Singapore: City or State?

There was a time, when people said that Singapore won't make it…

The Editor has found this piece of writing floating on Facebook – it fits beautifully with this week’s theme, have a read:

I think all Singaporeans recognize that we are a city state. So no need to be-labour the point, really. But planners must remember that the state part far outweighs the city bit. For people who work in New York, they can choose to go to another city within their country if they want to. We can’t. Even if you were born in New York… and you felt you must leave and settle in another city within your national borders, it is never as daunting as for us: having to leave Singapore to live in another country.

Our planners have obviously placed economic growth over the importance of social and personal happiness. They say, “let us grow the pie, then we see how to cut it up and make people happy”. This has been the pragmatic approach our Government has always taken and with strong success to show.

So all’s well and good, right?


Numbers are a terrible measure of emotions. Whilst mathematically doable, it may not be individually comfortable. Is science more important than arts all the time? Even if we can pack in as many people per square km as Hong Kong, does that mean we have to do that, just to compete? Could you imagine if the old world used this model of management? We would never have the wonderful literature and art that many of us still appreciate today! Whatever happened to taking a slow walk in the short hours of dusk to arouse our muses? Whatever happened to singing your way home, at the close of the day? Could the planners perhaps not look at what is a comfortable population size and design the economy around this population demographic? Cut the cloth to suit the person, certainly?

Society ages – as certain as death and taxes. Granted, we have not enough children to look after the bulging elderly group. But this surely is not a uniquely Singaporean problem? Rather than look at bringing more people in to share the burden (and that’s assuming they are willing to take up the burden in the first place) why not turn the problem on its head and ask if we can have our society develop the right ethos to look after every elderly as if our own. And every child too, as the Chinese saying goes: 老吾老以及人之老,幼吾幼以及人之幼. That might perhaps be the eluding panacea to getting Singaporeans to marry and have children. Even if that doesn’t happen, we will end up a kinder, gentler society, a place we love for our children to grow up in, and where other societies seek to emulate.

I’d like to end with, what I feel is a personal sense of loss. Singapore’s pragmatism has seen many of us lose our childhood memories. The familiar neighborhood, our schools, die die must go primary school excursion sites like the Van Cleef Aquarium, National Theatre – places we used to hang out at when we were young like the old National Library, and many other places that were so meaningful to us when we were growing up (there was a building with a huge Coca-cola sign painted on near the bus stop where I took a bus to school everyday – everyone seemed to know that building); these have all disappeared for that ever important road expansion, or the ubiquitous condominium, or the “only open when there is critical mass” MRT station

The new immigrants we bring in care little for this common part of our history that saw us through the 70s and 80s, when my generation was growing up. I am sure the sentiment is the same, whichever generation you belong to. But yet, these are the important things that shape us as a society. This is us and we do not need a campaign to define it, for we wrote that chapter together.

Perhaps now is the right time for us to redefine the values that our beloved country should embody. For ourselves and for our children.

In Officer Cadet School, we sing when we march from point to point. One song, in particular, rings so often in my head. “Have you ever wondered? Why we must serve? Because we love our land, we want it to be free, to be free!”

I love my country and I hope that when our children grow up, they will continue to cherish this land.

Cherish this very land we have served to protect.. for each of us can then truly, be free.


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