We all know that Singaporeans love food and festivities but have you ever thought about what it really means to be a Singaporean?
There was a particular year, when I was abroad on National Day. I watched the live telecast of the National Day parade. My heart swelled with pride and I burst into a torrent of tears as I sang the National Anthem, at the top of my voice, in the privacy of my hotel room. It made me realise just how proud I am to call myself Singaporean. And it led me to ask myself this question – what does it mean to be Singaporean?
I sat down with a piping hot cup of tea and thought about it for a bit. I’ve lived in this tiny but beautiful garden city all my life and I’m as Singaporean as it can get. I wanted to examine what being Singaporean truly meant to me, apart from just the food that everyone raves about.
I realised that to put it simply, in one sentence, Singapore is just about a bit of everything. A bit of the east and a bit of the west, chopsticks and credit cards, a bit of tradition and a bit of modernity. A bit of fun and a bit of stress (ok make that a lot), a bit of hard work and a bit of play, a bit of familiarity and a bit of surprise.
A bit of the Queen’s English and a bit of Singlish, a bit of Wanton Mee and a bit of Chappati, a bit of Chinese and a bit of Singhalese (from our friendly helpers!).
What an interesting concoction that can only be found in our beautiful garden city! And yes, that is my definition of what it means to be Singaporean. It means to be just a bit of everything. I took a walk down memory lane and here’s what I gathered about what it means to be Singaporean.
Living in Singapore means that you pretty much celebrate every festival. I fondly recall how Chinese New Year is always my favourite time of the year although I’m not vaguely Chinese. Chinese New year always marks a series of celebrations, beginning with an extremely short working day, followed by a Lo Hei (prosperity toss) session in the office and a long, steamboat lunch that would stretch across the entire afternoon.
Chinese New Year day itself would be spent in one of my best friend’s homes, and we would have a massive gathering, another Lo Hei session, a huge spread of gastronomical delights and lots and lots of mahjong. And not for one moment in all of the festivities did it strike me that I was joining in the festivities of another ethnic group because it all felt too familiar.
When Eid (more commonly known as Hari Raya) came, I would open my doors to all my friends and they would make their appearance, donning the traditional Malay costume, all set to devour traditional Malay delights such as Rendang and Lontong and often mistake it to be the Muslim New Year.
I am neither Malay, nor is Hari Raya the Muslim new year and I certainly do not serve a Malay cuisine but I do celebrate Eid and it confuses my friends every year but it never quite got in the way of us finding another reason to celebrate and get together for fun and fellowship. And that is what it means to be Singaporean.
Of course when it was time for Diwali, we would all head over to our Indian friends’ homes to feast on the tasty Indian food and the spread of sweets that accompanied all the spice and heat! The bonus – we all got to have our Bollywood moment and doll ourselves up in some really pretty outfits. How exciting!
Celebrations aside, when it comes to the daily grind, what it means to be Singaporean, to many of us, is to be resilient. We live in an incredibly competitive and fast paced environment, but we have an iron will to push on in spite of the challenges that fraught our journey. We always strive to be the best, to give our best and to never, ever give up. And we are humble about our achievements. I think a lot of this has to do with the values on which our nation has been founded.
Singapore has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a fishing village to the 21st century modern, globalised first-world nation that we now are. But in spite of our prosperity and our progress, we uphold traditional Asian values. Humility, honesty, integrity, meritocracy, frugality and filial piety are just some of the many values that our country is imbued with, largely thanks to our late founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.
While on one hand we live by these Asian values, we are anything but backward. We embrace change. In fact, modernisation and relocation takes place at such an extraordinary rate in Singapore that change is truly the only constant here. We embrace diversity and always seek to keep ourselves with the times. And this combination of modernity and tradition makes up a large bit of what it means to be Singaporean.
Of course there’s more, and I’d be grossly misrepresenting Singaporeans if I omit the fact that we are insanely kiasu (afraid of losing out, almost paranoid), would do outrageously ridiculous things like queueing for hours for freebies, sales and a spot in the most prestigious preschools, and stack our plates at buffets. There are always two sides to a coin, and these little quirks and idiosyncrasies complete the picture of what it means to be Singaporean.
But jokes aside, with the imminent threats of keyboard warriors sowing discord within the society, and the internet functioning as a breeding ground of negative sentiments towards our lovely nation, it is more important now than ever before, to reinforce our national pride, identity and what it means to be Singaporean, especially to our children.
Today is the eve of National Day, and your children are likely to have come home, excitedly waving the Singapore flag and fervently chanting whatever they remember of the pledge or singing famous National Day songs. While they are in the heat of the moment, what better time than now to get them to start thinking about what it means to be Singaporean?
In light of this, I asked a few children what it means to be Singaporean and here’s what they said:
Being Singaporean to me means that I can easily make friends with people from other races. – Qamarurakshan, Queensway Secondary School.
Being Singaporean means I can go to the Science Centre whenever I want, and learn many cool and interesting things! – Jermaine Rohaan Alvin, Barker Road Methodist Church Kindergarten
Being Singaporean means I can wake up every morning and go to school without worrying about my safety. – Michelle Wong, Dazhong Primary School
Being Singaporean means all the different races living together in harmony, it’s something special that only Singapore has. And you can have all the different cuisines everywhere on the island. – Sunay Mishra, Anglo Chinese Primary School
Being Singaporean means that every child gets an opportunity to chase his dreams. I come from a poor family, and although my parents are struggling to make ends meet, I have been given so much support and bursaries to encourage me to keep studying. – Samuel Wong, Tanglin Secondary School
I love Singapore because there is peace and harmony. There is no war, no natural disasters and we have a world-class education system. – Sheikhasana Umairah, St. Margaret’s Primary School
It’s heartwarming to know that to children as young as them, this is what it means to be Singaporean. At this point, our values are imbued in them. But we must remember that they are living in times that are drastically different from ours.
Singapore is increasingly globalised and identity is becoming more elusive. People from all over the world and all walks of life are in every corner, and gone are the days when Singapore was just about the 4 main racial groups and 4 official languages.
Options are aplenty, and the general household income is higher. Singaporeans don’t hesitate to leave the country and make a home elsewhere. Our children are constantly exposed to seemingly greener pastures through the deceiving world of social media and might grow up and pledge no alliance to their homeland.
Let us parents open their doors to a world of opportunities and knowledge but always keep them rooted to their homeland. Let us remind them of the national pledge and anthem, and what it means to be Singaporean.
Our children are equipped with all that this country has to offer and while they may set out to be globetrotters, we must always ensure that they never forget what it means to be Singaporean.
May our children always remember that in Singapore, regardless of race, language or religion, we are one united people and that our nation stands for justice and equality.