Every Singaporean should leave Singapore

“Modern”
“Clean”
“Efficient”
“Safe”

These are just some of the responses you will get if you ask someone what they think about Singapore. Someone who is not from the country. Au contraire, speak to someone who has lived in the country and they will tell you how Singaporeans are, oddly,  generally dissatisfied with their country, having gripes about almost anything you can find under the sky that spans the 710 km² of land.

National identity or pride in the country is a fuzzy concept, with no one clear identity for the citizens to hold on to. In some countries, it is excellence in a certain sport that makes the citizens wear the colours of their flag with pride; in some, the music gels the people; in some, it is the age-old culture. What about in Singapore, where the official founding of the city-nation is less than 200 years ago and the immigrants arrive with diverse backgrounds? What is it that will make the people wear their country’s name with pride? I believe the answer can be found outside of the country.

Singapore’s uniqueness shines through when you put the country in the context of the world. Having lived away from my home country for a while by now, I am growing more appreciative of it by the day. In particular, three ‘privileges’ of being a citizen which were once-upon-a-time taken for granted have surfaced to my attention and zone of gratitude since the day that I left Singapore.

1. The political and international convenience from holding the red passport

The keyword here is convenience. You will not be able to fully appreciate what it means to be a citizen of Singapore until you step out of the country, breeze through legislative red tape and international immigration limitations, and realize that this is not something that happens to most travelers. The country has earned its trust from the world, and much work has been done for you to be able to receive these privileges and convenience.

2. Passing through the snake of social prejudice unscathed

“Where are you from?” – A common question that you will be asked when you will travel and meet people. Observe their reactions when you reply. Many a time, my reply would be met with appreciative raised brows and a smile as my audience exclaim ‘Oh, Singapore!’ Instantly, there is an interest to make conversation, to build rapport, or to share their positive impression of the country. As much as this interest is out of politeness, there are the undeniable subtle hints of approval that would not have been there had I mention the name of some other countries. All because of the reputation and foot-hold that the country has secured in the eyes of the world.

3.  A melting pot of culture to share

Culture? Yes, we indeed have one! What used to be one of our weakest links has turned out to be a strength and unique selling point – Diversity. The scattered identity of different backgrounds has somehow found its reason to be celebrated for. Because of the diversity that I grew up in, I am able to enrich my stories and sharing with my international friends. This has also been useful in developing a greater capacity to hold differences in communication styles and in the ability to create variety in the kitchen. For example, I have found great pleasure in sharing with friends about Chinese names, Indian food, or the Muslim faith.

I don’t usually use the word ‘should’ to impose my ideals on people or situations, and the article title is a strong statement that I am making. The fish does not see the water that it is in, and this is something that is true for many who have never left the country. Step out, even if just for a while, and you will return, a different citizen.

Photo taken at Design Factory, Espoo, Finland. 2012.

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Dreams – A personal story

What do you do with those childhood dreams of yours?

For most of us, it is likely that they had vaporized into thin air as we ‘wake up’ to reality. I never went on to become an astronaut, for example, even though I still fantasize about that now and then. I express that fascination with the outer space through trying to understand the greatness of this world that we live in, one that stretches beyond the physical Earth, perhaps.

One dream did materialize, however. I had a dream of living in Europe, and now I’m here. That’s not what I am going to share about though. There is this other dream that is being realized because I am here. One that stretches way back into my childhood, a dormant longing and thirst that never got quenched – the dream to be able to play the piano masterfully.

I remember asking my mum for piano lessons and a piano, but our family couldn’t afford either, so my parents bought me a little keyboard. I was excited about receiving it, but got disheartened soon when I realized that it was just a toy and couldn’t do what a piano does. I would sometimes tear when I watch others play the piano as the music was so beautiful and I wished that I could be the one creating that.

That dream remained buried as I grew up, with other things taking priority. Education, work, personal projects, money, relationships, stuff. I never forgot about it though. When I created my vision board last August, I even put up a really nice picture of a woman playing the piano. However, it remained as an unrealized hope and wish. Education, work, personal projects, money, relationships, stuff.

Things started to change when one Friday morning this January as I was walking to work, I suddenly thought about my life. I feel pretty satisfied with the way things turn out, even though there have been misfortunes and I have also made mistakes. I asked myself, ‘if tomorrow the world will end, is there anything that I will regret?’ Not learning the piano, came the answer.

I told this to my new housemate Martina that night. ‘Then you have to do something about it, and soon’, she said very firmly. Fueled by her encouragement, I got the crazy idea to check out the local second-hand websites to see if they might have a piano. I joked to myself that if there is one under 300 euros, I will buy it, only half-believing that it will happen. ‘Yeah right, like you’re going to find one for that amount’, says a skeptical voice inside of me. My curiosity got the better of me and a few minutes later, I didn’t find one that was within my budget. I found five. The following Saturday morning, we made a few calls to the sellers, visited two of them that weekend, made arrangements for professional transportation and by the end of January, we had a foreign-looking wooden thing sitting in our kitchen. Well, it was the only place in this apartment that could fit it. It looked oddly out of place, but it was awesomely unbelievable and inspiring just to see it there.

And guess what the most amazing thing is? Martina happens to be passionate about playing the piano and she’s willing to teach me! Imagine having a live-in piano teacher! On the first of February, I stood clumsily in front of the piano. I didn’t know how to get started and asked, ‘now what do I do with this?’ She laughed, and that began our first piano lesson.

Now, two months later, I finally have the courage to share with you a video of myself at the piano, mistakes and all. I wish for this to also inspire you to pursue the dreams that you have forgotten and that still matter to you. Many things that looked impossible at first can in fact be just a few steps away. You will be amazed at what you can make happen.

Video taken on 01 April 2012. Copyright 2012

Oh, and did I mention that the universe rewards us when there is momentum, action and passion? Aside from sending an angel into my life to give me a [compassionate] kick to get this to happen, the seller of the piano also ended up giving it to us as a gift. Free.

Pause. Today.

“What?! Today is Monday. It is the day when we are all supposed to pick up the pace and get back into action. The weekend dream is over, that is why they call it the Monday Blues. And you are asking me to… pause?”

Yes. Precisely because it is Monday, the day when we are most likely to tumble into another week of routine and mindlessness, that I am suggesting for all of us to pause, today.

Sometime between now until you go to bed at night, find a quiet place and time where you can trust that you will not be disturbed, and just sit with yourself for a moment.

Too often, we let Today be just like any other day.
Too often, we are so busy with stuff, that we do not realize how insignificant some of them are.
Too often, we do not know what we are doing, and why we are doing them for.
Too often, we value things over people, and get upset at people over things.
Too often, we invest in things that don’t last, and turn our backs to those that do.
Too often, we chase after things which, ironically, bring us only temporary or little satisfaction when they are in our hands.
Too often, we make (new year) resolutions that are not what we truly want.
Too often, we stay small and comfortable, unwilling to challenge the status quo.
Too often, we put on a smile for the world, yet the dissatisfaction creeps in when we are alone.
Too often, we fail to notice that the world is passing us by, and that our time is passing the world by.
Too often, we take for granted that there will be a Tomorrow.
By the way, how do you know for sure?

Too seldom, we breathe in the magic of the morning.
Too seldom, we see how the mere fact that many things around us are in existence is a miracle.
Too seldom, we question what we do, and why we are doing them.
Too seldom, we say ‘hello’ to the stranger that passes us by. Is he really a stranger?
Too seldom, we notice that the environment around us has changed, and still is changing.
Too seldom, we notice that there are a few more lines on the faces of our loved ones.
Too seldom, we work with purpose.
Too seldom, we dance, we laugh, we sing.
Too seldom, we step into our magnificence and brilliance, leaving mediocrity only for Yesterday.
Too seldom, we look our fears and emotions squarely in the face, listening to what they have to tell us.
Too seldom, we put aside time only for ourselves, and no one else.
Too seldom, we are silent, really silent enough, to hear our soul’s voice.
Too seldom, we live Today.

What is your bigger role in this world? Who are you meant to be?

Are you becoming that person?

Thank God for the rain!

I had just reached home and was very pleased to see that the weather is good this evening! It has been rainy and grey the last few days up till this afternoon, and I was already making plans to buy a pair of rubber boots. Seeing how the weather here changes like the woman’s shoes, I didn’t want to miss this window of sun and clear skies, so I hastily packed my dinner, put on a warm and rainproof jacket, and headed out to the sea 1.5km away, determined to have a nice dinner outdoors. I took my colleague very seriously when he jokingly said today that the Finnish weather changes every 5 minutes!

At Matinkyla beach, I settled down on a rock facing the Baltic Sea, and allowed myself to soak in the evening beauty in front of my eyes. I found myself suddenly immensely grateful for everything – the magazine papers keeping my butt dry from the damp rocks, the healing sound of the waves stroking the shore, and the rain which has taught me to appreciate the sun and colours. My dinner was simple, salad and bread, but it was one of the most delicious I have ever had. Honestly! It’s amazing how powerful Gratitude and Appreciation can be. Without experiencing one end of the spectrum, how can we truly appreciate the other?

I have been longing to reconnect with nature and the elements, and now, it feels as if they had all conspired to bring me out of the four walls, and to show me that we can always create moments like this, anytime we want.

It seems like I am not the only one who is out to play. The birds are chirping above me, an old couple strolls by hand-in-hand, a man walks by with his poles*, a lady cycles past and stops to admire the sea, and a boat sails into my vision in the horizon.

Sunset over Matinkyla Beach

A most delicious dinner!

After having my fill of the sea, I stood up to go as it was getting really cold. The peace of the evening was interrupted by a loud splash to my left. I turned to see that someone had stripped and jumped off the deck into the sea. Well… never too cold for a swim I guess!

*Nordic walking (wikipedia): fitness walking with specially designed poles similar to ski poles.