What makes one a Singaporean

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…

In My Hands Today…

Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore – Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng, Peter Borschberg and Tan Tai Yong

Assessments of Singapore’s history invariably revolve around Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819. Before this date – we’ve been told – “nothing very much appears to have happened in Singapore”. Pre-1819 Singapore was a sleepy, historically insignificant fishing village, little more than the “occasional resort of pirates”.

This ambitious book, co-written by four of Singapore’s foremost historians, offers an assertive re-evaluation of that view. Drawing on a multi-disciplinary range of archival, textual and cartographical records, as well as the latest archaeological discoveries, the authors cast a singular historical trajectory for Singapore over the past seven centuries, animating its history like never before.

Written in a compelling and accessible manner, and richly illustrated with more than 200 artefacts, photographs, maps, artworks and ephemera, this volume builds upon the foundations of an earlier book, Singapore: A 700-Year History. Extensively rewritten to incorporate ground-breaking research findings, Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore widens the historical lens and offers a vital new perspective on the story of Singapore.

In My Hands Today…

Hard at Work: Life in Singapore – Gerard Sasges and Ng Wen Shi

For most of us, work is a basic daily fact of life. But that simple fact encompasses an incredibly wide range of experiences.

Hard at Work takes readers into the day-to-day work experiences of more than fifty working people in Singapore who hold jobs that run from the ordinary to the unusual: from ice cream vendors, baristas, police officers and funeral directors to academic ghostwriters, temple flower sellers, and Thai disco girl agents.

Through first-person narratives based on detailed interviews, vividly augmented with colour photographs, Hard at Work reminds us of the everyday labour that continually goes on around us, and that every job can reveal something interesting if we just look closely enough. It shows us too the ways inequalities of status and income are felt and internalized in this highly globalized society.

Singapore to Mumbai: A Photographic Journey

Most of our trips to Mumbai have been evening flights and so there was nothing to see outside. We’ve done day flights regionally, but I can only remember two other daytime flights to Mumbai in the last 20 odd years. Both times, we flew Singapore Airlines and both flights were in wide-bodied planes, perhaps an Airbus. Earlier this year, when I flew to India, I flew Vistara, the airline that was created due to a partnership between Singapore Airlines and the Indian conglomerate, the Tata Group. Vistara uses a smaller aircraft which is single aisle and so probably flies much lower in the air compared to Singapore Airlines flights. So this time around, I enjoyed the flight because I could see the ground while flying. Up until we entered the Bay of Bengal, I enjoyed the scenery below and took many photographs of the journey. This photographic essay is the result of that trip. My apologies if I shared some photos previously.

This scene greeted me almost as soon as the plane took off from Singapore’s Changi airport. You can see the buildings of Changi in the left and the National Service Resort & Country Club in the front and centre.

A minute later, this is one of Singapore’s offshore islands, maybe Pulau Ubin or Pulau Tekong.

About 30 minutes into the flight, we were flying over the Malaysian peninsula, probably flying over the North South expressway, on the way to the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur.

About 45 into the flight, you can clearly see the island of Penang and the famous Penag bridge.

The next island is the island of Langkawi, which lies almost on the border between Malaysia and Thailand. We visited the island more than a decade back and have very fond memories of the place and hope to visit it again soon.

About an hour and 40 minutes into the flight, we flew over the Thai island of Krabi.

After Thailand, we veered course to fly over the Bay of Bengal and try as I much wanted to, I could not see much out of the window and the next time I saw something interesting, we were flying over Ahmednagar in my home state of Maharashtra, about 20-25 minutes before we landed in Mumbai.

This photo was taken as we approach Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus for landing into Mumbai. This is the Vashi Bridge which seperates Mumbai from Navi Mumbai or New Bombay, the planned city and part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). Seeing the bridge brought back so many Mumbai memories of school trips and seeing the bridge I know we are on the verge of landing into Mumbai.

We were on our descent for landing and this is taken just a couple of minutes before touchdown. This is most likely the Eastern Express Highway in Vikhroli East, a few seconds before landing in Mumbai.

And finally touchdown after flying about 5.5 hours. I was back in the city of my birth after more than two years. But now I doubt I will fly into Bombay anytime soon, but never say never!

I hope you enjoyed this photographic journey as much as I liked searching through the photos I took during the flight and remembered my journey.

Festivals of India: Eid al-Fitr

Yesterday marked the last day of the fasting month of Ramadan and today, billions of Muslims worldwide celebrate the festival of Eid al-Fitr.

Eid al-Fitr or the Feast of Breaking the Fast, is the earlier of the two official holidays celebrated within Islam, with the other being Eid al-Adha. This festival marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan and falls on the first day of Shawwal in the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the date of the festival changes every year. The start of the Hijri month varies based on when the new moon is sighted by local religious authorities. Also known as Ramzan Eid, the Lesser Eid, or simply Eid, Eid al-Fitr commemorates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. An occasion for special prayers, family visits, gift-giving and charity, it takes place over one to three days, beginning on the first day of Shawwal, the 10th month in the Islamic calendar and is a day of joy as families get together after a month of austerity and fasting.

One of the five pillars of Islam, during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, nearly all Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sundown and abstain from smoking, drinking, including water and sexual activity during the daylight hours. Ramadan is the month in which the Prophet Muhammad received the teachings of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, as a guide for mankind and a means for judging between right and wrong. Fasting during Ramadan, known as Sawm, is one of the five pillars, the basic principles that are essential to the Islamic faith. Muslims observe Ramadan by reading the Quran, emphasising charity or zakat, abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours, and concentrating on prayer and study to increase their taqwa, or sacred consciousness. Fasting during Ramadan takes people out of their normal lifestyles and requires them to engage in solemn contemplation and examination. Experiencing hunger and thirst is supposed to heighten people’s awareness of the sufferings of the poor, and gain a greater appreciation for what they have.

After a month of prayer, devotion and self-control, Muslims celebrate the accomplishment of their sacred duties during Ramadan with the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking the Fast. The festival is a national holiday in many countries with large Muslim populations. Celebrations of Eid al-Fitr typically last for three days, one day fewer than those of Eid al-Adha. For this reason, Eid al-Fitr is often called Lesser or Smaller Eid. Eid al-Adha, known as Greater Eid, is seen as the more important holiday of the two.

Eid al-Fitr was originated by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. According to certain traditions, these festivals were initiated in Medina after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca. Anas, a well-known companion of the Islamic prophet, narrated that, when Muhammad arrived in Medina, he found people celebrating two specific days in which they entertained themselves with recreation and merriment. At this, Muhammad remarked that Allah had fixed two days of festivity: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

During Eid al-Fitr, Muslims take part in special morning prayers, greet each other with formal embraces and offer each other greetings of Eid Mubarak or Have a blessed Eid. They gather with family and friends, give games and gifts to children and prepare and eat special meals, including sweet dishes like baklava or Turkish delight in Turkey, date-filled pastries and cookies in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and bint al sahn or honey cake in Yemen.

Another of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat or giving to those in need. Muslims often prepare for Eid al-Fitr by giving money to charity so that less fortunate families can enjoy the festivities as well. In addition to charity, Muslims are also encouraged to give and seek forgiveness during Eid al-Fitr and look forward to the opportunity to fast again during Ramadan the following year.

Traditionally, Eid al-Fitr begins at sunset on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. If the moon is not observed immediately after the 29th day of the previous lunar month, either because clouds block its view or because the western sky is still too bright when the moon sets, then the holiday is celebrated the following day. Eid is celebrated for one to three days, depending on the country and it is forbidden to fast on the day of Eid, and a specific prayer is nominated for this day. As an obligatory act of charity, money is paid to the poor and the needy known as Zakat-ul-Fitr before performing the Eid prayer which is performed by the congregation in an open area such as a field, a community centre or a mosque. No call to prayer is given for this Eid prayer, and it consists of only two units of prayer, with a variable amount of Takbirs and other prayer elements depending on the branch of Islam observed. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon also instructs Muslims as to the performance of rituals of Eid, such as the zakat. The sermon of Eid takes place after the Eid prayer, unlike the Friday prayer which comes first before prayer with some imams believing that listening to the sermon at Eid is optional. After the prayers, Muslims visit their relatives, friends, and acquaintances or hold large communal celebrations in homes, community centres, or rented halls.

In India, Eid is a public holiday and the holiday begins after the sighting of the new moon on Chand Raat. On that evening, people head to markets to finish their shopping for Eid, for clothing and gifts and begin preparing their food for the next day. Traditional Eid food often includes biriyani, sheer khurma, and sevvaiyyan, a dish of fine, toasted sweet vermicelli noodles with milk and dried fruit, among other regionally-specific dishes. Women and girls also put henna in each others’ hands and the next morning, Muslims go to their local mosque for the Eid Namaz and give Eid zakat before returning home. Afterwards, children are given Eidi or cash gifts and friends and relatives visit each other’s homes to eat and celebrate. In Pakistan, this Eid is also known as Chhoti or Lesser Eid and is celebrated more or less like in India. At home, family members enjoy a special Eid breakfast with various types of sweets and desserts, including Kheer and the traditional dessert Sheer Khurma, which is made of vermicelli, milk, butter, dry fruits, and dates. Children also get cash gifts known as Eidi with the State Bank of Pakistan issuing fresh currency notes every year for this purpose.

In Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, Eid is more commonly known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Hari Raya Idul Fitri, Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Fitrah or Hari Lebaran where Hari Raya means a celebration day. It is customary for workers in the city to return to their home town to celebrate with their families and to ask forgiveness from parents, in-laws, and other elders. This is known in Malaysia as balik kampung or homecoming. The night before Hari Raya is filled with the sounds of takbir in the mosques or musallahs. In many parts of Malaysia, especially in the rural areas, pelita, panjut or lampu colok which are oil lamps, similar to tiki torches are lit up and placed outside and around homes. Special dishes like ketupat, rendang, lemang which is a type of glutinous rice cooked in bamboo and other Malay delicacies such as various kuih-muih are served during this day. It is common to greet people with Salam Aidilfitri or Selamat Hari Raya which means Happy Eid. Muslims also greet one another with maaf zahir dan batin, which asks to forgive their physical and emotional wrongdoings. In Singapore and Malaysia, especially in the major cities, people take turns to set aside a time for an open house when they stay at home to receive and entertain neighbours, family and other visitors. It is common to see non-Muslims made welcome during Eid at these open houses. Children are given token sums of money, also known as Duit Raya, from their parents or elders.

To everyone celebrating Eid, Eid Mubarak and Selamat Hari Raya Adilfitri!