By Serena Wong
A mix of disillusionment and disappointment kept me up in the night after the announcement of the election results in Singapore.
My disappointment could be pinned down to me being just a sucker for the underdogs, specifically the voiceless poor in Singapore, as I felt that it was another kick in the belly for them and those who care for human rights. Or I could be trying to redeem my guilt for having left my loved ones behind to face an uncertain future under an authoritarian government. So, I was tuned into the election fever in Singapore. I read the manifesto of the Workers’ Party (WP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and People’s Action Party (PAP). I even gave feedback to the WP on its manifesto via email. The opposition members are the strongest ever and are so sincere that I feel that they are somehow betrayed by the electorate – they could have had a better loss.
I comforted myself that we have no more stakes in Singapore. We have happily remarried Australia after an amicable divorce with Singapore, with full custody of our children. Our values have diverged so much that we could no longer live with each other and so, the only way forward was a permanent separation. Tonight, this is an opportunity for me to self-reflect my life with Australia – it has been a humble journey.
I must admit I was an ethnocentric when I first arrived; there was an air of arrogance in me. After all, I hail from a country with shining economic and academic record. The Aussies are known to be more relaxed, not like me, you know; I am so diligent and have achieved quite a fair bit for my age. And look at the Perth airport, nothing like the one in Singapore. Yes, I was smug and arrogant.
Besides, Singaporeans are smart, ranking high if not the first for Maths in international ranking and frankly, Australian academic record is dismal. This is why I cannot get around my head how the Australians can continue to make great strides in science and medicine – Dr. Ian Frazer invented the HIV vaccine against cervical cancer, now marketed as Gardasil and Cervarix. Dr. Fiona Wood patented the invention of spray skin for burn victims. I heard the black box flight recorder was also invented by an Australian. Of course, Julian Assange is also Australian, the honcho exposing the secrets of international government. Even if you don’t like him, we have to admit that he is smart, with a very different type of intelligence.
I now realise that it is the education system of the West, which requires students to think critically that result in independent thinking and creativity. It is also the environment that allows for diversity in thinking and philosophy. My daughter learnt about media hegemony in school and to always question the media and the authorities, the very thing Singapore is against.
Coming from a country with no welfare, we were surprised with the ‘welfare’ that we received from Centrelink to help us establish ourselves here. To be honest, I was a little embarrassed to take the money; although we were not employed then, we were not poor. The kind lady at Centrelink assured me that it was our right as residents to take the money.
Two years after settling down, we are no longer eligible for the Centrelink payment and have to pay our taxes instead. We pay a lot of taxes compared to what we would have paid in Singapore for the same amount of earnings. It does hurt every time I make payment to the ATO but I am always reminded of the kind gesture of the Australian people when we first arrived. Of course, the Australian people get back many, many times what they gave us. But that’s fair; we make a decent living and should therefore pay it back. It would be nice to keep half of the taxes for ourselves but frankly, we are alright without it. We are not rich; we live in an average suburb and drive a humble Honda. But we are not poor either because of the taxes we pay; our children go to private school and we do holiday overseas annually. What I am saying is that I have learnt that those capable have to return a portion back to the society.
If everybody pays low taxes, then who is going to take care of the handicapped, the disabled and the poor in society? I am now used to seeing disabled and handicapped people led by social workers to work out in community gyms and swimming pools. I remember asking myself why there were so many such people in Australia but not in Singapore. When I asked a social worker friend in Singapore, she said that Singapore does not have much of the facilities for such members of the society. The infrastructure in Singapore and its crowdedness also made it logistically difficult for this group of people. Perhaps, this group of people is deemed to be a burden rather than a responsibility of the government of Singapore.
Nonetheless, it was a dramatic car accident, which saw my car completely damaged by prison escapists, that gave me firsthand experience of the generosity of the Australian people. Through God’s grace, I managed to come out of it unscathed. I remembered my car spun and spun to finally hit the wall of a Christian bookshop before it came to a complete halt. A man rushed to open the door and pulled me out. There were about more than ten people, ready to help me. The lady at the Christian bookshop offered me tea, a paramedic working out at a nearby gym wanted to call an ambulance for me and warned me that my body would suffer aftershock. Another lady advised me to see the doctor opposite; I declined saying that the clinic would not have an appointment there and then. This lady was actually on her way to the doctor for her appointment; she said I could have hers instead. Many stayed behind to be witnesses for the police. I was told a school caretaker actually stopped his car to help me and the prisoners carjacked his car as they had completely damaged their stolen car after ramming into me. I was in shock in part due to the drama of the entire accident (I was interviewed on TV) but also overwhelmed by the assistance offered by complete strangers. Nobody took a video of the accident and posted it on Youtube. Had this accident happened in Singapore, I am not sure if there would be so many strangers coming to help. However, I am certain many Singaporeans would buy 4D with my car number.
But my perspective of Australia really changed this week with the Syrian crisis; the first thought that came to my mind was not the plight of the displaced Syrians. It was the worry that how Australia could afford to take in the refugees when we are at the brink of recession; we might be asked to pay a levy similar to the one meted out after the Queensland flood. How selfish am I!
It was the media that exposed my selfishness to myself; the letters to the media unanimously demanded Tony Abbott to take in the refugees. The bottom line is this – they are displaced and we have to help, no ifs, no buts. One man even offered to take in a refugee family into his home and asked if any authority could organise this as many others might want to open up their homes as well! I must say I am nowhere near these big-hearted people when it comes to such matters of the heart. Yet, I call myself a Christian and all I worry about is whether we can afford to take in the refugees during such economic climate. Indeed, I am the modern day Pharisee!
I am not saying that Mr. Australia is all good and flawless. Yes, there is discrimination here; remember the Cronulla riot, the violent assaults against some Muslims and the recent tirade against an Asian woman caught on youtube, just to name a few. But I had also experienced discrimination in Singapore when I found out that as a manager in an MNC, my pay was lower than a French executive with lesser duties. I also know some jobs in Singapore are not opened to certain races or even Singaporeans. It is also true that Australia can improve on its security; had they been more vigilant with the prisoners, they wouldn’t escape and ram into me! I supposed the laws here take the view that even hardened criminals can be rehabilitated that result in more lenient and shorter sentences. The death penalty was long abolished and even life imprisonment is not really ‘life’. I honestly don’t know whether this is good or bad; I supposed it is debatable.
Another improvement that Mr. Australia can make is to make life a bit more fun. While there are blue skies and white beaches with much better air quality, Mr. Australia can get a bit boring sometimes, with shops closing early and it has far fewer nightclubs than Singapore. It is definitely not a place for the shopaholic and the party goers! Everything is also generally more expensive than Singapore; this is certainly due to the minimum wage. I supposed the poor manage with some Centrelink payments.
Therefore, I find it is really hard to compare the two spouses – Australia and Singapore, just like it is difficult to decide which is better – apples or durians. Australia is the poorer and mundane man but he has a bigger heart and a creative mind. His children are encouraged to speak their minds and explore their potential. He has also been a mirror for my soul, helping me to reflect on myself. Singapore is the more academic, richer man with all the glitz and can offer me physical security but he has a much lesser heart. His children must speak only when spoken to and fit into daddy’s square holes.
As much as I prefer durians to apples, I know I can’t eat durians every day, I’ll fall sick. Apples might lack the aroma and taste of the durians but I know I can indulge in apples daily and stay healthy. So, I thank God for his mercy for Mr. Australia and apples. My Christian friend reminded me today that in Romans 13:1, God ordered “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God”. With this, I wish my ex all the best as I extinguish all residual emotions for him and pledge again my allegiance to the Australian government to Advance Australia Fair.