It’s hard to peg the Singaporean identity to anything specific; it isn’t all about the food or the diversity in culture that we have grown so used to. We used to call ourselves a young nation but this year, we’ve reached the grand age of 50 and it feels like a very apt time to rethink what it really means to be Singaporean.
We all relate differently to the country that we are born in and that special connection is uniquely yours; where you spent your childhood, what schools you went to and how you got where you are today – that is your Singaporean story. But our collective story and identity, shaped from the years of independence and struggle, deserves more thought. Together as a country, Singapore has gone through many significant events and breakthroughs together – be it political or heartland, we’ve all seen it and perhaps these common experiences are the strings that hold us together. Here are 10 noteworthy moments that we can all have a think about!
1. Lee Kuan Yew crying on national television
The iconic video clip of the former Minister Mentor shedding tears for Singapore’s separation from Malaysia is one that has been replayed and reproduced many times on TV and during NDP, but the scene still retains its impact and meaning. It is part of the story of Singapore’s humble beginnings, where we started as a people and worked together as a nation to build the foundations of what we possess today. The meaning of the short clip is certainly not lost despite the ravages of time and with MM Lee’s passing this year, its poignancy is only more deeply impressed upon Singaporeans from all walks of life who have witnessed one man’s life entirely dedicated to his country, for his people.
2. MacDonald House bombing
Picture from Flickr
The explosion at the MacDonald House along Orchard Road on 10 March 1965 is one of the first acts of terror that occurred in Singapore. Two Indonesians planted the bomb that killed three people and injured at least 33 others along the busy street in the afternoon. The sinister overtones of the bombings and its relation to the Indonesian Konfrontasi, a movement that opposed the formation of Malaysia, seriously alarmed and endangered our small island, causing the people to unite and defend their communities from the slew of attacks. Today, the event’s presence in our history is a reminder of how maintaining friendly relations is crucial to surviving in an interconnected world. The small, unassuming plaque outside the Macdonald House also stands for Singapore’s need for its own defence forces. Appreciate NSFs and service men and women!
3. Scrapping of theme songs for NDP 2014 and bringing back old favourites like Home and Count On Me
Some say artistic inspiration ran dry but the move was very well-received by the majority of Singaporeans, who waxed lyrical about the old songs and what they represented emotionally. There was a great deal of comparison between the old favourites and the new NDP songs in recent years, which many felt couldn’t hold a candle to the nostalgic and emotional tunes. The musical preferences of most Singaporeans for NDP is pretty clear and like they say, don’t mess with what’s already good!
4. Hello Kitty queues
The islandwide craze over the fluffy soft toys was the collective physical manifestation of the kiasu attitude that Singaporeans are famed for. Fear of stocks running out sent herds of Singaporeans to McDonald’s in the wee hours of the morning to queue for their collectibles. The Hello Kitty toys came in pairs, and were a badge of honour – a testament to one’s tenacity for queuing. You can still see the odd Hello Kitty toy at random Salvation Army thrift stores but the bulk of them are probably collecting dust in the storeroom of many Singaporean homes, an amusing reminder of the nation’s obsession with the kawaii little toys.
5. Queueing trends in MRTs
Another nationwide instance of queueing but this time, one that demonstrates the social graciousness of Singaporeans and foreigners alike. The awareness of space constraints and the need for orderliness in the overcrowded train stations have motivated people to start queueing in order to board and alight more efficiently and fairly. Instead of ungraciously pushing and squeezing, more and more people are joining queues to make public transport a more pleasant experience. Let’s hope this movement becomes part of Singaporean travel etiquette and not a mere trend!
6. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s passing
It seems like Singaporeans and queueing have some sort of affinity. The queues for the state funeral of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew definitely surpassed all expectations with waiting times reaching eight hours at their peak. Singaporeans are well-known for complaining about everything from the ruling political party to the rising prices of bak chor mee but this was one event where everyone queued willingly and graciously to send one of the greatest founding fathers off on his last journey. Politics are a prickly issue and naysayers tend to make so much noise that people forget the general opinions of the silent majority. The masses who turned up to pay their respects at Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral reveal the deep and enduring respect that most Singaporeans have for the man who spent his lifetime building this country; it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with his words or actions but rather, acknowledging the contributions he made for modern Singapore. Mr Lee Kuan Yew will definitely be a sorely missed figure at this year’s NDP.
7. SARS solidarity
The SARS scare in 2003 was an epidemic that made Singaporeans band together in a united effort to stem the spread of the disease. If you were still a child then, you would probably remember celebrating temporary school closure but also feeling sian about not being allowed to step out of the house either because according to your parents, “Now got SARS. Germs are everywhere”. Besides obeying the necessary home quarantines for suspected patients, many would also remember the face masks and the temperature-taking exercises in schools and workplaces all over the country. Thankfully the spread of SARS came under control soon enough and today, the emergency period serves as a warning for us to be well-prepared and united as a country to face such challenges together.
8. Petition for Sticker Lady
Picture from ifonlysingaporeans.blogspot.sg
Artist or vandal? The outcry for and against Samantha Lo, whose antics have earned her the infamous moniker Sticker Lady, was a sign of the public’s increasing interest in matters of free speech and in this case, what most people defended as street art. Now both are sticky issues (pun unintended) in Singapore but what most of us can agree on is that the saga of the Sticker Lady provided everyone with some food for thought and interesting conversation fodder. Her wry local humour certainly struck a chord with many Singaporeans, especially the younger generations who appreciate her candour and support her actions as a demonstration of what she believes in as an artist. In any case, the overwhelming discussion over the Sticker Lady refutes the accusation that younger Singaporeans are completely apathetic to current affairs, which is something to be thankful for!
9. Backlash against Stephanie Koh’s (Steph Micayle) video on “Why I’m Not Proud To Be Singaporean”
The video and face that launched a thousand angry comments (or more). This teenage girl’s viral video resulted in numbers lambasting her poor attitude and lack of patriotism. In a surprising move, the general public banded together to show their disapproval for a girl who scorns her own national identity, suggesting that despite all the complain kings and queens we see and hear every day, being Singaporean holds much greater meaning for many of us. Most of us have at least one thing that we enjoy and cherish about Singapore, be it the amazing food or the safety of our streets at night; it’s definitely worth taking some time to think about how we can begin to appreciate what we have and make positive changes in this country that we all have a stake in.
10. SMRT Breakdowns, people offering free car rides and carpooling offers
Speaking of initiative and banding together, the recent major SMRT breakdown which affected both red and green lines created a human jam across the island with everyone scrambling to get home using other travel alternatives. Amidst the frustration and confusion, many helpful Singaporeans extended their helping hands to give fellow stranded commuters a lift home. Such kindness is probably not a product of the Singapore Kindness Movement but rather, the progress of a society which is gradually becoming more gracious, understanding and accepting. Now who says Singaporeans are bo chup?
This article was contributed by online shopping rebates website ShopBack Singapore.
Featured image from Singapore Discovery Centre