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As the souped-up engines roared and the fancy cars burned rubber on our roads, one in four Singaporeans turned up to watch the racing spectacle, making it a sport with real mass appeal.
Yes, that’s what happened in 1966 when the Singapore Grand Prix was held at its permanent Upper Thomson circuit. Half-a-million people from a population of close to 2 million thronged the area to witness and enjoy the event in a carnival-like atmosphere. With food and drink in hand, Singaporeans young and old converged on the grassy knolls and whatever space they could find to catch the action that included the vintage and saloon car categories.
Contrast this with the recent F1 race held downtown. Reportedly 100,000 attended the race – half of them tourists. One wonders how many of the remainder are millionaire residents and expatriates. With tickets ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, you can be sure few were locals.
Hotel accommodation around the circuit went for as much as $1,000 for standard rooms with the Government apparently demanding one-third of the revenue. Luxury yachts were available for rent for as much as a million dollars so that tycoons could entertain their guests.
What about the locals? Too bad — no money, no talk.
The then-and-now of motor-racing is symptomatic of society in Singapore which has become the playground for the rich. There’s really nothing wrong with this except that locals serve only as props and backstage hands to put up this grand show so that the PAP can bask in the accolades showered by the foreigners.
In fact, the commercial gain of the race to the average Singaporean was questionable. Businesses in the cordoned-off area were badly hit. Motorists couldn’t get around the city area without having to take detours because of the road closures.
What about the jobs created from the race? As with much of everything else, foreign workers were available in abundance to ensure that no crumb that fell off the organiser’s and Government’s table was left behind.
The casinos are another example. Built by the foreign poor to cater to the foreign rich, Singaporeans are just bystanders cued to ooh and aah at the right moments when the Integrated Resorts are unveiled.
Easy money. That’s what the F1 and casinos really represent. They are there for one purpose and one purpose only: To continue attracting the super-rich to this island by bringing in entertainment only they can afford. This way, the PAP can tell us how wealthy we are even as we see our real incomes shrink and retirement savings evaporate.
This is not the kind of economy built on enterprise and diligence. We know we can’t compete on the innovation front with a system that is determined to wring the creative life out of every resident here. So we resort to creating an island where dirty money, vice and thrills for the rich can call home. The PAP calls it “vision”.
The question that Singaporeans had better be asking is: Is our country headed in the right direction? Is making money, however we do it, the be-all and end-all of this country? With the economic crisis looming ahead are we prepared for the knocks when we’ve placed ourselves in the hands of so-called financial movers and shakers?
Even as we build this playground that we call Singapore, we had better start thinking of the shelter we will be needing pretty soon.