Sunday, August 09, 2009

Uncock the bottle

Today is Singapore's 44th National Day. Today, Singapore is just as racially diverse as it was 44 years ago, perhaps more so. 44 years ago, we had Indians, Chinese, Malays and Eurasians. There were, of course, the Europeans - mostly British - our former British colonial masters who stayed behind to support a fledgeling nation, if only for a while. And among the locals, there were the sub-groups among the Chinese and Indians - the Cantonese, the Hokkiens, the Teochews, and among the Indians - the Malayalees, the Tamils, the Sikhs. The Malays were probably the most homogenous group, this land being historically theirs, until the British colonised Malaya.

Today, 44 years later, we have just as many diverse people. The Chinese dialect among the younger Singaporeans have almost died out, though there are still among them some, like me, who continue to speak Cantonese (or whichever dialect) at every opportunity. Some people think I am a Hong Konger, but I am never more Singaporean than a Singaporean. Nevertheless, the island's Mandarin only regime (particularly in the mass media) is stifling. It hides our identities, no, it has buried our identities, RIP. Our children no longer speak these dialects, not even if you tempt them with rewards beyond their years.

But we have been joined by people from all over the world - expatriates here to earn a living. Some have stayed - the Czechs, the Serbians, the Hong Kongers, the Shanghainese, the Beijingers, the Koreans, the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, the Burmese, and yes, the Americans too - and married locals, producing yet other species of children among us. Truly, the Singapore of 44 years is now as diverse as it has ever been. Today, we are not puzzled by our neighbours who speak Hakka, or Hokkien. We are puzzled by very much more strange tongues when we travel the MRT subway. Though sometimes disconcerting, it is probably a good thing. We have retained, if not grown our cultural diversity. We remember that it has always ever been this way, though sadly, some feel threatened by strange skins and strange languages, as we did 44 years ago.

But this is the only way Singapore can grow. It is probably the easiest way. The locals want smaller families, either by choice or forced by choice - they want the good life above any toddler who may be a hindrance. They cannot see beyond 50 years later and what they will live by. Perhap the CPF kitty, their wholly-owned apartments, have replaced whatever need for financial dependence on children in our old age that our parents used to have. And anyway, in the hothouse of the Singapore education system, you probably really can only afford one, at most two. Not because of the financial burden - we are much more well-off than our neighbours in surrounding countries, but the social and psychological pressure that comes with having our kids perform in exams - twice a year - for at least 12 continuous years. Surely it is too much for any parent to bear, after they have borned their own 12 years?

But I am thankful for the relative peace and safety of this place. So I take this opportunity to wish all Singaporeans a very happy and meaningful National Day. Let's uncock the bottle!

PM Lee's National Day Message

1 comment :

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