Friday, 17 January 2014

"Are you proud to be Singaporean?"

This post comes bit late to the party, I know, but I had this topic in mind even before K-pop Star Hunt 3 Finalist Stephanie Koh's video started going viral. You can watch her video here:

A week ago, an ex-Singaporean had asked me this question over dinner gathering in Melbourne. I responded, without a second's hesitation:


It was then I realised, this is really a tough question which deserves some thought and introspection. If your answer is "yes", what exactly are you proud of? If "no", why, and what would you be proud of?

Let's begin by breaking down the qualities of Singapore and Singaporeans into two categories - "Good" and "bad". This will be my opinions (or what I think the world thinks about SG), and yes there will be stereotypes. So if you don't fit that mould, good for you. If you take it personally, you can stop reading, or do some self-reflection and make the change. Or re-watch the last ten seconds of Steph's video, and take that to heart instead...

Finally, I will give some examples of things that I am proud of, and why.

Good things about Singapore

1. Singapore has an efficient government. However, I have noticed key exceptions, which I will elaborate on in the next section.

2. Singapore has high GDP. Whether everyone benefits from this or not, is highly-questionable. But a high score is what it is.

3. Singapore has a reputation for being safe. I'm not going to bring in figures or anything, and yes I acknowledge that the reputation is gradually becoming sullied after the recent spate of murders, Little India riots, PRCs coming here to burglarise houses. But most Singaporeans and almost any foreigner will tell you that Singapore is very safe indeed. So "safety" makes the list.
Let's attribute this spate to coincidence. Besides, crime stats are usually given by per 100k population, and we all know how much Singapore's population has grown in recent times. (more people = more murders, nothing to worry about)

4. Good Singaporean food. I have to qualify and emphasise again: Singaporean food. After coming to Melbourne, I realise what I was missing out in terms of the quality of the international cuisine over in SG. But I do love SG food, and the in two months that we've been in Melbourne, we have cooked chicken rice twice. There's no lack of quality Malaysian food (typically, close enough) here, though we didn't migrate only to fixate on the food that we used to get in SG.

5. Relatively free from natural disasters. As pointed out by K-Pop Star Hunt 3 Finalist Stephanie Koh in her video, this is entirely due to geographical location. Flooding caused by man-made reasons such as building too much and too fast, such that water can't soak into the ground naturally, insufficient drainage for the level of development, I can't say that that qualifies as a "natural disaster".

6. Singapore really spoon feeds its citizens, processes-wise. Welfare is practically non-existent, but boy, do you people there have very little to worry about (other than money - but refer to point #2 =D) as compared to a country like Australia. I've discussed and compared this in a previous post, for those who are interested.

7. Strong defence. Soon to be better than ever with the addition of F-35s to the mix.

The Formidable-class Stealth Frigate RSS-Tenacious. Yield to None!
8. It's not a boring place. Or so claim some of A's relatives in SG who think places like Australia are very boring, in comparison.

Bad things about Singapore (and this section is certainly nothing to be proud of)

1. Carrot and stick approach. "Fine" city. No chewing gum. To be fair, I think Singapore is unfairly-vilified for this by some quarters. Apparently in Australia one can get fined for leaving one's car windows open, if one is more than 3 meters away from his car. I find that a far stupider law than the chewing gum ban. Of course in less than two months in Oz, we have flouted this law countless times. Usually when doing things like this.

2. Creativity is stifled. Just look at what happened to Sticker Lady. Sure she eventually got off with a slap on the wrist. Sure, people can go against the system or even break the law like she did, to pursue their artistic passions. But the truth is people go the path of least resistance.

Here in Australia, there are TONS of graffiti. Now, I don't even like most of it, and I would not like ANY of it on my property - should we own property in future. But among the graffiti, there are gems. I'm not very artistic, so condemn me for poor taste if you wish, but I kinda like this one. I might not mind that on the wall of our place, come to think of it. Though one does not simply commission graffiti artists to do one's bidding, methinks.

I won't say Singapore should just legalise or encourage graffiti/vandalism. But it's the entire package, and the entire environment. If you still don't get it, I shan't waste any more of my time, and on on the next point...

3. Things in SG are bloody expensive, and the average salary has not increased to match. I don't think this needs much elaboration. I hear you guys had another fare hike yesterday right? Suck it up! Then again, I'm sure they will put the money to good use and improve on the reliability of the trains... =D

4. Narrowly-defined measures of success. Doctor, lawyer or banker. That's about it. I believe the shine of being an engineer has been abraded by the constant influx of cheap foreign "talents". I'm not sure how the dynamic will further evolve further down the road, but it's always been about the money and assets one has, in SG. It's not as if there's very much to do anyway, besides making and spending money. I know a few of you guys might define happiness or success by your relationships with others or investing in your kids holistic upbringing but trust me, I count very few among those that I know who subscribe to such thinking. 

5. The media is muzzled and misleads. I've elaborated here before, no point repeating myself.

6. Singapore IS boring. According to me, anyway.

7. Singapore is tiny, yet it takes a long time to get anywhere meaningful. Bad on two counts.

Good things about Singaporeans

1. We work among the longest hours in the world. Somebody has to pay, and contrary to what you might have thought, it won't be your employer.

2. We are mostly bilingual. Ok I can't say that with a straight face. But I know we are set up to be, and I think the education system does a fair job to that end.

3. We are efficient. Ok I've seen articles screaming the contrary, but I can go with the oft-held perception and count efficiency as a plus.

4. We suck it up at work. Yes, we take a lot more shit than employees in Western countries. I don't have figures, but anecdotes abound.

5. We are good at academic benchmarks. No ifs or buts.

6. Competitive. Aka kiasu. We want to win, and that can be good.

Bad things about Singaporeans (again, don't be offended if these don't apply to you. Not all the good things apply to everyone anyway)

1. We are kiasu. Not everything in life is a competition, but some of us just don't seem to get it.

2. We don't speak up enough where it counts. Complaining online no count hor. It's getting better for sure, but with the 60% mandate handed on a silver platter to the PAP, I'm not so sure you guys are moving quickly enough in the right direction.

3. We lack perspective. Yes, as Steph said, many of us are narrow-minded. And I think fair-minded readers can agree with me on this. But if you lack perspective, feel free to dismiss everything I have written, thereby proving my point.

4. We lack resilience. See point 6 under "good points about SG". There's the cause of this. Our forefathers were resilient, but many of us have lost it. Many people bitch about SG, but when it comes to the crunch, they do sod all for themselves. They don't even change jobs unless sibeh jialat already. Complaining is good enough.

Some with no jobs, rather remain jobless than doing "low-level" jobs. I hope grass tastes good to them.

5. We want to have our cake and eat it. Singaporeans want to migrate to Australia only if they can have a good job at their level. They want to have at least the same take-home pay as before, even though you saved a tonne on your house and car and medical and education are pretty much taken care of. You want, you want. But you don't want to yield an inch.

Stay in Singapore.

6. We are materialistic. We judge people by their possessions. What car they have. What house they have. Which suburb they stay in.

7. We are elitist. We judge people by who they know, what job they have, what schools they went to.

To be fair, all of the good and bad points are not exclusive to Singaporeans. So don't get me wrong.

What I am proud of, and why?

At the end of the day, not everything good about something, would make one proud of it. For example, I could not be "proud" to live in a country just because it has high GDP, especially if there is huge income inequality. If the country has high GDP and everyone is uplifted along with it and has a decent living, then yes, I could be proud to hail from such a country.

Conversely, just because there are bad points about something, one cannot be proud of it. As many people have commented online, they are proud of Singapore, but not the Government. And that is a view I highly-respect.

1. I am proud of the two ships where I held appointment. RSS Justice and RSS Tenacious. RSS Justice won best ship three years in a row. I was there for only half a year, and I don't claim any credit, but I am proud to have served by their side. Even just pulling my weight, or when I needed help, I had support. Those were the days.

On Tenacious, we didn't win any award during my stint. But we sailed for an exercise and conducted it well. There was no tangible reward, but a sense of satisfaction from a job well-done. The ship as a unit looked smart, and as on Justice, the team was motivated and united.

Those are things I was proud of, and am very happy to have been a part of.

2. I am proud to have hailed from Raffles ODAC. It was where A and I first met, but that is not why I am proud to be from there. I am proud to have grown and and learned alongside very talented fellow ODACians, and we did some pretty amazing things together in those two years, and in the years that followed after our graduation.

Practicing for the grand opening to Outdoor Week. A is seen abseiling. Picture taken at the old Raffles JC campus

What I am not proud of, and why?

1. I am not proud to have been in the Navy. Despite the fact that those who know me may have seen me in a Navy singlet about half the time, since we landed in Melbourne. Now, I am NOT ASHAMED to have been from the Navy. It's just something that I'm not proud of. Know the difference.

To me, the navy is just my employer. It's a small Navy, to be sure, but I don't feel a sense of belonging or camaraderie. I feel it at the ship-level, with my batch mates. But not organisation-wide.

The navy has achieved some commendable things. But I am turned off when shooting an abandoned skiff keeps getting played up like some achievement. Perhaps that one issue alone would prevent me from saying I am proud to be from the RSN.

A pirate skiff. Might not be The Pirate Skiff, but just to illustrate.
Anyway, the RSAF Super Puma from the task force was the piece of equipment doing the empty skiff-destroying. So if anything perhaps the Air Force could be the one tootling its horn for this "achievement"
2. I am not proud to be a Singaporean. Because the values that typical Singaporeans hold, or that Singapore seems to cherish, simply do not resonate with me. 

I am not usually ashamed to be Singaporean (just on occasions when fellow Sinkies sia suay the entire nation. Like Steven Lim or Ris Low. BOOMZ). But I can't say I am proud to be Singaporean.

I would be insulted to be thought of as "from China". But that's NOT the same as being proud to be from Singapore. I would feel more pride in being mistaken as a Malaysian, because Malaysian Chinese are usually at least tri-lingual and are a resilient bunch, having to face such discrimination in their home country. They are also far more innovative and willing to take risks.

I can't be proud to be Singaporean, because even there were a strong identity or qualities we could be proud of, it has been rapidly-eroded by the huge influx of foreigners. They have their good and bad points. But a Red passport presented on a silver platter does not make them Singaporean overnight. But still they are allowed to dilute what little Singapore had in the way of culture and identity.

I would be proud of Singapore, if it could be proud of itself. If it could cherish its past better, instead of destroying the past to build a new shopping mall or casino or whatever. Once upon a time, I could be. But it's too late.

I would be proud to be Australian one day. Call me lazy, but I like the lifestyle. I like the DIY culture. Most Singaporeans know squat about their cars. I'm still like that, but working to change it. When I was in SG I even had to personally teach two Singaporean guy friends how to change tires! What kind of guy doesn't know how to change a car tyre??? (a Singaporean guy) 

Most Singaporeans would rather die than spend a couple of days in the Australian bush. Maybe some really would die, I wouldn't know. But I would be proud to survive and enjoy such conditions, on my own.

That day will come. Because being Australian is far more than having the passport. It's a way of life.



  1. I suggested to my friends to learn how to change the engine oil & filter back in Singapore. All I received was dirty looks. Ironically, I was taught how to do it step by step by Micky, a Singaporean guy who came to Perth around the same time as me. It's not a trait, it's a mentality. I guess at the end of the day, birds of the same feathers flock together. Never mind what they say, just as they will not give a hoot what we say

  2. I don't know how to change a car tyre, but I can draw blood from your little finger if I needed to.

    I don't know how to change a car tyre, but I can find the G spot if I wanted to.

    I don't know how to change a car tyre, but I can deliver a baby if I am required to.

    I don't give a shit about cars, does that make me any less of a man?

    1. CK, if you don't drive outside of the city, ever, then that's fine.

      Because if you are stranded outback with a puncture and don't manage to figure how to change the tire, that might mean death. Or in the countryside, probably a long wait and some embarrassment when some kind soul stops to render assistance.

      Not being able to change tires as a DRIVER, is a bit like a parent not being able to change the diapers for their kid. Nothing "wrong" with either (for the former, in city conditions, at least, with Roadside Assist).

      Wait, I seem to remember you live in NZ, and you have no car? (apparently)

    2. Even from my experience in SG, tyre changing skill has been very useful. It saved me time and money on many occasions.

      To me, unless a motorist (guy or gal) is simply too weak to do it, or has disabilities, there is simply no reason he or she should not be able to change a tire.

      And no, disabilities or lack of physical strength don't necessarily make anyone less of a _____ (whatever). But I think there are some basic skillsets which are essential to driving. Parking, changing tires, pumping fuel, checking air pressure, checking engine oil level, topping up wiper fluids. All perfectly basic. If you can "deliver a baby", none of these will present the slightest challenge to you. But it's your right to not give a shit about cars. I respect that. :)

      Are you a nurse? You must be able to do all the basic nursing skills right? I hope you understand where I am coming from now.


    3. Hmm. So if one uses a computer then one must be able to program?

      Like I said, I don't give a shit about cars. They are just tools to get you from A to B. If the tool is fucked, get someone to repair it or buy a new one.

      So you know how to change a tyre. Well done. Come, I clap for you.

      I like the outback, but I'm not stupid enough to drive out to the outback when I don't know shit about cars. I go with someone who knows.

    4. If one uses a computer, one must know how to shut down, boot up, use files and folders, delete files..

      Changing a tire is nothing to clap about, any more than being able to wipe one's ass after a dump. But you should learn it anyway, it might save your bacon.

      Oh wait. You ARE Singaporean.One of the majority who lacks perspective. Silly me for wasting my time replying to a person like you!


    5. There is another reason: one is disinterested in learning how to change a tyre. No interest whatsoever. Nada. Zilch.

      I work as a nurse, I know all the basic nursing skills yes. But I don't work as a driver and I have no interest in cars. If I'm a pilot do I have to know how to service the plane engine too, or change the bloody tyres?

      I understand knowing how to change tyres could get you out of a fix, but it doesn't make one any more of a man. Or a woman, for that matter.

      You love tinkering with machines, good for you. Some of us just don't.

    6. I think you have shown us nothing, other than the size of the chip on your shoulder. You must have gotten some ribbing from your guy friends for your choice of profession. And I speculate matter-of-factly. Because I think nursing is a noble profession, all the more so for a man to go into it despite possibly drawing comments from narrow-minded guys

      I agree to disagree with you. It's not my loss that you don't have basic motoring skills. Likewise, it would not be your loss should I wilfully choose to never learn basic first aid skills, just because I have no interest.

      (actually I am trained in basic first aid, CPR and stuff. Useful skill. Just like changing a tire)

      I think I will blog about a list of basic skills every motorist needs to know. For safety, comfort and convenience. You may choose to ignore that post and every other post that has been published on NRSC if it pleases you.


    7. just ignore CK . I am appreciative of what you written extensively. . it helps many whom wish to or are venturing. take care.

  3. The only chip on my shoulder is that of being a stubborn bastard, a rebel. Just like refusing to learn how to drive manual cars. Just like refusing to hold a banquet when I got married.

    I don't get any ribbings, because all my guy friends knew I did it to migrate. The only thing I get from them are beggings - for the numbers and rosters of the various female nurses I work with.

    You are free to do what you like and what you want - for which I will never judge you as more or lesser of a man. That is perspective for you.


    1. Ic. I find your refusal to learn such skills very curious indeed. Manual car? Arguably a nice-to-have rather than a need. Most cars these days come in auto, or even auto-only. That's fine. I do know someone who told me he finds it "stupid" to learn manual but I think he's the stupid one. Not to say that it's the same as personally refusing to learn that.

      Tires? I shan't flog a dead horse here. Coincidentally, I just plugged my tire today, for the second time in three days. I don't even want to change to my spare tire if I can help it. But I did have to take it off, remove the screw, plug it, pump it, and put it back on. Yes I know that bored you.

      I'm someone who loves hands-on stuff and who loves to learn. So I guess I can never understand your mindset. I'm also sibeh suay, as I have had umpteenth punctures during my short 9-years of driving experience. So many that I decided to learn how to actually plug the puncture rather than just changing it. And we actually do go places with our car by ourselves. Or even if it's with friends, I wouldn't want to rely on the expertise of others.

      Necessity was the initial driver. Not so much that I love changing tires. ;)

      And btw, we didn't have a wedding banquet either. But it wasn't a refusal to hold one, though it could have been, had we been pushed.

      I say "chip on your shoulder", because of the almighty fuss you kicked up about that statement. Does it really matter that much to you what I think about guy drivers who can't change tires? I actually suan my friends to their face for not knowing, then I would teach them. But in the end, we had a laugh, and we sweated it out. No hard feelings, and the car is on its way.

      So, any comments about the main topic, then?


    2. You are sibeh suay with tires indeed!

      I love to learn - but only in things that interest me as you can tell by now! And I know I'll learn how to change tires in 5 mins flat, heck I know the general steps - jack the car up, remove bad tyre, put on new tyre, lower jack - but I just refuse to. But if a voluptuous Aussie lass volunteers to teach me then I might just say yes...

      You and I are more similar than you think.

      No it doesn't matter what you think of people who can't change tires. I read that when I was in a bad frame of mind and it triggered crazy rage shit in me.

      I used to be a proud Singaporean, but I'm not anymore. Which is why I left.

    3. CK. Glad to hear that. No worries bro.. I wish you luck with tires. Seriously. God knows *I* need a load more luck. And it rained as I was pumping up the tire after plugging. Go figure...

      And yes, when the time comes, for you to lose that hangup, it's not hard. Let's put it this way.. I figured out how on the roadside of Clementi Avenue 6 after a spectacular blowout, months after getting my license. Sink or swim... I've been 'swimming' since.

      I don't expect you or anyone to just go and do it for the sake of learning on perfectly good tires. Though those who are contemplating a long road trip and have never done it before could consider giving it a try.

      I'm sure Nix can arrange for the voluptuous Aussie lass bit. You never know.

      - S

    4. Ive never had a flat in 6 yrs if driving in singapore. Are there courses i can go for where i can learn how to do this? or should i just stab one of my good tires and figure it out in my multistory carpark one saturday when i have the time? I have weak girly hands that have never done harder work then replacing a light bulb. Should i wear gloves?

  4. Hi S, love your post and replies. ��

  5. Coming back to Steph's point why it is hard for people to go to alternative path, another Singaporean also choose to migrate to Australia as he shared a similar "fate" as Steph's case where every parent wanted their child to be "a doctor, lawyer or engineer" etc.

    The difference is how he responded back to the media and choose not to entangle a national identify vs the expectation of a nation...

    Here is the story from

    POINT COOK ( in Melbourne) resident and internationally renowned film score composer Chee Wei Tay has received another award to add to his growing collection.

    The Singapore-born film score composer flew back to Singapore this month to attend the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore Awards, where he received the “Wings of Excellence” Award for his work.

    The top award recognised Mr Tay’s achievement in producing outstanding music performance internationally.

    “It’s humbling,” Mr Tay said.

    Mr Tay has composed music for films and documentaries for many international channels including Discovery Chanel, National Geographic, Animal Plant and PBS.

    But his successful career almost never took-off.

    At 16 he applied to study music in California but his parents were against him pursuing music, preferring him to be a doctor instead.

    “I thought that was the end of it so I went to the army,” Mr Tay said.

    But it was only the beginning.

    During his army years Mr Tay was part of a music and drama company where he continued to engage in his love of music.

    After years of struggles and trying to find his niche he finally had his big break when a friend asked him to write music for a film.

    Although even then Mr Tay wasn’t convinced his career would kick off.

    “I thought it was going to be my last project,” he said. “I wrote the music for it, and started packing everything up.”

    “A few months later it won every major award in Singapore and production companies started calling me to write music for them.”

    Mr Tay has since also garnered many nominations and wins at international award ceremonies such as Cannes Film Festival, Seoul International Short Film Festival and Lyon Asian Film Festival.

  6. I used to be proud to be a Singaporean. But now, I think Malaysian Chinese have it better. As PR, they can purchase HDB flats and they to enjoy what Singaporean citizens get to enjoy yet they still can enjoy Malaysian citizenship benefits. I was wondering why many Malaysian Chinese PR do not want to be Singaporean citizens despite working in Singapore for the past 30 years. Now I think they are very smart. They get to retire comfortably in Malaysia yet Singapore is always increasing cost be it fare hike, electricity bills and many more. Singapore is just so expensive.

  7. "I could never understand ethnic or national pride. Because to me, pride should be reserved for something you achieve or attain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth. Being Irish isn't a skill, it’s a fucking genetic accident. You wouldn't say “I’m proud to be 5’11”. I’m proud to have a predisposition for colon cancer.” So why the fuck would you be proud to be Irish, or proud to be Italian, or American or anything?" - George Carlin

    1. That's an interesting perspective.

      But then again, if I were Jonah Falcon, I would be proud of it. Just saying :). Not that size is everything.


  8. I think there is one more thing that was missed under the "Bad things about Singapore" section:
    Many, if not most, Singaporeans are racist, even if covertly. Having been here in Oz a couple of years now, I feel totally justified in making this statement.
    Singapore pretends to be multi-racial, but hell of a lot of racism exists ... it's so ironic that many Singaporeans shun Australia, calling it a racist country. LOL!

    The point is elaborated in detail in Nix's blog:


  9. I would add the following negatives -

    Singaporeans don't do enough volunteering work.

    There is no peace in Singapore. Where can you hear silence? You also don't have your own "space" compared to other countries.

    Man-made disaster e.g. forest burning.

    Singapore infrastructure is not built for convenience. It is built to save costs primarily. Try taking public transport to the zoo...

    Singapore universities do not offer a wide range of courses or degree programs. I know there is Yale-NUS now but local universities?

    Weather sucks big time.

  10. You guys are all correct. Neither the good or bad list is exhaustive, and I should have made that clear. But those were just the examples off the top of my head.

    At the end of the day, it's the strong push/pull factor that draws one away from SG. And there are people here who aren't ever returning to SG, but still proud of the country they were born in. Whatever rocks your boat, either way, and unless one is condemning others for their own personal beliefs, I fully respect both perspectives.

    At the end of the day, to be "proud of something" or not, is a personal thing. It can't even be forced. So all of Steph Koh's detractors have simply missed the plot. They have no perspective, and are narrow-minded, thereby proving us exactly right.

    But for those who took the chance to proclaim that they are proud of SG, and why, without sliming others who don't think the same way... You guys have my respect, and I wish you well!


  11. I only feel proud to be Singaporean from late 80s to 90s, now I feel proud to be Australia PR and Australian 4 years later, used to be 2 years only, missed the boat regrettably.