"THERE IS MORE TO RUSSIA THAN ITS CAPITAL AND WEATHER": AN INTERVIEW WITH SINGAPOREAN AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA
Economic relations between Russia and Singapore have recently been on the global media’s radar. What tends to be left behind are the two countries’ cultural cross points. 103 rd Meridian East speaks to HE Mr. Simon de Cruz, Singapore’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation and Ukraine, about the arts and culture of Singapore and Russia.
His Excellency Simon Tensing de Cruz was born in the United Kingdom on 2 February 1954. He graduated from the University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Social Science degree (Honours) in 1979 nd same year joined the Singapore Foreign Service in 1979.
HE Mr. de Cruz has served in the Singapore Embassies in Bangkok, Riyadh and Jakarta.
He was Singapore’s Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines (1996 to 1999) and Ambassador to the Union of Myanmar (2000 to 2004).
HE Mr. de Cruz also served as High Commissioner to the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, resident in Singapore,
from 2006 to 2008.
He assumed the post of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation and Ukraine in October 2008.
How has your life changed since you were
posted to Russia?
Since Singapore is a very small place, I joined the foreign service to go overseas and live in and experience bigger countries, to spread my wings, so to speak. Russia is so vast, thus it’s appealing to me. I can’t really say my life has changed dramatically but I know now what it’s like to live in extremes – the Russian winter, for example. Being in Moscow I understand a bit better what Russian aspirations are. But at the same time, I’ve been in and out of Moscow and it’s true what people say: “Moscow is not Russia.” We are making a trip to Vladivostok and Khabarovsk with a group of Singaporean businessmen and, to me, going there is like travelling to the other end of the world, to an area which is starkly different from Moscow or St. Petersburg. The more you travel the more you understand the idea of Russia, its strengths and weaknesses.
Even though Russia’s position of being a “cultural country” has staggered over the last two decades, the arts still play a significant role in the nation’s identity. Do you think that the Russian arts would do well in Singapore?
Yes, I do. Culturally, Russia is a powerhouse. Classic performances like The Nutcracker and Giselle by the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres would always do well in Singapore. I think Russian films would be quite a success in Singapore, like The Inhabited Island, a new sci-fi movie that is very modern yet retains a Russian flavour. Or the new Anna Karenina movie. The only thing I miss out on in Russia because of my poor language skills is your first-class drama which, of course, is performed in Russian. In some Singapore productions where the language used is Mandarin, for example, translation is provided on side screens for the audience.
I’ve talked to several people in Moscow who are thinking of bringing acts to Singapore. The famous Russian ballerina Anastasia Volochkova impressed me as a real force of nature. The first thing she said to me was: “I would love to perform in Singapore.” She would be very appealing to Singaporean audiences and would be able to fill the Esplanade theatre without any problem. Your big musical production, The Count of Monte Cristo, the first of its kind in the world, I understand, could also do well with some changes perhaps, like singing in English. The producers told me this was possible. So the prospects of Singapore learning from and enjoying Russia’s cultural heritage are very good.
As for Singaporean productions, I have a feeling that they may have a bit too much of the local flavour of Singapore, so, unless you’ve lived there, you might not get the humour. But I am thinking of bringing in a couple of Singaporean movies to show at the Embassy to gauge the reaction of Russian viewers. We could also bring our orchestra, but it would be like bringing coal to Newcastle (laughs).
But which “Singaporean things”may fascinate Russians?
Our food, for one. Whenever I host a reception at the embassy or dinner at home, I only serve Singaporean food, which is very popular with Russian guests. This is what they expect to get! I am very surprised because most of them have never been to Singapore, but they know that our food is good. A year ago, one of Moscow’s restaurants hosted a Singapore food festival and offered classic Singaporean dishes: chilli crab, laksa, chicken rice, Singapore noodles. I was shocked at the prices – USD 60 to 70 for a dish – which are far more expensive than in Singapore! But the Russians were ordering and enjoying it! Today, there are some restaurants in Moscow that serve Singaporean food at exorbitant prices, however.
Why are Singaporeans reluctant to visit Russia?
My impression is that Russia doesn’t do enough to promote the country as a tourist destination, at least not in Southeast Asia. Most Singaporeans don’t know much about Russia. To them, the images of Russia are those from the Cold War era: dull and dreary Moscow, always cold and wet, constantly snowing… Of course, to a certain extent it is true – I’ve just been through the Russian winter which lasted 5 months! But once you visit this country, you know there is much, much more to it. My wife and I love taking long walks in the snow when it’s sunny – it’s really beautiful. During winter, on a good day, my wife and I would go walking through the snow-frosted forests just outside Moscow and walk along frozen rivers. At other times we explore the sprawling and dynamic city using public transportation (the Moscow Metro is excellent).
We never get bored during our walks – there’s always something new to discover. We love to eat out – Moscow’s restaurants are generally of a very high standard – but extremely expensive. Nightlife is also very good here in Moscow: four or five theatres show decent English movies and there are lots of pubs, bars and music clubs, not to mention the country’s amazing traditional cultural offerings we talked about earlier. Other parts of Russia such as St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Lake Baikal, the list could go on – all have very interesting offerings for the tourist.
What defines the “Russian character” for you?
Their patriotism, loyalty and warm hospitality, perhaps. But there are many ethnic groups in Russia, far more than in Singapore, which prides itself as a multiethnic country. In a country of extreme weather, extreme vastness and extreme cultural diversity – things are a bit different in the East, South, North and West, yet they all of course comprise a part of the Russian character. Your long and interesting history has shaped the Russian soul as well. I’ve been in Russia for only a year and a half, so if you ask me this question again in about three or four years, I ay be able to give you a ore thoughtful
Embassy of the Republic of ingapore in Russia
Per Kamennaya Sloboda 5
121099 Moscow Russia
+7-(499) 241-3702, 241-3902
Mon – Fri
9.00 am to 1.00 pm
2.00 pm to 5.30 pm
Sat & Sun – Closed
By Natalia Makarova