Last year, when we celebrated National Day at the Padang, most of us certainly did not expect that it would be the last time we could gather to sing the well-loved National Day songs and watch big displays of fireworks for a while.
Covid-19 has rained on our parade, so to speak, and the pandemic has cast a gloom over our lives. Not being able to meet with friends and family, the loss of jobs and the recession has definitely put a damper on Singapore’s 55th birthday.
However, National Day is also a time where we look back on our past adversities (1969 racial riots), celebrate our accomplishments (advanced defence technology), and look forward to a better and brighter future.
I met ten Singaporeans while shooting for The Pride’s National Day video. We wanted to ask them what they thought about the Singapore dream, and their answers were both charming and insightful. However, we had to leave some of their additional perspectives on the cutting floor because we just couldn’t fit it into a 7-minute video!
Here are five additional takeaways that left a lasting impression on me:
She wants to help Singaporeans survive cancer
Faith Ang, 15, hopes to be an oncologist in the future. While she remains realistic and does not aim to find a cure for cancer, she wants to relieve the pain of those who are suffering and help them find joy even in sickness.
“I had a relative who had cancer and just passed on recently. After seeing her suffer so much, I realised that maybe I can do something for these people out there. Helping people is something that I quite enjoy and that was more of the turning point for me,” says Faith.
In Singapore, one in every 4 to 5 people in Singapore may develop cancer in their lifetime, and the number of people living with the dreaded disease will continue to increase.
Many of us would know of someone who has or had cancer. My mother-in-law passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2016 and my own mother also recently underwent an operation to remove a tumour in her breast.
Research has shown that inherited genetic mutations play a major role in about 5% to 10% of all cancers. As a mother, I too worry about whether I or my daughters would be at risk. That is why I’m glad that younger Singaporeans like Faith are stepping forward.
Singapore has invested heavily in biochemical research. This has led to the establishment of numerous world-class research institutes like Biopolis in Buona Vista, research centres at the institutes of higher learning as well as the formation of academic medical centres such as the National University Health System (NUHS) and SingHealth.
Along with transformational technologies that have helped Singapore weather the Covid-19 pandemic, we can be proud that we truly have a world-class healthcare system.
He wants to improve racial equality
Anba Uthayakumar, 25, enjoys the kampung spirit in his neighbourhood. For example, Anba tells us that when they found out that he was working from home, his neighbours cooked him an extra portion of lontong and in return he gave them some of his homemade ladoos.
When asked what is great about Singaporeans, Anba says, “We still hold the kampung spirit. For example, when you go to the hawker centre, the aunty gives you an extra wanton. Or they ask you, ‘how are you, sayang?’.”
However, Anba still acknowledges that racial equality in Singapore could be improved.
“Most of us generally are tolerant of each other because that’s the environment we grew up in from primary school to tertiary and future education. But there are pockets of people in Singapore who do not understand racial equality. So they come off too defensive.” he says.
Singaporeans do talk about race more frequently now, especially on social media, where netizens are often quick to air grievances and debate over racial remarks, intentional and unintentional.
Online and in the mainstream media too, the once-sensitive subject is being explored in a thoughtful way. In 2019, CNA released the “Regardless Of…” series where host Janil Puthucheary explored potentially divisive fault lines in Singapore, covering issues such as race, religion and class.
A 2018 survey by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg found that more Singaporeans now have close friends of another race compared with five years ago, and are also more trusting of those from different races or religions.
I am hopeful that if minorities are more open to graciously educating others who do not understand their struggles, and for those in the majority to also accept it when they are corrected, then we have a chance of cancelling “cancel culture” – which in Singapore, seems to stem mostly from racial tensions and disagreements.
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He wants to stop bullying in schools
Andik Imran, 35, is a father to two young daughters.
Asked about his most pressing concern, the real-estate agent replies: “We should be concerned about bullying – whether online or offline. To me, bullying looks like the majority ganging up against the minority – not necessarily only about race. In Singapore, we can see a lot of online and offline bullying, which is a bit scary, especially as a father.”
In a triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2018, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), more than one in four 15-year-old students in Singapore reported being bullied in school a few times a month.
Among the different types of bullying, including verbal, physical and relational, more students experienced being verbally abused and made fun of.
Recently, a new global study of 30 countries also warned of a “cyber pandemic” among children aged eight to 12 years, with four in 10 Singaporean kids in this age bracket at risk of being cyberbullied.
I, too, have also been a victim of bullying. Back in primary school, my friends and I were bullied by bigger kids for no apparent reason. Till now, 21 years later, I still vividly remember the day I saw my tears splash on my white school shoes when we were cornered by those bullies under the school’s stairwell.
I came out of that episode unscathed. But there are many others who did not.
As parents, we play a part in teaching our child good communication and social skills at home. Intervene when bullying happens among siblings. We can also choose to speak to family members with respect so that we do not unintentionally instil aggressive behaviour in our children, making them bullies at school.
Speaking to Andik on this, he defines success as being good to others and having a family that is well taken care of. He says: “The values I would wish to impart to my children is to be kind to the marginalised people, especially the poor, and also to animals.”.
She wants Singaporeans to put less pressure on our children
Serene Tham, 45, is a financial consultant and a mum to a 12-year-old. She often tries to share with friends the benefits of raising children in an environment where both study and play coexist.
“Studies are important, but what comes first is being alive,” says Serene.
As such, she encourages her daughter to enjoy the “softer” subjects such as art, dance and singing.
In a Straits Times forum letter, Dr Leong Choon Kit wrote that many “softer” subjects such as the arts, music, dance and sports have taken a back seat in Singapore’s education system as few parents care about these subjects.
“Neglecting these can be detrimental to students as well as society. These soft subjects help the individual to relax and destress. They also develop the mindset, attitude, teamwork, leadership, emotional quotient and resilience of the child.
“Often, they will also spur the student to think out of the box to solve problems. Besides, songwriting, drawing, designing clothes and choreographing a new dance will stimulate a child’s imagination to create and innovate,” Dr Leong wrote.
In secondary school, I was in the top class in my express stream taking triple sciences and two mathematics subjects. I was never the top student but performed well.
Yet the path I have taken never saw me apply the knowledge I learnt in secondary school to my life. What helped me though, was the HTML and design skills I taught myself to modify the look of my Neopets page when I was twelve.
Those softer skills helped me earn my own pocket money during my polytechnic days when my father was not able to work anymore. I count myself lucky that I found my passion in web and graphic design, so it did not feel too stressful when juggling freelance work with school.
Sharing this with Serene, she says: “We can take a step back on pushing our kids on studying. I find that, especially when you’re in one of those branded schools, the pressure is very high and very real for our kids to perform. Sometimes parents forget – whatever they can’t achieve, they try to push it onto their children to achieve. If there’s one thing I think Singapore can improve on, it is the system where it allows our children to develop at a better pace than forcing them to be so streamlined.
“If I could take away PSLE, that would be ideal,” she chuckles.
He wants to retire with a purpose
Terence Teo, 55, is a fund manager and a volunteer counsellor. Born in 1965, Terence is as old as Singapore.
Although Terence is approaching retirement, he does not dream of travelling the world or relaxing with his family at home.
“I think people my age who are ready for retirement are looking for purpose for what we can do beyond our day job. We are looking to see how we can add value to society going forward.
“My vocation requires my hours to be more intense. I would like to take things a little slower, perhaps engage in my hobbies. I don’t think I can fully retire. I still have to do something – be it volunteer work or finding more meaningful work like adding value to other people,” he says.
This is a stark contrast to what Terence had in mind while he was growing up.
“Back then, my generation was more concerned with finding a job that pays well. I think that defined a lot of my own peers. We will be chasing after things that have good financial reward.
“I believe now my values are more about finding purpose. Financial needs are definitely important still, but I think we need to find purpose for our lives. I think people are important. We need to be able to show more empathy, compassion and help one another. That’s what purpose may be all about,” he adds.
The elderly in Singapore are facing more loneliness and social isolation. This could be due to health reasons or living apart from their family.
Singapore is the world’s second-fastest ageing society after South Korea, according to the United Nations. On top of that, the number of suicides by those aged 60 and above hit an alarming high of 129 in 2017, according to the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS).
To tackle this, there are various initiatives to encourage seniors to find purpose beyond retirement. This includes an allotment garden scheme – where people can farm on shared plots of land in their neighbourhood – and community befriending programmes.
As Singapore progresses, we must not forget the ones that helped us in this journey. It is heartening to know that the Government has pledged to care for our seniors by investing an additional $14.1 billion to give the Pioneer and Merdeka generations greater peace of mind for their healthcare needs.
Terence tells The Pride: “I would rather we emphasise purpose instead of looking at success as a KPI. I would regard adding value to society in the form of a service or product as having success. If we have this mindset in the long-run, I think success will come naturally.
“My generation has benefited from the people that came before us. We need to give back to society in a different way. I hope we can play a part in this area,” he says.
What is the Singaporean dream?
We ask Singaporeans – born in different decades from 1965 to 2015 – what the Singapore Dream means to them.
Posted by Singapore Kindness Movement on Thursday, August 6, 2020
The typical Singaporean dream would be to get a university degree, have a successful career, get married, buy a house and start a family. However, in this pandemic, many of those dreams have had to be put on hold. The silver lining to this is that many Singaporeans are now re-evaluating their priorities, taking effort to treasure more family time and make life more purposeful through helping others.
Speaking to these individuals made me realise that, apart from chasing material success, Singaporeans also want to be better and greater versions of themselves through the intangibles – finding contentment, kindness and purpose.
As we celebrate Singapore’s 55th birthday, it’s normal to look onwards to our future. But I believe to truly embody the Singapore dream, we shouldn’t just look onwards, but inwards as well.
The Pride wishes all Singaporeans a Happy National Day!