By Victoria –
I wrote this article for the purposes of putting my thoughts about Singapore’s future (and in turn mine) into words. I’m not writing to tell you to vote for one party or another, but to hopefully make one or two youths like me think a little more about what life has in store for us in Singapore, where we were born, bred, and will most likely be burnt. (cremated, due to our lack of space). Much has been said about Singaporean youths and their apathy towards local politics, and I hope to explore those issues in this writing.
I’ll start off this article with an small introduction. I’m a 21 year old Singaporean youth currently studying in Sydney by the generosity of the Australian taxpayer through a tuition scholarship (the locals probably don’t actually want me here, but even so I still very much contribute to their economy by merely living here, oh well). I went through a ‘normal’ Singaporean childhood, went to a PAP kindergarten, streamed at Primary 4, and already starting tuition for my dismal Chinese and my maths leaving much to be desired. I can’t remember much from my social studies textbooks besides “LKY” and “PAP”. I went to a Polytechnic, wondering why in all my three years, despite being of the same age as my JC friends, I had to pay full transport fees while they received concessions from a monopoly earning millions in revenue per year off Singaporeans. I then spent some time in a Multinational Company, where I had the fortunate experience of working with many wonderful people, Singaporeans and foreigners alike.
I’m of the generation said to have been born ‘with a silver spoon in their mouth’, and honestly, for me, the label couldn’t have been much more accurate. Through the efforts of my parents and our nation builders (not just our government, but older Singaporeans, your parents, grandparents, wet market aunties and uncles), I’ve not known hunger or suffering or much true need, and I’m fully aware of how fortunate I am to have been born in a stable country (or city, according to our law minister K. Shanmugam) like Singapore, and to a well-to-do and well educated family particularly.
My distance from Singapore while living in Sydney for the past year and a half has helped me put some thoughts in perspective. (Firstly, Redhill wet market still has the best wanton mee for just S$3.50, while the cheapest one I could find in Sydney is S$12, and that is just… unfortunate.) Australian youth are similarly apathetic about local politics but the actual policies in Australia show how much they value their own people: children, adults, the elderly and youths (Reference). The great number of foreign students pay enormous amounts for tuition in the unis, but that money eventually goes to a system that supports the local residents. One may say that these policies are only possible because of Australia’s great amount of natural resources and mining industries, but policies cannot exist without intent and beliefs, and it is clear that their hearts and beliefs were in the right place when they were created. Three years ago, when I took out yet another $10 note to top up my ezlink card for the second time that week, I could not help but wonder if I was thought of to be as valuable to my government as much as my JC peers were, especially in a time when people thought that poly students were only in poly because they couldn’t get into JCs. But considering the current MRT situation, I’m sure that fending off petitions for poly student concession must be the least of their concerns.
In 2011, I was feeling very much regretful about not being of age to vote and being unable to attend political rallies during the General Election. However, through social media, I was still very much able to feel the excitement and energy of my peers and fellow citizens. I can’t remember how many times I pressed F5 while waiting for the results of the elections, and how many times I thought “Damn, I want that WP umbrella!”. If I was eligible to vote, I would have had to take a $600 flight to Melbourne just to vote. (And I think they know that most Singaporean youths (especially students) are in Australia for a reason, which is why they make it so difficult. Just my conspiracy theory). An election is an opportunity for change, and though there was a minimal change in parliament, it was still change nonetheless. I was happy to see many people in my age group going to rallies, expressing themselves on facebook and twitter. But it will still be a reality that most youths will not give a damn about politics or policies, and this is an issue faced by many first-world, affluent countries.
I’ve always known my elders (like my grandparents) to be a lot more set in their ways of thinking when it came to politics and the government, but honestly, I cannot blame them. They experienced the greatest changes in Singapore’s history, moving from kampungs to flats that cost less than $10000 (no missing zeros there), their children eventually paying less than $30000 for a similar flat, while the youth of today will have to pay $300000+ (no extra zeros there, I’m afraid) for the same flats today. Most of the older generation will not be able to relate to the problems that youths will face in the near future. They will not have to spend 20+ years in debt to pay for a house that does not even belong to them, they will not have to take up loans just to pay for permission to own a car. With most grandparents being supported by working children (our parents), they will not have to think of the possibility of being fired and replaced by cheaper foreign talents (who have no ties to the country). They tend to talk about track records, but having good track records does not necessarily guarantee the same for the future. It would be like me telling my mother that just because I scored C6 for Chinese all through secondary school, I will definitely be able to speak a decent word of Chinese in the future. (Obviously not true now, much to her disappointment, and many wasted tuition dollars. But hey, I passed my exams, and isn’t that what our education system in Singapore is all about?) Considering a lot of my friends are more fluent in Korean and Japanese than they are in their mother tongue might just be a little indication of where our system went wrong.
The next GE is in 2016, and within the next 4 years, many people my age will be undergoing change from dependency to a struggle for independence. Many ladies will likely be entering the workforce, many guys will be starting uni or going straight to work. Our parents cannot give us allowances forever (as much as that would be awesome), and in this economy, it is hard to tell if they will even have jobs at all in the coming years. We have to step up to the plate, start thinking about supporting our parents, our spouses and children. In the current climate, I cannot help but think it will be an uphill battle, and that the odds are definitely against us. We are given many reasons for our lack of employment opportunities, such as “globalization”, or keeping “competitive”, but those words only mean so much to a worker who isn’t even protected by the union who was supposed to fight for their rights and benefit.
During my short stint at work, I felt lucky to be taking home what I thought was the higher rung in income among my peers, but once I took into account that I was still living with and supported by my parents, I didn’t feel so fortunate. I think this is probably a good reason why youths are so disinterested, because for now, we feel safe and satisfied with what we have, not having experienced the pain of bills, filing taxes, and what it is to truly be an adult with adult responsibilities.
With regards to the recent reports of NS recruits my age dying during NS, I cannot honestly say I believe (though NS has done many great things for our boys) that they died for a great cause. This is not because I think that NS is a waste of time, but I cannot completely fathom the occurrence of what could have been a preventable peace-time death in a country that boasts of its stability, technology, security, and diplomatic relations. The fact is, with every death that occurs, Singaporeans have lost a son, friend, classmate or lover. This will not change even after the rest of the country forgets, and his name is reduced to a number on a powerpoint slide. With every injury, there is a loss of future opportunities, earnings and possibilities. Though the wounds may heal, it doesn’t change the fact that we have only one body, and paying NS men a pittance for the best years of their lives is poor compensation for their present and eventual future sacrifices.
Our surroundings are changing faster than we know it. Every ride in an MRT is like taking a vacation to a different country, and is filled with the possibilities of a wonderful adventure on the mysterious train tracks. We’ve had the pleasure of being called “Dogs” by the people our leaders have let in. (Actually, I’m not convinced this is a complete insult, because if its one thing Singaporeans love besides food, its their pets right? The number of doggie pics posted in my facebook feed must be a testament to this.) More youths will be eligible to vote, more connected to alternative media sources than ever. We have the opportunity to access the most amount of information in decades with the development of the internet and social media, and I think we can no longer claim ignorance when our future dawns upon us. As a country, we get the government we deserve. Whether we get a government chooses GDP and prioritizes their paychecks over the happiness of the people its supposed to serve, or a government that chooses to protect the interest of locals as fellow humans (with hopes and dreams) and not cash cows, this will all be decided at the polls.
I believe its time for us youths to take responsibility for our future and the future we want. I believe that, as citizens of a country we will eventually inherit, that we have a duty to properly educate and inform ourselves and our peers, and not leave our futures in the hands of people who have no stake, no ties, and no love for our homeland and fellow Singaporeans. One does not have to peruse dog clean-up material for information about local news anymore. Just following the pages of any political sites of interest on facebook or twitter will bring information to you. So while you read bits of info about your besties-cousin’s classmate’s sister’s teenage drama, you might also find something that will be of interest, and in your interest, to read.
An appeal to my fellow youths in Singapore
Guys, while you hug your wife, stare into the eternal blackness of night during your overnight security watch or re-service, think of your girlfriend (as if you weren’t already), try imagining your future together. Will you marry? Will you be able to afford a house? Will you be able to have kids (if you want them). What sort of life will you be able to give your loved ones, if everything in Singapore remains as it is.
Girls, appreciate your guys (especially if they are going through NS), cause if they are paying for that green tea frappe during your date at Starbucks, know that the money used didn’t come with little sacrifice.
People on the trains, while you are standing in the crowd, smelling the wonderful array of unidentifiable odours, breathing in the very essence of hundreds of people, think if you want to keep smelling that for the rest of your life in Singapore. Maybe it would have been better if you could walk on the tracks instead, cause at least you’d get some fresh air.