I have always seen nation-states as artificial constructs, but being human, I do have some emotional bonds with the country of my birth, where I spent the first 30 years of my life, and where I will also return to…some day.
I have never been those chest thumping ‘I love Singapore, I am so proud of my country’ type of Singaporean. Being based in China though has made me appreciate some aspects of Singapore, the many things that we take for granted, and things that we can rightly be proud of.
Yet at the same time, I disapprove of, and feel alienated by, some of the beliefs and sentiments held by a not insignificant segment of my so-called fellow countrymen (whom I probably have nothing else in common with – I hope).
In the spirit of National Day – a list of the things I appreciate about Singapore…and also what keep me from saying with pride that I am a Singaporean.
What I appreciate:
- A relatively clean and efficient government, with good intentions. I am actually willing to pay higher taxes, if it can lead to a more equal society, because the money won’t end up in some corrupt official’s pockets.
- A country ruled by law. China is a country ruled by men (relatively), which means there is less security living in China, and connections are much more important.
- A relatively service oriented civil service. I remembered the time when I went to ICA to renew my passport a couple of years ago. The auntie there was most helpful. Compare this with the nurses in China who treat you like shit when you are sick!
- A relatively clean, green and safe environment compared to many other parts of the world. Clean drinking water, decent healthcare etc – things we often take for granted.
- The principle of meritocracy. In Singapore, you may be at a bit of a disadvantage if you come from a relatively modest background, but social mobility is still possible.
What keeps me from saying with pride that I am a Singaporean:
- The principle of meritocracy seems to be morphing into a sense of elitism – you deserve to be where you are in life. Old folks are clearing plates at food courts because they didn’t save for their retirements. The huge income gap is because, well, some people are just not as smart or hardworking. It’s their problem, their fault. I succeed on my own merits and don’t owe anything to the society.
- I am ashamed of our exploitation of cheap foreign labor…and failure to protect their welfare, or treat them respectfully. For goodness sake – we are the country where we need to have a debate on whether maids should be given one day off a week!
- The xenophobia among a section of Singapore society, the irony being that we are a country of immigrants! You can disagree with the government’s immigration policy, but that’s no reason to be hostile to immigrants, who have as much right as you or me to seek a better life. I often think how I would have felt if I were to face the same hostility as a foreigner living in China.
- We are a country where homosexual acts are illegal….but prostitution is. Not sure how to make sense of this. I am against discrimination of any form – gender, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, social class. Unfortunately, whereas racism, sexism etc are now commonly frowned upon, discrimination based on sexual orientation is still viewed by some as acceptable, or worse – as morally right.