In the lead-up to National Day, TOC’s writers share their personal views on what it means to be a Singaporean and what Singapore means to them. We begin with Benjamin’s piece.
By Benjamin Cheah
I readily adopt the mantle of the quiet patriot.
However, I find no reason, at first, to reinforce my convictions. A country is little more than a construct: a flag, a national anthem, a pledge, painted symbols given power over a people and a region.
Certainly our red and white banner, and the writ of the State, applies only to this tiny island, off the southern coast of Malaysia. Everything else, from national infrastructure to national defence, flows from there.
Almost every citizen would be familiar with what is materially ‘good’ about Singapore. Doubtlessly we have a stable and clean government, a growing globalised economy, and so on and so forth. But I cannot bear to write about any of them. No matter how hard I try, my well of words come up dry.
An ever-evolving fusion of cultures
I try to think of other things: our local cuisine and Singlish. As I examine both, I see an emergent, ever-evolving fusion of cultures. Singlish is bastardised English, Chinese, Hokkien, Malay, and a half-dozen tongues slapped together, and new terms erupt by the day.
Singapore’s food culture is a mishmash of Indian, Chinese, Malay, European, and other tastes from around the world, and new dishes regularly appear. And so, they curiously represent a microcosm of Singapore.
Singapore is a nation in birth. Our culture is a fusion of East and West: you can see local teenagers following Japanese fashion, listening to cutting-edge rock on American iPods, conversing in fluent Chinese, overtly professing Buddhism and believing in liberal democracy.
We are an anomaly, an evolving consciousness moving in a dozen directions, developing in a novel way nobody can foresee. Our brief history is one of struggle: a struggle for independence, a struggle against communism, a struggle for survival.
A City Of Lions
Through steadfast toil and far-reaching vision, we have succeeded. Now, we are engaged in a struggle for definition in a post-modern world.
It is here, finally, that I find my reason: the Singapore soul resonates in my own. We are the City of Lions, the embodiment of lions: achievement, harmony, individuality, compassion, courage.
Through sweat and blood, Singapore has achieved so much in the past, and would hopefully continue to achieve in the future. Despite our diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups, we remain a harmonious society, in tune with the world and ourselves.
Singapore remains an individual country against a backdrop of nations, even after embracing the culture of the world. Wherever emerged tsunamis and terrorists, hurricanes and hunger, we gave selflessly to the world. And through it all, our courage remains, the courage to face the future through clear lenses, the courage to fight for what we are, and the courage to define what we, as individuals and as a nation, are to ourselves.
In the end, then, the one good thing I could write about Singapore is her zeitgeist, her spirit, all that she is, and all that she will be.
Singapore’s qualities remain anchored in my heart, and so will the flag of our fathers, forever.
Read more of Benjamin’s writings on his blog, Words Of The Lionheart.