There would usually be about 5 or 6 flags displayed on these neighbouring blocks a week or two before National Day, but if displaying the flag has anything to do with patriotism, then my neighbours must have suddenly become less patriotic. Perhaps that’s not the case. How could one suddenly love one’s country less? We all know what it is and I’ve often wondered if it’s uniquely Singaporean to associate the display of one’s national flag with the support for one’s government.
And then, there’s the fanfare of National Day Parade NDP, which rose from its humble origins of simple marching contingents which I loved to watch as a child to the present day’s grand stage performances, lavish displays of military hardware and extravagant pyrotechnics. And these things are not just done once. There are rehearsals and practice runs – like the jets roaring above me at 10-minute intervals as I type all this.
A lecturer at a course I was attending when I was in the military (almost 30 years ago) explained that such displays (and expenditure) are necessary as they are part of total defence. We don’t just need the military hardware and soldiers. We need loyal citizens to support the country in times of trouble.
Paradoxically, NDP displays a Singapore that is safe, sheltered, pampered and predictable. It’s not just a narrative but a spectacle. Every simulated attack or disaster on stage has performers and spectators who already know what the ending would be like. Reality is a different story and honestly, I can’t imagine our fashion and lifestyle bloggers breaking a few nails to save the country, let alone put their entire selves in harm’s way. MBS and RWS are very expensive structures, but they are not worth dying for. On the other hand, our cultural heritage, our national pride, identity and dignity are being eroded away day by day and nobody cares. So what do people care about?
When there’s a threat to withhold “upgrading” works in their estate, they buckle. When a place in a “branded” school is offered with strings attached, they readily get themselves tied to some volunteering programme. When threatened with defamation lawsuits, they quickly apologise. When freebies are dangled in front of them, they form snaking queues, even when the one dangling them is a bully who can change twist and bend the rules to his own maximum benefit. While pride may be quite lacking in many kiasu, kiasi and gian png Singaporeans, arrogance is often displayed in some situations. Are Singaporeans really such timid and humble people? Not so.
Let me retell a story from Facebook. A Chinese uncle ordered a coffee in a halal coffee shop. Then, he opened a packet of non-halal food tapau from elsewhere and started eating. The staff told him that that is not allowed. No outside food, especially non-halal food.
Instead of apologizing and keeping his food, the uncle started shouting at the staff and kept saying: “ask your boss to see me.”
Demanding to see the boss is not unique to this uncle. A young man shopping in JB once approached the counter staff at a clothing store and angrily demanded to see the boss. Why? He alleged that there was a mistake in the billing. The supervisor checked the items in his bag against the receipt one by one and showed that there was no mistake. He just walked away in a huff without even apologising. The two women wondered aloud in Malay. Why was he so angry?
Nope, racial harmony is not cultivated by having kids dressed up in their “traditional costumes” and parading for ministers and other VIPs. The first thing we need to do is to send these adults for some reeducation – including those whose bright idea of a “racial harmony day” merely boosts the sales of “traditional costumes but does absolutely nothing for racial harmony in a real and practical sense. The next thing these folks need to learn is to respect others for who they are – not the number of stars they have on their shoulders, the zeros in their bank accounts, the degrees behind their names. While a certain degree of meritocracy does exist in Singapore, everyone is ranked by virtue of his academic qualifications, his wealth and his popularity in the case of social media stars. Organisations have budgets and KPIs and people working under them are need to be extremely focused and not let their minds stray into secondary concerns. The result is an exacting society that excludes the kind, gentle, loving, emotional and idealistic. A Malaysian politician who has been educated in Singapore often laments how arrogant, self-absorbed and mercenary the climate here is. And when we receive such criticisms, we hit back at their GDP, dysfunctional government and work ethics. Is this a sign of patriotism?
Unlike some folks who are optimistic about an opposition takeover and pessimistic about Singapore’s economic future without that happening, I believe this country will not be headed for economic ruin even under the leadership of the 4G ministers. Like Hong Kong, this place will continue to thrive macro-economically precisely because people are so mercenary, self absorbed and heartless. This group will always thrive as they are ready to bend as low as they need to earn their millions. They have no ideals, no principles and no empathy for those who pursue their passions, those who are encumbered by family circumstances, those who have fallen or those who been left behind. While my heart is sadly no longer here, I still love and remain faithful to the Singapore I once knew. Every National Day, I would take one step back to experience humanity in a form that is far less exacting, sophisticated and grasping.
Happy National Day! From the summit of Gunung Sindoro, Central Java, Indonesia.
© Chan Joon Yee