Singaporeans are a funny lot. Possibly because of our cultural values and traditions, we’re a mixed bag of contradictions. We’re humble, yet competitive. We’re kind, but we’re wary of strangers. We pursue luxury, but we work too hard to give ourselves time to really enjoy it.
As a result, we come across as aloof. We do what we have to do and then we retreat within ourselves. Random acts of kindness are more exception than norm because we’re too shy or wary to interact with other people.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t feel any connection with our fellow countrymen. We’re just a culture of people who don’t often say or show what we feel. It takes certain special occasions to have this bond manifest itself.
One of these occasions is when we’re overseas and we miss our homeland. We might chance upon the familiar cacaphony of the Singaporean accent and suddenly feel delighted for the chance to demonstrate our bond with the source of the voices, even if we’ve never met them before.
Once, I was in Hong Kong with my friend, Elyxia. We were making our way through a busy market chatting animatedly when, suddenly, a voice came behind us, “Excuse me, are you Singaporeans?”
He was a smiling guy dressed in smart clothes. He introduced himself and told us he was a Singaporean working in Hong Kong and couldn’t help recognising our accent. We stood there and chatted for five minutes, thrilled by the chance encounter.
You’d hardly catch us in Singapore stopping strangers in the streets to chat for no reason.
Recently, when I was in England for a long holiday, a Singaporean blog reader studying in London contacted me and said she’d love to meet me. We’d never had any contact prior to this.
We got along immediately, as if we’d known each other for ages.
We ended up meeting twice within a week, spending two whole days together, even though we were staying almost three hours apart from each other.
In Singapore, we wouldn’t travel three hours to meet up with a fellow Singaporean, assuming Singapore’s big enough to require three hours to travel anywhere.
It must be the Singapore spirit, that invisible cord that binds us together, manifesting when we least expect it.
PM Lee noted last year during the National Day Rally that the Singapore spirit is about “shared loyalty and commitment to Singapore; shared responsibility for one another and pride in what Singapore has built together; as well as shared memories, dreams and aspirations”.
I think it’s really true. We might be outwardly aloof, or we might have petty quarrels, but we really love our fellow countrymen deep down inside.
National Day is another time that this kinship we share reveals itself in full glory under a fireworks-lit sky during the birthday celebrations of our nation. Especially at the National Day Parade, you can see faces well up with pride and belonging when the National Anthem is being sung.
Actually, now that National Day is nearing, it’s a good time for us to reflect on how every individual Singaporean, since independence day in 1965, has worked and fought hard to help make what Singapore is today.
In the game, you’re given an island to populate with people and improve with infrastructure and decorations. It’s not a challenging game or anything, but it kind of makes me feel nostalgic about a past which I never knew — the beginnings of Singapore.
You start off building attap houses and farms and puppet shows, which is so retro it’s cool. And while doing that, you kind of gain an insight into the kind of tribulations, as well as joys, our forefathers must have experienced building a new city from scratch.
No matter that they all came from different parts of the world, the shared challenge must have helped forge a national identity.
I like to think that our country’s origins and multicultural background make us a very unique people, and that’s something we can take pride in. Despite all the times people annoy me (like kiasu people in MRTs) I know I do love my fellow Singaporeans and will always be proud to belong to Singapore.
“Singapore is a young nation, but it distinguishes itself by its people, who are forward looking and idealistic as well as dare to transform themselves and the city repeatedly,” PM Lee had said.
Indeed, the people are the Singapore spirit. Our common goals bind us together and help us identify with each other.
And that’s why we can always recognise a Singaporean abroad.
Okay, the accent helps very much.
But that’s what makes us so very special!