It is 4 days to Singapore’s 48th National Day. Unlike other years, however, this year’s occasion seems to be different. There is a palpable sense of … disinterest among Singaporeans. A walk around the neighbourhood and observations made elsewhere around Singapore show that fewer households have put up the national flag this year. Of course, this does not mean that Singaporeans do not feel anything for the country – but it does raise the question of whether they indeed do.
I recall earlier years when my block of flats, for example, was decked out in flags, and this was not because of any “coercion” by grassroots members. I know friends who personally went out to buy the flag to hang at their balcony. Besides, it was not only about hanging the flag which gave you the buzz that Singaporeans were excited by the nation’s birthday. It was also the chatter, the faces of the people you meet, the general atmosphere of the country.
Recently Singapore was ranked the most pessimistic country in the world. It is no surprise, although one person tried to rubbish the findings by saying that there is a difference between the Eastern and Western idea of happiness. A hilarious suggestion, of course. But I digress.
I myself am not surprised at the lesser sense of excitement about National Day this year. It is quite easy to understand. Life is not happy here. It is hard. And I am not just talking about the poor, the sick or the elderly. Even parents, especially single parents, are feeling the strain. Our PMETs workers, our SMEs. The erosion of our physical havens and heritage.
The endless and mindless construction and de-construction; the ubiquitous work sites around Singapore; the traffic; the squeeze on our public transport.
The new restrictions on our freedom; the legal threats from the government against those who speak out online; the new legislations to curb our speech; the continued harassment of those who speak up, such as Leslie Chew; the continuing cases of corruption; our lack of a sense of security as we grow old; the insane prices of flats for us to start a home; the continued influx of foreigners; a growing income gap; the need to depend on government handouts for some.
And a government which has lost its soul and its way.
There is little to be happy about – despite all the shine and glitz around us.
It is a far cry from the earlier days when we all looked forward to a future which we all worked hard for. It was the promise of a “bright future”, where we could look forward to when we’re old, or as we grow older. But look at what our elderly folks have to do just to survive now – cleaning up after others at the coffeeshops, hawker centres, foodcourts, and having to compete with foreign labour too.
This was not the future we worked for, surely – a future where we are forced to place our infirmed and elderly folks, our parents and grandparents, in nursing homes overseas, far from our sides.
So, what does this National Day mean?
To me, it means only one thing – that we need to think of a new future. One where we do not incessantly build and build, where we mindlessly destroy our heritage and our memories, in effect cutting off the relationships and connections we have with our forebears and the future with our children. We must envision a new future where our country is a home and not a concrete jungle, constructed by the elites to be a fun park for the rich and famous.
Look around you today – we are imprisoning ourselves in a concrete jungle. Every inch of land is being built upon. Every plot has a condominium sprouting up on it. Do we really need all these?
So, for this National Day, my thoughts will be on the things we are erasing, the things which mean something. As I pondered on the places which meant something to me during my childhood, I find that virtually all of them no longer exist.
And then I wonder how I am going to pass on the sense of belonging to the boys, and to share these memories with them. And as they grow up in an ever-changing environment themselves, what is going to root them? For when their time comes, and they are old and grey, they too may ask the same questions I am asking now – where are the places of my memories to pass on to my children?
Unfortunately, the present government is one which pays only lip service to such things – things of the heart. And thus, my National Day thoughts are for a different government, so that in our not too distant future, we could perhaps have a different – and a more meaningful – National Day.