Common identity in the wake of constant development

~by: Ghui~

Comments that there is no common identity amongst Singaporeans or that Singaporeans are not patriotic enough are not new. A lack of national unity has been blamed on the influx of foreigners, foreign athletes “imported” by the government to don our national colours at sports meets, the identity card which segregates us by our ethnic races as opposed to a focus on our shared “Singaporeaness” and the list goes on.

Former President SR Nathan has said that “it would take “one or two generations” before a common culture emerged” and I wonder if more effort can be made to reduce that time frame cited by Mr Nathan?

Singapore is a new country and many of its older citizens would have hailed from other countries such as India or China. In that respect, a national identity is not ingrained and needs time to grow. But is that really a justifiable excuse fifty years on? 

Singaporeans of all races have gone through much together. We fought and died side by side in World War II. We went through the racial riots in the 50s and came out on the other side together. We overcame the Sukarno saboteurs unified. We were a part of Malaysia and kicked out as one. Is that not enough to foster a national identity? 

I do not think that Singapore being a young nation has that much to do with a lack of national identity. However, I do believe that there is a factor which contributes much more to its erosion – a lack of memories.

Shared memories hold people together and significant places help to preserve that precious recollection. Take those places away and the remembrance fades. People get caught up with life’s cares and we forget what we have been through together as a people.

The shutdown of the MacDonald’s outlet in East Coast brought back a wave of memories for me and judging by the comments that people have made, they too mourn its demise (see HERE).  

People have lamented that many of their childhood memories were made in that Macdonald’s outlet and that its loss was akin to a destruction of part of their childhood. A couple even commented that their courtship began there. Perhaps, the loss of a MacDonald’s outlet is a small price to pay for development but the point I am trying to make is the destruction of something that built commonality for Singaporeans.

The same can be said of the closing of Clifford Pier in 2006. Many saw that closure as the end of an era and its demise adieu to a romantic past. Perhaps this is melodramatic in the wake of new development and swanky new restaurants but again, this demolition disintegrates the reminiscences of many.

There are many more examples that I can cite but for the sake of brevity, I shall stop at these two.

Ties are formed through shared experiences and those bonds are kept in place by memories. So, if all the fond memories that people have of Singapore are taken away, a feeling of disconnect sets in and with that comes an inability to feel a part of the country.

I am not blaming the government for trying to rebuild. Some rejuvenation is of course always necessary. But is redevelopment on such a massive scale really required? Singapore seems to be constantly under construction!

Is bulldoze and rebuild always the right strategy? While “out with the old and in with the new” may be good for the creation of a sparkling city, is it good for developing common memories? Does it help with building a common national identity?