"Hey Harshika do you have some gum on you?” "Nah I don't chew gum" was my quick reply even without looking up. "Ah I forgot, you're a Singaporean". I looked up. I was taken aback, at how we all tend to generalise. But it could have played the other way too! I could have handed him the gum (if I had it) and what would his response be then? How was it that a small action was a representative to everything a nation stands for?
It got me thinking. Isn't it strange that most of what we do is an indication of sorts to where we come from? Is it something we consciously seek to do? Or is it “inbuilt” and part of the genetic makeup even? Like when my husband was fined very early on in our stint here for driving without a seat belt, his argument was a hilarious "No way! I do not drive without a seat belt, I’M A SINGAPOREAN!"
By that he meant he doesn't break the rules and follows the law - but he didn’t win the dispute, of course, and had to pay up the fine. To be fair, he is a safe driver - he is always belted and makes sure we all are too, never reckless in the road or switch lanes haphazardly, gives way to pedestrians at the zebra crossing. And strangely, none of our acquaintances could believe that HE was fined! It had to be a mistake. A Singaporean always adheres to the law!
My son, now eleven, was a year old when we moved countries. It is hard to believe, but he is a stickler for punctuality, he hates running late and doesn't shy away from reminding others that they have wasted his time. We often turn up before the hosts at birthday parties since the boy refuses to understand that not everything follows the "Singapore Standard Time". We are actually expected to be the first guests now. A Singaporean values time!
I am a writer (not a very eureka moment so moving on) and I was approached by a large digital platform to contribute content for their Singapore page. Their site targets women living at expat life outside of their home countries and is based out of Dubai. I jumped at the chance even though I had no clue how I would do that (shhh…don't tell them that) as I have not lived in the country for 10 years now! But damned if I was going to let an outsider give "insider tips" on my country!
Funnily enough they were of the same opinion! Nothing like a local speaking of their country. Every article had my "voice" (yes I did figure it out, I always do) echoing the same sentiment -"I Love Singapore and you would too". I was actually asked if I was being paid by the Singapore Tourism Board to say those things!
Our first “social” contact outside of Singapore was coincidentally one spearheaded by Mrs Nair, the wife of the then Consulate General of Singapore in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. What started as an idea of giving the overseas Singaporeans a “home away from home”, the Singapore Women’s Group (SWG) has grown over the years and organizes regular events which require community involvement and contribution both in terms of time and money.
It is very heartening to know that the organisers find us very dependable and are aware that we as a family are just a phone call away. Whether it is contributing prizes, volunteering time at the events, or just attending them, we have done it all. We were at a resort in Tenerife on Aug 9 last year, and all three of us made sure we were dressed in Red and White even if meant that we had to buy them from the overpriced boutiques there! We definitely looked like a true blue Singaporean family!
So listen. It's not all honky dory always, yes? On the contrary, we have our quirks, and we know it. We may joke about it, dislike it, but that's ok. No one is perfect. We can agree among ourselves or have a disagreement over it. But let an outsider, or someone who has no clue about Singapore say that - I hate Singapore!
I know what I did when it happened to me! I told them in no uncertain terms that they don't know Singapore, that the problem wasn't the country, but them. That there is no place on earth like Singapore!
The way I see it, like in a parent-child relationship, is that everything the parent does is reflected on the child and a child's behavior, temperament, nature and upbringing. "His parents have brought him up well", is something every parent wants to hear. The children are their "image" of sorts and they leave no stone unturned to make sure that nothing is amiss, that they are given the best, that they grow up to be upright individuals. The kids in return thrive to maintain that "image" (or so we hope).
It's not very different as a citizen of a country either, made more so when you live overseas. Your first introduction in a foreign land is where you come from. The impressions are formed on the basis of where you come from. Everything you do after that is a reflection of where you come from. Where you come from takes the forefront, and when that is not maintained, honored and respected, you tarnish the "image". Of your parents. Of your country.
Singapore has a "clean" image (pun intended) and has imparted the best values in her children. Her children follow the law. Her children value time. Her children are loyal. It is our moral responsibility to be the best reflection of Her and to uphold Her Image. We represent Singapore in a foreign land and hence we must represent the best of Singapore! Consider it to be a contribution of sorts, even a pledge of allegiance if you may. Not every contribution is measurable, nor is every allegiance attached with a monetary value. And not everyone is capable of that loyalty and commitment either.
So the question now I guess is – why do we do it? It’s simple really, each time we defend our country, we are “home”. Each time we look out for our country, we are “home”. Each time we represent our country, we are “home”. And we all know that Home is where the Heart is. So we do it for love, for the connection, for the reminder of home.
This story was originally published on the Overseas Singaporean Unit website.