Friday, June 17, 2011

Singapore the Sunny Smile Isle: Old and new tourism ads.

I came upon these two Singapore tourism ads dating from the 1970s, at this nifty blog. This ad here dates to 1974:

"Wave down a passing trishaw and take a ride down the tree lined waterfront. Take in the sunshine, the blue skies and the warm waters. Enjoy it all. And enjoy it any month of the year. Old friends describe Singapore as a 'tropical island world in a clean, green, garden setting.'

The sights and sounds of Singapore are a first-rate introduction to the rest of Asia. A carnival of color and costume at an open-air Chinese opera, the fantasy of a Malay puppet shadow play or the pulsating dance and drama of India. Wherever you go, the color and movement of Asia is just round the corner.

Singapore is a blend of many races, cultures and languages. For all this, English is the language spoken by practically everyone! Plus, there is a language which speaks for itself - a sunny, welcome smile."

In other words...

"Hail a taxi powered by manual energy, usually an old man, so he can cycle a hundred over kilos of you and your fellow tourist to our river side which has been carefully landscaped. This is the tropics as described to you in your textbooks: warm air and warm waters. The skies are not always blue, but mentioning the monsoon season would put a damper on your touristic enthusiasm.

You don't have to know the people living in Singapore, just look and listen to them - because everything is so colourful and noisy. This is a good strategy for travelling in Asia too. A Chinese opera has complex meanings, but it's colourful and noisy, therefore fun to watch. So is wayang kulit, nevermind that it's Hindu in origin and comes from Java and Bali, it's also colourful and noisy, so enjoy! Indians are a heterogenous group of ethnicities and cultures, but you can homogenise their colourful and noisy dances and theatre forms.

Even though these exotic Singapore natives have different languages and cultures, they all learn English thanks to the colonisation of the British and also because the government knew it would be good for going global in education and work. So don't worry, you don't have to worry about trying to understand them - unlike the rest of Asia. And if you don't speak English, you can always smile to the pretty girls."

Here's another poster from 1975, with the same text basically rearranged:

"As night falls, dine Singapore style at a sidewalk food stall. Taste delicious Malay mini barbecues and fresh seafood. As a background, there are the sights and sounds of Singapore. An open-air Chinese opera, a Malay puppet shadow play or the dances of India.

But let's return to the food. Singapore is the only Asian center which offers the cuisine of half the world and more. Western cuisine or all-Eastern dishes can be tasted in the comfort of inter-national restaurants. Or try mouth-watering Malay, Chinese, Indian and Indonesian food prepared and served on the spot at tables along the sidewalk. Wave down a passing trishaw and take a ride down the tree lined waterfront. Take in the sunshine, the blue skies and the warm waters.

Enjoy Singapore any month of the year. A tropical island world in a clean, green, garden setting. Singapore is a blend of many races. But you'll always have something in common, a commonly understood language. English."

Food. Colour. Noise. Food. Trishaw. Hot weather. English. Same old topics.

These posters target American tourists, as indicated by the address in the bottom right-hand corner:
Director - North America
Singapore Tourist Promotion Board
251 Post Street, San Francisco
California 94108

I've always found it strange that tourism ads in Singapore and Malaysia usually and most often use white people as the tourists, although I think we get a good part of our visitors from Malaysia or the region. It's as if we 'natives' are just there to serve white people - a total colonial hangover.

We smile, yeah, because we're getting your money. Who wouldn't be happy when you're bringing your American dollars? This focus on the smile is totally not surprising, given that colonial subjects have often been constructed as docile, especially the women. And it works, putting 'native women' on the poster - women as the bearers of culture and tradition, or one in 'Western' clothing (i.e. bikini) in case the traditional ones are too inaccessible to the white male tourist.

This focus on food, tropical greenery and girls hasn't changed though. Here is a Singapore Airlines postcard found on a Flickr account:

Girls, food, tropical greenery. Is that all we are?

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