So exciting to be young in Singapore

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 2, 2014

My father grew up in one room in a Chinatown shophouse with his parents and three older siblings.

He and my aunt shared their parents' bed. Later, he slept on a mat on the floor, like his older brothers.

I can barely imagine living like that, let alone that it was the norm just one generation ago. My brother and I have our own rooms in our family's five-room flat.

Our middle-income family does not own a car but all of us live comfortably and our parents saved enough to fund our university education.

Comparing the last 50 years to the next half century, it's undeniable that while the cost of living today may be higher, our standards of living are higher as well.

I can't help but be optimistic about the present when I look at Singapore's progress, by leaps and bounds, over the last half century.

I've also noticed that the national nostalgia for the past tends to romanticise it as a rosy, more carefree time. But older people with disabilities have told me that life "back then" was not easy. Ramps, lifts and other facilities for wheelchair users were few and far between.

Young people have not missed the boat of progress by being born too late, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong assured 1,200 university students at a forum last Tuesday.

At the same time, he acknowledged, the worries of today's youth are very real. A common one is that competition for jobs is intensifying as the number of graduates rises and Singapore's economic growth slows.

Many of my schoolmates have already applied to buy Build-To-Order flats with their other halves, long before they are even married. They've done their sums carefully, and say that it's better to apply earlier before prices of flats go up more.

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They're aware that salaries have not risen by as many times as the prices of cars and flats. These are harder to afford now, and loans take longer to repay.

Those who have planned even further ahead are aware that having children and retiring are more expensive now.

I don't expect to see the massive leaps in material wealth accumulation experienced by my parents' generation happening again.

But I live more comfortably than they did at my age.

And what I do have are more opportunities.

Neither of my grandmothers studied past Primary2. But I received scholarships for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, which enabled me to study abroad.

Almost all my friends who studied at local universities were able to study abroad as well, even for short stints. They saw how other education systems are run, and made friends from around the world.

I have friends who went on to study cool things like art history and marine biology, and do cool jobs like edit heritage-themed sketchbooks.

And I have the Internet.

Singapore is small and the world is vast but the Internet connects me to it.

There are free courses from acclaimed universities like Stanford online at Coursera, for anyone who is interested.

If I dream up a promising product I want to create, or an exciting project I want to carry out, I can conceivably turn to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, pitch my idea to complete strangers, who can fund me if they like it.

Government funding is also available to young people who want to start up their own small businesses and sell things they're passionate about, like coffee.

Aspiring authors, comics artists and film directors can also apply for National Arts Council grants to create their art.

Yes, we enjoyed simple pleasures in the past. But now we have the choice to enjoy others as well.

No one said it would be easy. But the future is alive with possibilities. This is a better, more vibrant and exciting Singapore in which to be young.

This article first appeared on Singapolitics.

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This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 2, 2014

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