Sharon Claire /
I am a regular Singaporean. I was born and bred in Singapore. I studied in our local schools and universities and, unlike a whole bunch of my schoolmates, actually bothered to recite the Pledge every morning. I have lived in almost every residential type in this country, from a rental flat to a HUDC (does anyone even remember that anymore?) to a condominium to a 3-room HDB flat. I take public transport everywhere I go, partially because I do not possess a driver's licence, but also because it’s more environmentally friendly.
I earn more than the national average, which is not saying much. If I'm careful with my finances, I will be able to clear the loan I took from the HDB in about 15 years.
I have pastimes. I like to dance, I like to sing. Above all, I love to cook and read. Once in a while, I like to go on short holidays to nearby places.
I am pretty average, by most standards.
Even 10 years ago, I knew something was wrong.
I watched silently as they justified high ministerial pay with the rationale of “so they wouldn't jump ship to private corporations where they would earn loads more money”. I frowned: "Shouldn't they be serving the country because they want to make Singapore a better place, and not because it gives an equivalent pay to what they can get outside? That's not right". Yet I brushed it off as youthful idealism.
And I watched as their pay increased while my dad and mum struggled through their ever-increasing health problems to make ends meet to put us through university.
I watched silently as yet another PRC coffeeshop attendant wiped my table, not fully comprehending what was happening or why. My hostel roommate, a lovely girl from China, confided to me one day that the Singapore government had gone overseas and recruited all these students, promising them jobs in the bioscience sector, but now there was a glut of bioscience graduates with no jobs. I brushed it off as being a simple dip in the economic cycle and, following a recovery, everything would be fine. I even reassured my roommate that that would be the case.
I wonder where those extra graduates are, now.
I watched silently as the officer signed off on the forms that would land me in 30 years' debt for an 80sqm space. A space I could pretend to own, at least until I defaulted on the repayments for too long. They handed me the keys, and I wondered why I allowed myself to be persuaded by my fiance to buy a flat now ("because the prices are going up already and while we can still afford it") – when only one of us was working, with a pay that had not even crossed the $2.5K mark. How on earth were we going to service the loan?
I later found out that he had never been more right in his entire life.
I watched silently as yet another person tried to squeeze onto the bus, and winced as the door whacked into that person's back while closing. It seemed strange that not all that long ago, a crowded bus did not have people balancing precariously on its steps, hanging on for dear life as the driver barrelled down the road. Is it my memory that is faulty? I hear the now-familiar refrain of “Please move in! I'm closing the door!”, and the sound of EZ-link cards dutifully scanned – a method to prevent fare cheats – and recall an occasion when I was four and accompanied my grandmother to the nearby wet market. We were on our way back, and had stopped at the bus stop just outside our block to catch a breath. An SBS bus stopped, and the driver opened the door and called out, “Aunty! Do the two of you need a ride? Come aboard, I won't charge for it”.
I realised I would never see that happening ever again.
I watched silently as yet another Fairprice and yet another Sheng Siong opened, and recalled the old uncle who ran the mamak shop at Block 19. I remember reading the report where they interviewed him about small shops surviving in a world where supermarkets and hypermarkets were increasingly the norm. I closed my eyes and recalled the smell of the shop, dark and reeking of dried provisions, wafer biscuits and fresh fruit. But young eyes are not meant to see the dust gathering on the bottles of detergent, nor the yellowing of yesterday's news laid out faithfully every morning. I went back three years ago, and Uncle, who always remembered my mum and always smiled when my mum introduced me ("Remember this one? This one was the small fatty ‘bombom’. The youngest"), was gone. He had died not long after that interview.
And I realised that very soon, I would not be able to bring my children back to do the same, because like Uncle, that shop would be gone
And I watched silently, as yet another grandmother piled a cardboard box onto her cart, yet another uncle rummaged through the bin for a drink can, yet another aunty placed packets of tissue paper on my table. I even recall thinking, with a certain amount of bemusement, that they used to put 3 packets for $1, and now they were bundling 5 for $2. Even tissue packets are subject to inflation. I thought of my late grandmother, and how I always regretted not being able to take her out for a meal with my first paycheck, because she died in the middle of my O’Levels. I wondered what she would have made of all this.
Suddenly I realised that I was glad she couldn't see it at all.
I watched silently as my country changed before my very eyes
And I did nothing about it.
I let other people dictate what my country should become.
I let them tell me that this is progress, that this is necessary, without asking whether it really was.
I let them turn my people into mindless, uncaring automatons, concerned only for themselves, waiting for the next 'dividend', trying to get ahead and leaving others behind, except when maybe a charity show rolled around.
I let them put my fellow Singaporeans in debt while I comfortably pay off my loan.
I let them take away the financial security of my people.
I let them tell me that the Pledge I faithfully recited and teared over during National Day parade broadcasts is an "aspiration".
I let them tell me that money is paramount, not heart.
I let them silence my voice by denying me a chance to vote.
I let them do all that.
And if you do not use your vote, YOUR VOICE, then you, too, have let them.
I will not claim to know exactly what goes on on-the-ground. I acknowledge that my life, beyond a couple of blips, can be considered charmed by many out there, even privileged by certain standards. Unlike some of the candidates, I cannot lay claim to having gone from poverty to wherever I am, because I never experienced true poverty. I do not claim to know the ins and outs of the policies that have led us to where we are today. I will not even say I have the solution to go back to a better time, because I don’t.
But I know what I have seen.
And I will no longer let them use my vote, MY VOICE, to let them turn my country into what THEY want.
I will use my vote, MY VOICE, to tell them what I want my country to be like.
And I vote for Singapore.
Visit TOC's General Election website for more GE news.