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What Singapore can become

By Khoo Boo Kian

There is a definite Singapore identity and we can recognize it when we travel and meet another Singaporean (or Malaysian which is similar but not identical). It's just that we have not become conscious and aware of who we are in the pursuit of the materialistic.

We have a unique set of virtues and faults and a shared common historical experience that enables us to understand each other better than we can understand any foreigner. However, our artists, writers, and thinkers have yet to reach a level where we can project the Singapore style as a direct expression of the Singapore soul in a way that communicates who we are as humans and as a people.

There are many reasons why we haven't blossomed as a more unique and exciting nation.

1. Time. It takes time.

2. Censorship. Phuah Chu Kang was one of the most natural Singaporean sitcoms but it was phased out and the use of Singlish on TV abandoned when the PM spoke out against it. Our artists and writers also find it difficult to address difficult issues like politics or race without getting banned and blacklisted for funding. The media doesn't allow discussion and questioning of important issues of the day. One sided published views don't stimulate people to take an interest in the running of their country.

3. The active suppression of political awareness in the schools all the way from kindergartens and primary schools to university. The youths aren't allowed to participate in and think about the choices we have made and therefore don't identify with them.

4. Bilingual policy and racial polarization. Instead of embracing our multicultural melting pot by abandoning the language of our motherland and using the perfectly neutral English language to forge the culture of a new nation, our government have decided that we should focus on the language of our forefathers as well. This is dividing the races and drawing them towards the culture of the past instead of building the future of Singapore. Even our self-help groups are now racially segregated.

We have a country that's not proficient in the national English language and struggling with the second language which will continue to decline when the next generation of kids grow up without grandparents who are fluent in the second language. How can we create a vibrant arts scene of international standards when our English and second language are both second class?

5. Massive immigration at a rate that doesn't allow time for integration. This dilutes our cultural identity before it has even matured.

6. Materialism. Idealism is destroyed starting at the primary school level by the rat race of PSLE.

7. Embracing foreign talent without rewarding local loyalty results in loss of patriotism.

We have a unique Singapore identity. It's worth something. I'll miss not having Singapore. A place where people can understand me immediately and intuitively. A place of relatively honest people believing in success by meritocracy and not by nepotism and cronyism and unfair educational policies. A place where I have friends of all races. A safe place to bring up children happily without the rat race of education intruding the young. A place where each generation had it better than the last.

But all that has been eroding the last two decades. It's worth fighting for, the Singapore which can be, but we have taken a wrong turn sometime back. How do we turn back?

We must have faith in ourselves and our children and not depend on foreigners. We must take care of our weak and poor and elderly and lonely. We must enable the bright child from a broken and poor family to achieve the greatest.

We must support the young so that they dare to venture out and do brave and new things knowing that the country will take care of them and their family if they fail. We have to say goodbye to manufacturing and low cost labour. We should have a happy place that welcomes foreigners to stay and holiday but we must take care of the people who have grown up here.

A country full of home-grown songs and poetry, art and plays and movies and writers and novelists. A country of teachers and schools for all sorts of occupations for Singapore and the world. Not a country of franchise and large chain stores, but one with many unique shops and businesses owned by individual Singaporeans and not crowded out by sky high rents.

The cafés and pubs are manned by people who are paid well and love their jobs. Where garbage truck collectors, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, doctors, bankers, lawyers work side by side to make our country a paradise. Where people choose to do what they are good at and passionate about and not for money alone.

Where dreams are lived out. Our gamers make new computer games for the world. Our Catherine Lims write novels used as text books for the commonwealth nations. People do business here because it's fair and won't be cheated. People visit here because the people are so warm and friendly and chatty. Where truth finds its way everywhere and the people are not brainwashed. Where we can be allowed to read and hear what everyone has to say.

Where Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists live and work together for the good of society. Where we dare to say what we believe is true without worrying about being sued or imprisoned. Where we can be content with having enough and the rich help the poor. Where no matter what work we do, if we try hard, we should be able to make a decent living for our family and yet enjoy enough leisure with friends and family.

We never know if this is impossible, but we can try.