Our national colours are red (universal brotherhood) and white (purity), but our people occuppy a range of grey. How grey?
SG50 or SG500?
Thanks to SG50 efforts, SG-eans talk about our growth as though God created SG just 50 years ago.
However, SG’s history go further than LKY, further than WWII, further than Sir Stamford Raffles and perhaps even further than Sang Nila Utama.
Artefacts unearthed in Empress Place “date between circa 1300s to 1600s” (Link). Mixing up our 50s and 500s is a shame to our reputation for producing top students in STEM.
In a haplessly chauvinistic (conservative) society like SG, our most recognized icon is:
Yes, this one girl breaks the glass ceiling like no other to soar in the skies.
We kept voicing our unhappiness on the influx of foreign talents, and yet we are so dependent on them, as evident from the Mr Liak Teng Lit’s (Chairman, Public Hygiene Council) “expose” on the difference in the number of cleaners in SG vs Taipei.
Read: Liak Teng Lit: 5 million people, 70,000 cleaners…that’s ridiculous!, The Straits Times
COE vs ERP
We are prepared to pay tens of thousands of dollars on a COE (Certificate of Entitlement), as evident from the steady rise in COE before the cooling measures were implemented in 2013. Even then, COE is still hovering above $60k for a small car.
And then you hear the drivers complain about paying for ERP, which range from $0.50 to a few dollars.
Property Prices vs Cost of Living
When one mentions COE, the price of private property comes to mind, because the property market also underwent cooling back in 2013 like the COE. In fact, it took 7 rounds of cooling before the prices of private property finally dropped 6% in 2014. It goes to show how much Singaporeans are willing to push up the prices of property (and how much they could afford to pay for a house).
And then you hear Singaporeans complain about the bus fares going up by $0.20.
3-room Flats vs 5-room Flats
In May 2015, it was reported that of the balance of sales flats offered, many of the 3-room flats were undersubscribed.
Haters focused on the over-subscribed 5-room flats and complained about the inaction of the authorities to stop the rise of the prices of said flats. Others quickly pointed out the fact that these people are “rich enough to look down on 3-room flats, but still complain about how expensive the 5-room flats are”.
And speaking of flats, we have near 100% of home ownership, but most of us don’t really own our homes, thanks to the 99-year leaseholds.
Hawker Food vs Restaurants
Very often we hear of people lamenting that the good old days of nice hawker food (that reminds us of childhood) has disappeared. We also hear people complain that eating out is getting more expensive.
But try finding a seat in restaurants on weekends and you may need to queue up for around 30 minutes.
Ironically, there is a higher chance of finding a seat fast in food courts and hawker centres.
Sometimes, the people are not the factor to our grey-ness. For example, one might proclaim that it is going to be a sunny day when he looks at the clear blue sky in the morning, but come afternoon, big stormy clouds would roll in from the seas.
Many SG-eans claim they love their cuppa, but when they do order one, they stuff it with tonnes of sugar and milk to mask the aroma of the coffee.
Coffee vs Kopi
And even amongst the so called coffee lovers, they are split over which is better, Arabica coffee from coffee chains like Starbucks, or Robusta kopi from hawker centre kopitiams.
In fact, it is more probable for SG to have a 2-party political system if the parties formed around the 2 types of coffee SG-eans love.
Shopping Malls vs Heartland Malls
Similarly, the lament of the disappearance of heartland shopping strips do not corroborate with the sprouting of shopping malls all over the island. SG-eans just proved to love to shop in air-conditioned malls than alfresco-ish shopping strips.
In other countries, people only go to the airport because they had to catch a flight.
In SG, we go to the airport because:
- We are bored
- There is food
- There is play
- There is aircon
- There is massage
- There are planes to watch
- We can let the kids run around the vast departure halls like ghosts being let out during Hungry Ghost Month
- There are pretty stewardesses from all over the world to watch
- There are humongous durians to watch and play with
- And many more
We have people who insisted that SG is a very clean and proper place where vices like pornography and extremist-ic thoughts cannot penetrate (pun intended) our fabric of society.
And we have many people who talk about lewd sex jokes, racist insults under that fabric. To be fair, we usually do it in the jungle, with our bros and with our fake wives-of-a-SAR21.
And speaking of SAR21, the guys have a love-hate relationship with this wife.
This wife don’t nag, but you don’t really want to shoot blanks with it.
We dunk it with so much oil so that we don’t need to rub (clean) the barrel.
Read: What is SAR21?
The newspapers are always quoting government officials that SG is not having enough babies, but anecdotes of conflicts in public places involving children are abound, as though we are surrounded by babies.
Similarly, couples are lamenting that raising a baby is tough, despite the fact that they are offered cash, on top of ample number of parenting-related leave. If they are given any more such leave, they could well be working for free.
Singles Singing The Blues
And then there were concerns that the singles are delaying their marriages or not getting hitched.
The main grouse is that they are bogged down by work.
Sad to say, no one realised that they are tied to their offices, not because the workload has increased (SG’s productivity is still struggling to rise), because they had to cover the parents who took leave from work.
And my call for mandated Dating Leave, so that singles can officially leave their workplace just like their married co-workers, has gone on deaf ears.
Did I mention we are struggling with increasing our productivity? And we wonder why?
To be fair, the fact that singles are holding the fort at workplaces and that the productivity is increasing, albeit little by little, is proof that the productivity of whoever is still remaining in office has increased.
To be fair to the parents, the lack of productivity gains is not due to their absence from work.
Ironically, despite being a well-connected country that produces much of the electronics in the world, our businesses and people are slow to embrace technology to increase productivity.
In Japan, they are using machines to receive payments in restaurants and vending machines are everywhere, thereby relieving human resources to work on higher-value work or to take parental-leave.
Slightly more than a decade ago, we were labelled an “Arts Desert”. Now, we have the best performing venues in the region, if not the world.
In fact, we have a wide array of such venues in the likes of
- Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
- Marina Bay Sands Theatre
- RWS Theatre
And many more hidden in National Library Board building, Alliance francaise, and Star Vista.
Despite our small area of 716.1 km², many of us spend around 1 to 1.5 hours on a 1-way trip to work and school.
That time is based on the assumption that there is no MRT breakdown.
East vs West
In fact, many joke that travelling to the Western part of SG is like travelling out of the country.
Travelling to KL
And despite the fact that taking a coach up to KL takes about the same time as taking a flight up to KL, if you count the time you need to report for both forms of transport, there are still people who swears by the coach service because:
- You can eat at the rest stops
- You can take the First Class seats
It was as though Changi Airport is really only for shopping and letting the kids run around like sheep on a prairie (refer to point above).
We are described as a sunny island, but we are not a top user or producer of solar technology. How so? We are also rainy, if not cloudy, for many months of the year
And that does not solve our water issues.
Despite being surrounded by water, this island is so short of water that we had to resort to refining our body excretions to meet our water demands. It’s either that, or to endure endless threats from our neighbour of whom we import our remaining water from (and note, this water still needs to be treated).
More Water Blues
Interestingly, the water derived from reverse-osmosis that is Newater is mainly supplied to factories, because of their demand for highly uncontaminated water.
And SG-eans are afraid to drink this pure water.
And interestingly, having our water of best quality diverted to corporations for their usage does not receive much flak from the citizens known for complaining for every other thing.
And speaking of paradox, SG-eans are known to be bad in providing customer service. Ironically, one of our prides, the national carrier, is best known for its bespoke service.
Similarly, for a country this small, we have 1 national carrier with 3 brands.
And did I mention we are connected to almost every part of the world? This is not restricted to the air routes connected by Changi Airport, but also by our PSA port terminals.
Other than having a first-class airport, we have also the world’s busiest seaport, for many decades. We were blessed with natural, deep harbour, and had relied on it for our entrepot economy to thrive, ever since there were inhabitants on this island (see first point).
However, we set ourselves apart by being the most efficient port such that ships that detour to SG can save more time than to, say, sail through a canal cut across the indo-china penisular, which had been in the talks since I was in primary school like about 25 years ago.
English As First Language
Just this May, we were told that SG has won the Angus Ross prize for 15 years in a row.
Just as we are still struggling with the Speak Good English campaign.
Mandarin As Mother Tongue
And despite having a near 75% in Chinese population, SG-ean Chinese are struggling to even speak and write Mandarin properly.
Mandarin is Not Mother Tongue
And the next grey-ness of SG and Mandarin is that Mandarin is not the Chinese’ mother tongue.
Older folks would tell us that “back in those days” (presumably before LKY mandates all Chinese to speak Mandarin), people of Chinese decent spoke dialects depending on which province of Southern China they were from. Their 2nd language would be English, so that they could communicate with the English authorities as well as the migrants from other lands. As such, they were not able to master Mandarin or impart any good Mandarin-usage skills to their children, which then brings about the sad state of Chinese in SG.
And SG has legalised prostitution. See above about being morally upright.
Geylang As Foodie Haven
But SG-ean men go there for its supposedly good food. Mainly because prostitution is legalised only to serve the needs of migrant workers.
But that’s where Geylang gets grey.
Interestingly, back in the 1960s, when racial equality was still a new concept in many parts of the world, SG embraced it, placing meritocracy above the colour of one’s skin.
Ironically, when the rest of the world is awakening to equal rights for LGBT, SG’s authorities, the one who spearheaded racial equality, is resisting it with all its might.
SG don’t produce oil, but we produce oil. Go figure.
Read: How oil flows in and out of every major region around the world, Business Insider
Read: Energy Industry in Singapore, EDB Singapore
Also, SG is a key stakeholder in drilling of oil. If not for the oil rigs we built (we are the top builder in the world), would the rest of the world be enjoying oil now?
Read: Keppel Named World’s Largest Offshore Rig Builder, Offshore Energy Today
The cost of a 98-petrol is about $2.30, when crude oil costs about $60. Interestingly, a year back, when crude oil was above $100, the same petrol also costs $2.30. Such is the logic in SG.
As an island, we have no lack of coastlines. However, all our beaches are man-made.
Read: 7 of the best man-made beaches in the world!, Easy Booking Group
SG-eans are quick to adopt new stuff, but we are also sticky when it comes to letting go of old stuff.
When the railway was finally going to be let go in a deal reached by SG and Malaysia, the call for ‘preserving’ the rail corridor was loud, much to the dismay of those looking forward to having those places re-developed for more economically viable entities.
And apparently, those tree-huggers didn’t grow up along to the railroad for hating it disrupting our weekend sleep-in with the chugging and hooting of passing trains.
Long Before You Were Born
Accompanying that nostalgia would be that catchphrase: Last time…
- Chicken rice was 50 cents
- Police wear shorts
- When we live in kampung
- $2 can settle one lunch
But nobody really tried to reinstate the ‘last time’.
Read: Reminisce old time Singapore with Colonial Club in Singapore Changi Airport
Fit for All Seasons
My foreign friends residing in SG told me they love the sun here, though it could get a bit too humid sometimes, but it still beats the temperate weather back in their homes.
No worries, because SG’s indoor spaces are all air-conditioned (some to 16 degrees), that the indoor spaces form a climate of their own!
In fact, we were so good at cooling our indoor spaces, we built a whole dome of artificial greenhouse to recreate a whole temperate habitat!
The irony is that greenhouses are invented to trap heat so that temperate countries can grow plants like they do in warmer days. In SG, we used it the other way around.
Fashion for All Seasons
SG-eans have been (notoriously) known for being under-dressed, but focusing on that aspect of dressing overlooks the wide-ranging and worthy aspect that SG is indeed a fashion capital.
Which office worker goes to work in short sleeved blouses and flats, wears a shawl/cardigan/jacket at work, and knocks off with sports wear to hit the gym?
We change into so many outfits in a day, it’s a wonder we are not known for buying clothes. SG is perhaps not a high-fashion capital, but we are a fashion capital in the end.
We Are Not Influenced Only By The 4 Races, or Only The Western World
SG-eans liked to think of ourselves as defined by the combined identities of our 4 main races; the elderly liked to think we are too much influenced by the Western culture; the young ones think we are too steeped in our colonial mindset. The fact is, we are one society that is influenced by many, many cultures.
Our Japanese link was not confined to WWII. Our trains, machinery and even our food culture are evidence of post-war Japanese influence.
Similarly, SG adopted many practices from Taiwan, since the start of nation-building, all the way till the franchise craze started by the bubble tea fad in the late 1990s.
Our good food is all thanks to absorbing the myriad of cooking styles from China and food presentation from France.
Being a modern city with avant-garde taste does not mean we have don’t have our weird fetish. In fact, many of the personalities we adore do not fit into the common label of atas.
Our obsession ranges from bimbo-acting women…
And senior, male civil servants.
To be frank, the love of SG-eans is mind-boggling.
We Are Hated By Many, But Still Looked Up To By Many
We had been called many names before, which were in retaliation to actions the other parties deemed unsatiable.
We had been called pi sai (snot) by a Taiwanese politican, which was quite fitting, if we think creatively, that the Malaysian peninsular looks like a nose, with the Indonesian archipelago looking like a crooked smile. SG, then, looks like an extra piece of stuff in between.
Like a pice of snot.
We had also been called a Little Red Dot by a far closer neighbour. In fact, we were surrounded by their green, and on a map, we needed to be identified with a little red dot in order to be spotted. Ironically, SG-eans embraced this idea so deeply, we call ourselves the little red dot with pride, and even celebrated our 50-th anniversary with that symbol.
Read: Foreign Minister Slams Singapore, Taipei Times
Read: Singapore-Indonesia Ties Sink To Chilly Depths, Asia Times
In fact, SG has been doing rather well for the past 50 years, that our way has been emulated and consulted by others.
Starting from the Suzhou Industrial Park, to the adoption of SG’s Math syllabus by first the U.S then the British (hell yeah! The ones of whom most of us obtain our Pre-Employment certifications from!), to our aviation industry, we had set the benchmark and we should expect people to challenge and learn from us. That seems like a tough life, but it’s the kind of life SG-eans live.
Read: Singaporean Teaching Methods Improve UK Maths Skills, Financial Times
Our Weakness Is Also Our Strength
Whether we were an expunged waste, or we needed visual reference for emphasis on the maps, the unique, but amazing trait about SG and her people is that we could turn our vulnerabilities to strengths that are looked up upon in the world.
We started off with human as our only resource, so we worked on that to make sure our human resource deliver value way up the value chain.
We have no natural resources, but we ended up creating water and being one of the major oil refinery centres in the world.
We are a small city surrounded with big neighbours, so we worked with them to ensure that we enjoy collaborated success.
SG is not what we were expected to be, and hence the 50 shades of grey in our identity.
In fact, when one looks closely at those shades, they would find a myriad of colours in that seemingly paradoxical identity.
That very paradoxical character, is our identity.