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Have we lost our ability to appreciate?

The title of this article is a question which I have been pondering on for some time now. Have we lost our ability to appreciate the good things which Singapore offers? And to be sure, there are good things about Singapore. In fact, there are many of them.

Yet, when we visit the Internet, it would seem, as Mr Lui Tuck Yew said in February 2009, that there is “a prevalence of noises, rumours and distortions in cyberspace…. while there were reasoned and critical views, there were also a great deal of unhelpful commentary and discussions online". (Source)

And to a certain extent, the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts is not entirely wrong.

Now, I am no fan of the minister whom I think has adopted a rather unnecessarily confrontational stance towards the Internet community since he became Mica minister. But that does not take away from the fact that indeed there seems to be an entirely different Singapore painted by netizens, if you go by postings especially on socio-political blogs and websites, The Online Citizen included.

Of course there is room for dissent and for different viewpoints. What I am asking here is: Is Singapore or the Singapore government so entirely devoid of anything good that we only have criticisms for it? And have we lost our ability to appreciate the positives?

It would take a courageous blogger to praise Singapore or the government when it is deserved, it would seem.

So, you may ask, what exactly is good about Singapore? Well, each person will have his own views on these. For me, first and foremost, I appreciate the safety and security we have. It’s a cliché, yes, but it is nonetheless true that Singapore is safe. Yes, we can debate about the draconian and prohibitive laws and rules, some of which we hope will be removed one day – such as the Internal Security Act. But Singapore is safe. Everyone knows it. Just take a walk past midnight anywhere on this island.

The grumblings and complaints about the transport system have become almost legendary now. Yet, it is also true that the MRT system, especially, is by and large an efficient and comfortable ride. Of course, again, there are improvements to be made, such as overcrowding during certain times of the day. But this is something which will always be  a work in progress. I do not think we will ever reach a stage where we will have a 100 per cent consensus on happiness or satisfaction about the quality of service. Truth be told, nonetheless, I am quite impressed by the newly-opened Circle Line and the Land Transport Authority should be commended for a job well done. (My only wish is that the stations should be more colourful but that is another matter altogether.)

The Youth Olympics, which will take place from the 14th to 26th August this year, is another thing we can and should be proud of. And I commend the MCYS team, especially Mr Teo Ser Luck, for successfully winning the bid to bring the games here.

What about the government itself, which is the target of much unhappiness among netizens? I feel that the problem is a real one, that of hubris. The People’s Action Party, which has ruled independent Singapore since 1965, has grown arrogant and out-of-touch with the average common man and woman. This is self-evident in many instances, especially these past 10 years or so. And the main culprit, I feel, is Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew who, despite his age, sets the tone for the government led by his son.

Having said that, however, I do feel there are good people in government nonetheless. One whom I quite like is Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. I would prefer him to be Prime Minister, rather than the incumbent. This is not to say that Mr Tharman has no shortcomings. His pussyfooting around the issue of investment losses incurred by both Temasek Holdings and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) two years ago revealed the delicate tight-rope he had to walk. But from all accounts, or at least those that I have been given to know, he is a sincere man who is well-liked, someone who is seen to be intelligent, a good listener and one with his feet firmly set on the ground.

At the lower level, some PAP Members of Parliament too, I feel, are good MPs. One whom I have often praised is Lee Bee Wah. This is because I used to be her constituent. Sure, she screwed up notably with her rather unbecoming remarks in Parliament three years ago and her handling of the STTA saga in 2008. The criticisms leveled at her in 2008 were, in my opinion, well and truly deserved. But that does not take away from the fact that she is a very hardworking MP on the ground. Even now, when I have moved from her constituency in Ang Mo Kio GRC, I still receive invitations to attend her grassroots activities. Well, perhaps this is because she has not updated her constituents roll but that is not the point. In my experience, her presence on the ground, in the coffeeshops, markets, at her Meet-The-People sessions, were ubiquitous and regular. My only hope is that the STTA saga has taught her further lessons in politics and humility.

There are many other things I could list which we should be happy about. Some of these are physical attributes, such as downtown Marina Bay/Clark Quay which is beautiful. Others would include the easy availability and the variety of food we have here.

And then there are the people. Singaporeans. Idiosyncrasies, yes, but also positivities. I have met selfless individuals, passionate individuals who give of their time to help others. I have seen, many times, for example, the younger ones giving up their seats on trains and buses to the elderly. I have seen young girls who would give $5 to the elderly selling tissue paper. I do feel it is an over-generalisation that people are selfish, a refrain which is oft-repeated. I also do feel we do not give Singaporeans enough credit.

Yet, Singapore can be better. Any country can be better. What I hope for Singapore, now that we have proved that we can build physical infrastructures, is that we have more heart. That we would value things of the human spirit. By this I mean, for example, the value of human life, dignity for the less fortunate, compassion which is second nature to us, and appreciation for those who do not measure up to society’s standards.

Perhaps these are the things which we presently lack, things which would truly help us appreciate that behind all the grand facades we are a people whose blood runs deeper. A people whose accomplishments go beyond the material or physical and into the realm of spirit.

Now, that would indeed be something worth appreciating, more than all the beautiful skyscrapers we behold.

But for now, lets not forget to appreciate what we have.

Andrew Loh

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Picture from haddock's photostream

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