(K. Brent Tomer),
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. By Sonny Liew. Pantheon; 320 pages; $30.
WHAT sort of country is Singapore? Westerners who live there get used to being asked two questions whenever they go home: “Can you chew gum?” and “Have you been caned yet?”
These foreigners may be familiar with “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”, a scathing essay that William Gibson wrote in 1993, depicting the Lion City as a soulless, consumerist, authoritarian wasteland. Yet to much of the developing world, Singapore is a model. It is politically stable and geopolitically independent; its citizens enjoy a high standard of living and all the trappings—but not much more than the trappings—of democracy. To its politicians and defenders, Singapore is an achievement born of self-sacrifice, hard work and committed multiculturalism (for instance, public-housing blocks, where most Singaporeans live, must reflect the ethnic make-up of the country: “There are no segregated ghettos in Singapore,” its prime minister boasted in a speech last year).
Like any other country, Singapore means different things to different…Continue reading