Some National Day Reflections

(This isn’t a cybersecurity blog post. This is just some thoughts of a patriotic citizen on National Day.)

I remembered ever writing my thoughts when the late LKY passed away in 2015 in a post as part of being a socio-political writer. Those were times when, as a student, one could flirt with many different schools of thought, debate about them, and escape relatively unscathed in a sand-boxed environment. It was in those times when I started becoming an avid reader about Singapore in the past, since I never experienced those times. There was time to be highly exploratory, and hence the idealistic side of me developed rapidly. What young days those were!

In the context of nation states, what is youth? History suggests that many societies have lasted for millennia, ranging from the Chinese dynasties to the Persian empire in Central Asia. With such a time-frame, European dominance over the past 200 years would seem “recent”, and our 54 years of independence would appear “juvenile”.

Such a perspective quickly explains the surprise many have when Singapore progressed from what was thought to be a “doomed to fail” state to one that has relevance in the world today, despite our lack of strategic depth and resources. However, this might not exactly resonate with people in my generation today.

What do I think Singapore is? I cannot claim to give an answer that represents my generation, but I will try to provide my own personal take to this.

Singapore, being immigrant-driven, is a melting pot of different cultures. The very nature of being immigrant-driven, however, means that Singapore will always be changing. Let us look at food, for instance. In the olden days, one would notice delights such as char kway teow, prawn noodles and satay. In fact, we would recommend our foreign friends to go to hawker centres such as Newton Food Centre to savour such delights. However, even food is changing. Others bring in Japanese influences, Western influences and more, and today many of us cafe-hop, changing the food scene in Singapore dramatically. One generation ago, they’ll say every kind of food they want could be found in the hawker centre! Ten years later, as the old generation of hawkers retire, how would our food culture evolve? I do not know, but I think the vigorous open debates on this show we care about our food culture dearly.

Singaporeans are also known to be masters at complaining. Sometimes the complaints can be inane, such as complaining about a neighbour’s potted plant becoming a fire hazard, when this can be solved with a cordial talk with the neighbour. Other times, complaining is a form of community service; civic-minded people would complain about mosquito breeding sites, leading to quick intervention by the National Environment Agency (NEA), eradicating the problem and fining the errant individual, if there exists one. If one wants to spin complaint-prone habits in a positive light, our complaint-prone habits can be seen as not being easily satisfied with the status quo.

These two traits, put together, sum up what I think Singapore and Singaporeans need, moving forward, especially with problems becoming more multi-faceted, unlike in the past, where problems were more one-dimensional. Moreover, in the past, we had LKY and team to lift Singapore from Third World to First, uplifting millions of people to have good standards of living in a safe and secure environment.

LKY has since moved on, and we must acknowledge LKY was an anomaly in terms of leadership. When I was writing about LKY, I realised that what resonated most with me about Singapore is that Singapore was all about beating the odds of history. Singapore beat the odds of survival against a difficult geopolitical environment. Not only did we survive, we managed to build a good reputation for ourselves, such as Singapore Airlines leading the way to make sixth-freedom traffic worthwhile (being a hub carrier with no domestic market). We also have a good reputation for a world-class Mathematics syllabus (known around the world as Singaporean Mathematics). Other exports include good governance (our leaders speak fairly frequently at international forums such as the St. Gallen’s Symposium), and models for economic development.

Since Singapore is still a young country, we should remain youthful. The two traits I picked out resonate with me as traits that resonate with the young. Openness to new ideas and change, adaption and innovation. Buzzwords that entice people to want to make lives better for others. Singapore must continue to be a place where people can fulfil their dreams and aspirations. Be it on Smart Nation, or dreams of becoming world champion in something. Our complaint-prone attitudes are also essential. There is no such thing as “good enough” in a system that rewards innovation. As long as there are value-added complaints, there are problem statements that beg for solutions. Singapore must continue being a place of hope.

In one sentence, I see Singapore as a place for anyone who wants to contribute to the story of an anomalous nation state that continually defies the odds of history. Admittedly, such as mission statement excites the little rebel in me; I just cannot keep still and watch the world go by; I by far enjoy the process of crafting my own destiny and future. And I certainly have to count my lucky stars that I am born in a country that has so far treated me kindly enough to confer on me the safety and security to decide how I want to shape my future. For that I can only have eternal gratitude.

Happy 54th National Day, Singapore!

P.S. This will also be the last post of this type of nature that will be on this blog. With effect from 11 August 2019, I will shift more “off-topic” musings to https://donavan.sg/scratchpad. This space will be reserved for topics directly related to the digital world.

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