A colleague asked: "What is a Singaporean identity? You eat, shop, drink."
Image source: If Only Singaporeans Stopped to Think
I couldn't answer immediately. On reflection -- and listening to Grace Fu on the news -- I thought back to when I left Singapore.
The Singaporean is someone who speaks with a staccato inflection; who knows bashas, leopard crawling, CSMs, M-16s, and walking around with a shaven head; who knows that having a bit of everything -- prata, lontong, chicken rice, bak kut teh -- is better than just one type of food available to most people; who lives, drinks and chats with Tamles, Mats, and Mungens.
The Singaporean is a varied bunch. Some hound kids to the tuition centers; some are big losers with big hearts; others guzzle beer while five-tenning another; while many of us slave in florescent-lit offices and catch up with other cubicle mates now and then.
The Singaporean has played on big stone slides in the heartlands; who cusses, lim chius and sits with a leg up at the hawker centre. Their favourite pastime being the many complaints about cabbies, rain, MRTs and the government; and what is a Singaporean without the lah, leh and hors...correct or not?
That's the Singaporean Identity
It isn't about race. It's about the things that are meaningful to us -- part experiences, part people, mostly memory.
My parent's conception of a Singaporean identity is quite different from mine, and my grandparent's view is vastly alien from mine too. Regardless we will have shared experiences that binds us together (like reservists bitching about their in-camp training or ah-lians in the latest Lao-beng joint), and these are experiences that we discuss and bitch about fondly and sometimes otherwise.
I am Singaporean because of them. Not because of a government, or this piece of land, or a vague notion of Singaporeaness.
“What is essential to the growth of a nation is a common history -- common sufferings, common memories, and, it may be added, common aspirations." - H.A.L Fisher
In fact, we can go further.
There are so many people coming in at once. So much so that they overwhelm. They bring their own foods, experiences, lingo and ways of thought here. In Chinatown I see a multitude of Mainland Chinese restaurants springing up to cater to new immigrants from China (apparently there's 1 million Chinese Nationals now), and Chinatown has quite literally become China-town.
That was similar to Lucky Plaza in the beginning of the maid era. But it was a drop in the ocean as compared to the the influx of China nationals.
Change is inevitable. The old will give way to the newly accepted -- like Chinese opera, colour television, and now mobile internet streaming.
It's OK... no, not really.
All I can do is say: To the many who will arrive in Singapore to work, study, turn a quick buck, or perhaps nest, please fit in. Please share. Please receive. Be good.
But do not expect us to bow to your sensibilities…like this ex-colleague of mine.