‘When I was younger, I was very proud of being a Singaporean,’… ‘But that was about five, 10 years ago. Five years later, with all the changes in policies and the influx of foreign talent, I really don’t know what I’m defending any more.’

Are young Singaporeans really not having a sense of belonging to our country anymore? Well, I thought long and hard (mostly during this week’s lectures) about being a Singaporean. And I realised that besides having a sense of belonging to our country, there’s actually some other things we have to accomplish as well. So I came up with a list.

List of things Singaporeans have to do in life

1. Developing a strong sense of belonging to our country. Defend it. Being a ‘stayer’ and not a ‘quitter’, if you remember the debate about this several years back.

2. Help foreigners/PRs integrate into our society. This includes universities, the workplace, and the neighbourhood we live in.

3. Get hitched ASAP, with the help of SDU, and the Romancing Singapore and Beautifully Imperfect campaigns. (Point 3 is mainly for those who were too busy helping to integrate foreign students into your school when you were a student and therefore did not manage to get hitched. )

(digression: the first thing that greeted me on the Romancing Singapore FAQ page was this huge banner that took up 1/3 the page, titled “Walking with Dinosaurs”.)

4. Have as many babies as possible. Not enough for world domination; just enough to hit our replacement level of 2.1 . (natural progression from point 3, after getting hitched)

5. Work till 68 years old to accumulate enough CPF. Whether you have enough time to actually spend it is besides the point.

With so much on our plate, it’s no wonder our generation feels a bit lost as to what to fight for. Actually, I think it’s only natural that some of us would feel that way. I think a sense of belonging comes a lot from shared history, shared memories, common background.

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I find it a bit hard to feel rooted to the country, and yet welcome foreigners with open arms at the same time. If we feel that we belong here, there is bound to be ideas of ‘them’ and ‘us’. It takes a lot of time, I feel, for foreigners to be integrated into our society. It’s not something that will happen just because the government says ‘Hey, you people, blend together now.’ Some people blend in very well with the rest of us, they know what we mean when we use colloquial terms, they understand our jokes etc. Usually those are the ones who have come here for many years and grew up with our generation. Sometimes I even forget that they came from another country.

I think many of us still feel we belong here. We just need the right triggers. Some time ago, the National Day Song, Home was played during my COM252 Cultural Studies class.

The class remained really silent throughout the song. Maybe many of us, like me, never fail to be touched by the song. Maybe we were comtemplating why the song can stir up such powerful emotions in us. Maybe we were thinking of the best way to sweep away all the 鸡皮疙瘩 that dropped on the floor. Sure, Nat Day songs like We are Singapore and Stand up for Singapore can be corny, but there’s a reason why they’re still sung so many years later at NDP. (Although there are some fail songs that pop up every now and then…) I’m sure nobody can forget how we were always forced to learn the NDP song of that year whenever August came close. It’s all these shared memories that hold us together. So when the boys are sleeping beside the rumoured wild boars and hantus in the jungles, our stomachs filled with mouth-watering field rations, at least we know what we’re doing this shit for.

I’m not xenophobic. I just find it hard to do points 1 and 2 at the same time.

P.S. If any Singaporean is still looking for a reason to defend our home, there’s always the Dim Sum Dollies to fight for. Train rides have never been the same since they came along.

Below is the article from which I quoted the first few lines, from The Straits Times, 30th October 2010.

A disempowered generation?
By Rachel Lin

IN THE midst of all the talk about creativity and vibrancy and buzz, his question came like a cry in the wilderness.

Final-year aerospace engineering student Lim Zi Rui, 23, stood up during the Nanyang Technological University Ministerial Forum last night and asked: Did Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong know many young people no longer felt a sense of ownership in Singapore?

His question was one of several posed during the dialogue with Mr Goh, which ranged far and wide over ageing issues, art, even student accommodation.

‘When I was younger, I was very proud of being a Singaporean,’ Mr Lim said. ‘But that was about five, 10 years ago. Five years later, with all the changes in policies and the influx of foreign talent, I really don’t know what I’m defending any more.’

He said he was reflecting a sentiment held by many of his men in the SAF, who had to compete with foreigners for jobs. ‘I feel that there is a dilution of the Singapore spirit in youth… We don’t really feel comfortable in our country any more.’

Mr Goh’s reply was one of deep concern. ‘This is one early sign of danger… If this is happening, it is very serious.’

He asked Mr Lim why he felt disconnected.

Mr Lim assured SM Goh that he was still keen to fight for Singapore: ‘I’m still serving as an officer and I definitely would love to defend Singapore.’

However, he compared his attitude to that of the foreign friends he had. ‘I tell them, this is my country. I can’t just leave here whenever I want to. You can come and play and work here, but I have to stay here.’

SM Goh responded with a defence of the Government’s open-door policy. ‘You want to have a home. Who’s going to build your HDB flat?’

‘My brother got engaged, but lost his engagement because he could not afford an HDB flat,’ Mr Lim countered.

‘Without foreign workers in Singapore, would your hall of residence be built?’ SM Goh asked. ‘If we totally reject foreigners, we’re going to shrink in size… I don’t think Singaporeans want that. What they want is to moderate the inflow of foreigners.’

He also said Singapore had to find ways to integrate foreigners. ‘There are many of them who would like to be Singaporeans, and those of them who can be integrated, make them Singaporeans, make them part of us, make them help to defend the country,’ he said.

Mr Lim said that his concerns were somewhat different. ‘My question was, how are we going to help the younger generation feel a sense of belonging to Singapore? I don’t think it’s about integrating foreigners.’

‘This is your country,’ SM Goh replied. ‘What do you want me to do to make you feel you belong?’

‘For my part, don’t worry about me,’ Mr Lim said. ‘I will definitely do something, if I can, for Singapore. But I can tell you honestly that the sentiment on the ground is a bit different.’

‘If that is prevalent among young people over here, we’ve got a real problem,’ SM Goh said. ‘If the majority feel they don’t belong here, then we have a fundamental problem. Then I would ask myself: What am I doing here? Why should I be working for people who don’t feel they belong over here?’