"Singapore? Which part of China will that be?" More than 10 years ago, I will often get this response when interacting with foreigners. It comes partly from the fact that I am Chinese and perhaps, the word "Singapore" does not sound English (it doesn't sound Mandarin either).
!0 years later, I think we have really made a name for ourselves. I am always pleasantly surprised by how our tiny island nation would be mentioned by foreign news stations. I mean, we are, as some political leaders used to say, "just a tiny red dot" on the world map! And to be deemed worthy of attention at the global level is something that we have taken 56 years of effort to build.
This year's slogan is on a topic that is very close to my heart:
Whenever I interact with foreigners and we chat about national identity, I get this very interesting feeling that I can't put into words (and I shall attempt to do so now). The instinctive things that come to my mind would be... FOOD! Prata, nasi lemak, bak chor mee, char kway teoh, etc. Oh yes, rojak! Then, I will share about how we are just like "rojak" – a local dish that mishmash very different ingredients (e.g. carbs like You Tiao, dao pok with fruits like pineapple and apple and seafood like cuttlefish and... prawn paste!) together. This led me to the conclusion that food makes up a huge part of our Singaporean culture and identity.
Another common identity that we identify with is our multiracial and multi-religion community. We often ensure that we have a good representation of our four major races (oh, gender as well) in our posters and banners. Truth be told in this globalised world, every other city is multiracial and multi-religion. Yet, I do think that we have achieved a state beyond acceptance and tolerance, as Singaporeans generally appreciate the cultures and practices of the people who live here. Of course, as social and territorial creatures, there is bound to be friction between locals and foreigners, and from time to time between the different ethnic groups. But such are important parts of the process as we learn to establish new equilibrium. I do think we too can strive beyond the appreciation level and seek to achieve the celebration (for the lack of a better word) stage where we proactively involve and get involved in each other's celebrations.
Focusing back onto the SG spirit, I feel that community and people-wise in general, we tend to associate ourselves with pretty negative identities, with the most prominent being the "kiasu" spirit (closest translation would be FOMO but at a competitive level). Some find Singaporeans too "guai" (obedient — i.e. law-abiding) and "lack creativity" (always following instead of trendsetting). In a way, this is the outcome of a nation that took 56 short years to put herself onto the global stage. We needed the competitive spirit and a united community to move fast. Now that we are here, it is also about time that we focus on what's next to come.
We may not be very good at expressing ourselves (my honest opinion) as we tend to "tahan (endure) and complain", there is a lot of love in the community in general. As we tend to stay in line, we seldom proactively do things to change up the status quo. BUT, should we notice someone falls out of line and is suffering, the community is usually quick to provide support. Of course, new generations are growing up fast and each generation seems to embody very different characteristics through the rapid changes in the environment. I grew up in a generation that we are exploring into the life science industry (didn't really take off), still fortunate enough to have stay-home moms. My parents' generation experienced kampong to city life transformation, have many siblings. Their parents experienced the world war and the fight for our independence... With each generation facing unique challenges and technology facilitating the rate of changes, it is time that we concretise what it means to have the "Singapore Spirit" and have something that can keep us rooted — no matter where we might eventually be.
As for the "How", I do think that we can return to what we used to do — creating shared memories and be more blatant about education of values. I am not sure why we do away with ACES day (a community exercise in school) or "好公民" where our Mother Tongue Language teachers will teach us values of "good citizenship" (the literal translation of the Mandarin words — other ethnic groups will have it in their respective languages). I suppose some thought these were propaganda but I do think that values must be taught in order to establish the right social norms. Interestingly, these activities are also the ones which we remember till these days. I guess being an educator, I instinctive thought of education as the way to get us forward. There should also be more things that we can do on other fronts which I am curious to find out!
I feel that this post went into way more topics than I had initially thought about. It is also as disorganised as my thoughts are. Nonetheless, I say it was an interesting process trying to articulate these thoughts and taking a quick trip down memory lane. I am always grateful for being born and raised in this safe and beautiful nation. Happy National Day Singapore! ❤️🇸🇬❤️
Just a photo was taken in Singapore — effortlessly beautiful 🥰
Thank you for reading! I am reducing my posting frequency back to once a week. See you in the next post. :)