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Straits Times 9 Aug 07
Surprise! Friends come before the 5Cs
By Tan Hui Yee
Today Online 9 Aug 07
truly, madly, deeply...
Choo Zheng Xi
Today Online 9 Aug 07
This National Day, meet the New Patriot
Patriot: One who loves, supports and defends one's country (American Heritage Dictionary) Yvonne Lim
Today Online 9 Aug 07
Lee U-Wen email@example.com
HE IS someone who will stay connected to Singapore, regardless of which part of the world he's in. He sees himself as a citizen who stays out of trouble and faithfully obeys the laws and pays taxes on time.
Attending the National Day Parade or displaying the Flag outside his flat is his way of celebrating the nation's birthday. But he is in two minds about whether he would bear arms and die for Singapore though the true test may reveal another side of him.
He or she is the face of your average resident citizen-patriot, patched together from the answers 318 resident Singaporeans gave in a Today survey.
When it comes to professing pride for their country, 76 per cent would do so unstintingly, and 86 per cent say helping their fellows a classmate at school, a needy neighbour is a key mark of citizenship.
Yet, only 55.7 per cent say with any certainty that they would fight or lay down their lives for country and countrymen. About 30 per cent dithered, while 13.5 per cent disagreed with the notion altogether.
While some might find the numbers dismaying, Ms Indranee Rajah, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence, has faith that when the real test comes when survival hangs in the balance Singaporeans will take up the fight.
"Those that have said 'yes' obviously have an appreciation of the realities that Singapore face," she said. "The neutral ones, however, would feel they have the luxury of choice, assuming security is a given because they know the armed forces and police are already protecting us."
But take away this sense of relative security, and "when a person is confronted with making that hard choice, there could be some surprising revelations. There will be acts of heroism you could not have imagined, while others will disappoint", said Ms Indranee.
Ms Jeanne Conceicao, however, isn't discounting a possible problem. The research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies thinks the way National Education classes in school teach about the role of the armed forces may lead many to assume the job of protecting of the nation can be left to others.
"Everyone's role is compartmentalised (in the lessons), so to the average person, it's not his or her problem to bear arms," she said.
A SPEAKING PART?
In a similar vein, a significant proportion of locals seem content to leave the talking to others, even if they disagreed with something.
For instance, were an outsider to criticise Singapore, six in 10 felt they should come to its defence, but one in three were undecided on whether it was important to do so.
Similarly, one in three were fence-sitters when asked if it a citizen should actively try and promote change if they felt something was amiss in society or a particular policy. And what if one thought a policy was flawed? Only 55 per cent thought it was important to speak out whether to one's MP, on blogs or in the newspapers and they were mostly those with A-level qualifications or higher.
A whopping 35.8 per cent were neutral on this.
"I am dismayed by the number of people who disagree or remain neutral, because it shows we are very dependent on the Government to do things for us," said Ms Conceicao.
Ms Lim Beng Gii, a 31-year-old marketing communications manager, believes Singaporeans take efficient government for granted. "So, even if something is not right, they assume there will be someone else to speak up on that ... They feel what they say cannot impact the situation," she said.
NTUC assistant secretary-general Halimah Yacob thought a number of Singaporeans simply do not have an in-depth knowledge about issues to argue for or against them. "We should not draw an adverse conclusion that Singaporeans don't care," she said.
THE SUPPORTING ROLE
Certainly, contrary to the belief that we are a selfish lot, resident Singaporeans think that helping out in the community is a crucial part of citizenship. This sense was most keen among professionals, students, managers and the self-employed.
When it comes to keeping the country running, though, many tended towards a compliant supporting role. Some 78.3 per cent of respondents felt the Government should be supported so that it can run the country more effectively.
Most citizens 87.1 per cent would rather do their part by staying out of trouble, faithfully obeying the laws, paying their taxes and doing well in school.
In showing their feelings for their country, many lean towards outward displays, such as backing the home team in international competitions (seven in 10 would do so) or celebrating National Day. Four in five said it was important to hang out the Flag, catch the parade or take part in grassroots activities.
"For some people, it can be as simple an act as wearing a red T-shirt on the nation's birthday. But what strikes me is the sense that Singaporeans are celebrating, and doing so together," said Ms Indranee.
But office executive Goh Kian Huat, 45, was unconvinced this was an accurate measure of patriotism. "We can't assume that everyone who goes for the National Day Parade is patriotic. There are some who only go because of the goodie bags, or they got the tickets for free," he said. And singing the Anthem or waving the Flag is a meaningless act, unless people know what these symbols stand for, he added.
A DIVIDED CAST?
But if loyalty to a country can be measured by one's presence here, then resident Singaporeans score well.
Asked to choose from 11 statements about what Singapore meant to them, 23 per cent ranked as their first choice "a place I'd choose to live and grow old in". In the overall scoring, this, as well as statements such as "where my friends and family are" and "where my roots are", topped the list.
Indeed, 86.8 per cent of locals agreed it was important as a citizen to be physically living here and contributing to the economy or society. In stark contrast, only 27.7 per cent of citizens overseas who were polled agreed.
This was just one of the marked divides in opinion that the survey results threw up.
But is it a sign of a possible tension between Singaporeans here and overseas? Unlikely, said Ms Conceicao. "Many in Singapore are here because they have to be, whether it's to take care of our parents, lack of financial means or so on. It's only natural to justify your reasons for being here."
Those overseas "are doing well in their own way and are not any less useful than someone who is living in Singapore", she added.
But even as they are rooted here, resident Singaporeans have yet to clearly see this as a place to seek their dreams and opportunities it was ranked seventh out of 11 "how I feel about Singapore" scenarios.
Making Singapore a "land of opportunity for all" is a vision the Government is now striving to fulfil.
Overall, however, Mdm Halimah noted that citizens do have a "strong sense of belonging". "It's very difficult to put a finger on it, but it's probably that sense of comfort one feels after we travel for long periods and pine for home," she said.
Taxi driver Andrew Ng, 53, put it differently. "To me, patriotism is hard to describe, but it comes from the knowledge that we have all served our country in one way or another, be it through National Service or just doing an honest job to earn a decent living.
"It isn't something we should only think about when National Day rolls around. It's a lifetime commitment that Singaporeans have to make."
Today Online 9 Aug 07
This National Day, meet the New Patriot
Patriot: One who loves, supports and defends one's country (American Heritage Dictionary) Yvonne Lim Night editor firstname.lastname@example.org
AS YOU turn on the television to watch the National Day Parade at home, or wave that little red-and-white flag in the midst of the excitement at Marina Bay or perhaps just enjoy the public holiday with family and friends consider this: Does doing any of this make you any more, or less, of a patriot?
We could have asked that question differently, as we set about our survey of 466 Singaporeans here and abroad to mark the nation's 42nd birthday. We could have just simply asked: "How patriotic are Singaporeans?" as if there was some fixed formula to calibrate this.
But looking at all the families who turn up in red-and-white face paint to support the footballing Lions, and every 18-year-old male who surrenders part of his life to the military, how do you measure any individual's love for and willingness to stand up for his (or her) country when it truly counts?
What defines the "country"? Who deserves your allegiance? The state, the community, the physical land, your family? And who's to say if a "stayer" who votes responsibly, raises his children here, works within "the system" and donates to the needy knows any more about patriotism than the growing number of globe-trotting citizens, who seek opportunities abroad but continue to criticise and defend Singapore beyond her shores?
So, instead of doing the predictable and holding a measuring rod up to Singaporeans, we asked them to tell us: What is important to you about being a citizen? What does this tiny city-state mean to you? Who, in short, is the new "patriot" and does that image in the mirror comfort or disturb us?
IF Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's worry once was that Singapore would become more like a hotel than a home to its people, here's some heartening news.
Of the resident citizens polled in TODAY's National Day Survey, 76 per cent said they were proud or very proud of being Singaporean - 72 per cent of Singaporeans overseas shared this sentiment.
It was perhaps not a surprise that, when asked to rank the reasons for this bond (they were asked to pick three out of 11 statements), the top pick for both groups was "a place where my friends and family are".
Both also agreed Singapore was where their roots were, however far a-field they ventured and to a lesser extent, that they'd like to raise and educate their children here.
But is Singapore "a place to live out one's dreams"? Maybe not This statement scored the lowest overall ranking among overseas respondents, and not much higher among Singaporeans at home.
Tellingly, overseas citizens felt a more poignant connection to the food and culture of home, than to Singapore as a place that they wanted to live out the rest of their lives something residents, on the other hand, felt strongly about.
But even if the Singapore Dream isn't shared equally by all, at least, it was clear that few endorsed cynical statements such as "I'm here because I've no choice" or "this is a fallback if I fail it make it elsewhere".
Asked what being a supportive citizen meant, there were starkly different answers from the overseas and resident groups. Generally speaking, resident citizens thought in tangible terms that you had to be physically here, contributing to the economy and society. That you helped those around you. That you hung out the flag every August, and watched the parade if not in person - then at least "live" on television.
Politically, being supportive implied compliance. Back the Government so that it could run the country more effectively. Stay out of trouble, pay your taxes, study hard.
For the Singaporean living abroad, on the other hand, physical presence was for obvious reasons the last thing on their minds. Rather, being a supportive citizen to them was more likely to mean speaking out critically and constructively in newspaper forums, in cyberspace, through official channels if, and when, policies proved inadequate.
Or even trying to drive change if they felt something was wrong. Despite their disagreements with the state on some issues, the Singaporean expatriate felt that it was also important to speak up in defence of Singapore when outsiders criticised her. Which leads us to the third aspect of patriotism
Are Singaporeans prepared to die for the love of their country? If the survey results are to be believed, and they were done professionally by Media Research Consultants, just over half of the Singaporeans polled here and abroad - are willing to lay down their life for their nation.
Should we be disturbed that 23 per cent of overseas citizens and 13.5 per cent of locals do not attach any importance, or willingness, to make the ultimate sacrifice for the nation the rest aren't sure either way.
Does this mean Singaporeans will refuse to take up arms, or worse, turn tail and run, if a threat loomed? No, some would argue, pointing to this study's limitations.
Most Singaporeans from the post-65 generation don't feel this urgency because they have never faced the threat of actual hostilities. The real test, will not come in the shape of a survey question, and may well evoke a completely different response when the stark prospect of losing everything is thrust in one's face.
But others worry because they see a young country with a population, which has largely not had its character, nor its patriotism, tested in the fires of war, disaster or real hardship.
They see a people, cultured and conditioned to entrust important decisions to wiser authorities, as they speed down the road of globalisation passing pastures green with opportunities.
Against this broad canvas, one wonders about the character, and characteristics, of the new Singapore "patriot". And if this patriot's ties to country centre solely on factors such as food, family and jobs, or even pure happenstance of birth can this be enough?
The TODAY team explores these questions, in this special National Day issue.
Today Online 9 Aug 07
Patriotism in a time of globalisation
ACCORDING to historian Prasenji Duarat, a nation needs to feel "authentic" to its citizens to foster national identity and patriotism.
This sense of authenticity comes from the whole-hearted acceptance of a core of values or beliefs specific to the nation whether derived from historical myths, civilisational values or ethnic narratives.
This core is eternal, never-changing and intimately knowable to citizens. In other words, the nation, or what it stands for, is deemed authentic precisely since some things just never change.
After all, what is real and genuine is not transient and inconsistent, so it's thought.
Remove this sense of a never-changing nation and citizens have very little to fight for beyond their families. Without this shared authenticity, citizens have no opportunity to rise above their disparateness to become patriots.
The nation, thus, is timeless, while the nation-state is necessarily fluid and dynamic as it keeps up with modernity and the rest of the world. Citizens find comfort and meaning in the former; they eke a living in the latter.
Singapore, however, is a nation predicated on change and fluidity. Birthed from the trauma of separation and profound insecurity, the Singapore mindset is a mixture of paranoia, pragmatism, reason and anticipation.
From macro-economic models to lifestyle values, this is a country that has made a virtue out of change.
While this obsession with change has ensured our economic survival, it has induced a lifetime of soul-searching angst that will never be resolved.
After all, the polemic goals of the global city and the nation the first outward looking and dependent on globalisation, the second inward looking and familiar have consigned us to a schizophrenic identity.
To be sure, the Singapore state has made efforts to manufacture authenticity. The Confucian ethics and the Asian values discourses in the 1980s and 1990s sought to propose a core of timeless values for us. Both did not quite take off because of our multicultural reality and the Asian crisis.
The 1991 White Paper on Shared Values was the clearest attempt to establish the core of timeless values, but hardly anyone can remember all five of them today.
The lesson here is not that a top-down approach to value manufacturing cannot work, but that these values must be manufactured with everyday Singaporean life in mind. It is their presence in the everyday that makes them "authentic" as opposed to heavenly edicts such as "consensus, not conflict".
While heavenly edicts are pristine, they are also alienating. The omnipresence of the state, and the insistence that leaders must lead and citizens follow, will also negate patriotism.
Extensive and efficient planning has left citizens with little to do for themselves, while citizens with alternative interests are frequently sidelined, both of which result in less citizenry investment and, ultimately, fewer reasons to be patriotic.
The question, then, is: How can we be patriotic to a nation in constant flux?
Behind this are other questions such as: Does the Singapore nation feel similarly authentic to local-born Singaporeans and newly minted ones?
The Singapore of a Chinese heartlander taxi driver is not the same with that of, say, a banking executive of South Asian origins. And this goes beyond the churlish issue of class.
For example, it is accepted that national catastrophes and crises serve to bind a people together, just like Sars and the JI arrests. Such events, for better or worse, forge a common mindset and deepen our national memory.
But what about new citizens who do not share this national memory? With the constant influx of talent, it is unfair to expect everyone to share the same ideas and memories of Singapore.
A nation stuck in fast-forward motion, where historical buildings and spaces are torn down in the name of efficiency, cannot expect to be timeless.
It is thus not surprising for Singaporeans to cite the material food, Singlish, shopping as markers of national identity.
As for patriotism, it is clear from Today's survey that family and friends rank high as reasons instead of large abstract ideals. This use of material markers will become more entrenched as the meaning of nationhood gets more dependent on how well Singapore the global city fares on the international stage.
One might, in which case, expect to see a decline in patriotism or nationalism during a prolonged economic recession, in contrast to other nations where nationalism oozes in times of national distress.
Thus, it may be fitting on this our 42nd National Day to imagine how patriotism will be expressed in a nation where nothing is timeless and where economic priorities override all other concerns.
Singaporeans will continue to love Singapore for a variety of reasons land of birth, family ties, and its safety and cleanliness. But patriotism in the era of globalisation is evolving to the tune of mobile capital, roaming talent and the influx of diverse memories and experiences.
Just like our nation, our brand of patriotism will change and be expressed differently. The next 42 years will be interesting ones for Singapore.
The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies.
Today Online 9 Aug 07
truly, madly, deeply...
Choo Zheng Xi
QUESTION: Why do you feel patriotic?
Answer: I recently went to country XYZ (fill in name of Third World country or dysfunctional First World one), realised how shoddy their (healthcare/education/social welfare system) was and felt really grateful to be Singaporean.
We've all heard this exchange before, in one form or another. Singaporeans have a strange tendency to define our love for our country in terms of what it's not.
I'm reminded of making the mistake of answering my ex-girlfriend frankly when she asked me the question: Why do you love me? I finished my shopping list of attributes I loved her for (sweet voice, cute and so on), and waited for her happy sigh. Instead, I got a good scolding. "So, when I stop having all of the above you'll stop loving me lah!" she practically screeched.
I've since grown wiser. Milan Kundera, a Czech novelist, once noted that true love isn't about being in love with your significant other's positive attributes: That form of love is contingent on the person keeping those attributes.
Besides, it's not hard to love someone for perfection it's far more difficult to love someone for their faults, far truer to love despite flaws than because of attributes.
I can imagine my girlfriend would have felt far more insulted if I had told her I loved her because she was the least bad choice to have around. Because Sally had acne, Mary didn't know how to dress, and Jane slouched.
Transposing these lessons of the heart to patriotism, allow me to offer the following guide to loving our country:
1) Love despite, not because
2) Loving someone has nothing to do with the other options around
What do Americans mean when they puff up their chests and tell you that their country is "the last best hope in the world"? I have a shopping list of reasons why I dislike America, but I can't help feeling a twinge of vicarious patriotism when I hear American politicians spout that line.
They're not saying they love their country because all the rest suck. They're telling you they love their country. Period.
Sometimes I wish I could feel that way about Singapore too.
Like a badly put together patchwork quilt, I have felt the patriotic surge at times. I shed tears of pride saluting my country's flag on the parade square in the army, the youthful gusto with which I sang "Count on me Singapore" (still my favourite National Day song) as a boy, or the feeling of tired relief I always feel when my flight touches down at Changi.
How can we capture this medley of experiences in a unified national narrative?
You might as well ask how one bottles moonlight. The simple answer is, you can't. In fact, the harder we try to explain why we love our country, the more contrived and contingent our love becomes.
True patriotism is about turning that moment of silliness into a reflexive as well as reflective way of life, without having to finger national prayer beads while counting our blessings as a country.
There was a time when calling someone a "patriot" was a term of abuse used to characterise an overly credulous or outright manipulative politician. It even had undertones of lunacy.
Well, allow me to draw the parallel of lunacy to the oft-heard Latin refrain amantes sunt amentes lovers are lunatics.
You have to be slightly mad to love a country which is career-obsessed, neurotic about good discounts and infatuated with food. If Singapore were a person, it'd be the kind of person only a mother could love.
But love this country I do. Call me crazy. Or just patriotic.
The author is a first-year student with the NUS Faculty of Law.
Straits Times 9 Aug 07
Surprise! Friends come before the 5Cs
By Tan Hui Yee
IF YOU thought the Singapore dream is driven by the materialism of the Five Cs, the results of a new survey may surprise you. Friendship came up more important, by far, than the famous Five Cs - cash, car, credit card, condominium and country club membership - according to a survey by The Straits Times.
It ranked No. 3, right behind Family and Good Health. The survey was commissioned for the National Day Special, an annual publication that comes with the newspaper today, to gauge Singaporeans' attitudes towards friendship and how friendly they think Singaporeans and Singapore are.
This year's 36-page Special puts the spotlight on friendship and features readers' entries for a Best Friends contest and stories of the bonds that bind people of different ages, races, religions and genders.
A question in the survey, conducted by the Research, Analysis & Planning Department of Singapore Press Holdings' marketing division, asked 340 respondents to rank 10 elements of a happy and fulfilling life.
They had to rank this checklist: family, condominium/private landed home, cars, relatives, friends, credit card, cash, good health, a country club membership and a good neighbourhood. Friends came ahead of relatives, cash and a good neighbourhood.
Dr Lai Ah Eng, a senior research fellow at National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute, was not surprised.
'For the kind of urbanised and intense life and demands Singaporeans live with, the ranking makes Singaporeans seem sensible on the whole - putting personal and social needs before material wants,' Dr Lai said.
She felt that younger people were presumably still enjoying friendships in school and cared little about the Five Cs, while older people 'would have known friendships and still have or hanker after friends while they can see through the limitations of the Five Cs'.
As for the people indicating they are not as close to their relatives as to their friends, Dr Lai said: 'The assumptions that most people have an extended family and that extended families are necessarily closely bonded are questionable.
'The major family type in Singapore is nuclear.'
From among the 2,000 people who took part in The Straits Times' Best Friends contest, it was clear that friends are valued most for being there, providing a listening ear and support when needed.
For homemaker Lisa Joan Kong, 41, the choice is obvious. She said: 'You can have money, but you can't replace a person. Credit cards and cash give you temporary happiness, but a friend you can keep for life.' She and her best friend Christine Wen, a 40-year-old homemaker, 'grew up together and have stuck together in good times and bad'.
Entries poured in by e-mail and snail mail, and via online postings through The Straits Times' website (www.straitstimes.com) or its interactive web portal Stomp (www.stomp.com.sg) over three weeks last month.
Readers had to name their best friend and provide a photograph, and many said they wanted to pay tribute to their friends or surprise them. Over and over again, contestants cited one key reason why their best friend was their best friend: Because they stood by their side when the chips were down.
Ms Joyce Ang described the bond she shares with her friend Gowri Rajaratnam this way: 'Different races. Different religions...It's the bond. I've got her back, and she's got mine.'
The top eight entries won prizes worth more than $6,000 in total, with the top prize going to schoolboy Danial Syafiq Muhammad Zahid, 15, who named his single mother Kartina Osman, 34, as his best friend.
Other winners included full-time national serviceman Adam Osman, 21, who named his polytechnic mate Jonathan See, and 68-year-old retiree Joyce de Silva, whose friendship with primary schoolmate Carolyn Chow has lasted six decades.
There were other tips gleaned from the stories of long-lost friends, who were reunited through the efforts of The Straits Times. Senior foreman Richard Lim and his wife Susie had appealed to The Straits Times for help in tracking down their former neighbours, youth worker Michael Yong and his wife, Soo Li.
Mr Lim, 51, regretted losing touch over the years. He said: 'I did not cherish and treasure our friendship. Looking back, my heart weighs heavily.' His search proved successful, and both couples have reconnected.
At the end of the day, the Special and the best friends contest were more about celebrating the immense diversity of friendships that exist in Singapore and even beyond.
The individuals featured included teenage students, grandmothers, national servicemen, new immigrants and some familiar faces. No matter who they were, they recognised the value of simply having someone to share a laugh or cry with.
Mr Jonathan See said of his best friend Adam Osman: 'He's the first one I turn to when I have trouble, the first one I turn to when I have a joke.'
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