Seafood tom yum pasta, chilli crab cheese fries, nasi lemak burger and salted egg sauce on anything and everything – if these make you salivate, you are not alone.
The rise of fusion restaurants in Singapore shows that Singaporeans can be adventurous and willing to experiment with new ideas when it comes to food.
If only we treat the Singaporean identity with the same enthusiasm.
For decades, we’ve questioned ourselves: ‘Why do we need one?’, as well as, ‘Do we even have one?’.
Around the world, Singapore and Singaporeans have often been referred to as ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘efficient’ and the ever popular tongue-in-cheek term, ‘a fine city’. Clearly, a lot of our traits are based on our nation’s achievements and how our government runs the country.
It is not necessarily a bad thing.
Just like how I love my mee soto in its authentic, unchanged form, I too, am proud of to be part of a country that is typically known for being clean, green, and well organized.
Even so, I couldn’t possibly eat the same old mee soto every day.
After a while, being known just for being systematic isn’t exactly a compliment, especially if people from countries like Bhutan and Japan are known for being happy, or polite. Somehow, highlighting Singapore’s economic achievements doesn’t feel quite as special as when other countries are being praised for their character and values.
Put in an F&B context, it’s akin to praising a restaurant’s profitability, without acknowledging the chefs or service staff that run the show.
So what is the Singaporean Identity?
When we travel overseas, we can immediately suss out a fellow Singaporean when we hear a ‘lah’, or a ‘lor’ or even an occasional ‘leh’. Alternatively, we can spot their FOMO attitudes from a ‘SALE’ sign away.
Kiasuism is an inherently Singaporean trait, whether we like it or not.
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It was brought about by our need to survive back when we just gained independence from Malaysia. As a small island country with no resources, Singapore had to be the best it could be to protect the needs of its people. When competitiveness is hammered into nation building like that, some undesirable values such as greed and materialism may have been ingrained into Singapore’s DNA in the process.
But that was then.
Now that we’re ranked first as the world’s most competitive economy, what does it take to change the recipe to make Singapore into a first-world country with a first-world people?
Can we redefine the Singaporean Identity?
I will always love the honest-to-goodness chicken rice, satay and laksa at my neighbourhood hawker centre.
Likewise, I will forever keep Singapore’s historical milestones at the back of my mind.
It has been a tumultuous year. We are more than halfway into a year that has seen the rise of a global pandemic that has infected tens of millions and killed more than half a million people worldwide. And we are not out of the woods yet. We are in the midst of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
However, with these great blows to our collective psyche, it is an opportune time to rethink what it means to be Singaporean.
If we can be receptive to exploring fusion food with its blend of local and foreign herbs and spices, certainly we can be attuned to adding other ingredients into our national identity.
Adding ‘Kindness’ into the mix
The rise of ground-up movements, Champions of Good, and the many kind acts we read about on social media tell us that Singaporeans are already dishing out kindness regularly. In 2018, Singapore even came in seventh in the World Giving Index, as one of the top 10 most generous countries.
I believe we are in fact a kind nation with kind people. And Covid-19 has shown that to be the case.
The Ministry Of Social And Family Development revealed that from January to May 2020, Singaporeans gave about $90 million to Community Chest, the Sayang Sayang Fund and through Giving.sg.
This amount seems even more staggering as it is equal to donations received in the whole of last year. Covid-19 may bring out the worst in some Singaporeans, but also the best, and most generous side of its citizens. And Singaporeans did not just give through their pockets.
More than 13,300 people also signed up to volunteer at Giving.sg during these five months, an 18 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. We’ve seen it firsthand during this pandemic especially, via support groups, charity concerts, and appreciation for our frontliners.
With a little more nudging, kindness – not kiasuism – can become a trait that Singaporeans can be recognized for across the world.
If all of us take pride and responsibility towards building a nation of kindness, we can certainly become better and greater versions of ourselves.
Yes, we are efficient, but we can also be kind. The two traits can still co-exist as harmoniously and deliciously as har jeong kai in a burger.
So why not try a new recipe?
This National Day, I challenge you to be greater and make ‘Kindness’ prevail as a Singaporean identity. That fusion of old and new identity can end up as a very tasty dish, very much like how I love salted egg yolk sauce for my pasta.