Today is 9 August 2011 and it is also Singapore’s 46th birthday. We have come a long way since our independence in 1965 but have we also lost a lot along the way? To some, we have gained more than we lost. To me, it’s not about how much we lost/gained but rather about the value. What have we lost in these years? A little sense of belonging, maybe? A little sense of patriotism, maybe?
In a modern world where Internet (with social media) prevails, it is easier for people to share their feelings and thoughts. We no longer have to gather together in front of a TV at community centres nor do we need sit around coffee stalls just to meet and catch up with each other. We interact with the computers more than human beings. I get updated on my friends’ status even without leaving my house. Unfortunately I also have to guess my friends’ well beings since I don’t have that physical interactions.
Just within the past few days, I saw many facebook postings and blogs on Singapore’s 46th National Day. Most of them are best wishes for Singapore and Singaporeans. However, I noticed there were a few which were rather melancholic. One of my friends posted “爱国是……把国旗挂在心中，不是挂在每盛盏路灯”. Basically this meant that patriotism is within the heart and not the act of putting up the national flag. Another said “My Country; Our Home. The attitude every citizen should have”. Finally, I like (and agree with) what Fang Zhi Yuan wrote in Temasek Review. Usually I take these comments with a pinch of salt as they tend to be personal or even politically inclined. However, I could resonate with these comments this time round as I share the same sentiments since a long time ago.
I considered myself lucky to have lived in an era that could personally experience Singapore transforming from kampong houses to modern high-rise buildings. Many of my peers (and younger friends) probably do not know there was a profession called “Night Soil Carrier” where the man will collect the human waste in buckets from house to house. During my younger days, most of my friends were already staying in public housing flats with proper toilet flushing system. However, I stayed in a kampong-like environment where I had to do my “business” into buckets of faeces and most of the time, I could literally see worms moving in the bucket. Sounds disgusting? It sure was. Then I also remembered that one of my favourite childhood activities was to follow my mother to the 7th month ‘Getai’ shows where the stage was built on stilts. I remember running around these stilts, eating maltose candy (麦芽糖) and enjoying the performance with my mother. Back then, I even had a secret code with my neighbours. I would clap my hands three times if I want to talk to my neighbour behind my house; and two times if I want to talk to my neighbour on the right. My dad knew about my secret code and would sometimes play a prank on me by clapping his hands. Although life was simple then, I enjoyed my childhood very much. Together with my friends, we would catch fishes in the drain, butterflies and spiders in the bushes and even fireflies in the night. Sometimes we also do naughty things like stealing rambutan from someone else’s garden and tying a thread to the tail of a dragonfly. Then with industrialization, we had to move out of our kampong and into public housing flats. Not only have I lost touch with my kampong buddies, I also have not made any new close friends in the new estate. For that matter, I seldom see my neighbours often as their doors were usually closed. This is the first social erosion that I experienced.
I believe I am experiencing the second wave now. Lesser physical interactions, coupled with the increasing affluence of the nation and people, I think we have become more self-centred and more apathetic about our country. Recently I had a conversation with some of my friends and so we started talking about National Day Parade (NDP). One of my friends said NDP was a waste of time and resources and he didn’t understand why people would queue up to get the tickets and sit under the sweltering heat to watch the parade. He also said he would not want to go to the NDP even if he had a chance. Another one then added that National Service was also a waste of time. The third one, who is a foreigner converted to Singaporean, asked “Will you send your sons to the army if you have a choice?”. I told him that I have 2 daughters and hence the question was irrelevant for me. But if I had sons, I would definitely send them to the army. With that, I gave a reason to excuse myself as I could not see myself participating in that discussion anymore. Sometimes, it’s not just women with hormonal issues. Guys can also get emotional and I happened to be one in that occasion. I like to use this analogy of country and family. My parents gave me life and education. If one day they run into trouble and need my help. Will I help? If the help requires me to wear a thick uniform under the hot sun and fight the enemies, will I complain and run away instead? If my parents had done well and achieved some public recognition, will I feel happy or boo? If there are (perceived) better, richer families, will I disown my (poor) parents and foster the new family? My country is like my family in this case. I was born and bred here. Good or bad, I am staying to make it a better place. Like the lyrics in our classic 1987 National Day song “We are Singapore” … This is my country. This is my flag. This is my future. This is my life.
Let’s enjoy this classic song for another time and may you have a great day ahead. Happy National Day, everybody!