Warning: Brain’s tired from a lack of sleep and it’s late so this could be very incoherent. See, that was such a horrible sentence. Dear me.
It’s kind of funny, but I think God’s been growing a heart for Singapore in me over the last few years. Maybe being away this last year helped to accelerate that process.
I remember the speaker at our 2008 church camp, who is not a Singaporean, telling us about his wife’s involvement in LoveSingapore and me feeling something stirring in me. I’ve had the privilege of going for the National Day Parade the past two years and thoroughly enjoying myself (though feeling extremely and utterly exhausted after). I’m blessed to have family-friend connections to certain public figures, which means that I get to hear stories about them that show me they are humans, just like the rest of us, and pretty good ones too.
Somehow, I just feel a softening of heart towards this place I’ve been taught to call home for so long, and a much deeper sense of appreciation for it. This is home (truly). And that’s not just a name or a label based on ‘important’ determinants like the fact that my citizenship is here or my physical home is built here nor even that I’ve lived here most of my life. It’s no longer even just that the people I know and love are all here, though they are definitely a huge part of it. Perhaps you might write me off with a smirk as a successful product of the government’s countless NE campaigns, but I think it’s a God-thing more than anything else. I don’t really know what He plans to do with it, but for now, this is what I know: I am proud to call myself a Singaporean, and to call Singapore home.
I watched Fried Rice Paradise tonight, a local musical directed by Dick Lee, and I honestly enjoyed it.
You might say I have no real appreciation for art and don’t know good art from bad, therefore I find it all acceptable or even good — I will confess to appreciating Twilight and Justin Bieber — and that might be so, but I think it’s a lot harder to find something in which there is absolutely nothing of value than something in which there is. What makes art so special, I think, is the connection it has with its audience – a connection that is something different for everyone, and yet the same, somehow. A lot of that stems from the simple fact that we are all human and all share, at the very fundamental, the same experience and existence. And when you make any kind of art from that, it’s bound to connect somehow. Some more than most, yes, but I think it is very difficult for it to flop completely on its face.
As your typical kid with rockstar dreams, I’ve done my fair share of complaining about the “lack of opportunities” that exist in Singapore, and how hard it is to pursue something like music, or any form of the arts, here. I’m guilty of not giving local artist(e)s the support they need, thus perpetuating the problem of a lack of opportunities that I myself have griped about so often. I draw, along with so many others, the distinction between local art and foreign – a distinction made, tragically, not on geographical terms, but on a measure of quality. I have frowned upon and scorned fellow Singaporeans trying to speak like foreigners and failing miserably, hanging my head in shame.
There are many issues that could be – and should be – discussed (and in my rambling, I think I’ve touched on a little bit of a few things), but the biggest idea in my head tonight relates to the distinctive place we find ourselves in, as Singaporeans: in the middle of a cross between East and West.
I never quite understood that term, “East Meets West”, and maybe still don’t, but I think I’m understanding a little more. Growing up in the era that I did (and am), and I guess coming from the socioeconomic background that I do, my world has leaned much more to the West than the East. My ideas of what is good – be it art, social etiquette, mannerisms, speech, dressing, or whatever else – come from looking at the West. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A big part of the reason Singapore is the success that it is today is that we welcomed and embraced and learnt from ideas from the West. However, I do think that there is a danger of forgetting that we are not the West.
We must not, in our efforts to better ourselves, simply copy from another. We must not lose our identity in the process of trying to grow. In order to prevent that, we must know what we are trying to become, what we are trying to grow into, who we want to be. Do we want to be a replica of the West? In many ways, it seems as though that is what we are trying to be. I cannot claim to know anything about the government’s latest efforts to do so-and-so and blah-and-blah – I confess I do not read the papers. Ever. So I’m not going to be able to give you factual evidence of that sort here. But based on my own experiences with the people around me and looking at my own prejudices, it seems to me that in our minds, West is Best.
It isn’t as simple as copying what they do, though. Like I mentioned, there is a lot to be gained from learning to be like them. The danger comes when that’s all we want to be.
It seems we are, subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, embarrassed of the very things that make us so uniquely Singaporean. We half-jokingly, half-scornfully make comments about how local music “sounds like NDP songs”, and then express cautious approval for a local artiste’s new song that “sounds like it could be written by a foreigner”. I love American music. But who ever said that was the standard for good music? Or perhaps it would be better to say, for music that should be produced? I think there’s a reason that NDP songs are NDP songs and that they sound the way they do. If you wanted to, you could say – in a very clichéd way – that those are the songs of Singapore. That is the music we identify ourselves with. Talk to a fellow Singaporean anywhere in the world and mention “Home” and there will be something to talk about. Granted, that’s often seen as one of the ‘better’ songs, but mention any of the others, and it serves the same purpose.
There’s a very unique dynamic at work, I think. As it is now, the very things we complain about do serve to unite us as Singaporeans and, dare I say, as a nation. In complaining about the same things, we find a common bond. That’s funny because it shows that one of the defining characteristics of Singaporeans is that we like to complain. And that can be annoying sometimes, but a thought occurred to me once: I was talking to a friend about choosing a church to settle down with overseas, and he said that you must be willing to defend the practices of the church you choose. By defend, I don’t mean prove to be right or perfect, because no church or any organization is perfect. What I mean is, having acknowledged that it isn’t perfect, you ‘defend’ that imperfection by being able to say that its doing the best with what it has. Strengths are being maximized and weaknesses, while still weak, are given attention and not being ignored or left behind. While watching this year’s National Day Parade, I suddenly realised that I could appreciate the complaining nature of Singaporeans. That I could, and would, defend it (to an extent). This nation and its people aren’t perfect, and I know I’m not proud of everything, because those are the imperfections that exist, but there is a lot of good in it that I am proud of and that I do appreciate. And I will defend my country and its people, not with tanks and guns, but in representing it to people of other nations different from mine.
We must, when straddling the East and West, create an identity for ourselves that blends the two in a way that no one else has, can, or ever will. Fried Rice Paradise. It was very different from what you would expect if you went to a musical on Broadway or West End, but it was exactly what you should expect when going to a musical in Singapore. And that was what made it so great. It was, clichés again, uniquely Singaporean. Very comfortably and comfortingly so. You might compare it to the great musicals of the west and say it’s a joke. But we don’t need another Broadway. We need something to call our own. So we take the western tradition of musicals and fuse it with content and style that is undeniably Singaporean. Call it cheesy, call it dumb, call it hopeless. I thought it was brilliant.
(I apologise for the hopeless mess that this post is. I hope I have not misrepresented the thoughts I was trying to develop. It is very likely that I have. Oh dear. And all this from a soon-to-be writing tutor. Thank God for His grace. Haha!)