Cooking doyenne Violet Oon is the latest Singapore food brand with ambitions of going global. She recently laid out her plan to conquer foodies - from a new restaurant at Jewel Changi Airport next year, to food retail at posh international grocers thereafter, to restaurants in London and Tokyo by 2020. She is not the first home-grown food brand to do so. BreadTalk has a strong presence in China and Hong Kong, Mr Bean attracts queues at its strategically located kiosk in Tokyo's Shibuya station, and Old Chang Kee's curry puffs are now available in London's Covent Garden.
These brands bring a taste of Singapore to foreign lands. But increasingly, it is Singapore's bespoke brands and creative nous that have quietly made headway abroad. This may surprise those who think of the Republic as a sterile city, known more for its streamlined efficiency, tough laws and economic growth than creative prowess. But this little red dot, designated a Creative City of Design by Unesco in 2015, has spawned a surprising list of successful creatives. There is fashion label Ong Shunmugam and its signature blend of ethnic fabrics and updated cheongsam silhouettes. Graphic novelist Sonny Liew's prestigious Eisner award wins were celebrated, but writers J.Y. Yang and Vina Jie-Min Prasad must be equally lauded for their Hugo award nominations for their fantasy and science fiction works. For a country long seen as a cultural desert, Singapore has also exported administrators overseeing arts and theatre to the region and beyond. The range of talent should give pause to naysayers. Singaporeans, having grown up at a crossroads of cultures, are well placed to take these cultures international. Besides an ease with code-switching between East and West, Singaporeans' facility with English also gives them an edge. It is time to acknowledge that Singapore soft power is having a moment on the world stage. Long may it flourish.