It’s a curious thing, growing up in two countries.
For me, I’ve never felt like I quite fit in. In Singapore, I was the loud girl who was always a little too opinionated. I chose a not-so-conventional career path, deviating from the usual Business/Law/Engineering majors when it came to my university studies. I’m not a size 6, and like most my age, I’m still finding my way.
Yet I’ve always been defensive about my home country.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had my grievances with Singapore. It’s easy to box her up in a category and say she doesn’t celebrate creativity. The digital age has made us all critics of everything – from a bowl of fishball noodles to the way a country is run – without giving much thought to the consequences of our words.
I have been guilty of that, too.
I was born and raised in Singapore. At 16-going-on-17, I made the decision to move to Melbourne, Australia for my studies, not knowing I was going to spend the next 8 years here and eventually leave a piece of my heart in this city.
Living away from home has given me a new perspective. Each time I return, there is a sense of unfamiliar familiarity. Things change, almost too quickly. Every six months I step off the plane and there are shiny new skyscrapers, new MRT stations, or grass patches where were once a playground, or a heritage building.
Things move quickly in Singapore and that is part of her charm. It’s how we have survived – no, thrived. As a young nation of 49, we have done remarkably well. Our public transport system is among the world’s best, crime rate is relatively low, our education system is not perfect but I am proud that most of our population is literate.
We have come from a background of scarcity – worry that there will not be enough, that there will never be enough. It’s what fuels our kiasu-ism, if you will. We live in the middle of abundance and don’t recognise it; instead we continue to fight and be blinded by what we think we want and need.
Perhaps that’s why we are risk-averse, myself included. People think Singaporeans are not creative. We toe the edges of the box we have created for ourselves, dreaming about a world out there that we may or may not get to experience. Taking the leap is almost unimaginable.
What would it be like if we did?
Then there are the critics who have taken the plunge. They look back and think Singapore is backward. There are many things going for her but fear, fear continues to be right in the middle of everything we do.
Singapore’s not perfect, for many reasons. Deviate from the system and you find yourself on the “wayward path”. Think about doing something different, compassionate – and you just may get hate mail, or have people wondering what your “agenda” is.
Despite knowing all of this though, I am proud to be Singaporean. Just because. Love needs no valid reason. Call me “brainwashed” or “going with the crowd”, but I am proud of how far our country has come in less than half a century.
Yes, my parents have helped me with the cost of an overseas education. I didn’t ask for it, but they have, and for that I am infinitely thankful. And yes, I live overseas (for now, anyway), and it is sometimes easier to love Singapore from afar.
But I will never discount where I’ve come from. It is a country that moulded me for 16 years before I moved to Australia. It is a country that taught me the pain of discipline, that showed me hard work may or may not bear fruit.
The negative examples only make me wish more will think out of the box. Take the path less trodden. Create new ones. Show the critics, your family, your peers – the very people who may scoff, laugh, and turn their noses down at pursuing your dreams. Use your voice. Be thankful for what you already have. Use that to your advantage. Push through the pain.
It’s always going to be hard pursuing your dreams and being different wherever you go. Having lived in Melbourne, Australia – a beautiful city, some say the best in the world – I can tell you the very fact that I’m Asian and didn’t major in Business means finding work is difficult. I’m different, and reminded of that every single day.
But that’s okay. You may never find your place in this world. Maybe you were not created to fit in, but stand out, wherever you may find yourself.
Your identity isn’t tied to where you’ve come from, and that’s okay. It has given you a platform to be who you want to be.
Now go forth and shine.
Happy 49th birthday, Singapore. Thank you for being you. We have a way to go, but may the next year bring new discoveries, unleash new talents, see further progress, and ultimately remind us all how fortunate and blessed we are to call you home.