The headlines on Straits Times read “Jackie slams Singaporeans, where the Hong Kong movie star is quoted,
A lot of people are not like those in USA and Japan who voluntarily have self-respect. When you don’t have self-respect, the government will have to control you….[Singaporeans] have no self-respect at all.
His comments are likely to stir up emotions. Many Singaporean conversations would probably start to label him a second-rate movie star, and question his right to judge us. But in his bluntness Jackie might have hit the uncomfortable truth.
Singapore, in her search for a national identity, has put on so many masks, driven by an unexplainable shame towards being herself. We aim to be like Switzerland, or some amalgamation of rich and developed countries. Even the language we converse in is driven not by who we are, but what is economically pragmatic at that juncture in time.
There is a divide between our overly-involved (IMO, anyway) government and the people. Singlish - the language organically evolved by the people, is labelled as detrimental to our progress, something to be avoided, unclean, almost. The government-run stuff - almost everything else - wins international awards, but is derided by the Singapore people as symbols of our government’s obsession with obtaining the approval of her colonial masters.
The pervasive hand of the government somehow prevents true ownership of victories which ought to belong to the Singapore people. We have become the lesser brother and the Singapore government - the elite - have become the greater. This divide grows everytime a government official believes, consciously or subconsciously, that they know better than the Singapore people. They forget: they are the Singapore people.
So it is, as with every teenager beaten down by their over-achieving sibling, Singaporeans have an underdeveloped sense of esteem. Like an alcoholic, prodigal brother, we rant and tear away at our own, refusing to believe that anything that comes out of Singapore is world-class. Even home-grown Tiger beer advertises herself as more London and New York than Singaporean. We were so very quick to tear down Sim Wong Hoo the moment the Apple iPod took over Creative’s mp3 player market share. I know I was.
There is a need to merge the two Singapores. We could sit in our armchairs and go on at length about how the government ought to be more in touch with the people, or we could realise that we too are at fault. There is an image of Singapore in the international consciousness: an image of clockwork efficiency and world-class execution which is the envy of many nations. There is also the image of cold hard Cylon steel, a Singapore more machine than human.
We need to own who we are. We need to stop letting others define who we are and pour our humanity, stretching, nay, breaking the government-orchestrated exercise of nation-building. We need to speak up and stand up for that which is Singapore. We need to own our victories:
- being thankful for racial harmony and actively protecting that from a knee-jerk reaction to immigrants
- understanding that the measure of a people lies not in what she has, but what she gives
- and making up your own list of what it means to be a Singaporean. Don’t let the government, the media, or even this blog entry define that feeling in your gut
Unlike the respect of others, self-respect isn’t earned. It is found. Find it, Singapore.