I was asked several times by friends back home whether I will spend National Day in Singapore and felt slightly guilty that I am still away in Sydney during this period.
Yet the question to ask is can the 190,000-strong Singaporeans living overseas now be counted as patriotic if they celebrated national day abroad?
Overseas Singaporeans Unpatriotic?
Is it fair to label them as quitters if they are forced to search for greener pastures abroad as a result of the recent influx of foreign talents on our shore and in direct competition with us for jobs?
Since young, I used to rush home and watched our National Day Parade (NDP) for as long as I lived as not watching the parade meant that you are not patriotic and loyal to the country.
More importantly, watching the NDP helped me forged a unison with all other Singaporeans tuning in.
It was a special occasion for my family and I even stood up rapt in attention when the national anthem was played on TV during NDP!
A certain pride welled up within me whenever I heard our anthem being played especially during NDP.
Not many kids liked the flag lowering ceremony in our schools before the day ended and I must be one of the rare few that waited in anticipation for the anthem to be played when I was still a young school-going boy!
Shockingly, I have skipped last year NDP unconsciously as I was watching a movie outside.
It just slipped my mind and perhaps the occasion could not hold my attention anymore as it did previously.
I checked with a few friends later on who also told me that they couldn’t bother anymore to watch the NDP on TV live.
Many have in fact escaped to another country for a short tour in view of the long NDP weekend last year.
As this year’s NDP falls on Thursday, I am sure that many people will take the Friday off and go for a super-long weekend trip somewhere abroad.
Is one considered unpatriotic if you deliberately miss the NDP on TV and do something else?
What’s True Patriotism?
What does patriotism means to the average Singaporeans?
Many guys perform national service and to them being patriotic means you take up arms and defend the country if there is an aggressor at your door step.
For others, it means staying put in your own country and contribute as best as you can to nation building.
To some, serving in the government service as teachers, police, army among others is one sure way of being patriotic.
How about those who chose to live abroad? Are they being unpatriotic and unloyal to Singapore?
Our ex Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong had labelled them as quitters but this has not deterred close to 190, 000 Singaporeans from living and working abroad.
I have stayed abroad for the past five years for long period but have never felt belonged in that country.
I still watched the NDP few years ago while living abroad via the Channel News Asia live streaming.
I longed for our delicious local food and searched out some Singaporeans friends to speak Singlish deliberately.
Like many who stayed abroad, I felt second class and unappreciated even t hough the work life balance is sound and the grass is perceived to be greener.
It is not my country and anything I do could not be constituted as nation building for that foreign country.
Singapore is my own country – however badly governed it is right now.
I have also received an email recently from a Malay young female reader who quit from the government service as she felt sidelined by the regular Mandarin-speaking environment.
She is seriously considering emigrating as she no longer felt attached to our country for the simple reason that she was racially discriminated against.
My previous job was in the government sector, but I decided to take the plunge to leave for a job with more than half pay-cut because I just couldn’t stand any longer being in the Chinese-speaking environment. I just don’t get it. They excluded me from most activities because I’m a Malay. Even in meetings, they converse in Mandarin. Please don’t get me wrong, my best friend is a Chinese, but sometimes, enough is enough. Right now, I’m working under a Pinoy, who’s not so bright actually.
Can we blame her if she decides to leave the country for better opportunities and should we brand her as being unpatriotic and a quitter?
Just six months ago, I met a 60-year-old Singaporean employer who operates a off-shore tour agency in Beijing.
He told me that he no longer felt proud to be a Singaporean anymore due to some of our inept government policies.
“I used to fly into our Changi Airport feeling proud that I am a Singaporean many years ago. This feeling is no longer there now as I see so many foreigners living in our midst. We don’t look like a country anymore,” he confided in me.
He spent a bulk of his time living abroad and only return to visit his ailing parents.
The lack of a proper identity, human touch and meshed up culture mean that Singaporeans are unable to come to terms with the changes that have taken place within our country for the past decade.
The Singapore Inc culture that is so prevalent in our country right now has driven many citizens to try and earn as much money as possible so that they will not lose out to others.
Many Singaporean employers have also followed the footstep of the government to drive the economy forward at all cost and sadly labour exploitation is at its worst now as young foreign workers are freely available on the cheap.
Employers will pay the lowest wages possible and even employ predominantly foreigners at the work places – displaying the worst form of national disunity.
If our own employers do not want to hire our local workers for all kinds of reasons, however valid they may be, the country will disintegrate as without proper jobs, the people will perish.
This is also sadly reflected at most work places whereby office politics have taken centre stage as intense competition to stay in their jobs dominated.
There is no more human kindness in place anymore in our society as everyone only cares for their own survival and needs.
Many people I spoke to told me that Singapore has slowly disintegrated into a cold place whereby no one really bothers if you die or not.
Disunity is also at its worst form now as workers loathe against our employers, local citizens against foreigners, public housing dwellers against those staying in the private estate and the average income against the rich.
Singapore Lacking An Identity?
More importantly, many Singaporeans could not identify with the country anymore especially when 40% of the population is made up of foreigners.
We also lack our own identity as being a young nation, we could not forge one readily after just 47 years of gaining independence.
We tried to copy culture from the West and mixed it up with Confucius learning as encouraged by our former Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
We are so good at copying that we are no longer original and authetic anymore.
Thus, we spoke Singlish as much as possible locally as that’s our only style and uniqueness however terrible it may sound to one another.
Even our Prime Minister has encouraged our foreign friends to speak Singlish so that they can try and intergrate with the locals!
Unfortunately, to many Singaporeans right now, the country represents more of a incorporation whereby making enough money is the top priority than a country anymore.
Singaporeans have never felt so disenchanted and unsatisfied with their own country and it is linked directly to how it is being governed.
Its a jungle out there and many locals are simply trying to survive on the meagre wages that they could earn as the government allows employers to exploit workers through feeble labour legislation acts.
More seriously, we have seen how many foreigners from other countries tried to import their identity and culture into our country.
They could no longer respect the host country’s culture as apparently there is none so far.
Our foreign friends also fail to understand why the local people remained trapped under the tyranny of a dictatorial government for such a long time and never attempts to fight back.
Some foreigners have even lost the respect for the locals as they are viewed as cowards.
Can Patriotism Be Bought?
They decided to group among themselves for survival sake as many have not felt that they are being accepted by the host country yet.
While jogging at the Punggol Park, I have seen groups of foreigners gathering together and have picnic by themselves during evening time.
They seemed happy and do not really bother about integration with the locals as they have their own friends and family members to mix with.
I have also wondered whether they will watch our NDP on TV or just do their own stuff at home.
If they watch it, is it out of curiosity or brimming with patriotic pride?
Can patriotism be bought by simply dishing out citizenship rights to foreigners?
Can it also be lost if the government mismanages the country and the population feels short-changed?
Is that the reason why many Singaporeans don’t feel proud even though a new China-born citizen borne a bronze medal for the country at the Olympics recently?
Will our foreign citizens make a fast dash to the airport if our country encounters a war-like confrontation at our door step?
As Singapore celebrates it’s 46th national day this year, Singaporeans will have to ask themselves what is true patriotism…
It may not have to do with the inept governance but more to do with our own perception of patriotism and how we can contribute to the country in whatever menial form we can.
In other words, we should not link our loyalty to the country with the governance but rather our direct relationship with the people and places that we grew up with.
As for me, I will try to stay tune with our NDP via the Channel News Asia here in Sydney.
Nothing beats hearing the national anthem again…especially when you are abroad.
Written by: Gilbert Goh