China had put in a lot of effort to preparing Beijing and their country for next year’s Olympics, which will see visitors from different parts of the world conjugating for the participation of the games. Be it athletes or spectators, China will want them to go back to their home countries with fond memories of their experience in Beijing, or other parts of the country for the more adventurous.

The preparation of their country reminds me of the times when Singapore underwent a huge campaign to get people to be courteous and welcoming to delegates for the World Bank / IMF meetings held in 2006. Singaporeans were constantly reminded to show hospitality when approached by any foreign visitors and to maintain a smile always. In fact, I even participated in their Smile 2006 campaign last year, which was set out to collect as many smiling pictures as possible so as to form a welcoming mural for the delegates. Volunteers were set off to take impromptu photos of Singaporeans in the midst of their daily lives and I would say that we have done a great job for the campaign and all of us deserved a pat on the back for the effort.

Almost overnight, construction sites near the convention center suddenly disappeared and roads were nicely laid. On top of that, beautiful flowers were planted along the roads in town and for a moment, I thought I was teleported into another green city. Towering cranes and piling machines were removed and for once, I could easily see Suntec City from Raffles City without being blocked by metal scaffoldings nor machines piling away. For once, there was serenity. In fact, it all seemed too surreal.

The big day came and almost everyone seemed to be on the alert and ready to help anyone who is in need. Volunteer guides and drivers were gathered and briefed to assist the delegates. I also remembered vaguely that the drivers were reminded not to talk too much or say anything bad about the nation, although I am not sure how much truth there is in this claim.

The event was finally over and we’ve got a thumbs up for running the event. However, even a delegate commented that it was all too surreal. Everywhere she turned, she would see smiling faces; and it can really get a little scary if you think about it. She commented that everything was nice, but could sense that it wasn’t exactly very natural. Good, but too good is probably appropriate here.

Soon after, the flowers withered and plants that didn’t look good enough were removed. We were told that this is going to be a one time effort and there’s a good chance that most flowering plants would not survive for too long. For me, it was rather sad to see the plants go, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Some Singaporeans lambasted that the government was putting up an act and for putting up a gag order on political groups that wanted to speak, and that everything that the delegates saw was a facade. To a certain extent, I do agree that the government was putting in a lot of effort, facade or otherwise. However, like most countries, the government would want to create a welcoming environment – a place where visitors will feel good; but does this warrant a gag order?

Well, I don’t really know, but to quote 2 infamous lines from our very own ministers, first from Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on the liberalization of bar-top dancing, although somewhat unrelated:

If you want to dance, some of us will fall off that bar-top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar-top dancing, not just because they have fallen off the bar-top. Because usually a young girl, with a short skirt, dancing on a bar-top, may attract some insults from some other men, and the boyfriend starts fighting. Some people will die. Blood will be shed for liberalising this policy.

And from Prof Ho Peng Kee on rejecting a cycling event organized by the Worker’s Party:

You may be well behaving, but there may be other people whom you come across when you cycle who may stop you, may want to debate with you and that may attract a crowd, therefore will result in problems the police want to avoid.

You can probably get a sense that they want to avoid worst-case scenarios, and hence anything that can even remotely cause a riot is probably disallowed. One thing’s for sure. The events by the political groups were never realised and we will never know for sure if Singaporeans are matured enough to handle this.

To the lay person like myself, the World Bank-IMF meetings was quite a non-event for me, save for the photo that I’ve sent for the mural. Before long, the cranes and the piling machines came back, the road blocks were up and the noise returned. The area surrounding Raffles City towards Suntec City was filled with the usual dust, smoke and noise…

… and life goes on.

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