Yesterday was Singapore’s 57th National Day and as I was wondering what to write about the day, I started thinking about what makes one a Singaporean? Birth is one of course, but why do those who consciously become one do it? I know why I did it and you can read my story and journey here and here. While I was undergoing my process, I came across many who didn’t have any connection to the country and probably became a citizen only because of the privileges accorded by the red Singapore passport was far superior to their own birth country. They were not interested in the language of the country and by that I mean not making an effort to integrate and speak English which is the working language and one that brings together all the races, not interested in learning about the history and not even interested in its people.
So what makes one a Singaporean?
The first thing that comes to my mind would probably be words like obedient, hardworking and kiasu. These are words which probably describe a nation in which a competitive citizenry is obsessed with being number one in all that it does. A word that probably describes the Singaporean core perfectly is kiasu. A word that is Hokkien in origin, kaisu means being afraid to lose out and is Singapore in a nutshell. We need to win and be the first in everything, coming second is the equivalent of losing. This also translates to parents being tiger mums and dads who want their children only to get As in school and the only careers worth exploring are as bankers, doctors and lawyers.
The Singapore accent and Singlish are other Singaporean identifiers. When we travel, especially in the region, hearing the accent and Singlish being spoken takes you back home immediately and makes a connection in a foreign land.
Singaporeans are also very dedicated, especially when it comes to getting their favourite meal at the hawker centre or the latest Happy Meal toy, the biggest discount or the latest trend. We can stand in a line for hours just to reach the thing we want.
We are complain kings and queens and that’s probably a national hobby. With smartphone usage at a high, we love taking photos of those who we feel are breaking rules and post them on social media to complain. We blow stuff completely out of proportion just for the sake of our daily dosage of entertainment. Then after we’re done, we move on to the next better topic. But woe toward others, especially foreigners who complain about us or our nation. Then we get together to bash them up.
Singapore is a very safe place. As a woman, I can walk around the country even late at night, something I can’t think of doing in India. When we are out and want to save our seat or chope it as it we call it, we use our belongings to save the seat. So anything from a packet of tissue to an umbrella or even our office name tag or laptop can be left on the table and nobody will dare to dream to pick it up. It may be annoying to get your food and see empty tables, but all filled with tissue packets, but we put up with it and get on with life.
We are also a wonderful blend of old and new as well as traditional and modern. Old heritage buildings lie cheek in jowl with modern glass skyscrapers and it’s not unusual to see people wearing the latest fashions walking alongside those in a traditional kebaya or saree.
And of course, no post about Singapore can end without a note about Singlish and the fact that we can speak an entire sentence incorporating all four of Singapore’s languages. Our need for speed in everything and being first also means we speak so fast that outsiders need a translator when listening to us.
But all said and done, Singapore has its imperfections, but no country is perfect. We have to accept the good and the bad and make it even better together. So let’s get together and be grateful to this little red dot. Happy Birthday, Singapore! May you continue to prosper.
And as I always share, here’s this year’s National Day song. Enjoy…