Feng Tianwei’s Olympic bronze medal has, once again, attracted criticism. The reason? She is not a “true” Singaporean. Another criticism is that in bringing in and giving those like Feng citizenship we are “buying” medals. (Lets not forget that Feng – and those like her, including our own native Singaporean sportsmen and sportswomen, have to train very hard to have any chance of winning anything in the sports arena.)
The criticisms flow fast and furious, and they are repeated ad nauseum each time someone who is seen as “not a true Singaporean” wins some accolades. While these sentiments are understandable because of our immigration policy, and others like the Foreign Talent Scheme (under which, incidentally, Feng was brought in), perhaps it would be best if we could move beyond launching diatribes against her and her colleagues, and ask ourselves a deeper, more meaningful question: what, really, makes a Singaporean?
Those who have tried to answer this question have given many suggestions on what makes one Singaporean. They range from the ability to speak English to being able to appreciate our local cuisine, from being able to sing the National Anthem to reciting the National Pledge. The suggestions are many and varied.
However, somehow, I feel these are too superficial. It would be sad if being a Singaporean means nothing more than that we appreciate our food, or that we are able to sing a song, albeit our National Anthem.
Being a Singaporean must mean something deeper than these things, surely.
What do I think being a Singaporean is?
I do not know, to be honest. I have given this some thought and I am not able to put my finger on it. The best I can say perhaps is that a Singaporean is someone who is able to see how the world evolves and someone who has the ability to see beyond the superficial and has the courage to embrace the necessary.
And one of these things which we must have the courage to embrace is the changing face of Singapore. It has changed, is changing and will change. The Government’s immigration policy, fundamentally, is not wrong. And this is not only because it is a counter-weight to the declining birth rate but also that bringing in foreigners give us a different sheen to our society.
The world is changing too and lets not kid ourselves that we do not have to change. We will be stuck as a has-been if we stand still.
Of course, this does not mean we open the flood gates, like we have done. I do not agree with the way the Government has gone about trying to imbibe foreigners – there are too many, and also many of these foreigners do not really bring any significant value-add to us.
But that aside (and it is a serious problem which the Government should address), welcoming foreigners is a necessity. It is the same anywhere else. The movement of people in this era is unprecedented in human history and we should not try and swim against the tide.
Instead of getting stuck in blind nationalism, perhaps we should imagine what Singapore can be, going forward. As the title of the 2009 National Day song asks, “What do you see?”
I see diversity, a melting-pot of different people who are able to work together, who believe in and treasure the ideals which we collectively share. One where our children and grandchildren are much different from the Singaporeans we now are. They would have wider world-views, be able to understand and flow with the tides the world bring, and have the courage to step into the unknown and take leaps of faith to lead not only Singapore but the world too.
And we, the “native Singaporeans”, must too have the courage to embrace this, to take that leap of faith and enable our children to have that opportunity to carve out a different world.
But it starts with us setting out the path, beating out the road less travelled.
While we criticise the Government and those like Feng for various problems we now face, lets also ask ourselves what is it that makes us Singaporeans so special. What makes a Singaporean?
If we are able to answer this question, perhaps then we will be in a better position to effect changes to current policies, for how are we to argue for changes if we ourselves, Singaporeans, do not know or understand what makes us, us – but we should realise and accept that we will need to also accept that the face of Singapore will change. That’s how the world is moving and it is folly for us to try and hold off that change.
Singapore is at the threshold of change, one which, as I see it, will either be a giant leap to greater things, or it will hold us back and stagnate and become a has-been.
The Government too has a great opportunity to reassess its policies, and improve them. If it is successful in doing so, there is no doubt in my mind that Singaporeans will eventually understand and accept that having foreigners here, and giving them citizenship, is necessary and beneficial.
For the moment, though, as the reaction to Feng’s Olympic victory shows, the Government has not articulated well enough its vision, or the reasons underlying its immigration policies.
Singaporeans, in their visceral reaction to Feng’s victory, has also shown that they are disinterested in any explanation.
So, the place to start is to reduce the number of foreigners, and further tighten criterias for citizenship, and hopefully, once Singaporeans have accepted these, we can all then move on to the more important questions – how Singapore will change, and what makes a Singaporean in the brave new world.
It is not all doom and gloom. We just need to move beyond the anger and be able to talk to each other about the important issues.
I hope that day is not too far off.
What do I think of Feng’s bronze medal? It is a brilliant achievement. I mean, it is an Olympic medal, you know? And for a sportsperson, there is no greater honour. So, I congratulate her on this amazing achievement, even if it’s a bronze medal. It is still no mean feat.
What do I think of her representing Singapore? I would say cut her some slack. She played for Singapore, wore our flag, and she has been here since 2007. If we are to criticise her for this, then we need to ask ourselves the question which I mentioned:
What then makes a Singaporean?
How well do we know ourselves?