My 2-cents worth in evoking nationalism…
I think anyone with a pair of function eyes can see that there aren’t many National flags hanging out of the HDB windows, less those with the full and complete set (the whole HDB block and every apartment hanging their flags) done by the resident’s committee (RCs). Meng Seng (Singaporealternative.blogspot) might equate this to silent protest against the ruling PAP government but I think that these errant ones may only constitute to less than 20% of the non-displaying of flags population. The rest are simply bochap (or couldn’t care less) or are too lazy to do so. National Day isn’t about you against the PAP or support-the-PAP-day. As correctly mentioned by Meng Seng, Singapore doesn’t equates to PAP and rightly so. If a person chose not to display the National Flag for the reason that he/she is against the PAP government, I think he/she is just puerile.
Since our independence, we have been called many names: "the red dot among the sea of green", "the country size of a snort aka mucus" and "China's lackey". How many Singaporeans stood up to that? But when the prices go up, everyone moans and groans, curse and swore at the government. It is not my nature to make moral judgment on anyone but some of the complaints are rather biased and narrowed-minded. We are never the most contented or do we treasure what we have as much as we should have. At most times, the people who complained are the people who have benefited from the system (implicitly and explicitly) and the reason that they can complaint is because the system, which they hated, has helped them to. For a small country like Singapore, our wealth and standard of living is world class. Skeptics would have argued in comparison with Hong Kong. But this is unfounded and I can raise many reasons to counter that argument.
The education we have, the schools we stayed in, the HDB we lived, the jobs we have, the MRT and transport we commuted in and many other tangible and intangible assets that we enjoy don't come overnight or by chance. Do you think investors would flock to Singapore if we do not have a clean and corrupt government? Would they come and invest if we do not have this first class infrastructure? Yet, year on year, we have a budget surplus. As Margaret Thatcher said, Singapore is nothing short of a man-made miracle.
I'm not implying that our government is almighty and we will never need an opposition. I'm not pro-government and pro-PAP. But it is that attitude to the people which shock me most. If you think you income is not high enough, are you not working hard enough? If you think our government is corrupt, try going to Philippines and see if you can apply for a driving license without having to bribe. I’ve been meeting some residents and helping them to break the poverty trap but reality bites. Quite often there will be people whose utility supply was cut off, accumulated up to 5 police offences that are cause by his personal negligence and doesn’t even make an effort to find a job. His wife simply told me that she is reluctant to work anything more than part time as it is tiring. The constituent doesn’t intend to work beyond a security guard because it is an easy job. How do you expect the government to help you if you don't help yourself?
The world at large has faced many challenges and threats such as terrorism, rising oil prices and growth of China and India. Each threat is real and present but to a Singaporean, it is only another article in the Straits Times and would not think that it will affect them. Each time, Singaporeans expect the government to meet their expectations, safeguard their interest and shelter them from these challenges, so much so as to take our safety, economic prosperity and wealth for granted. If the government failed to meet our expectations, we will fire all criticism at them and publicly lynch them with our sharpen tongues. If the government met our expectations, don’t expect words of thanks but maybe we will still criticize them for the high Ministers’ pay.
We are a young nation thrown into deep and unfriendly waters of the world. But in a short forty years, not only have we learnt to swim, but we have also swum faster than most other nations. In the next 10 years, we will face more competitions and more unknowns. Allow to spell out the challenges that you, me and all other Singaporean Youths will face:
Economically, we will face many challenges from our neighbouring countries and growing Asian powers such as China and India. We are still "licking" our wounds from the lost of shipping giants, Maersk and Evergreen to our neighbours couple of years ago. With Thailand planning to build the Kra canal, which bypass all shipping lines of the Straits of Malacca to the east, it has threatened to deprive Singapore of our important port businesses. Our neighbours are getting more and more competitive and might eventually catch up or even surpass our standards. The success factors that brought us prosperity in the last 10 years are quickly replicated by Thailand and Malaysia. We tried to go into the medical industry, Thailand under cut our cost by 8 times. We tried to do value-added high technology products, Malaysia setup their multi-media super corridor at Klang Valley. We can no longer rely on our past success factors but have to constantly find new niche for ourselves and the generation after us.
The meteorically economic rise of China and India have made us less attractive to foreign investors but we have survived the economic tsunami with only the worst unemployment rate peaking at 4.5%. Economists thought that we have suffered and survived the initial brunt and shock to our labour markets and things should be better but we will never know. There is still an element of unknown in terms of the potential of the Chinese and Indian economy. Slowly but surely, the world is reverting to a three super-power status again.
Domestically, our unemployment rates (presently 3.6%) have seemingly stabilized but old jobs are gone and new jobs are not regenerating. More and more graduates hit the streets jobless. A degree is no longer a passport to a well-paid job. Our domestic market is too small to be self-sustaining, unlike Thailand or China. We can no longer provide cheap labour and compete with countries like China and India. Thus, we have to shift from labour-intensive to knowledge/technology-based intensive. However, this transition will not be a smooth-sailing one. In the past, each percentage increase in our GDP represents the creation of 12,000 jobs but today, each percentage increase only accounts for 8,000 jobs.
You don’t need to be any economic genius to know that our manufacturing industry is bleeding. It is now only supported by the bio-medical and oil related industries. Other industries and SMEs will continue to see their businesses seeping away into the Chinese markets. Jobs will be lost and we have to find the duel track (secondary economy) to sustain the losses. On the same token, every percentage drop in the GDP is a loss of 8,000 jobs.
For the finance industry, several MNCs and large banking corporations are moving their headquarters to Hong Kong and Mumbai due to their talents and favourable time zones.
Regionally, by size and weight, we are a small kid in an unfriendly neighbourhood. We are constantly being the "punching bag" for our neighbours should any of their elections looms near. The former Malaysian PM found us as a convenient “enemy” to unite the Malay people. For the water issues, we are labeled “arrogant” and “uncaring” and from time to time, our counterparts threatened to turn off the taps on us. Even when then-DPM Lee Hsien Loong visited to Taiwan; it caused China to blow hot air at us for three months.
We are a very vulnerable state, with no self-sustaining water resources or any other resources. The economic impact of SARS just goes to show how fragile we can be. A relatively unknown disease can virtually wipe our service sectors out, crippled our transport systems and scare away foreign investors.
Yet, we prevailed and emerged stronger. But have we learnt? I don’t think the Singaporeans have understand how vulnerable our position and status quo. Ask any 20 year old Singaporean walking on Orchard Road of their opinions of Singapore’s challenges and political thoughts, and you will receive no answer. Our youth are far too pampered and shielded from the storm by their parents and the Government. To think that they will be the ones at the forefront in 10-20 years time, make you wonder of whether Singapore can withstand another “tsunami”.
Amidst all these moaning and groaning, the only thing on some Singaporeans’ minds is to leave this “repressed” nation whenever they have the chance. To them, this is not their country but a “comfortable prison” or a “3-star hotel”. We always like to think that there is always a greener pasture outside Singapore, one that is the land of the free and home of the brave (aka USA). Little did they know that their greener pastures still have unequal voting rights for minorities (Blacks, Hispanics and Asians), racial discrimination, welfare system that does not cater to the poor and needy and guns in every household (for the state of Florida). European countries fared no better and suffered double digit unemployment for many years. Don’t expect yourself to walk in the streets of Rome or Boston in the middle of the night expecting the same kind of safety in Singapore.
My point is that, we have something very special, intangible and valuable in our home and our nation. We make this nation our home and our place not because we are born into this land but it is because we choose to do it. It is not about the petty arguments we have against each other but something that goes far beyond you and me. Our Government has done miracles in transforming a kampong slum with no resources, to an Asian economic power with US$170 Billion reserve, in 40 years of independence. All credit to the former Prime Minister and now Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his team for our present well-being. It is high time that the youth of today take this baton and weather the storm ahead of us. If you want ownership, be prepared to take responsibility. They might have done a wonderful job in bring us from third world to the first but if we do not carry on that baton and take ownership, all that will go to waste. It's time to think, are you a Singaporean by birth or by heart? By the way, I am not a citizen of the world; I am a citizen of Singapore by birth, by choice, by blood and by heart.
Changes must be made and voices must be heard. We need more like-minded youth to be gathered, be prepared and plan for our future. To succeed we have to stop day-dreaming for our neighbours to fail and stop over-relying on the government to provide. The country is not made up on 20+ Cabinet Ministers but you and me. Since National Day is coming, fly the flags in our hearts not just outside your windows.