What's Stopping me from leaving Singapore?

I just returned from a trip to Australia and one question that kept popping up wherever I went was " Why don't you find a way to settle here ? Enroll in a university and see how things go from there ! ".  And my answer to this question was always a polite "Yea, maybe. We'll see".  This was my third trip to Australia and with each trip, I found myself falling more and more in love with the country.  But this trip was slightly different.  I came to a sudden realization that no matter how much I might be in love with Australia,  I could never call it home.

It wasn't that my feelings towards the down under had wavered but my feelings towards Singapore that had grown.  Let me stop you right there before you start thinking that this is going to be an article espousing the merits of our dear country and how we should all be appreciative of the life that we have here. To the contrary, actually.  In my younger days, I used to be so much in awe of these Western or European countries and dreamt of one day migrating there myself. I found myself imagining a life with a little cottage on the countryside and a Scarlett Johansson look-alike in my arms. I couldn't wait to grow up and get out of Singapore. Well, you may ask, what changed? Singapore, to a certain extent. But mostly, me. I finally understood the soul of the country. Why, no matter where I go, I will always come back to this place.  It wasn't that Singapore was flawless. It was that it finally dawned on me that if everyone just got up and left,  what happens to those who are left behind? Your parents, my parents, the elderly, the disabled, basically those who have no interest or means of getting out of the country . You might say that this country gave nothing to you. That might be the case. But it gave you a home, didn't it? A roof over your head.

So instead of talking about how Singapore's such a mess and trying to get out of here, why don't you stay and find a way to change it all? Change is possible but you need good men and women who are willing to try and effect that change. There's been a narrative propagated by the government and the mainstream press that all's fine and dandy. We know that's not true. But instead of complaining, let's look deep into this country's psyche and figure out how to make this right.

We all remember our Primary School days where we were forced to hold the hands of children from other races and we hardly batted an eyelid. We were all kids, weren't we? But, it was only when these kids went back home did they started seeing one another differently. I still remember the time a lower primary boy screamed "APPUNENEH!" in my face and ran away laughing. I also remember the time one of my close Chinese friends asked me why Indian people stank or when the canteen aunty refused to touch my hand to pass me change.

These are just isolated incidents but they left a deep impression on a young 10 year old boy. It wasn't just Chinese people saying things about us. My Indian peers had things to say about them too. It wasn't that these kids were born with these inherent stereotypes and biases. It was that their parents and by extension, the government, that instilled into them the fact that they were different from one another and that they shouldn't associate themselves as Singaporeans but as Chinese, Indian, Malay etc.  

All's not lost though. This year,  I, along with thousands of other '96 babies turn 21. We were lucky to have seen a Singapore at the cusp of transforming into the global metropolis that it is today. Hence, I can safely tell you that there has been a change in Singapore's soul over the past 10 years or so.

I recently went for a dialogue on diversity organized by Youth Corps Singapore and was  pleasantly surprised to see so many young people who  not only look past one another's differences but embrace them . I met an interracial Chinese-Malay couple very much in love but uncertain of their future together,  an atheist from a Muslim family trying to reconcile her identity with that of her parents' and a bisexual teenager, open about her sexuality and hopeful that one day, she too will find her place in society. Political correctness was thrown out of window as we explored everything that Singapore society has attempted to hide in its basement with people talking about openly their impressions of other races, how they viewed kids from broken families and their feelings towards homosexuality.  Might sound really depressing to you but at the end of the day, I returned home with  a renewed sense of hope for our country, having come to know that there are people out there who are not going to simply accept the status quo.

In terms of race and religion, Singaporeans need to move away from tolerance, go beyond acceptance and move towards embracing all our differences and seeing one another as fellow citizens. But let's be real, that's not going to happen anytime soon, especially with the current climate of fear and tension caused by religious extremists. I personally have noticed some older Singaporeans turning more hostile and suspicious of their Malay-Muslim counterparts and an invisible line has been drawn. There is an 'us vs them' mentality among many older Singaporeans today and we young people cannot let this mentality carry on.  

One way policymakers could put an end to this dangerous thinking is by abolishing the CMIO model. Many have proposed this in the past and I would like to add on that  even self-help groups catering to the various races has encouraged the creation of racial enclaves and contributed to such thinking. As Singapore society continue to evolve, it's time to see one another as Singaporeans truly regardless of race or religion  instead of drawing lines across our society.

You might say that people relate to someone from their own community better, which I can completely agree with. I enjoy the company of my Indian friends very much since we are able to speak the same language and share the same culture but I don't think that there is a need to distinguish ourselves from other races. There shouldn't be statistics published based  on the exam results of students along racial lines to compare which community has moved forward and which community has fallen back.  A community’s failure to move forward should not be one that it has to bear alone but should be borne by the nation as a whole. We are one people and one nation, so we should start acting like one instead of many.

Inherent  racism in our society is not the only issue that we keep hidden away .  I'd like to write more about the struggles that different communities of people , including the lower income group, small business owners, the disabled, and LGBTQ , face and hopefully look at some solutions to these issues.  But I won't be able to do it alone . Do comment and let me know your views, criticisms etc and what you'd like highlighted in future articles . If you're one of those people who feel overlooked in society, contact us and let us know. We'd love to talk to you and find out more. Speaking up is the first step to making a difference and creating a Singapore that we are all proud of.  Cheers!

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