National Day Special - Why I'd Choose Singapore Over Any Country, Any Day
I spent three months on an overseas school exchange program last summer. With no parental supervision and a light school workload, I was presented with the freedom to explore the world beyond Singapore and the opportunity to broaden both my mental and physical horizons. It was exciting to be away from home for such an extended period of time and it was definitely exhilarating to be exposed to cultures and practices unbeknownst to the Singaporean I am.
The first few weeks of exchange were great. New sounds, new sights, and a whole lot of late nights spent chilling and bonding with my flatmates in our rooftop apartment. We talked about living overseas permanently and were confident we’d thrive in a thrill-seeking environment. The weeks went by and we acclimated to our new neighbourhood, our home for the remaining few weeks.
But boy did our opinions on immigration change. By the fifth week of summer, my flatmates and I grew weary of the new environment we were in. New experiences became routines, favourite meals became boring and tourist attractions no longer excited us. As the novelty of being in a new place wore off, we started looking at the bigger picture - could we adapt to the different culture, food and practices? I was loving my new-found independence, but the “mundane” life I led in Singapore suddenly felt so much more inviting.
In our desperation for a sense of home and familiarity, my flatmate sacrificed the last pack of bak kut teh spices she brought from home and quietly stirred the broth.
As we crowded around the dining table, slurping every ounce of home we could get, we talked about the never-ending variety of cuisines and all our unique Singaporean antics. Our late night banter, coupled with the thick and savoury bak kut teh broth, made me realise how incredibly proud I am to be Singaporean. Here are some reasons why:
Singapore is Safe and Endearing
In the three months I spent overseas, my friends and I braved through several instances of cat- and name-calling, erratic weather conditions and unpredictable civil protests, all of which we rarely experience in Singapore. The inconvenience and constant fear for safety made us realise how fortunate we are to be protected from terrorism, wars, natural disasters and major social unrest.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Singapore is a perfect country. We struggle with problems such as high costs of living (due to our limited land and resources), an ageing population and an increasingly divisive social strata. We see Singaporeans fighting for seats on MRTs and carrying out inconsiderate acts like ticket scalping. We occasionally meet xenophobics and racists. But hey, we are (in general) an understanding and endearing society. Perhaps because our modern lifestyle mixes with traditional Asian beliefs, our various cultures mould us into kind, filial and empathetic people. The value of moral and ethics are instilled through school curriculums and we’re taught to be 好公民s (Good Citizens) from a young age. I believe, somewhere deep under our “Kiasu” (scared to lose) and “Kiasi” (scared to die) demeanour, we are neighbourly Singaporeans who uphold values like integrity, humility and frugality. The Singaporean culture truly is a melting pot of every race and religion we have. For a country that is only half a century old, we are relatively tolerant and compromising.
The Greatest Variety of Food
I remember spending most of my exchange nights at all kinds of restaurants (Western, Korean, Japanese, etc.), but loving my friend’s home-cooked bak kut teh most. Not only was it heart-warming and delicious, it also provided a sense of home. The scene of us huddling at the dining table and talking about our experiences reminded me of our hawker culture, of families and friends catching up over delectable local food and drinks.
As people sip on their sugarcane and grass jelly drinks, they share more than just food. Families gather to share daily updates while friends and colleagues banter about the latest gossip and trends. As people from all walks of life gather to enjoy the variety of Singaporean food, even the pickiest eater would have a field day. From hainanese chicken rice to roti prata, satay, laksa and char kway teow, these delectable (and reasonable!!) cuisines remind us of our true heritage - our kampong spirit of sharing, understanding and being there for one another.
I remember walking down a tourist-frequented street in the district I was living in.
“Eh no, just now that one cheaper!”
At the sound of a familiar accent, I whisked my head around and immediately located my fellow Singaporean. Dressed in a t-shirt, bermudas and slippers, the man stood at the roadside stall, unabashedly comparing prices.
My friend let off a smirk and exclaimed, “That one confirm Singaporean!”
It’s amazing how language and mannerisms can transcend physical and national boundaries. Our self-proclaimed national language - Singlish - is unique in every way. We identify ourselves through our accents and distinct vocabulary. We’re able to spot a fellow Singaporean even from a mile away.
With words that originate from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Tamil, Singlish has been unofficially termed Singapore’s national language. Words like “shiok”, “sabo” and “kiasu” have even made it to the Oxford English Dictionary. Though its usage is frowned upon by our school teachers and the mainstream media, Singlish is an essential part of our culture. Our need to shorten (“sabo” for sabotage and “abit” for a little bit) yet repeat everything we say twice (“mam mam” (eat) and “shee shee” (pee)) is contradicting and amusing.
Words like “lah” “lor” and “meh” are used to express a variety of emotions. From happiness to displeasure and confusion, Singlish relies heavily on accents to help us understand each other better. A somewhat exclusive yet easy language, Singlish is a symbol of our very culture - a melting pot of races, religions and ethnicities that come together to make living simpler and more enjoyable.
As we watch the spectacular fireworks and contingents march past this 9th August, let us be thankful for all the nostalgic memories that SEEM ordinary. Let us remember the times we played block catching with our neighbours, the times we spent belting the National Anthem during morning assemblies and the times we complained about Singapore but love it anyway. As we busy ourselves with new commitments and our explorations in the world beyond Singapore, let us remind ourselves of what makes us truly Singaporean and relive these traditions with families and friends before it’s too late. Happy National Day!
This post was inspired by the writer's personal experience, and in no way represents the collective opinion and view of wheniwasfour.