“There was a time, when people said that Singapore won’t make it…”

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


Sometimes, I feel like I don’t understand my parents and my aunts generation. They’re far too absorbed in things like scrimping and saving. Not just money you know, even little things like hoarding freebies and (my greatest peeve) – saving plastic containers from the hawker centre. You know, they’re just generally just being frugal to a fault.

Just yesterday, I caught one of my aunties swiping little perfumed towels. “Aiyooo….don’t be so kiasu leh!” I would tell her.

In today’s context, it is not cool.

Once the washing machine broke down, my dad went berserk when I threw it away and got a new one. He insisted all I had to do was “change a little pipe and it will work just fine”.

And they’re obsessed with security when there’s no need to. My aunties padlock the gate even when they’re home. My dad still tells me not to walk around Geylang because gangsters there would beat people up.

I even remember during the 1991 General Elections, my grandmother didn’t want me to go out of the house for fear that people would riot, burn cars and attack people. “Boy, you better stay in…elections is very dangerous times” she said with stern eyes. I looked her, then looked out the window. Outside was a canary singing on the tree.

Today at lunch, I happened to speak with a friend, about this. She expressed the same observations: “When I told my grandma I was going jogging, she said I was siao and was wasting time and should do something productive!”

In these modern days, we take for granted things like ‘pursuing self actualisation’….to do something exceptional with our lives. We’ve gone beyond merely wanting to make a living, to realising an aspiration.

But with my dad and aunts, they used to live a life of poverty. By poverty I mean, they only ate a meal a day. Study by moonlight. They had to walk to school in shoes that had seen better days. My grandmother made very little money as a washerwoman to feed a family of 7. This was a very different Singapore they knew.

Back then, there was no “Singapore Conversations”. There was probably a “Singapore Directive”, and in this, one man’s promise was merely, “10 years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear.”

I told my aunts about the “Singapore Conversations”, all I got was a turn of the nose and a dismissive “aiyah, what conversation? just do your work and save money lah, no need to talk so much!”

I shared with her our aspirations of building a more caring Singapore. A Singapore that shares the dreams of hope, heart and home. I questioned her why our cleaners cannot stop working, even for a day? Why is it that we fight over petty things, like not giving way to each other on the roads or seats on the MRT? How do we instil pride, ownership, hope and unity as one people?

“You all crazy”, came the reply. “This country got so many problems – where got time to talk about pride and ownership? Bread and butter better come first”.

And then it dawned on me.

This was a generation that grew up in a very different Singapore. I, myself, grew up in a more developed Singapore. The 90s and Y2k generation ahead of me grew up in an even more dynamic Singapore – one where aspirations, ideals, ideology and dreams mean much much more than GDP.

To some people, the Conversations is “wayang”. But let’s not undermine it.

We are not telling the Government what they can do for us. This government may not be around in another few years, but Singaporeans will. And our documented conversations… be it for a kinder Singapore, a more effective Singapore or a happier Singapore, will stay with us far longer than the PAP or this Government can.

With new issues that are much more complex. New problems sting our citizens. Corporations threaten to relocate their businesses – we now hear again cynics saying that Singapore won’t make it.

And will we?


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