This National Day, I’d like to give thanks to the country in which I was raised, because it has made me who I am today.
Nah, I’m not famous, not rich, not remotely close to being a CEO, CFO, COO. I currently work in Shanghai but I’m not one of those privileged expats who have a ton of cash to splurge and who has a personal driver and three maids.
I don’t make a lot of money. In fact, I’m actually earning less than what I did as an editor back home. So why on earth would I thank Singapore? Because, ironically, the overly comfortable climate in Singapore drove me out of the country.
If I had not left our cosy island nation for the world’s most populous country, I would never have achieved the current level of self realisation.
And I would not have felt prouder to be a Singaporean.
You see, being away from home gives you the opportunity to compare and contrast. Most Singaporeans would realise that here in China, a lot, and I mean A LOT, of people (locals and foreigners) really suck at their jobs. There’s no pride, no passion, no fucks given. Just put in the minimum effort, nothing more – after all, you’re still gonna get paid.
“Hi, I’m really new to Shanghai, do you think you can introduce me to some members of the media here?” I said to a Public Relations manager during some gala dinner I attended in my first month in Shanghai.
“Most of them are from Chinese media. You won’t know them,” she replied.
“Erm, okay. Is there ANYONE you can introduce me to? I really don’t know anyone here,” I said.
“No. Not really. Enjoy your dinner,” she said, before walking back to her table of friends.
On another occasion, I asked a PR executive over the phone if she could send me some images of her hotel for a travel feature. She told me to call back later because her manager was in a meeting and she “does not know anything about publicity images”.
Cue slow clap.
Cue end credits: Welcome to China.
I’m not saying everyone here is a lazy piece of crap. I’m not saying Singapore is devoid of incompetent people.
But being here really opens your eyes. I have become more confident of my abilities, simply because I’m a Singaporean. Because I know that as a Singaporean, I have standards to uphold. Most of the goofballs in the photo above would agree with me to a certain extent.
“We’re Singaporeans, dude. We have standards. Don’t lower them just because you’re here,” said a friend of mine when I first arrived. It can’t be truer.
There’s a pretty big bunch of us here in Shanghai and we’re apparently quite in demand. It’s no surprise, really – many of us are effectively bilingual (okay, fine, truth be told I’m still quite the potato), have a keen sense of responsibility and are imbued with this unmistakable Singaporean quality – efficiency.
I guess this has to do with the sort of environment we’re raised in. Singapore, as a pretty straight-laced country, is one that is at times bogged down by one too many protocols. I’m sure you would agree.
As a media professional, I used to have to get people to sign release forms for interviews and photo shoots, because you know, we don’t want people to turn around and accuse us of stuff, and in case shit hits the fan.
As Singaporeans, we prepare for shit to hit the fan even though there’s no shit in the first place. So there’s a release form to establish that they agree to be interviewed. Another to certify that they agree to be photographed. Another to confirm that they will not hold it against us if they contract cancer because of exposure to the hairspray used before the photo shoot. Another to “cover our backside” in case the studio lights fall and crack their skulls open. Another to make sure they don’t sue us if they get an epileptic fit because of the flashes.
When you’re buried deep within this system, you deem all these measures unnecessary. It’s human nature.
“Aiyoh, so kiasu and kiasee for what right?”
“Alamak, why so anal?”
Strangely enough, you will, mark my words, begin to miss all these things you once abhorred when you leave Singapore. You will suddenly wanna make love to rules and regulations. Protocols have never looked sexier. SOPs give you a raging hard-on.
Let’s just use the traffic situation here in Shanghai as an example. Pedestrian crossings are practically useless. Drivers don’t keep to their lanes. People sound their horns as if they get a dollar every time they use it. It’s somewhat acceptable to do whatever you please, just don’t get caught.
Just today, the wife got into a major argument with the Dianping delivery service. The Japanese eatery we ordered from got our orders completely wrong but instead of finding a quick solution to the problem, they insisted that the missus take a photo of the items she claims is wrong so that the restaurant can verify that we’re not out to scam them. One thing led to another and the restaurant later told the Dianping to tell us that they want to retrieve the meals to verify that they indeed got the order wrong before sending out the correct dishes. The ordeal was exhausting. And I wasn’t even the one screaming over the phone.
I take pride in being an effective and efficient worker. I’ve never gotten a bad performance review, ever, and I’d like to attribute this to my upbringing. I belong to what I would like to believe is a golden generation (according to the SAF I’m now considered Cat Y for IPPT tests, and yay to no more pull ups!) – those born in the 70s and 80s – the era between archaism and strawberries. Most of us born during this period acknowledge that success comes with showing respect to seniors and putting in a good shift at work, and not by becoming a crappy lifestyle blogger who has no idea what plagiarism is and who just wants free eye cream, or a self-entitled rich brat of an intern that refuses to take out the garbage because “that’s not what interns do”.
Cat Ys know that sometimes we have to suck it up in order to not suck.
I’d also like to think that it’s got to do with me doing National Service in the Armour formation. I used to chiong sua in an APC. I used to have a friend who failed his driving test because he beat the red light – and when the tester asked why he did so he simply replied: “Cos I’m from Armour, I stop for no one.”
Our formation’s motto is “Swift and Decisive”. As armoured infantry, we must chiong up the hill, dismount our troops, obliterate the enemy and establish a defensive posture, all in a matter of minutes. Because we need to shock the enemy and not give them time to react. Because bullets have no eyes.
Because we need to hurry up cook Maggi mee.
So, like I was saying, we only begin to miss what we’ve lost. If you’re feeling aggrieved in Singapore about the standard of living, COE prices and CPF policies, try living abroad for a couple of years. It helps.
I think it would be safe to say that I, along with my compatriots here in Shanghai, have demonstrated that we are, as the late PM Lee once said, Singapore’s most important resource.
I had always felt that Singapore lacked a true, discernible identity. Is it Singlish? Our vibrant chapalang culture? The Merlion? The Durian beside the Merlion? The unbeatable hawker food? A penchant for being No 1 in many things?
Being here in a foreign land, I have come to realise that it is we, the people of Singapore, and the values we bear, that define the country.
While turning 50 can be somewhat considered a transition into senior citizenship for people, a country of that age is but a child on the global scale. And I think that’s why the Singapore’s achievements to date can be considered pretty darn impressive. After all, there are other nations all over the world that are many times older than this little red dot and yet are plagued with social issues that we Singaporeans dare not even imagine.
I mentioned before in an earlier post on Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death that the reason we can even complain about whatever we love complaining about is because we have all the basic essentials catered for. Honestly, I think the government has done a pretty good job. Most of us have a roof over our heads, a decent educational background and a job to earn a living with.
All achieved in 50 years.
Sure, some have fallen through the cracks. Sure, it’s heart wrenching to see elderly uncles and aunties sell tissue paper or cardboard to make money. But there will always be such people in society. Instead of finding ways to help them, dissidents often use these less fortunate individuals as ammunition to criticise the government. Come on, lah.
For the record, I pledge my allegiance to no particular political party. While I do believe that is it important we have alternative voices in Parliament, I’m do not believe in voting for the Opposition just for the sake of doing so. It’s like being one of those mindless hipster fitness freaks who eat quinoa though it makes them gag. We’re all born with a mind to judge, so use it.
But in case your mind isn’t quite developed enough, let me gently remind you that perfection is a myth. There will never be a government that can make everyone happy. I think that’s something a lot of Singaporeans need to realise.
That being said, Mr Low Thia Khiang, I’d seriously consider voting for you if you come contest in Pasir Ris-Punggol. But vote for the SDA? Come on – they stand a better chance of getting a return on their election deposit if they went to Resorts World and dumped the entire sum on Black at the roulette table.
Look, it’s perfectly fine to complain for the sake of complaining. But when you complain because you think the government owes you happiness, you should head to the kitchen right now. Then open that bottle of cooking oil. Pour it over yourself. Grab a lighter. Then self immolate.
Alternatively, leave the country for a year or two. You’ll realise the Lion City ain’t that shabby after all.
My name is Alywin, and I am proud to be a Singaporean.
Thank you, Singapore, and happy 50th birthday.