Thank You, Singapore


Note: Actually wrote this piece before LKY passed and intended to post it after my exchange. But since I’m overseas, let this be how I pay my respects instead. After all, LKY had a pivotal role in making Singapore who she is today.

Another note: This is not something that you will usually find on my “frivolous” blog. I had some pretty bad/hostile experiences while travelling around Europe and I found myself sobbing like a little girl missing home like mad while typing the below out (Gab was in the other room fast asleep). Call it emotionally-charged writing.

During exchange at Lund University, I was in my marketing class and my professor who “loved” knowing about different cultures, asked about what Singapore was like upon seeing the Singaporean students that made up a third of his class.

The first thing he could think of was the chewing gum ban. And also how it was strange to find litter in a place lauded for being clean and green.

He asked the other Western students if any of them had ever been to Singapore, and three of them who did could only come up with “it’s very clean”. I’m hoping the rest even knew where Singapore was. (Ps: we are not from China.)

I was sick of hearing about chewing gum ban jokes by Westerners. I tried to explain that technically, you could still eat chewing gum, since law enforcement regarding Singapore’s many rules like smoking and littering isn’t really that stringent and he was bemused by the apparent contradiction in our little red dot.

I wanted to explain so much more about my home, but I couldn’t in that class.

Travelling around Europe made me so proud of my home. There is this Chinese saying “身在福中不知福” that comes to mind all the time. I didn’t know just how lucky I was, but I do now.

Thank you Singapore, for being so safe. Thank you for allowing my fight or flight response system to rest when I’m walking home alone late at night. I don’t have to worry about theft or burglaries when I’m out of my house. I don’t what it is about crime, but we seem pretty adverse to it.

Thank you Singapore, for being so efficient and bringing convenience to all aspects of my life. The shops are open till 10pm, and we have so many 24/7 convenience stores, F&B stores and supermarkets that I am so thankful for. Thank you to all the staff manning these shops, you work hard and I’m grateful for your service.

In Europe you’re lucky if the shops close at 8/9pm. Shops in certain countries don’t even open on Sundays. If I’m sick in Singapore, SMU provides me with a free clinic situated in school. Polyclinics are so affordable, and GPs are aplenty. Having my health scare left me waiting for 2 days in the hospital in Lund; after 5pm only one doctor is on duty for the entire hospital. So thankful that I am healthy and wasn’t in need of immediate medical attention then. I’ve said so before, but I’m now ashamed about the times I complained about my 9 minutes wait for the circle line train. I’ve been guilty of missing trains and buses in Europe and then having to wait another hour (or walk to my destination).

All our stations have cover for when it rains, or when it’s sunny. They have lifts for the elderly, especially at overhead bridges near bus stops. All our trains and stations are safe at night and have such high frequency throughout the day. We even have officers standing by greeting us, making sure we aren’t lost and to facilitate travelling. Our public transport system does have its problems, but you can’t deny its efficiency.

Thank you Singapore, for teaching me to see past the colour of people’s skin from a young age. Being exposed to different races and religions made me not just tolerant, but also respectful and accepting of other people’s beliefs and cultures.

When I was twelve (primary 5), I saw my first African-American. Even though they were just a normal family with kids, I remembered feeling so scared because their skin was so dark and I had never seen anyone like them before. I wrote about it in my weekly journal entries to my form teacher. She replied that she had friends who were African-Americans, and that they were some of the nicest people she knew. She told me not to be scared of people who were different, and that we should try to get to know them and then you’ll see they are just the same as you. I’m pretty sure she didn’t have any African-american friends now that I’ve grown up, but I’ll never forget her words.

My Dad is a Hindu Buddhist, and he always takes good care of his workers from foreign lands. My family is a Taoist-Buddhist family, and I went to a Christian primary school. My brothers went on to study at Christian secondary schools, and they dated girls of other races and religions. On Fridays, I can walk out in a sea of Muslim men streaming out from their prayer session at the mosque near my house and feel safe and respected. Some of my best friends are Christians, and I occasionally attend their church services for special events or to support their performances. I love how my network of family and friends can survive not just despite, but also because of these differences – I can always discuss religious ideas and teachings on an intellectual level with my friends in a respectful manner.

I know not everyone is accepting of these differences and there are still bigots in Singapore, but at the very least most of us we are tolerant, if not accepting, and respectful. We see past colour, and some of us are so used to colour that we don’t even see it. We understand that discrimination only leads to undesirable consequences, where we see only colour and religion.

Thank you Singapore, for giving me freedom to explore, to grow, to dream.

Despite our many rules and supposed “lack” of freedom of speech, I think Singapore has created an environment of freedom. We can pursue our goals and dreams in spite of who we are and where we come from, as long as we work hard. Your race, your religion, your gender – they don’t limit who you are and what you can do. Here, as long as you work hard and smart, you have a chance of making it. Of course the merit-based system has its own flaws, but our corruption-free society ensures that everyone is on more or less fair ground, and the average Joe can climb up the corporate and social ladder without overwhelming obstacles that are crippling. People would say it’s not really fair, but our idealistic notion of “fair” and “equal” isn’t achievable in the real world. Someone would always have to lose. Some would always have to work harder than others.

Thank you Singapore, for being my home. I’m not saying you’re perfect Singapore, but I do think you’re pretty near so.

A very homesick Singaporean girl


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