicalisation, but Singapore will continue to do so anyway. There's nothing tedious about preserving national security.

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has said much the same, but that’s not very exciting, is it? Political leaders are not supposed to be boring anymore. Commentaries address the concerns of the new leadership playing it too safe for voters who demand so much more these days than national security. Never mind speeches about the threat of radicalisation and heartfelt messages for those affected by the terrible incident on Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, perhaps PM Wong could do an acoustic version of a Taylor Swift classic, just for the likes and LOLs?

Nah, you're all right, mate. Stick to politics for grown-ups, rather than populism for dummies.

As the polycrisis continues to pose an existential threat, boring has never looked more attractive. Our police officers mostly deal with petty issues, barely providing enough content to fill an episode of Crimewatch on Channel 5, let alone a prestige true crime drama on Netflix. And that’s a good thing. Why be embarrassed about being such a global anomaly? Embrace the stability.

Don’t shy away from the safety and security stereotypes. Amplify them. Take ownership of Singapore’s reputation and say it loud. I’m boring and I’m proud.

Don’t shy away from the safety and security stereotypes. Amplify them. Take ownership of Singapore’s reputation and say it loud. I’m boring and I’m proud.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.

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