“Are you proud to be Singaporean?”

This post comes bit late to the party, I know, but I had this topic in mind even before K-pop Star Hunt 3 Finalist Stephanie Koh’s video started going viral. You can watch her video here:

A week ago, an ex-Singaporean had asked me this question over dinner gathering in Melbourne. I responded, without a second’s hesitation:

“NO”

It was then I realised, this is really a tough question which deserves some thought and introspection. If your answer is “yes”, what exactly are you proud of? If “no”, why, and what would you be proud of?

Let’s begin by breaking down the qualities of Singapore and Singaporeans into two categories – “Good” and “bad”. This will be my opinions (or what I think the world thinks about SG), and yes there will be stereotypes. So if you don’t fit that mould, good for you. If you take it personally, you can stop reading, or do some self-reflection and make the change. Or re-watch the last ten seconds of Steph’s video, and take that to heart instead…

Finally, I will give some examples of things that I am proud of, and why.

Good things about Singapore

1. Singapore has an efficient government. However, I have noticed key exceptions, which I will elaborate on in the next section. 

2. Singapore has high GDP. Whether everyone benefits from this or not, is highly-questionable. But a high score is what it is.

3. Singapore has a reputation for being safe. I’m not going to bring in figures or anything, and yes I acknowledge that the reputation is gradually becoming sullied after the recent spate of murders,Little India riotsPRCs coming here to burglarise houses. But most Singaporeans and almost any foreigner will tell you that Singapore is very safe indeed. So “safety” makes the list.


Let’s attribute this spate to coincidence. Besides, crime stats are usually given by per 100k population, and we all know how much Singapore’s population has grown in recent times. (more people = more murders, nothing to worry about)

4. Good Singaporean food. I have to qualify and emphasise again: Singaporean food. After coming to Melbourne, I realise what I was missing out in terms of the quality of the international cuisine over in SG.

But I do love SG food, and the in two months that we’ve been in Melbourne, we have cooked chicken rice twice. There’s no lack of quality Malaysian food (typically, close enough) here, though we didn’t migrate only to fixate on the food that we used to get in SG.

5. Relatively free from natural disasters. As pointed out by K-Pop Star Hunt 3 Finalist Stephanie Koh in her video, this is entirely due to geographical location. Flooding caused by man-made reasons such as building too much and too fast, such that water can’t soak into the ground naturally, insufficient drainage for the level of development, I can’t say that that qualifies as a “natural disaster”.

6. Singapore really spoon feeds its citizens, processes-wise. Welfare is practically non-existent, but boy, do you people there have very little to worry about (other than money – but refer to point #2 =D) as compared to a country like Australia. I’ve discussed and compared this in a previous post, for those who are interested.

7. Strong defence. Soon to be better than ever with the addition of F-35s to the mix.

(The Formidable-class Stealth Frigate RSS-Tenacious. Yield to None!)

8. It’s not a boring place. Or so claim some of A‘s relatives in SG who think places like Australia are very boring, in comparison.

Bad things about Singapore

(and this section is certainly nothing to be proud of)

1. Carrot and stick approach. “Fine” city. No chewing gum. To be fair, I think Singapore is unfairly-vilified for this by some quarters. Apparently in Australia one can get fined for leaving one’s car windows open, if one is more than 3 meters away from his car. I find that a far stupider law than the chewing gum ban. Of course in less than two months in Oz, we have flouted this law countless times. Usually when doing things like this.

2. Creativity is stifled. Just look at what happened to Sticker Lady. Sure she eventually got off with a slap on the wrist. Sure, people can go against the system or even break the law like she did, to pursue their artistic passions. But the truth is people go the path of least resistance.

Here in Australia, there are TONS of graffiti. Now, I don’t even like most of it, and I would not like ANY of it on my property – should we own property in future. But among the graffiti, there are gems. I’m not very artistic, so condemn me for poor taste if you wish, but I kinda like this one. I might not mind that on the wall of our place, come to think of it. Though one does not simply commission graffiti artists to do one’s bidding, methinks.

I won’t say Singapore should just legalise or encourage graffiti/vandalism. But it’s the entire package, and the entire environment. If you still don’t get it, I shan’t waste any more of my time, and on on the next point…

3. Things in SG are bloody expensive, and the average salary has not increased to match. I don’t think this needs much elaboration. I hear you guys had another fare hike yesterday right? Suck it up! Then again, I’m sure they will put the money to good use and improve on the reliability of the trains… =D

4. Narrowly-defined measures of success. Doctor, lawyer or banker. That’s about it. I believe the shine of being an engineer has been abraded by the constant influx of cheap foreign “talents”. I’m not sure how the dynamic will further evolve further down the road, but it’s always been about the money and assets one has, in SG. It’s not as if there’s very much to do anyway, besides making and spending money. I know a few of you guys might define happiness or success by your relationships with others or investing in your kids holistic upbringing but trust me, I count very few among those that I know who subscribe to such thinking.

5. The media is muzzled and misleads. I’ve elaborated here before, no point repeating myself.

6. Singapore IS boring. According to me, anyway.

7. Singapore is tiny, yet it takes a long time to get anywhere meaningful. Bad on two counts.

Good things about Singaporeans

1. We work among the longest hours in the world. Somebody has to pay, and contrary to what you might have thought, it won’t be your employer.

2. We are mostly bilingual. Ok I can’t say that with a straight face. But I know we are set up to be, and I think the education system does a fair job to that end.

3. We are efficient. Ok I’ve seen articles screaming the contrary, but I can go with the oft-held perception and count efficiency as a plus.

4. We suck it up at work. Yes, we take a lot more shit than employees in Western countries. I don’t have figures, but anecdotes abound.

5. We are good at academic benchmarks. No ifs or buts.

6. Competitive. Aka kiasu. We want to win, and that can be good.

Bad things about Singaporeans

(again, don’t be offended if these don’t apply to you. Not all the good things apply to everyone anyway)

1. We are kiasuNot everything in life is a competition, but some of us just don’t seem to get it.

2. We don’t speak up enough where it counts. Complaining online no count hor. It’s getting better for sure, but with the 60% mandate handed on a silver platter to the PAP, I’m not so sure you guys are moving quickly enough in the right direction.

3. We lack perspective. Yes, as Steph said, many of us are narrow-minded. And I think fair-minded readers can agree with me on this. But if you lack perspective, feel free to dismiss everything I have written, thereby proving my point.

4. We lack resilience. See point 6 under “good points about SG”. There’s the cause of this. Our forefathers were resilient, but many of us have lost it. Many people bitch about SG, but when it comes to the crunch, they do sod all for themselves. They don’t even change jobs unless sibeh jialat already. Complaining is good enough.

Some with no jobs, rather remain jobless than doing “low-level” jobs. I hope grass tastes good to them.

5. We want to have our cake and eat it. Singaporeans want to migrate to Australia only if they can have a good job at their level. They want to have at least the same take-home pay as before, even though you saved a tonne on your house and car and medical and education are pretty much taken care of. You want, you want. But you don’t want to yield an inch.

Stay in Singapore.

6. We are materialistic. We judge people by their possessions. What car they have. What house they have. Which suburb they stay in.

7. We are elitist. We judge people by who they know, what job they have, what schools they went to.

To be fair, all of the good and bad points are not exclusive to Singaporeans. So don’t get me wrong.

What I am proud of, and why?

At the end of the day, not everything good about something, would make one proud of it. For example, I could not be “proud” to live in a country just because it has high GDP, especially if there is huge income inequality. If the country has high GDP and everyone is uplifted along with it and has a decent living, then yes, I could be proud to hail from such a country.

Conversely, just because there are bad points about something, one cannot be proud of it. As many people have commented online, they are proud of Singapore, but not the Government. And that is a view I highly-respect.

1. I am proud of the two ships where I held appointment. RSS Justice and RSS Tenacious. RSS Justice won best ship three years in a row. I was there for only half a year, and I don’t claim any credit, but I am proud to have served by their side. Even just pulling my weight, or when I needed help, I had support. Those were the days.

On Tenacious, we didn’t win any award during my stint. But we sailed for an exercise and conducted it well. There was no tangible reward, but a sense of satisfaction from a job well-done. The ship as a unit looked smart, and as on Justice, the team was motivated and united.

Those are things I was proud of, and am very happy to have been a part of.

2. I am proud to have hailed from Raffles ODAC. It was where and I first met, but that is not why I am proud to be from there. I am proud to have grown and and learned alongside very talented fellow ODACians, and we did some pretty amazing things together in those two years, and in the years that followed after our graduation.

Practicing for the grand opening to Outdoor Week. A is seen abseiling. Picture taken at the old Raffles JC campus

What I am not proud of, and why?

1. I am not proud to have been in the Navy. Despite the fact that those who know me may have seen me in a Navy singlet about half the time, since we landed in Melbourne. Now, I am NOT ASHAMED to have been from the Navy. It’s just something that I’m not proud of. Know the difference.

To me, the navy is just my employer. It’s a small Navy, to be sure, but I don’t feel a sense of belonging or camaraderie. I feel it at the ship-level, with my batch mates. But not organisation-wide.

The navy has achieved some commendable things. But I am turned off when shooting an abandoned skiff keeps getting played up like some achievement. Perhaps that one issue alone would prevent me from saying I am proud to be from the RSN.

A pirate skiff. Might not be The Pirate Skiff, but just to illustrate. Anyway, the RSAF Super Puma from the task force was the piece of equipment doing the empty skiff-destroying. So if anything perhaps the Air Force could be the one tootling its horn for this “achievement”

2. I am not proud to be a Singaporean. Because the values that typical Singaporeans hold, or that Singapore seems to cherish, simply do not resonate with me.

I am not usually ashamed to be Singaporean (just on occasions when fellow Sinkies sia suay the entire nation. Like Steven Lim or Ris Low. BOOMZ). But I can’t say I am proud to be Singaporean.

I would be insulted to be thought of as “from China”. But that’s NOT the same as being proud to be from Singapore. I would feel more pride in being mistaken as a Malaysian, because Malaysian Chinese are usually at least tri-lingual and are a resilient bunch, having to face such discrimination in their home country. They are also far more innovative and willing to take risks.

I can’t be proud to be Singaporean, because even there were a strong identity or qualities we could be proud of, it has been rapidly-eroded by the huge influx of foreigners. They have their good and bad points. But a Red passport presented on a silver platter does not make them Singaporean overnight. But still they are allowed to dilute what little Singapore had in the way of culture and identity.

I would be proud of Singapore, if it could be proud of itself. If it could cherish its past better, instead of destroying the past to build a new shopping mall or casino or whatever. Once upon a time, I could be. But it’s too late.

I would be proud to be Australian one day. Call me lazy, but I like the lifestyle. I like the DIY culture. Most Singaporeans know squat about their cars. I’m still like that, but working to change it. When I was in SG I even had to personally teach two Singaporean guy friends how to change tires! What kind of guy doesn’t know how to change a car tyre??? (a Singaporean guy)

Most Singaporeans would rather die than spend a couple of days in the Australian bush. Maybe some really would die, I wouldn’t know. But I would be proud to survive and enjoy such conditions, on my own.

That day will come. Because being Australian is far more than having the passport. It’s a way of life.

By S of Neurotic Ramblings of a Singaporean Couple