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A little red dot worth fighting for

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.

By Gerald Giam

"I am not going to sacrifice my life for a worthless piece of land", cried one reader in response to one of my articles last year about National Service (NS).

As Singapore celebrates its 42nd National Day in a few days, I hope the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans do not share such a cynical view.

Some Singaporeans see the nation of Singapore, the government and the People's Action Party (PAP) as one monolithic entity that they either love or hate.

Last year, it was reported that some Singaporeans refused to fly their flag during National Day because they were unhappy with some government-proposed GST hike.

Retired senior civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow once said that "Singapore is larger than the PAP". I strongly agree. Surely it is possible to disagree with the government, yet still love our country. Similarly bad experiences with the government (like NS for some men) should not diminish our patriotism.

While we cope with the daily stresses of school or work, it is understandable that we often focus on the negative aspects of our country, like the fast pace of life, the high cost of living or our authoritarian government. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget to count the many blessings we have received as Singaporeans. Here are some of the top things I love about Singapore

Peace. National and regional peace has eluded many countries. To this day many countries like Myanmar, Sudan, Nigeria, Palestine, Zimbabwe and Pakistan are still in the throes of civil unrest or war. Talk to the suffering people there and they will tell you how they wish for peace in their land. The peace that Singapore currently enjoys is much to be thankful for indeed — and not to be taken for granted, especially when we live in a pretty rough neighbourhood.

Low crime. Singapore is probably the safest big city in the world. Those of us who have lived in other countries (including developed ones) would particularly appreciate how safe our streets are. When I was living in Los Angeles, my individual freedom of movement is severely curtailed every day by the fear of violent crime. (The campus Starbucks in my university was robbed at gunpoint, and there was a drive-by shooting outside my house the year after I left.) Many expatriates would probably cite our safe environment as one of the top reasons they chose to relocate together with their families to Singapore.

Unity in diversity. Our ethnic and cultural diversity is a tremendous asset. It has undoubtedly contributed to the vibrancy of our local culture, which has in turn placed Singaporeans in good standing to thrive in a globalised world.

Ethnic diversity has been a source of great conflict in many countries. Fortunately this is not so in Singapore, where our inter-ethnic peace can be considered one of the greatest achievements of our people. (Left, picture from Hillgrove blog)

Top grade schools. Singapore students have notched some of the top scores in international benchmarks, particularly in maths and science. Singapore maths textbooks for the primary grades are being used more than 200 schools in almost all 50 states in the US. The facilities, academic standards and teaching quality of our schools are on par with some of the best in the world. Although there are many concerns over the pressure cooker environment of our schools, on the whole, I think I would rather have it this way, than have them operate like playschools.

In addition to high academic standards, our public schools also give parents the confidence that their children can go to school in safe environment free of drugs and gang violence that plagues many inner city schools in developed countries.

Excellent healthcare. Singaporeans enjoy one of the best standards of healthcare anywhere in the world. I know a Nigerian businessman who travels half way around the world every year to come to Singapore for his routine medical check-up. I have also met cabinet ministers of countries like Bangladesh who say they regularly visit Singapore for medical treatment.

They would not do so if they did not think that Singapore has the best medical facilities and doctors in the region. Singaporeans are incredibly fortunate to have easy access to such excellent healthcare facilities and world renown doctors, often at heavily subsidised prices.

Social mobility. Our system of meritocracy has provided opportunities for almost anyone to succeed, as long as they are willing to work hard and never give up. We do not have a caste system which pigeon-holes particular groups, or a system of patronage which requires guanxi (connections) with important people to get anywhere in life. Our meritocracy is by no means perfect. Being in the majority race or being a "white horse" is unfortunately still often an advantage, but I think we have generally achieved a pretty level playing field for all, with some room for improvement.

Singaporean culture. Who says Singaporeans got no culture? Singlish not part of our culture, meh? How about our unique blend of Malay, Indian, Chinese and Western food? I would even consider the shared experience of NS to be part of our culture (at least for half the population).

Freedom of speech…at least on the Internet. Singapore is by no means a bastion of media freedom. However, the Government's "light touch" approach to regulating the Internet certainly deserves honourable mention. Since the explosion of popularity of blogs in the past two years, there hasn't been a single report of political bloggers being hauled in by the police for crossing the proverbial "out-of-bounds (OB)" markers.

Despite the political vitriol against the government published on some local socio-political sites, the only Netizens who have gotten in trouble with the law here are three silly young men who made some deplorable remarks about other races and religions in Singapore. Their punishment was justified in the eyes of most Singaporeans.

National Day is an excellent time to reflect on how much we love and appreciate our country. Our country might have its flaws, but if we take an honest look at the state of our nation, most of us will agree Singapore is still a wonderful place to live in, and little red dot worth fighting for.

Happy National Day to all Singaporeans and Majulah Singapura!

Gerald maintains his personal blog here: Singapore Patriot.