Since National Day is only two-days ahead, I thought I would try and bash out a few thoughts on a topic which should be on the minds of every right-thinking Singaporean – namely, what is it that we want our little nation to be?
I’ve somehow avoided this topic for the last 12-years because, for all my complaints about Singapore, it’s been pretty much the “Celestial Kingdom.” I never tire of saying this but Singapore is pretty much what a city should be – rich, green and clean. Our crime rates are low and as long as you’re reasonably intelligent, you can get by. It’s been as if we got one formula right at the start and everyone after that just needed to follow the proven script. If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself – “When was the last time you heard the Singapore Government come out with a vision for the nation?” There’s plenty of talk about how to grow the economy but we haven’t exactly heard anyone talk about what they want for the nation.
I can say with all honesty that I’ve never thought much of the question of what I want Singapore to be. Like my fellow citizens, I’ve merely been following the path of just making a living and avoiding getting into any trouble. However, now that fatherhood to a teenager has become part of my life, the question has suddenly become important and why shouldn’t it – this is, after all, the ONLY country that I have an obligation to die for.
I guess we should start with what I hope never changes, which is for Singapore to remain a safe little red dot that remains open to the world.
Safety is something I never fully appreciated until I became a father of a teenage girl. I’ve lived in London, which is generally pretty safe and I’ve visited big American cities like New York and Chicago. While I’ve never experienced anything really nasty, there are parts of those cities that I wouldn’t walk in. I remember getting lost in “California Avenue” in Chicago with a best friend of mine who was driving a sports car. We were running low on gas but we drove on till we got the hell out of there – the local residents didn’t exactly look like they were going to let us keep the car if we got out.
You don’t get that feeling even in Singapore’s neighbourhoods. I remember a US Navy boy asking me if Geylang was our worst neighbourhood and when I replied that it was, he invited me to the States to show me what a bad neighbourhood was.
This is officially a bad neighbourhood in Singapore
I hope that aspect of Singapore remains in perpetuity. I can live with a slowing economy but I don’t want to live in a place where I worry for my safety or more importantly not being able to sleep because I’m worried that my little girl hasn’t come home yet. One of my favourite Englishmen tells people, “Singapore is the freest place in the world – the safety it provides makes me feel free.”
I also want Singapore to be a place where we continue to accept people from all over the world. I love the fact that we remain a place where you see people of various shades walking around and having fun together.
I love the fact that I can walk around and find a mosque, church and a temple side by side and worshipers popping into each other’s place of worship for a friendly nod to the divine. To my mind, God is everywhere and nothing is Godlier that human beings acknowledging him in all his various forms. I pray that we will remain the place where a Hindu temple is crowded with Taoist devotees worshiping the Hindu Gods outside. This is the way it should be. I want Singapore to always be the place where a Buddhist can enter a church and a Christian family will observe Hindu rights and Muslims celebrate Christmas.
The Way it Should Be.
What would I change about Singapore? One of my biggest frustrations with life in Singapore lies in the fact that the minds of people tend to be preconditioned to look at the world in a certain way. Admittedly, it’s something that you could say about any other part of the world but I guess, since I live in Singapore I feel it the most here.
One of the most prominent examples of this “preconditioning” comes in the area of race. For all our talk about being a “multi-racial” society, we are shockingly racist. I go back to my favourite Englishman who tells me that when his son when to apply for a job at F1, it was quite noticeable that anyone who was white or yellow ended up as an usher while anyone who happened to be brown or black ended up on cleaning duty. I’ve refused to take up certain positions because what I was being offered was significantly lower than my predecessors and my colleagues have defended the discrepancy in what was being offered because the other person was of a lighter shade.
The other area that frustrates me about Singapore is that it can be an unforgiving place for people who don’t follow the prescribed cast system. I speak as someone who never had a conventional career path of going into the government or the government and decided to do his or her own thing. My own people could never look beyond the fact that I never took the position that New York or London were essential to global prosperity. For me, it was the companies from places like Dhaman (Saudi) or Chennai (India), that gave me a chance and I guess you could say I’m biased but I’m willing to give people outside the established order a chance because they gave me a chance.
It's like this, I applaud the fact that we welcome people from the third world to work here. However, if those people from the third world become uppity and try and go beyond the menial job we gave them, we don’t like it.
We need to be the place where second acts are celebrated. On my Facebook page, I’ve linked up with a few of the girls who worked at the bar that I drink at. They’ve gone back to the Philippines and reinvented themselves as online entrepreneurs. They came here with not very much and gone back as entrepreneurs.
An example of the Capitalist Success Story of a Girl with Hunger
While I celebrate their success, I ask myself, why can’t we encourage them to start their second act in life here?
As well as celebrating the success of migrants, we should also be the place that encourages second acts amongst our mid-career professionals. We succeeded by producing the people who could work in one job and at one thing. So, as the world becomes more fluid, we should now focus on being the place where second acts take place and succeed. Would Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer sales man at the age of 60 plus or Colonel Harland Sanders a washed out cook in his 60s get their second acts as restaurant owners in Singapore. The answer should be – why not.