by: Ravi Philemon/
On 9 August 1965 in times of absolute uncertainty, when Singapore separated from Malaysia, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then-Prime Minister of Singapore made a promise to people who suddenly were now citizens of an entirely new country – Singapore.
Mr Lee then promised. “Everybody will have a place in Singapore”.
46 years later as the Nation celebrates that many years of being independent, this promise seems to ring hollow for many Singaporeans. There is a certain aversion in some quarters to flying the flag, in being proud of calling yourself a Singaporean.
Recently when I commented on my Facebook, “It’s that time to fly the flag and be proud of being a Singaporean”, one commented that it was just humbug; another said “there is absolutely nothing to be proud of being a citizen in a “FOERIGNERS’ CITY””. Yet others were unsure if there was anything to be proud of in being a Singaporean.
I of course count the little things, the little things which remind why I should count my blessings in calling myself a Singaporean.
If someone were to knock the door to my apartment just a little longer, my neighbours who are Chinese peep out of their house to see if everything is ok.
When I was in the USA and was travelling from one city to another within the USA and was randomly selected to go for a full body check at the airport, one immigration officer had one look at my passport and said, “He’s from Singapore, let him through”.
But still, all this resentment towards foreigners is quite understandable. The floodgates of immigration were opened quite widely in a very short span, which meant that resources which are limited in a land-scarce Singapore would now have to be shared and Singaporeans would now have to compete unfairly with these foreigners.
But then again, we must always remember that those that are foreign cannot be faulted for the many woes Singaporeans face today. It is only human nature to go where there are more opportunities for your family and you; to try and make a better future for yourself is not wrong.
But as much as I agree that foreigners must continue to have a place in Singapore, I must emphasise even more that every Singaporean – the haves as well as the have-nots – must have a place in this country.
Our education, housing, healthcare, immigration and other policies discriminates unfairly and the government has got to do more to make narrower this gap that divides, so that no one gets left behind.
As a people, we should learn that it is ok not to sprint all the time, and that we can sometimes slow down for the stragglers to catch up – so that we can all move forward into the future as one people.
An incident I saw a couple of days ago, reminded me what it means to slow down.
I saw an older man trying to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing, but wasn’t too sure because he walked with an aid and extremely slowly too. I also saw a young man who dashed across the road when the light turned in his favour.
But the young man turned back, and to my pleasant surprise, he started to help the older man cross the road. it took almost ten full minutes for the older man to cross the road and as the traffic lights kept changing, having someone beside him gave the older man confidence to ignore the oncoming traffic and just walk.
Whenever the lights were not on their favour, the younger man would lift up his hands to request the oncoming traffic to wait for the older man to cross. And all the drivers did stop till the old man finished crossing.
It struck me then, this is the true meaning of National Day, those that are more able, turning back to help those that are less, so that everyone has a sense that they have a place in this country.
For unless we turn back and let those that have slowed down catch up, the lines that divide are not going to be blurred; and unless these lines are blurred, the sense of belonging is going to get fudged.
The promise made at the independence of Singapore cannot be forgotten, for only keeping that promise will forge us into a nation – a nation we all can be proud of.
Picture 1 credit: Singapore Rebel