Unpacking the “one” Singapore

Throughout the month of August the children beamed down on us from their perch on lamp-posts. “Happy 49th Birthday, Singapore!” the banner said against a backdrop of red and white. A sweet message from the children. The happy, friendly, politically-correct-and-racially-representative children. 

Hey, this is Singapore, and we all live in racial harmony, right?

If only it were that simple. Racial harmony – a true harmony that goes deeper than just the lack of fights and riots – is more than billboards and posters of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) children. It is more than swapping national costumes one day of every year. It is more than a Chinese Singaporean eating roti prata and knowing how to sing Chan Mali Chan. And it is way, way beyond holding the same red passport.

Yet we’re taught that it is that simple. “Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-religious country,” I remember reading in my primary school Social Studies textbooks. “We live in racial harmony.” Cue photos of a Christian church (Eurasian), Buddhist temple (Chinese), Hindu temple (Indian) and mosque (Malay).

Through such a simplistic narrative we have spent years weaving a lie for ourselves. A lie that fills us with a mixed sense of relief, pride and accomplishment every time we see a news story about sectarian violence or racial riots happening somewhere in the world. “Thank goodness Singapore doesn’t have that problem!” we say. 

We may not have that problem – the problem that keeps parents awake at night worrying about the safety of their children simply because of the colour of their skin – but we’ve definitely got problems. Problems that desperately need to be discussed, if only we’d stop and open our eyes to them.

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A Scottish #indyref journey through Singaporean eyes

I don’t remember what first got me to look up online chatter on the Scottish independence referendum. Perhaps it was because my Welsh-Scottish then-fiancé (now husband) and I were moving up to Scotland, and I felt I needed to know something about the country apart from a quick Danny Bhoy guide. Perhaps it was because, as journalists, we both knew it was major news and I was still hoping for a job (this was before my healthy optimism about the UK media, at a time of major cost-cutting, was ruthlessly crushed). But I remember sitting in that cluttered postgrad dorm room in Cardiff, Googling the independence referendum while Calum was out.

I did not find the Braveheart nationalism that we had both assumed would be at the heart of the pro-independence campaign. I did not find Yes campaigners painting their faces with blue woad and promising that Bannockburn would come again.

What I did find was a Bella Caledonia article on the potential of #indyref and how it has allowed Scots to really think about the sort of country they want to live in.

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Of internal conflict on National Day

The flags have been meticulously hung out by the town council; there are no faded, upside-down or mirror-image flags in sight. People have flags on the side mirrors of their cars, and everyone’s sending out “Happy Birthday, Singapore!” tweets. Even the sushi store by my local Cold Storage is having a National Day sushi set.

Some years I’ll participate, letting myself get swept up in the festive feeling. Or I might complain about the quality of the song (okay, I have done this fairly often). Sometimes I find myself getting teary during the fireworks, while other times I feel little more than a vague discomfort. My feelings about National Day have not remained constant. As I get older I find myself feeling more and more conflicted, unsure how to feel, how to react, what to say.

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