A whole lot has been said and written about National Serviceman Lim Zi Rui’s comment that he didn’t know what he was defending anymore. He was referring to how to huge influx of foreigners into Singapore has led him to a state of being lost; that he couldn’t identify with the Singapore he was fighting for and defending.
First things first: it is perfectly normal to ask this question. The question “What am I defending?” is applicable to all citizens of Singapore, not just National Servicemen, and it comes in a myriad of different forms.
“Why am I staying in Singapore? Why haven’t I migrated?” At the root of it, it is a question of investment. We are putting something in - our time, our toil, our lives - and we want to know what it is we’re doing all of this for. It’s probably the most fundamental question of life if we expand it to a more macro, existentialist level.
In the information age we live in, the notion of a country, like many other age-old paradigms, is undergoing change. Countries used to be about geographical boundaries and physical territory. While a geography teacher came up to me the other day reminding me that these things do matter because humans are intrinsically tied to where they are physically located, I think citizenship has evolved to become more intangible, and it would be disastrous if we continued to define it as a one dimensional concept.
Ivan Lalic’s poem Places we love came over me with such clarity, that the places we love are more than physical spaces. “Space is only time visible in a different way”, goes the poem. I love Arizona because of my time as an undergraduate there, and I’ve made it a point to revisit her, but it’s not the same Arizona I remember. The people I know have moved to different cities, we’re all older and at different points in our lives. The mountains and sunset remain, but little else. I love her still, for what she was to me in that stage in my life.
In the same way I love Singapore. For what she means to me. For the memories I’ve made here, and for the memories I hope to create for my children in the relative safety of this place. She is a half-written story we all find ourselves thrown into, and are responsible for how she will be remembered in the annals of time.
I would that she be remembered for her multi-cultural beauty, a collection of dreams by various peoples who have come from all over the world. I would that she be remembered for her compassion for the less fortunate, for her coming-of-age as she realises that not all that glitters is gold, and the celebration of life is more valuable than the pursuit of money.
More than just defending Singapore, we need to actively take part in the writing of her next chapter.
May it be one for the ages, and Singapore - us - a force for good in the world.