Today Singapore celebrates its 49th year as a republic. After a couple of pages of the local rag, I had enough of the ra-ra and went onto the digital sphere to check on local sentiment on this special day. As expected, social media was rife with multiple musings on our little island.
There’s the positive – quite a few posts reciting the pledge, YouTube reposts of Kit Chan’s all-time best National Day song, ‘Home’; lots of red & white themes, a jaunty “See you later at National Day Parade” from our fearless leader. And of course, a whole lot of intellectual rants about Singapore’s shortcomings – SG’s too expensive; SG’s no longer SG because of the foreign invasion; SG’s too damned uptight; Where’s the SG I used to know, etc, etc.
I have grouses aplenty with our illustrious land and I swear some of the things (which I shall not go into) give me heartburn, but looking beyond at the craziness with ISIS in Iraq, the devastation in Gaza and the Ukraine, Ebola/strife/famine in Africa, there is much to be grateful for in peaceful Singapore. So today, rather than gripe, I’ve chosen to list a few things that we should be thankful for:
1. We’re the Little Island that could
For a tiny unremarkable island surrounded by much larger, resource-rich lands, Singapore has no business being a republic. Let’s face it, we have nothing going for us except for our strategic location (now perilously tenuous with rival ports/airports mushrooming around the region) and us – the people. We were a nondescript backwater just a hundred or so years ago but in the last 50 years, we have come far. Today, we’re the island of superlatives – best airport, best port, best infrastructure, ad nauseum. I may chafe and gripe under our overbearing nanny of a government and everything’s getting just too damned expensive, but they have done good in most respects.
2. Things Work
Our infrastructure works. We can complain like hell about the MRT trains not working but try comparing it with the Tube’s infamous Northern Line in London, or the trains that may or may not turn up in Italy. Everything is relative.
Our government agencies may be ngiau and irritating, but they mostly work well too. I’ve only had the best experiences at the ICA. I don’t know of any other country where the waiting time is about 0-10 minutes if you schedule an appointment beforehand. I’ve had my run-ins with the AVA, but even they have been honest enough to return a cheque when I accidentally paid twice for my doggy licence.
3. Our Multicultural Society
Singapore’s most beloved obsession – food – is a product of our multicultural society. That’s what binds us, it’s what all Singaporeans overseas miss most. I tell my kids that they are lucky that they can enjoy roti prata in the morning, laksa in the afternoon and spag bolognese at night, and all from the nearby hawker centre. That alone is worth celebrating in my book.
Actually, I’ve come to truly appreciate our multicultural heritage more in the past years. It must have been hard going forging a nation of different races and cultures back in the fifties and sixties. My mother still remembers the curfew days in the height of the racial riots and the fear of encountering angry mobs when taking the bus home from work.
Today, however, my close friends are from all races and in fact, people overseas can always make out the Singaporeans because a Malay, Chinese and Indian will share lodgings together. This apparently is quite rare outside of Singapore. And the ultimate sign of integration is when friends can make racist jokes with each other as a sign of endearment and invoke no hard feelings or picketing lines. I see daily proof of it in my son’s school.
But this too is tenuous. Lately, I’ve been seeing xenophobia rearing its ugly head in the name of nationalism. My husband, an outsider, sees this in sharp relief. He has aquaintances who have been targets of ant-foreign sentiment. The rumblings are evident too on social media, and disturbingly so among youth, who have been vocal with their Angmo-Chinese-Indian-Pinoy-go-home clarion calls.
Yes, we are unhappy with the recent influx of “foreign talent” and my forays to Changi Business Park, the new home of data centres and banking, makes me wonder sometimes if I’ve stepped into Bangalore business park. But weren’t we immigrants and “foreign talent” a mere 100 years ago too? Do we really have a right to deny them the chance of making it in another land?
Switching gears, Chan Chun Sing is not my favourite politician but his thoughts on whether the Singapore we know will be around to celebrate SG100 struck a chord. Looking at port cities that are similar to Singapore in history, Malacca and Venice come to mind. They were illustrious in their day but now they languish only as tourist attractions. They fortunately have the hinterland to buffer their fortunes but we as an island have none. Will Singapore suffer the same fate and worse in the next five decades as China, India, Indonesia and all the other SE Asia rise in prominence?
Yes, the gahmen has focused too much on the economics in their planning and social engineering over the decades to ensure Singapore’s longevity, and they now have the pleasure of dealing with a disgruntled population. However, I do see a genuine effort by the powers-that-be to try to work the “heart” into the equation now. According to an FB posting, LHL been working on his National Day Rally speech for weeks. It will be interesting to see what is in store.
Meanwhile, to celebrate our homeland’s birthday, I made a white sauce pasta bake with local and Italian spices, topped with red sundried tomatoes and white mozzarella in honour of our nation’s flag.
Majulah Singapore! You are my home and I hope, for all our sakes, that you will find a healthy, happy balance to your heart and the hard economics of survival in the years to come.