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.