Tuesday, March 16, 2010

They're good at this stuff. Really good. But now they propose to become
something else as well; a coherent city of information, its architecture
planned from the ground up. And they expect that whole highways of data
will flow into and through their city. Yet they also seem to expect that
this won't affect them. And that baffles us, and perhaps it baffles the
Singaporeans that it does.

Myself, I'm inclined to think that if they prove to be right, what will
really be proven will be something very sad; and not about Singapore, but
about our species. They will have proven it possible to flourish through
the active repression of free expression. They will have proven that
information does not necessarily want to be free.

But perhaps I'm overly pessimistic here. I often am; it goes with the
territory. (Though what could be more frightening, out here at the deep
end of the 20th century, than a genuinely optimistic science fiction
writer?) Perhaps Singapore's destiny will be to become nothing more than a
smug, neo-Swiss enclave of order and prosperity, amid a sea of

Dear God. What a fate.

Fully enough to send one lunging up from one's armchair in the atrium
lounge of the Meridien Singapore, calling for a taxi to the fractal-free
corridors of the Airtropolis.

But I wasn't finished, quite. There'd be another night to brood about the

I haven't told you about the Dutchman yet. It looks like they're going to
hang him.

Man Gets Death For Importing 1 Kg of Cannabis

A MALAYAN man was yesterday sentenced to death by the High Court for
importing not less than 1 kg of cannabis into Singapore more than two
years ago.

Mat Repin Mamat, 39, was found guilty of the offense committed at the
Woodlands checkpoint on October 9, 1991, after a five-day trial.

The hearing had two interpreters.

One interpreted English to Malay while the other interpreted Malay to
Kelantanese to Mat Repin, who is from Kelantan.

The prosecution's case was that when Mat Repin arrived at the checkpoint
and was asked whether he had any cigarettes to declare, his reply was no.

As he appeared nervous, the senior customs officer decided to check the

Questioned further if he was carrying any "barang" (thing), Mat Repin
replied that he had a kilogram of "ganja" (cannabis) under the petrol tank.

In his defense, he said that he did not know that the cannabis was hidden

The Straits Times 4/24/93

The day they sentenced Mat Repin, the Dutchman was also up on trial.
Johannes Van Damme, an engineer, had been discovered in custody of a
false-bottomed suitcase containing way mucho barang: 4.32 kilograms of
heroin, checked through from Bangkok to Athens.

The prosecution made its case that Van Damme was a mule; that he'd agreed
to transport the suitcase to Athens for a payment of US$20,000. Sniffed
out by Changi smackhounds, the suitcase was pulled from the belt, and Van
Damme from the transit lounge, where he may well have been watching
Beaver's dad explain the Feast of the Hungry Ghosts on a wall-mounted Sony.

The defense told a different story, though it generally made about as much
sense as Mat Repin's. Van Damme had gone to Bangkok to buy a wedding ring
for his daughter, and had met a Nigerian who'd asked him, please, to take
a suitcase through to Athens. "One would conclude," the lawyer for the
defense had said, "that either he was a nave person or one who can easily
be made use of." Or, hell, both. I took this to be something akin to a
plea for mercy.

Johannes Van Damme, in the newspaper picture, looks as thick as two bricks.

I can't tell you whether he's guilty or not, and I wouldn't want to have
to, but I can definitely tell you that I have my doubts about whether
Singapore should hang him, by the neck, until dead - even if he actually
was involved in a scheme to shift several kilos of heroin from some
backroom in Bangkok to the junkies of the Plaka. It hasn't, after all, a
whole hell of a lot to do with Singapore. But remember "Zero Tolerance?"
These guys have it.

And, very next day, they announced Johannes Van Damme's death sentence. He
still has at least one line of appeal, and he is still, the paper notes,
"the first Caucasian" to find his ass in this particular sling.

"My ass," I said to the mirror, "is out of here." Put on a white shirt
laundered so perfectly the cuffs could slit your wrists. Brushed my teeth,
ran a last-minute check on the luggage, forgot to take the minibar's
tinned Australian Singapore Sling home for my wife.

Made it to the lobby and checked out in record time. I'd booked a cab for
4 AM, even though that gave me two hours at Changi. The driver was asleep,
but he woke up fast, insanely voluble, the only person in Singapore who
didn't speak much English.

He ran every red light between there and Changi, giggling. "Too early

They were there at Changi, though, toting those big-ticket Austrian
machine pistols that look like khaki plastic waterguns. And I must've been
starting to lose it, because I saw a crumpled piece of paper on the
spotless floor and started snapping pictures of it. They really didn't
like that. They gave me a stern look when they came over to pick it up and
carry it away.

So I avoided eye contact, straightened my tie, and assumed the position
that would eventually get me on the Cathay Pacific's flight to Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong I'd seen huge matte black butterflies flapping around the
customs hall, nobody paying them the least attention. I'd caught a glimpse
of the Walled City of Kowloon, too. Maybe I could catch another, before
the future comes to tear it down.