Singapore is not a Nation. We sing nationalistic songs like ‘One people, One Nation, One Singapore’ and never really get to understand the difference between ‘nation’ and ‘country’. A nation is more than just the geographical borders that surround a sovereign land owned by the state. A nation depicts the ties that bind the people, the loyalty of citizens to the flag and the innate feeling that someone else is like a family because he/she is from the same country. That is a nation. And that is not where we are at the moment. You can easily source out quotes from top leaders in this country that admit we’re not at that stage yet.
But things are changing.
The influx of foreign talent spiked really quickly in the past 10 years. I remember riding an MRT 10 years ago telling my friend that the Chinese population in Singapore will fall soon as we were not reproducing. That was said in the context that the MRT had like 4 Malay couples with babies and 2 Indian toddlers. It was a passing comment not done in any negative light.
In fact, I am possibly the embodiment of a well mixed Singaporean. I am a Chinese by ethnicity but I live with predominantly Malay neighbours. I grew up as the only Chinese among 8-10 neighborhood kids kicking the ball behind our flats. The rest were Malays, I picked up their language (a little) and at times their food and drink. It was just like an extended family. Even after moving to my new flat, we maintain excellent relations with our nearest two neighbours that are nice Malay families. On top of that I go to a Church where its dominated by Indians. I’m glad for such experiences because color and ethnicity was never an issue for me from young. In fact there are many things I admire about the other races that the Chinese stereo-typically lacks.
Anyways, back to business. What I saw the next year was an influx of a tremendous number of Chinese. Whether they be from Hong Kong or China, etc. They came in droves. I’ve no idea but my friends were joking that this move was to keep the racial balance at status quo. The inital impacts were clear, competition for any and every space. May it be the MRT or jobs or schools or even the way longer queues than that we are used to. It is the initial impacts that cause the quickest knee jerk reactions. No one likes competition, at least not the majority.
Us against them
This is the current stage we are at. Like it or not, the human way of dealing with something new is to bunch up whatever that is familiar and stack it against the new. In the same way, local talk is generally keyed towards Singaporeans vs. Foreigners. It doesn’t help that politics are interwined with this case. Both the incumbents and opposition have made a meal out of the situation rallying support at the cost of sundering social bonds.
A slippery slope
The politicians have responded. The people (both locals and foreigners) have reacted and now leading political websites are championing the nationalistic cause.
Sun Xu is former classmate of a close confidant of mine. His crime is calling Singaporean’s ‘dogs’. But still, much of this has been reported out of context. The outcry tends to play on the literal meaning when it was an obvious analogy to animalistic behavior by some ugly Singaporeans. You see them all the time. Kiasu, inconsiderate Singaporeans, people who think they are entitled to everything. It’s ugly, disturbing and these people are scum.
I would say his crime is not calling Singaporeans ‘dogs’ but rather that he overstepped his boundaries as a foreigner. As a guest, you shouldn’t speak your mind even though what you say is painfully obvious in the eyes of the locals. Do you go to a friend’s place and go ‘your house smells.’? No, you reserve unkind words because you are a guest. And that is what our foreigners need to learn.
Mindsets must change. But how?
While foreigners need to learn how to behave like guests when coming over, locals need to learn how to handle guests. Treat them with dignity and respect just as every human being deserves. Treating them like garbage with disgust isn’t going to help because it will incentivize the exact stereotypical behaviour thus causing a self fulfilling prophecy.
It is an interesting case. A close relative of mine holds such sentiments, yet she has made very good friends with foreign families who have moved into our neighbourhood. She often chats with them and teases their kids. When I ask her why, she just says ‘oh they are different from the other types of foreigners.’ What exactly are these ‘other types of foreigners’?
This clearly points to the stereotypical view of foreigners. Schemeing, greedy, invasive agents, coming here to loot all they can before they go. Search yourself, but this is the stereotypical view. And this has to change.
So what separated the ‘stereotypical view’ from the families that moved into my neighbourhood and became friends? A sincere smile and a willingness to make friends. That is all that is needed. It is a signal of openness and a ‘hey there really ain’t many differences between us’ type of gesture.
Make friends not enemies. You go into a school and the friends in your class are all competing to go to a top school. Do you treat them like junk just because they are competition? No, you don’t. If you do, you will likely end up as a miserable loner.
And that’s what policy should focus on. Increasing ways to get that first smile and chat going because once that is in place, human nature will do the rest.
As this process carries on, our identity as a nation will slowly be forged. Let’s make it something we can look back on and be proud off.