Tuesday, August 09, 2016

A thought for National Day

It's Singapore's birthday today. As a nation, we will be getting together to celebrate 51-years since we were booted out of the Federation of Malaysia.

It's going to be quite a celebration and I believe it's something worth celebrating. Although I have my complaints, the nation I've chosen to call home for the last decade and a half has gotten much right despite the odds. It's worth remembering that we are celebrating an accident of history. The man who is credited for creating Singapore as a successful independent nation, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, started his political career by campaigning very hard for us to be a state within the Federation of Malaysia. Mr. Lee started out by arguing passionately that Singapore was too small to survive on its own and yet his greatest of success was proving that very idea wrong.

Perhaps it took fatherhood to make me realize it but Singapore has gotten the key things right. We may not be the hippest place around but we've got the basics right. We are what a nation should be. We are rich, clean and green. As a father of a teenage girl, I can't stop thanking my lucky stars that I live in a city where safety exists - I don't worry that something will happen to my little girl if goes out at night (not that she does - these days smart phones keep the kids at home).

Singapore is a great place to be in so many ways. As someone who was born in Singapore but raised in a small town in Southern England, I also found myself in a unique position in terms of East-West relations. I may have looked exotic in a sea of blonde and red heads but I was amazingly un-exotic in almost every other respect. I sometimes wonder if my classmates were disappointed that I wasn't a bit more exotic. I spoke English at home and my Dad didn't run a take away or a laundry mat. My Dad also shelled out for school fees that most ordinary English people won't have paid and he did so with money made in Singapore rather than through the generosity of some NGO that the school was running charity drives for so that we could help people in the third world.

If I look back at my life in the West, I think the most amazing thing that being born a Singaporean gave me, was a feeling that living in the West wasn't better than living where I came from. My parents sent me to England because they felt this was where I'd get the best education rather than we needed to move there because life was so much better there.

I do acknowledge the good in Singapore through the eyes of my wife, who comes from rural Vietnam and has experienced hunger (defined as not having enough food on the table). This place is paradise to her.

While there's much to be grateful for, I do think there are areas of Singapore that need to be changed. One of my pet peeves remains how we treat people who have come from developing Asia. Yes, Singapore isn't the worst place for people to be but there is something wrong when everyone in a well to do society doesn't seem to think its dreadful for people work at the princely rate of S$18 a day (12-hours) and not get paid for several months because ....hey its apparently better than what they're getting back home.

I recently felt this through a new friendship I've made with a Bangladeshi worker, who's trying to collect money owed to his brother his previous employer, who had been wound up by an order of court. I remembered agreeing to meet this worker in person. A few my colleagues were actually worried that something might happen to me.

Well, I did meet the man, who insisted on buying me tea. We spoke about his life in Singapore and he asked if I could help his brother find another job in Singapore. He was so touched that I actually came down to meet with him.

I find this unusual for a normal society. What do we have against treating other people like people, especially when they do all the hard work that we won't do.

I know people who feel differently, but as we celebrate years of incredible success, I do think that we need to find a way of remembering the people who did the hard lifting. 


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