On Singapore and Singaporeans.

This is a rather long post with lots of embedded videos in it. Do skip over the videos if you are in a hurry, just thought I’d blog about some of my thoughts on Singapore I’ve had over the past few days.

Just bought my tickets to fly back home in time for Chinese New Year 2012, that coupled with meeting the President of Singapore a couple of days ago has got me thinking a lot about home recently, how it has changed whilst I’ve been away and how I’ve change as a Singaporean living overseas for over 3 years now.

Firstly, it is always about the amazing food. Having been to so many places in the world I’ve realised there really is no place remotely close to Singapore in terms of not just the quality of food (which to be fair every place have their good dishes), but more in terms of quantity and availability of good food. I mean seriously, where else in the world can you find a very decent dinner for 3-4 Singapore dollars on pretty much any corner of the street and if you know where to look at literally any time of the day?

Down here in the UK, a crappy Chinese take-away that I sometimes eat if I’m lazy cost me SGD 12 on the average.

Watching this episode of Anthony Bourdain’s trip to Singapore really made me miss the food back home.

Not to mention in the third clip, that’s the Geylang claypot rice that my parents have brought me to eat since I was a little boy. Up till now every time I head back, my family always have a meal there too (the owners and staff literally seen me grow up from a little boy to a young man as my dad’s old factory was very close to the restaurant).

Secondly, the growth and the rate of change in Singapore have been nothing short of amazing.

Lots of people forget that Singapore used to be just a fishing village in the not too distant past. To get from where we were to where we are today, is nothing short of a man made miracle.

Every time I get home, something’s always different. It might be a new building that’s finished in 6 months or new roads that have been built in what seems overnight sometimes.

Every time I get back to the UK it is exactly the same.

I’ve met people here that had been to Singapore a long time ago, one particular gentlemen I remember was in Singapore as part of the British Armed Forces back in the 1960s and he was describing to me what it was like then. I remember him mentioning about how he’d go to Katong on the weekends at the sea front and then it hit me, wow, yeah Katong used to be the sea front. I urged him to come around some day and the change in Singapore will absolutely blow him away.

Saw this promotional video on the F1 in Singapore, which I was lucky to have witnessed last year whilst I was back thanks to my buddy Lance, and it really just shows far we’ve come. The atmosphere and the sight from the top of MBS was simply breath-taking.

Which then leads me to my final point, that after being away for so long, I’ve come to realise that back home everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.

The recent public train break down just seemed to have brought out this ugly side of Singaporean that I see manifest more and more often in public discourse about the country. Just take a look at this spoof SMRT feedback page on face book (hit this link). Yes it is a spoof and many do not realise it, but just look at the genuine response, anger and frustration there.

Yes it is a failure and SMRT could have done a lot better (with some of their reactions simply moronic, i.e. their response to the guy who broke the glass of one of the doors. And no SMRT I will not sit and wait to die in darkness waiting for someone to save me if it boils down to that, I will save myself thank you very much), but no it is not the end of the world.

I mean, having taken the Tube in London many times, down here you accept that trains breakdown due to ‘signal failure’ at random times, there’s always planned engineering works somewhere that closes certain parts of the rail almost every day and strikes occur time to time and the whole train service is shut (like what’s going to happen this Boxing day).

People just get on with their lives here, keeping true to this very British phrase:

Which incidentally was conceived by the UK government during the Second World War to encourage its citizens to hold through the Germany bombing raids. (Hit this link for the original source of the photo and history of the poster by BBC.)

My fellow Singaporeans in Loughborough had a short discussion about this after one of the girls, who’s only been here for 3 months, felt that this was a clear illustration that the MRT will continue to suck and the press is suppressing the actual significance of such failures.

But a few of the rest who’s been out for a long time argued back that perhaps Singaporeans should just stop whining that much.

In a certain sense, I agree.

I can’t help but feel that most Singaporeans have this ‘frog in the well’ world view, where they think they are being owed a great deal by someone somewhere, somewhat deprived and ultimately leading horrible lives.

I find myself feeling that most people are simply missing the point completely.

Yes we should expect better of ourselves and our public services, but no this direction of public discourse I’ve seen developing since the past elections until today is going to lead us nowhere.

Perhaps we forget what really matters in life and the things that we should be thinking of and working towards together as a society.

Marketers have got us to believe that we are what we own and in the immortal words of Tyler Durden, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.

We’re starting to forget that Singapore still needs work as a society and that it was the people who came together and made this a great country.

I guess all I’m trying to say is, come on Singapore, you’re better than this.


  1. Nice post bro. Yes. We’ve taken the trains for granted. Here in Singapore, we expect the MRT system to be working everyday just like the sun will rise. Over at your side, it’s like striking lottery if the tube actually comes just 5 minutes late (=

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