August 2014

Express your view on the topic of 'Singapore's 49 years.

1st Place - Lean Guanhua

This year National Day theme- “Our People, Our Home” echoes the resounding pride of our nation 49 years as a nation. Our young nation has evolved rapidly from its “accidental birth” through separation from Malaysia to being a globalised city-state today. Amidst all the optimism and bright hopes for the future of this nation, the Singapore government constantly emphasises on the rhetoric of the “politics of survival” and highlights the vulnerabilities and challenges that Singapore faces. In order to sustain the optimistic future of our nation, Singaporeans need to address these challenges together as a nation and we need to also be constantly aware of our vulnerabilities and never fall into complacency. In this article, I will focus my discussion on preserving the national identity in the age of globalisation that dilutes the “Singaporean Core” and I propose that the promotion of our national history provides a viable solution to some of the challenges.


It has always been a challenge for Singaporeans to foster a strong national identity due to the difficulty in relating to a common historical past. History has always been considered a “soft” subject in schools and lacks a pragmatic purpose; students avoid this subject as history seems irrelevant. Science subjects in secondary schools and junior colleges are more popular because they are seen to be providing better prospects to students when it comes to pursuing higher education and obtaining jobs in the future. Singaporeans are generally more concerned with “bread-and-butter” issues and a prosperous economy is always seen as a marker of success for Singapore. Furthermore, the relentless pursuit of economic growth leads to a rise of materialism and Singapore is merely seen as an attractive place to get rich. Therefore, the socio-cultural aspect of Singapore heritage has been neglected as fostering the “Singaporean Soul” is not a crucial priority for a developmental state that priorities economic growth.


We have to acknowledge the government’s efforts in the recent years in taking proactive measures to emphasise on our national heritage and history. This is clearly evident in free museum entries for all Singaporeans and learning journeys organised by schools that allow students to immerse themselves into the past and experience history intimately. Another governmental effort is the Singapore Memory Project that aims to document precious memories from individuals that are vital in creating shared memories and historical experiences.


However, I propose that more can be done.


National Education should be tailored according to the needs of the younger generation. Past history of Singapore’s struggles for independence should be narrated through a more interactive platform and perhaps even from a more holistic viewpoint instead of the government’s narrative, which may be deemed as propagandistic by students. I suggest that social history which depicts the lives of ordinary people should be taught through Social Studies and the focus should be on experiencing history instead of implementing Social Studies as an examinable subject. Curriculums should not be too fixated over exams which might hinder students in enjoying history due to the focus on scoring well instead of learning history.


National heritage should also be preserved and further promoted through national campaigns and outreach programmes. The lives of coolies and foreign immigrants should be taught to the masses through heritage sites and museums. Yet, it is sad that we are losing our heritage and even our “Singaporean Soul” when memories are destroyed due to the redevelopment of heritage sites such as Bukit Brown cemetery. I suggest that the government should focus more on the intangible aspects of successes as a nation, and preserve collective social memory in order to create a common national identity. Economic growth should not be the sole focus. We need to preserve our national identity as a Singaporean, which is hinged from a shared historical past. The government should partner with non-governmental organisations such as the Singapore Heritage Society which has a strong emphasis on research, hence having the relevant expertise to advise governmental agencies on the appropriate historical sites to preserve.


Singapore history can also be utilised to solve the pressing problem of the failure to integrate foreigners into our country. History has taught us that the Singaporean identity is always inclusive due to the cosmopolitan nature of our nation-state. The history of Singapore is inextricably intertwined with the history of foreign immigration. Our forefathers emigrated from China, India and other foreign lands to make Singapore their home. However, in the recent years, rising xenophobia has led to a more exclusive Singaporean identity, which is evident through the surfacing of contentious issues such as Permanent Residents (PRs) leaving Singapore when it is time for them to serve

National Service and increasing economic resentment towards foreigners. There is definitely a need to balance Singapore’s economic growth and cater to the needs of Singaporeans. Therefore, integration seems to be a viable solution and this can be done through recognising Singapore’s cosmopolitan history.


“Singapore 49 years” allow us to recall on the progress that we went through as a nation, scripting it into our shared historical experience. Perhaps we can look further back into

Singapore 700-year history as a busy port-city that highlights the international linkages to the rest of the world; this allows Singaporeans to understand our national history more holistically in order to create a more inclusive nation. Singapore progressed tremendously as a young nation and it is inevitable that we face vulnerabilities and challenges as the government needs to grapple with policy trade-offs between pursuing economic growth and promoting the heritage of our nation. But I am confident that we can overcome these vulnerabilities and challenges just as our forefathers did in the past 49 years.

2nd Place - Teo Min Shuen

This year marks the 49th year of Singapore’s independence. Yet, the government and the people overlook this while focusing on the seemingly more important milestone next year when Singapore will turn 50. Counting by the decades is far too organized, but also discounts the huge jump from the 9 to the next 0 (like how a lady may both fear and anticipate turning from 29 to 30 years old). We need to give importance to this last year before Singapore enters into a 5th decade, or 2nd half-century, of its independence. 49 years is not a long time. The time period barely encompasses two generations of people. Singapore is still a young country with a long way to go. Yet, surprisingly, within this short 49 years, we have come a long way.


Living standards and prosperity, which would never have been imagined by our parents or grandparents, define this little red dot. Sound economic policies and planning have made Singapore into what it is today, with a healthy economy that rewards competition and innovation. High rise buildings are peppered throughout the country, housing its citizens and allowing them a place to be employed in. This economic stability and predictability is what essentially draws foreigners, who seek a better life, to the country.


Social well-being has also greatly improved throughout these 49 years. A university education is so mainstream nowadays, with other routes like polytechnics or ITEs, to ensure that every young Singaporean has an opportunity at higher education beyond rudimentary secondary school knowledge. This makes Singapore all the more competitive economically due to its highly educated labour force. Moreover, Singapore’s healthcare services is one of the best in the world, often equipped with the most advanced technology and well-trained batches of doctors.


Many Singaporeans are grateful for, and proud of, the security given and enforced by the state. This may not be the case a few decades ago, but now, one of the best things in Singapore is that one can walk on the streets at 3am and not keep his/her hand on a pocket knife. Ask how many people even bring a pocket knife out to protect themselves! This safety is valuable, and often unimaginable by people in developed and populated cities.  


That said, no country is perfect, and so is Singapore. There are such great improvements and developments in so many aspects of our lives we should be grateful for, but societal problems have also surfaced with these positive changes. Many Singaporeans I’ve asked generally agree that Singapore is a nice and comfortable place to live in, only when one can afford it. We definitely cannot discount the fact that there are surely homeless people sleeping at the benches at Clarke Quay or at MRT stations after the last train stops running. There is a small fraction of Singaporeans who are relatively poor, and cannot afford the high costs of living with their meagre wages. While these lower-income families do get help, the amount of red-tape and bureaucracy they have to go through makes it difficult and bothersome to apply for some of these aid programmes. These people are often forgotten, because majority of Singaporeans automatically assume that they get a lot of help from the government. The government needs to address this inequality and make it easier for the needy to seek and attain help. More importantly, this reflects the fact that many Singaporeans are so comfortable with their lives, and are so engrossed in the paper chase or the rat race to even care beyond their self-interests. The ability to empathise and be gracious is decreasing (as can be seen daily on the public transport), and this definitely is a worrying trend.


In relation to the previous points, an increasingly competitive education and employment environment makes Singaporeans distressed, boring and overly competitive that they forget to appreciate the little things in life. To get a job to survive, one needs to have increasingly higher standards of education (which means more money spent) in order to compete in the saturated job market, made worse by foreigners who demand much lower pay. Such a trend fuels over-competitiveness in schools, where young children refuse to share notes in fear of losing out to their peers. Everyone is going through the same route of education, wanting to get into a good school, a good university, then getting a decent office job to buy cars and HDBs. No one dares to deviate from the norms anymore, because of the fear that society would not reward or give chances to those who do, unless they are really exceptional. The sports and arts industries in Singapore therefore pale in comparison to other countries, because children want to, or are forced to, focus on academics rather than non-mainstream ways of making a living. I foresee in Singapore a general societal attitude which is becoming gradually unaccepting of change, of diversity and of creativity. I feel that such a trend needs to change, in order for Singapore to become a more dynamic and vibrant place that is not populated by robots who all have the same views and outlook on life.


In sum, Singapore has made many positive changes in these 49 years and they are indeed applaudable. Yet, in my opinion, this may have made Singaporeans into more uncaring and boring people (compared to the ‘kampong’ generation). I hope that amidst the economic development in the next decades, Singaporeans will remember that the rat race does not define them, and that they can choose to be gracious and appreciate others (or the little things in life).

3rd Place - Goh Shu Li

It was more lackluster than we expected, our 49th birthday; perhaps a sharp dive before the onset of bright lights of our 50th birthday. The streets and iconic housing board flats were lined with less flags, and the only saving grace were the fireworks. It was a year of lost flights and outbreaks of crises, yet Singapore seemed immune to the Ebola outbreaks and the bloodshed of the Middle East. Perhaps the only potent thing that can ruffle our feathers is the stock exchange, given our small size- thus we have less of a chance to be victim, even in a plane full of people from all over the world.


I’ve not been here for 49 years but in the past 21 years what I love about my home is the most basic human right which few from elsewhere can echo. It’s always an easy job to be a critic, and everyone’s a critic; yet when it boils down to constructive voices the room dwindles into a whisper. Criticisms aside, the most poignant gift that Singapore has built and accumulated for is people is Safety. 


I am proud to be a Singaporean because I have the basic human right to leave my home at any time of the day or night and know that I am safer than anywhere else in the world.Safety is what marks this country, you can take a cab in the wee of the night and reach home safely, you can be sure you receive the correct change down to the very cent when you purchase any good or service because most of us are here to make an honest living. Feeling safe is one thing that few females can confidently assert across countries, you don’t need to sling a fun over your shoulder to be heard, you don’t need to adhere to dogmatic patriarchal rules on dressing nor do you fear rape at every dark corner of the street. These are ugly truths but they are truths after all, and I feel very blessed and fortunate to simply be born in Singapore. The rules are harsh but rules are needless if humans could always rule themselves in a goodly manner where others are put before self; yet reality illustrates the selfish creatures harboured within us and thus laws must exist. Laws restrain some so that others, like myself, can continue enjoying human rights such as safety and freedom of movement. Laws are there because we never know who the wolves amongst us are.  


As Singapore moves forward I most certainly hope that safety is the top priority. It is unfair it say that an influx of immigrants will lead to higher crime rates, but it is inevitable that this new atmosphere with people from varying cultures may brew some sense of xenophobia and corresponding insecurities. This is a very real threat which carries other implications along with it, and we cannot survive with closed doors but the term ‘Singaporean’ will no longer exist if we leave them wide open either.


Singapore is expensive, strict, dogmatic, inflexible, expensive (once again), but it is also clean, safe, has a strange population who are unique and caring in their own ways. It is also a food paradise which is indisputable. I would rather toil and live in a place where my loved ones are rather than to move to “greener” pastures, which is a euphemism for cheaper for most people. The challenges that lie ahead for the younger generation in terms of cost of living is very daunting, yet I know I’m here to stay.  


Some say that one never falls in love with a place, only the people. Yet when I look around me i do know: this is my home.

4th Place - Toh Zhi Qi

As NDP passes by, we are 49 years old as an independent nation. 49 years ago, no one would have imagined the Singapore that she is today. In fact, critics were not in favour of Singapore after the separation from Malaysia.


Singapore is a nation which has no natural resources and yet enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. She is the envy of many countries in the world. No other city state has been able to match the transformation feat of Singapore.


However, the success of Singapore is not without controversy. Singapore has been viewed as a nanny state, in which the ruling government rules Singapore with an “iron fist” that allows for limited freedom of speech. Citizens have expressed their displeasure over issues such as foreigners’ influx, housing and transport. This has culminated in lost confidence and votes for the ruling PAP. In the online world, there is much discussion about the perceived incompetence of the PAP. However most of the times, such suggested alternative policies serve individual personal interests and not the majority of Singaporeans.


Singapore is still a very young nation. It is not yet matured as a nation. Singapore is still a conservative nation and rather intolerance of certain diversity such as LGBT. Additionally, it seems that there is still a narrow path of success; get into a university and secure a good job.


The next 49 years ahead is certain to be very challenging, Singapore will be in a constant flux as Southeast Asia and the world undergoes massive changes. As our rivals catch up, we must not be blinded by the glory of our past success. Singapore must acknowledge that Singapore was lucky that a lot of our neighbouring rivals are faced with political, corruption, racial discrimination issues, etc. If not, Singapore’s success would have been doomed. In another 49 years, I would be an old man and I hope that we are still the envy of the world. More importantly, we must be glad that we are living in Singapore- unfortunately, this sense of gratitude is absent in much of today’s Singapore.

5th Place - Muhammad Idaffi B Othman

Come August almost every year, we see competitions that revolve around the theme on the nation’s National Birthday. And almost every year, I’ll find myself thinking hard on what to write uniquely for each year’s entry. But this year was special; only by watching the National Day Parade (NDP), I managed to observe three beautiful and unique things that probably encapsulate our Nation’s growth for the past 49 years.


One of the most anticipated segment during the NDP is the parachuting of the Red Lions. However, this year was more celebrated for an obvious reason. For its virgin time, a representative of the fairer gender make her way to the runway of glory in front of the eyes of over a million spectators. This segment resembles where the Nation is heading towards. The rise in gender equality in our lives is clear. The glass ceiling that once blocked our “fore-mothers” had been broken. Even Singapore’s Parliament- which was once dominated by males- has seen the growth of female seat-holders as Members of Parliament (MP), Nominated MP and even Non-Constituency MP. Even the highest office holder is Mdm Halimah Yacob.


The second frame during the Parade that caught my eye was former Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Wong Kan Seng literally hand-in-hand (holding hands) with the leader of the opposition party (Workers’ Party) during the sing-along session. This is exactly how most Singaporeans behave nowadays. While we may have different political beliefs and thoughts of where Singapore should head towards, the ultimate goal for all Singaporeans is one – to genuinely hope for the country to succeed in all sense of the word. The Singaporean dream remains similar though the Singapore story we each write differ.


This year also commemorated the pioneer generation who brought Singapore from a third-world village to a world-class Nation just within less than a decade. As youths, we truly need to tailgate the footsteps of our pioneer generation if we want to succeed in overcoming the vicissitudes that modern life has to offer.


Like many, if not all, Singaporeans, I was flustered with pride as I sang the National Anthem on 9th August. I could hear the Singapore beat and feel the Singapore spirit!

6th Place - Chua Qiu Lin Dolly

Singapore is an island which was transformed into a world class city within a short span of 49 years. It is a transformation that we should not take for granted. Not long ago, I visited one of the most historical places in Singapore, Fort Canning Park. A trip to Fort Canning Park reminded me of many hidden social memories and past stories behind the current glamorous facade of Singapore. The current view of Fort Canning is serene where all the high rise building and modern facilities contributes to its beauty. The concept of gaining independence 49 years ago was once full of uncertainties to our country leaders and forefathers. Could a small island like Singapore survive alone? Many struggles during World War 2 were long forgotten by our generation and the generation after us. The past is embedded with numerous challenges and hardship. Although the current state of Singapore remains prosperous and stable, we must embrace the fact that the future is still full of uncertainties and we should always remain adaptable and not take this last 49 years of stability for granted.