In 900 years, where the many estates of Toa Payoh, Queenstown and Punggol once stood, tourists in the bus-loads of hundreds are crawling over the ruins and crumbled masonry of the HDB flats. Trees grow out of what used to be kitchen windows where maids once looked wistfully out of. The twisted and rotting carcasses of playgrounds and bus stops are uncovered from the earth by archaeological digs. All around, there are tourists – maggots infesting the festering flesh of history and memory, advertised and monetised.
“Angkor Sinjapura was a grand city-state that perished somewhere after the 21st century,” says one of the many guides to his bus-load of Chinese tourists. The Angkor Sinjapura Tourism Board has misappropriated “angkor” from the older, now destroyed, tourist site of Angkor Wat. The association brings greater revenue. “Sinjapura” is promoted as more a palatable name than the historically-accurate “Singapore” which sounds too modern, too Western.
He continues – “The limited ability of the small state in keeping up with the rapid changes in global developments and the rise of the China saw its diminishing place in global history. Its Golden Age was clearly over by the middle of the 21st century. By the end of the 21st century, economic destitution and great power conflict resulted in severe depopulation. Her ruins were finally rediscovered two years ago by a venture capitalist firm.”
Of course, what can tiny states compare to giant geographical entities like China in the passage of history? We are but mere islands, mere breakaways-soon-to-be-remerged, in the shifting tectonic continental plates of history.
“During its Golden Age, the city-state was run by a dictatorial regime. Chewing of gum was punishable by death.” This was a fact that historians referenced from the Sinjapura Annals, an ancient historical text, which was honestly just a satire comic book by a local artist. Camera flashes enshrouds a museum display of an electric chair that apparently executed a record number of 120 gum-chewers in 2017 A.D.
Amidst the ghastly displays, the guides caution the tourists, “We shouldn’t pass judgement so quickly. In those days, the world wasn’t so civilised and Angkor Sinjapura was among the greatest and most civilised of their time. We must have historical and cultural context.”
“I am one of the descendant of the indigenous people of Angkor Sinjapura” – The guide stands proudly before the tourists.
But no not really. His forefathers were but mere economic migrants to the city-state in the early-21st century. In those times, to consider his forefathers “indigenous” would be an affront to the actual indigenous population. But the tourists don’t really care. Where heritage is fetishised, living heritage, however inauthentic, is sacred.
The same historical text purports that Angkor Sinjapura was founded in the 16th century by a mythical Japanese mermaid lion from Cambridge law school which transformed a sleepy fishing village into a great city-state. Statues of a mermaid lion in a kimono with the scales of justice in its right paw and a char siew pau in its left paw are found littered around the ruins – artificially aged. You can find replica keychains in the souvenir shops and online as well.
More heritage: Shops sell language books that apparently teach the lingua franca of Angkor Sinjapura – “Maldarin”. According to the prefaces, Chinese Mandarin was the national language of the city and its inhabitants spoke a curious creole language mix of Bahasa Melayu and Chinese Mandarin which they termed, Maldarin.
A tourist somewhere vandalises an ancient royal porcelain drinking vessel which was really just a kopitiam cup.
Even more heritage: Actors along the tour routes re-enact day-to-day scenes of Angkor Sinjapura at its prime. They all wear Western suits with sarongs – the national dress. The Angkor Sinjapura economy, according to the guides, depended heavily on piracy, both on the seas and virtually. Their moral reprehensibility justified the Chinese hegemonic expansion into the region.
Somewhere further along the tour route, there are the recovered ruins of a HDB flat. For 5000 Renminbi, you can stay for a night in a HDB apartment. Perfect for social media, or whatever is the exponentially-bastardised 30th century version of it. Room service is Angkor Sinjapura cuisine which is a dish of ma-la hotpot, the national dish of Angkor Sinjapura according to the guide.
A television modelled after a 20th century model (they screwed up the dates) plays re-runs of archival footage of Angkor Sinjapura. Curiously, the original narration keeps referring to the city-state as “Singapore” rather than “Angkor Sinjapura”.
No one knows why, not even the guides.
Photo taken at Angkor Thom, 2016