Tuesday, August 10, 2004 ______________________________________________________________________________

National Identity 

In the spirit of National Day (and the topic that alot of the blogs that I frequent have touched on) I think I'm going to take this opportunity to write about myself as a Singaporean living overseas.

My parents were never proud to be Singaporean. This point is made ultra obvious by their move to Vancouver and their plans to apply for Canadian citizenship. Growing up, their reflections on "the little island set in the sea" were all pretty negative. Despite that (or perhaps due to a tendency for children to rebel) I'm really proud of being Singaporean. There isn't anyone here who's known me for more than five minutes that doesn't know where I'm from.

I'm proud that I'm billingual even though Chinese was never my strong point at school. (I can hear sniggers...alright alright...) I'll admit that I never put too much effort into studying my handbook-y thing (I don't even remember what it's called now) but I've always taken the time to learn about the more "heritage-y" things. You know, like those four-word phrases or the sayings with stories attached to them. I've looked up word origins tried my best to learn about Chinese mythology (despite my mother's exhortations that most of it was Satanic). Most of all, I thought it really important that I could speak Chinese well even though I probably could not write an essay about current affairs in Mandarin. I never did any of this obviously because I'll admit that to some degree in the circles that I moved in (and certainly in my family) it was a bit of twisted pride that my Chinese sucked. I suppose I owe this pride in my race and culture to a tutor that I had since I was 7. He was from Mainland China and even though he worked as a computer-something-something he could've passed as a scholar who studied Chinese heritage. He was the one that sparked my interest in the language and history even though he didn't inspire me to memorize example sentences.

The point I'm trying to make is that I think anyone who is proud to be monolingual can kiss my ass. A second language is an unbelievable asset, most of all a language that is understood by more than one in six citizens of the world. I acknowledge that my command of the English language is waaaay better than my command of Mandarin but that doesn't mean that I stop trying to improve it with every opportunity that I get. Right now in dealer school, I talk to the mainlanders (often translating the lectures for them during break time) and constantly ask them to help me improve my Chinese. If anyone asks (especially during a job interview) I speak Mandarin, Hokkien (or Fukien as it's better known here) and I can hold simple conversations in Malay. I can also swear proficiently in the above languages and then some others. Language is not the only thing that relates to national pride though.

When most people realise where I'm from, this is the most common question that I get, "Do you guys cane people for chewing gum there?" A close second would be, "Wow you don't even have an accent! Were you born here?" (No you fuck, weren't you listening? Why would I say that I'm from Singapore if I were born here? WE SPEAK ENGLISH IN SINGAPORE. IT IS TAUGHT IN OUR SCHOOLS. I WAS A DEBATER. WE DEBATED IN ENGLISH.) I feel that there is no way to answer these questions in the one or two sentences that they are expecting. For the most part, they aren't even listening to your response, they're really just waiting for their turn to talk. Due to the fact that there's no concise way to explain that caning is not barbaric, that only the sale of gum is illegal and that the world should be thanking us for having the balls to cane an American I fear that my short answers end up only turning Singapore into a quaint caricature. Then again, perhaps I'm fighting a losing battle anyway. The people here have such a small world view that all they are looking for from me is a stereotype that they can repeat to others when they reveal that they know someone from Singapore. (I guess from this paragraph it's evident that I'm not someone who can come to a point easily) My dilemma stems from my desire to represent Singapore for the amazing place that it is (without many of the social and economic problems that plague most of N. America) and the need for me to provide a quick answer to people's questions about Singapore.

The solution that is the most attractive to me is to pack a .38 (which, while banned in Singapore is perfectly legal here) and just put a slug into anyone that asks if Singapore holds public canings.

There isn't a place in the world without problems. Anyone moving out of Singapore for a "better life"? Hate to tell you this buddy, but you're just swapping your problems and from where I am right now, Singapore is a better place to be. This is a very salient point. I talk to many immigrants about why they moved here and what they think about it now that they've settled here. Almost all the immigrants I have spoken to are from developing countries with SOLs ranked lower than Canada. They all wanted to be here to up their standard of living. To look for opportunity that was otherwise absent in their countries of origin. Did any find what they were looking for? Perhaps two of them, although they've never said so. Half of all the immigrants that I've spoken to since I've landed have since gone home, preferring the problems they are familiar with to the ones in this foreign land.

I'm a Singaporean and I can't put it in a cute two-liner for you what that means to me. I can't even define it by the actions that I plan to take. All I know is that I'll talk about Singapore at every chance I get. I'll advertise the edge that my upbringing in that beautiful, clean, first-world nation has given me academically as well as in terms of discipline and respect. I'll shoot every person who asks me another stupid question about where I'm from (once this plan is feasible, that is) and yes. After all this is over, I'm coming home.

posted by Joie! at 8:04 p.m.


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