Letter to Singapore: Yahoo! readers respond

Yahoo! Singapore received more than 45 emails in response to our call for readers to write their own “Letter to Singapore”. Here we present some of those that stood out.

Cordelia Melanie Alfred, 23, Staff Nurse:

Dear Singapore,

You know as well as I do that ours is a love-hate relationship. I loved you more when I was younger, when we were both younger, naive and innocent. We thought the world was our oyster and that we would go at it together. I thought it the highest honour when I was part of the Guard-of-Honour at my secondary school parade on your birthday. I was proud to stand at the front of the contingent, donning my Girls’ Brigade uniform, singing the National Day of that year, which I had memorised.

There are so many things I love about you. I love that when I wake up early in the morning, I can rush down during the breakfast hours and get economy bee hoon. I love that the familiar face of the optician that sold me my first pair of spectacles at the age of 7 (I was his biggest customer; going back every 2 months for a new pair). I even the loved the grumpy old man who sold my friends and I our air-batu after school for 6 years. The highlight of my Christmases was knocking on my neighbours’ doors and sharing the kueh my mother had made (ordered).

Then, when I began travelling on the train during my polytechnic years, it would bring a smile upon my face to see a teenaged boy rushing to offer his seat to a makcik, just after her grocery run and laden down with bags. I began to appreciate the clean streets and the parks that make this small, homely nation my home, the place where I felt comfortable.

Things between us are different now. It’s a rush, always a mad rush. You seem to have forgotten about me, in the crowds that are growing around me. I rush to work, run for the train, hoping that today will be different. I hope that today, I will see that same teenaged boy rushing to give up his seat, instead of rushing to get a seat. I hope I will see people look up from their electronic entertainment once in a while, if only to share a look that says, “Yeah, it’s Monday. What the heck, lunch is in a few hours and then Friday’s here.” I  hope that I will see some semblance of the Singapore I used to know. A sign that we care about someone other than the man in the mirror.

For 2 years, I rushed to school after work. My job financed my degree.I do not complain about that, because the harder it was for me to work and study, the more value my degree held for me when I finally held it in my hands. I wanted to become a writer, to contribute to you in some way, Singapore. See, you didn't know that about me, now, did you? But that’s alright, you have so many others to worry about; I understand.

I do miss you Singapore, I miss the Singapore that I knew when I was 5. I would walk to the market with my grandmother, and she would stop and speak with almost everyone on the way there. Now, I walk around my estate, and I see unfamiliar faces. Unfriendly faces, even. That kampong spirit? It’s long gone.

There’s hope though. I still love you, and I believe that change is arriving. I know you care, I just need to see it. I don’t ask for too much. Perhaps you could smile when you see me next. I’ll do my part too.

Amanda Fang, 37, Market Strategist

Dear Zing,

You are a twenty year old and you talk a lot about London.

I was like you when I was just 20, only that was close to 20 years ago. I’ve only been to the "western" parts of the world then, lived in one of it for some time. I probably felt the same way you did about gays and drag queens, about the dangerous back alleys and the "excitement" of walking through them at night.

But unlike you, I also remembered how blessed I felt, knowing I had a motherland that I always belonged to and could depend on. I felt so proud then, that I was a result of generations of blood and toil, who worked very hard to make Singapore into what it is today.

And I still feel so proud today of my heritage, even though I'm away living in a part of the "Eastern" world now. I feel proud that I can hold my head up high because of the education I went through in Singapore.I feel proud because I am bilingual, that I can communicate effectively with different people, whether they are Chinese, Caucasians, Arabs or even Africans. I feel proud because as a start, people think well of me just being a Singaporean.

I feel loved because even though I'm away from Singapore, that the Ministry of Education still sends me mails to remind me to send my kids to school, that the Baby Bonus Team still sends me reminders about the "gift-money" that I'm entitled for. Everytime I go back home and aside from the new sky-scrapers, I also see new gardens, new sheltered walkways in the heartlands of Singapore. I see exotic plants with flowers I have never seen before, being grown along these walkways for those in the neighbourhood.

I feel embraced. I do not know how London embraces you or how she loves you. But I will always love Singapore, for who she is and for what she has done for me.

Lee Thien Poh, 57, Retiree

Dear Zing
I read your open letter this morning. My initial reaction is that you had not gone through tough life since you are only 20 years old. Then I wonder how I can help you understand the reality of life so that you can make a choice in your lifestyle that you really wanted and that you feel is wise and good.
As you have not divulge your background I can only guess that you come from at least a middle-income family given that you were able to travel to at least 2 places overseas. (Sorry if I have made the wrong assumption.)

Let me try to address 2 points you had mentioned in your letter.

1. Materialistic and making a lot of money. You mentioned that Singapore is too materialistic and too pre-occupied with just making money. I agree with you to a certain extent. However I like you to think how you had lived your life in the past 20 years. Was your family poor such that you could only think of what to eat for the day and everyday? Where did you get the money to buy the smartphone, tablet, etc? Who provided you the means to have a good education?

If your expectation in life is that you don’t mind to be poor and you are contented with the limited material (and even health and social) things then that is fine. However if your expectations and your needs are not congruent problems will arise. How are you going to get the money to get the things you want or need?
2. Diversity in lifestyle. You mentioned that Singapore does not really tolerate true diversity in lifestyle. You also mentioned that you have been mugged and almost had to get stitches. Again I am not sure how long you have stayed in London or for that matter in any other places where such things are happening. How frequently have you been mugged? Have you experienced/realized the many other problems that arise as a result of too many people wanting to have a say in how life should be lived in the world or in other words too diverse a society?

Again if you are mentally prepared to live through those problems everyday throughout your whole life without complaining it is alright for you. However many people in Singapore (and I suspect in many other countries) will prefer a more peaceful and orderly society. So what the Singapore Government has done and is still doing is to allow this diversity in a measured way such that the bad consequences are contained.

Here are my advices.

1. Get more life experience. Here I would advise you to live life independently so that you can be more realistic. Try to earn your own money to survive and get the things you want, pay for your own rentals, utilities, etc. Don’t accept donations, gifts that are offered to you readily. Try living with a poor family for a period of time and experience the hardship they are going through everyday. If at the end that is the lifestyle you wanted I am happy for you.

2. If you want to see good changes in lifestyle (i.e. with as little bad consequences as possible) then offer your help. Give feedback and suggestions. However be realistic that changes take time. Be sympathetic and emphatic.

I hope this letter will help you in making your decision in the lifestyle that you really want.  Sorry for the long letter which might not have been written in a very nice and organized way. Thank you for your time.

Wong Weng Fatt, 41, Sales Engineer

Dear Singapore
I have just read a letter that has said great things about a foreign land whereby he/she has compared that wonderful country against your young self. I must say that I cannot find fault in that land as it is a country that has hundreds of years of history behind them. A country that has seen their own share of ups and downs, good and evil. But what I can say is that the writer has been unfair to you.
Being 20 years of age, what does he truly know of the world? Yet in the musings, he waxes lyrically (to paraphrase from another writer) about how London allows one to be oneself. My question is does he truly know what he/she is? I don’t mean to be rude but at 20 years old and having only seen London and Singapore, what does he really know about the world? Grass is always greener on the other side.

The one thing that worries me is that the writer seems to have forgotten how he got there. Was it through his hard work? The obvious answer is no. So it begs the question, what gave him the right to draw such a conclusion that our money grabbing, pressurizing ways is all bad. For a 41 year old man that has been travelling from Australia to China and many countries in between, I can say that there is always Evil in Good and vice versa as this is not a perfect world. If it wasn’t because of this culture, would we be able to offer homes to the masses? Offer shelter to the poor? Health care to the needy?

For the general populace, yes we have to pay a premium and that causes us to work hard and be pressurized but if the taxes meant that we do not, by and large, leave the less fortunate of our brethrens in the cold, I willing swallow that bitter pill. If along the way people make good and get the Audi and BMW, why not? They have earned and deserved them. Our culture is not perfect but look at what we have achieved in our country’s short life. Almost everyone, except for the extreme, has a roof over their head and no one is denied healthcare. If you want the premium of a condo or to specify the most reputed doc to treat you aliments, by all means you can but you have to pay for it.

Another point in the writer’s letter seems to say that you are intolerant of dissenting views or lifestyle. I beg to differ. I have yet to see a stoning of someone who’s gay nor have I seen a politician, whomever it may be, penalized for having a different view. Yes, opposition members have been sue and lost before but look at their claims and you would know that any man with the right common sense would sue them. When has making unsubstantiated claims been ever accepted? I do agreed that there is still a lot of work to be done in our country and culture but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and claim that any other country is better as that is not the truth. Everyone’s needs are different and thus each country in the world, having it owns unique idiosyncrasies, faults and beauty will fit each differently.

You, my motherland, is beautiful in my eyes. You provide me with a safe environment whereby I know that after a hard day’s work, I can come back to a place where I can rest and not worry about whether there will be a riot the next day that can threaten my family’s life. A place that I know that my neighbors, although not seen on a daily basis as we are all busy, will still look out for me. Many may dispute this but I know from first hand account as my block’s refuse bay caught fire once and my neighbor knocked on my door till my wife answer to inform us. They could have just left and nobody would have blamed them but they did what they did. With every report of fire, there is always an accompanying report of heroism.

My lovely motherland is also transforming right before my eyes, giving up much need space for commercial use to that of recreation. Though imperfect, our government, as of this moment, still strive to make our life better. We have one of the best transport system in the world, even with all the current problems. We take care of our poor with all sorts of outreach programs. They constantly engage foreign countries and promote you, our motherland , so that we may have new jobs coming in to us yearly because Singaporean businessman can expand and foreign companies come in and invest. In essence, they make sure that the people have a roof over their heads, have work to pay for food and is generally safe from many harms that we see in the world now.

True, motherland, you are not perfect but then who is? All I can say is that with each passing day, you are trying to be better. For those who cannot wait, no one can force you so may peace be with you but I will never stand idly by when they, in the comfort that you gave them, bash you on the head. In school we are taught human’s pyramid of needs. For all those whom bash you, it can be safely said that they are only able to do that because their basic needs are satisfied. But yet, they do not seem to realize who help them to satisfy that? That just seems a little ignorant, self centered and shows a disregard for the favors you have showered on them.

Singapore, my motherland, you are never half as bad as they make you up to be so please do not cry. Know that for every one whom has complained about you, there are tens, if not hundreds who would gladly give their heart and soul and life even if necessary, to defend you. I am not the only one nor shall I ever be alone.

Julie Quek, 49, Accountant

Life in Singapore

Firstly a little about myself. I am 49 years old, left Singapore for Australia in 1998, like many others during those period of time. Have 2 kids a girl and a boy who are educated in Australia and completing their degrees in 1 to 2 years time.
Having lived for 15 years in Australia, I managed to fulfill my life long dream of a degree and graduated at the age of 47. This was achieved amidst juggling between full time university, full time highly responsible job and full time mother and wife. I sincerely believed I cannot achieve this if I had been living in Singapore. Added to this, my highest education before obtaining my degree was 3 GCE O level from Singapore. Yet I was given a chance throught the matured aged entry into university. Along with my degree included 2 prizes, one for highest performing 1st year student ($500) and another for 2nd year highest performing student prize money of $5000 in my faculty. However, credit for this can also be attributed to how I was brought up in Singapore i.e. the "education style" and education mentality of Singaporean. 
Compared to my friends who are still working in the same company in Singapore today, I draw a 6 figure salary (while my friends are in the 5 figure) before obtaining my degree and doing the same kind of job that I had been doing in Singapore. My husband also achieved twice what he would have been paid in Singapore but with more time on his side.

My kids were "written off" by the "kindergarten" education system because both had typecast as Singapore's version(at that time) of "low ability to learn Mandarin" and at the same time both are also on the artistic side. And as such the teachers felt that our kids had "issues" because they are not like the other chinese kids in school. Since I do not have the ability to speak Mandarin because I studied Malay, I was of no help. Hence,this became our main decision for migrating as we could not see where our kids were heading unless we spent all our days and nights earning more money to pay for tuitions and etc.
At that point, we were so tired of the "Lifestyle" in Singapore because that was the "season" of the 5 "C"s. We worked very hard to achieve the 5 C's and in so doing was living on mortgages such as car, house and credit cards. Working life was 8.30am to 7 to 10pm and sometimes weekends too. We were living on current times only and life felt like a constant "rat-race" with no end and no achievements just like what the Writer wrote. However, the Writer is only 20 years old and I presume no children, no mortgages and etc. This keeps us wondering why the Writer feels this way.
Life in Australia

We have a fulfilling job, good pay, don't have to rush all the time and still have very good and productive weekends for ourselves and hobbies.
There is no need for "materialism", nor brand conscious attitude so no feeling of whose driving what, wearing what, staying where and etc. When we have social meeting (which we do so frequently) with other Asians or Singaporeans, there is no pressure to "look good" i.e. all those other stuff (you know what I mean= "materialism") that is happening in Singapore.

We have more time to think about ourselves which led to achieving my dream of a degree and my husband newly found skill which he would have never have found if we were in Singapore (due to time constraints and life sytle again). For example, building timber deck, putting up pergola, laying artificial lawn and etc which included both our efforts. FYI he is an IT person and I am an Accountant and both of us have never done any of these outdoor work before.
Our children are more independent in thoughts, actions and lifestyle when compared to their cousins and many young people their age group in Singapore. There is no need to worry about drugs  and etc associated with the western world, if we do our part as parents,educate ourselves on how to bring up kids and keep in touch with them. This can only be achieved when we are not chasing $$$ constantly and have time for kids. Most kids with drug related problems normally come from broken homes, which can happen in any country.


All the above seem good in the first 10 to 15 years. However, as I aged, I began to miss the lifestyle in Singapore. The lifestyle I am talking about is not the one that the writer mentioned. Instead it is stuff like hawker centres, the market place, the shopping centres, the Singlish language and just the people around me like chinese, malay, indians, eurasian, etc. The 24 hours clinics, shopping centre, food court and the many varieties of cinemas, the different kind and style of restaurants, pubs with local bands and so much more. In other words, the Singapore Environment that I grew up with. I began to missed them very much. What I did not appreciate previously like mandarin speaking, hokkien speaking hawkers,the HDB shops and more, I do now.

The Singlish movies produced by local directors like Jack Neo, the PCK movies and some other english dramas from Media Corp are the only "english" speaking movies that I will watch when I am back in Singapore. However, I am still dissappointed that Media Corp still put Mandarin subtitles on Mandarin movies which to me, does not make any sense because I believe there are many non mandarin speaking people like me who would love to watch those movies if only they have English subtitles.
I do crave all the Singapore productions but I can only get them if I buy them on CD or DVD. While I did not appreciate all these when I was living in Singapore, but believe me, I do so much now and feel proud of all the Singapore produced movies and dramas more than I do the Korean ones. If there were 2 movies shown in Australia and one was Korean and the other Singapore, my choice to watch, a definite, Singapore movie.
From conversations with others living here, most of us share the same, if not, most of the sentiments I mentioned above and the one thing we all share at 100%, we missed the food terribly.

At the same time, having had the opportunity to live abroad and hence, have the ability to see Singapore from outside, I cannot help but say that my perspective and confidence have increased 20 folds. I am not bothered nor pressured by the $$ lifestyle the Writer has mentioned. Instead I feel more superior and feel sorry for the many Singaporeans who are so called "materialistic". I see quite a bit of this when I visit that I wonder why most Singaporeans, though many have very high academic qualifications, still are naive in their social life and hence not as informed as the people from the western world. For if they are more informed, such characteristics will perish as they did in the western country.

From my point I see Singaporeans are too caught up and blinded by "materialism" and the need to feel "upper class". Whereas in the western world, majority of people have long put this behind them. For example, here in Australia, the food court cleaners wear a long sleeve shirt and tie while pushing the cleaning trolley. They take pride in their job. Another example are taxi drivers. They are well informed because they read and keep themselves updated through internet and etc. We have a few friends who are taxi and bus drivers. These 2 groups of people may not seem highly regarded in Singapore, but in Australia they are regarded just like any other working people and no two ways about it. People communicate with them the same way they would with a bank CEO or a bank teller and as such you will notice that CEO or not, staff addressed them by their first name just like the cleaner or taxi and bus drivers.  
As for the Writer who has been brought up in Singapore for 20 years, I cannot help but say he/she will have a different perspective after living continuously for 10 to 15 years overseas or maybe even earlier. And so my conclusion is that the Writer is young and at the right time he/she will have a different point of view from his point of view today, if not all, at least 80%..
Please note that many Asians living overseas (whom we know of) especially in a western dominated world, do have the same opinion if not, similar to ours.

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