Apr 3, 2013

The Singapore I hope to know

I love Singapore. It's got its bad points, my biggest issue with it being the education system, but everyone knows it needs to change, and I hope change happens by the time my generation rises up to take the reins. But I generally love what I see about it.

But what I see is probably the glamorous side, the top few percent, the one that speaks of hope. The side I see is the one where 7 points for the O's is average, where university is a given, where people speak proper English even if they speak Chinese at home. I know of people who were bullied in secondary school - like, a grand total of three people - and a handful who smoke or engage in pre-marital sex, but only a tiny handful. I don't know more than three people who have ever scored below 2000 for the SATs. Crescent and ACJC sheltered me a lot, definitely - of the people I was relatively closer to, more people stayed in condos / landed properties than in HDBs (I stay in a HDB, okay?). Even in my neighbourhood primary school, I was blessed to have fantastic teachers, and I was in the second-best class, so my view of the students there probably isn't accurate either.

Well, I go to a church where JC isn't a very common route, and many come from somewhat broken families or families that aren't doing too well financially, but it's a church - the people are beautiful and the most loving. I definitely see the ignorance in Singaporeans - here I am, pretty ignorant myself - and close-mindedness, but I also see an evolving Singapore, one I'm growing to love, a more courteous and well-informed younger generation, one that knows what it doesn't like about Singapore and strives to change it. A generation with great work ethic and that puts effort and enthusiasm into their work - if they don't like it, they won't do it, anyway.

I don't see the side of Singapore that some others tell me about - people who aren't in university due to financial issues, bitches and teenagers who bully and are out to make their classmates feel like crap on a daily basis (and this is something I just can't wrap my head around), unimaginably selfish students. People who don't understand the concept of being polite in an email that's supposed to be formal. Lazy workers. Singaporeans whose standards of English are just...appalling. Like, I can't fathom why it's so bad. I mean, we've all had at least six years of formal education in the language; there's no reason to type a strain of English that I don't understand. I don't mean Singlish. I mean just terribly bad English, so bad I can't understand what they're trying to say.

It makes me worried and sad. Here I am; I see myself as the average Singaporean. But then I remember that my family owns two cars, that I get grades that people consider pretty good, that SMU Law and NUS double degrees were the safety nets I hoped I didn't have to consider, and then I realise I'm actually pretty much above average. And it makes me sad, because if I'm above average, what's everyone else?

I know I'm very sheltered, and I'm trying to do something about it. But I also know a few people who aren't close to anyone who lives in a flat, who don't know anyone from a neighbourhood school or who isn't in university, who don't know that there are actually needy people in Singapore, who take luxury brands to be the norm (and THAT'S why they feel they're broke).

Last year, when I stepped into my first tuition kid's flat, I was shocked at the fact that they didn't have a coffee table - it was just a sofa, and a TV. It was a very bare flat, and we had tuition in the kitchen, at what was probably their (very small) dinner table. When her mum saw my Longchamp bag (a present to my mum from my aunt; my family would never buy anything like that), she asked me how much it was and shrieked that she had never seen an authentic Longchamp bag before. And I was like huh? They're all over the place; look at the people walking down Orchard Road, look at the people in my school. And then I realised how deluded I was.

It's scary, isn't it? There was that newspaper article about the call for education reform, and a concern was raised about "more privileged" students not knowing anything about "less privileged" students. It's so, so real. My brother, in the Gifted Programme in Henry Park, thought $400 Lego toys were normal, and went for paintball/clubhouse birthday parties and houses with swimming pools and whatever you get when you encounter the really rich, all before he was fourteen. In fact, my mother was quite hesitant initially about putting him in the GEP, because she didn't want him to grow up thinking these things were normal - it seemed an absurd concern to me at first, but now when I look at his friends and my JC friends, I understand why. Sometimes I do a double-take when I'm on a study / dinner date with a friend and he/she suggests studying at Macs or eating at a foodcourt, or I suggest going somewhere not-too-cheap and they complain that it's too expensive (because I'm usually the one feeling the strain on my wallet), and then I hate how I've grown used to eating at pricier places when I'm with friends.

Anyway, I realise that Singapore is not at all like I think. It's very painful to realise that not everyone is nice and hardworking and considerate. Not everyone has a decent heart or a decent family income. Not everyone's good conversationally in English. Our society hasn't advanced as much as I thought. It's definitely advancing in politeness and social awareness, thank goodness, but maybe not as quickly as I thought.

After a while, it becomes very easy to see the ugly side of Singapore. It's very easy to turn from shock to despair. And then we look at other countries - beautiful places with good temperatures (Singapore's weather oh my goodness) and cheaper standards of living and less competitiveness and better education systems and nicer people. But I don't know. I can't bear to think about ever relocating permanently. I'd definitely like to live somewhere else for a while - right now, the outskirts of Oxford is a huge #1 on my small list - but when you see the problems of your home country, do you decide to call somewhere else 'more deserving' your home, or do you stay to try to rectify the issues? I'd like to see a better Singapore, the one I thought had already come - educated people who are interested in issues and who feel empowered to make a change; people who are generous and kind-hearted. I want, one day, to know that it's truly a reality, and not just a disillusioned perception of the country through a sheltered girl's eyes.

Sorry. This is probably a very incoherent post. I wasn't planning to blog today and I've got other things to do.

1 comment:

Ben Tang said...

Nice. This is certainly a step in the right direction for you and I'm glad tuition proved to be a window in to the lives of people who do not live amongst the circles of the rich. I am a tutor myself, and I have met those who are from humbler backgrounds. From your description of the lives of rich kids, it wasn't all that different in the past either. Back then, I heard some parents in private property would tell their kids to shun HDB dwelling kids.