I was at the Port of Lost Wonder (POLW) in Sentosa some weeks ago. POLW is a water playground for children 12-years old and below. It was great to see the kids splashing and dashing around in such excitement. I couldn’t help but think to myself how fortunate these kids are. I would have loved to have such a playground when I was younger. But playing paper boats in the drain after the rain isn’t that bad either.
Children can be great teachers. There they were, soaking up the fun – children of all races, shapes and sizes. Malays, Indians, Chinese, Eurasians, Caucasians, etc. What was interesting is to see how these kids take to each other so readily. Complete strangers one moment, absorbed in play with each other the next. Skin colour? Nah. Nationality? Doesn’t matter.
I wondered, however, what they would be like, if they would be just as accommodating or accepting of others when they grow up, in a Singapore which is ever-changing and doing so at a furious pace.
I believe that these kids will have no problem integrating with others, whether local or foreign, in time to come. This is especially so when they are being exposed to each other’s presence at such a young age. And as far as integrating them is concerned, they will do just fine. That’s what I believe.
It is us, the adults, who are having the problems – and I wonder what we will be like when we are older, when we are in our elderly years, when we are grey and old, perhaps needing the help of a stick to even walk a step. What kind of Singapore would it be, in 2030 and beyond?
Despite all the bad news and unhappiness over many issues, I am hopeful. Hopeful that we will be a decent society, one which takes care of the less fortunate. Why do I say this? Because I see the emergence of a growing community which demands better for its citizens, especially those who are less able to fend for themselves.
Travel concessions for the disabled; more public assistance for the elderly; rental flats for the poor; better protection and help for the older workers; more help in healthcare, and other areas. Many – young and old – have and continue to voice out for these things on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. And they also chip in when help is needed. Like when a mother lost her two boys in one accident. Singaporeans felt for her and turned up to lend their support, and even laid flowers at the scene of the horrendous accident to comfort the grief-stricken mother.
And it is heartening to see this.
Then, there is this wonderful initiative by some Singaporeans: CHOPE FOOD for the NEEDY – ‘Suspended Food Revolution’ to Pay It Forward. The plan is basically you reserve (‘chope” in local parlance) or pay for food in advance, and the food seller will give it to a needy person for free.
Yet, it is not just the needy which Singaporeans are speaking up for or helping. They also expect better care of the environment, protection of the animals around us, they expect cleaner surroundings, and better social etiquette. They expect themselves to treat all fairly, whether local or foreign.
In other words, Singaporeans have become more outward-looking, and less navel-gazing.
At the same time, there is also the ugly side, of course. But the good side gives me hope. And I feel this is the area which we could work on, improve, and expand. There are many other things we would like to see, of course. Things such as a more compassionate legal and judicial system, a more transparent political system, and a free media, to name a few. And we should and we will continue to push for these. They will come eventually. Of this, there is no doubt. And it will happen sooner rather than later.
The point here is that despite – or in spite of – the problems we face (and there are many, and they are serious), there is also hope. There must be. Otherwise, what are we doing? How would we reassure the little children that things will be ok? We have that responsibility to make sure of this, for our children, and those who depend on us, the abled bodied ones.
But in order for this to happen, we have to reach the destination together, as a society, one which has arrived at that equilibrium which grants us meaningful and deeper peace among the races and among our people. The biggest challenge we face today is forging this understanding, this cohesiveness as a people. This authenticity as a people, as a society. And it is a big challenge, as Singapore undergoes immense changes in the years ahead, especially in terms of its demographics.
Government policies will be the key. And its policies must be crafted with Singaporeans as priority, and at the same time assuring that the non-Singaporeans who are among us are not neglected either. This is the role of government. It is not an impossible task, or an impossible aim to achieve.
The current discourse on these matters, whether online or elsewhere, can be unwieldy, messy, and the noise or voices discordant. It is ok. It will settle. It is how it should be as each expresses his or her beliefs passionately. This is how debate is and ought to be. But in the end, we must realise that compromises will have to be made, for things to move forward. We can’t be stuck in the quagmire, as it were, forever.
The children at the Port had seemingly limitless stamina to last the entire day, even as the blazing sun beat down on them relentlessly. We too must have that stamina to see through the changes we wish to see. The road ahead will be bumpy and rough, but the good news is that in the very depths of each Singaporean – generally – is kindness and generosity. There is more than enough proof of this – and that is not a bad place to begin.
Sometimes we do not give ourselves enough credit. We should.