Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister for Environment and Water Resources, has just been on Facebook denying that the two days of downpours that we just sat through were the result of cloud seeding by a government keen to provide good weather for the Grand Prix (which locals hate anyway, because – being a street circuit – it disrupts our travel plans).
Singapore seldom makes the headlines in the international press, so the F1 is more or less our only chance to show off our swag to the world. And, it has to be said, there have been planes zipping overhead doing unknown things in the haze for the past few days, and I’m sitting here this morning in a far less hazy Dunearn Road than I walked down last night. If the gahmen didn’t do this, then we’ve been very lucky.
Moreover, this is not the first time they’ve been accused of stage managing the weather for an important event this year.
As you will no doubt have seen in the press, there was another enormous downpour earlier in the year, on the day of Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral.
The weather had been pretty good in the couple of weeks leading up to it, and was great again afterwards, but on the day itself we all went out and stood in the pouring rain making an appropriately moving spectacle for the press cameras.
However, almost immediately afterwards rumours started to circulate that the storm had been cloud seeded prior to the event for precisely that reason.
Weather is, after all, an emotional vector. The photo at the top of this post also circulated on the day of LKY’s funeral, with various netizens saying it had been taken that very day at Marina Bay. It’s patently untrue – Gardens by the Bay, which is about as prominent a landmark as you can get, and which was most certainly there during LKY’s funeral, has not yet been built in that photograph – and yet people wanted to believe it. Hell, I wanted to believe it, and I’m bitter and cynical Eurotrash.
If this had been happening in mainland China, they would almost certainly have – tacitly at least – admitted that they had been stage managing the climate for the event (APEC blue was no secret, and Beijing has an entirely non-secret Weather Modification Bureau dedicated to handling these things). And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Popular though the “even the heavens are crying” idea may have been, in a way the knowledge that our sharp-suited, soulless bureaucrats cared enough to change the weather for the Old Man’s funeral is – if anything – even more touching. (LKY himself – bleakly agnostic as he was – would probably have prefered that explanation too.)
Of course, when westerners find out about East Asia’s dedication to arranging the appropriate weather conditions for big events, they tend to be shocked. “Messing with nature”, whether it be via contraception or global warming, is a wide-ranging taboo in Western culture. Notice how many western horror movies start from a premise involving scientists creating something unnatural in the lab (by contrast, Asian horror tends to focus on evil forces that exist in nature invading the human sphere – think Sadako emerging from the tv at the end of Ringu).
This probably has religious underpinnings: in the West and the near East nature was seen as God’s benevolent creation, and thus attempts to modify or immitate it were liable to be seen as sacrilege.
East Asian religion tends to be far more ambivalent about nature. In Taoist thought, bad things are an integral and necessary part of the natural order. Buddhism sees the physical world as a series of pitfalls to be escaped or rejected. Shinto – unsurprisingly for a religion that grew up in the natural disaster capital of the world – goes one further and sees the forces of nature as being at best capricious and at worst actively malevolent.