My Thoughts And Motivations Behind The Post: Singapore, What Do You Want?

Empty Chairs
“A scene from Sunday afternoon as Singapore bands played to a small audience in gigs organised by the Youth Olympic Games”
Image credit: Leonard Soosay

When i wrote the post, Singapore, What Do You Want? I did not expect the minister himself to comment on it. I was coming home, taking the bus and checking my tweets out, and someone mentioned, “Look at the comments.” And for ten whole minutes, I was overwhelmed. This was going to be a lot bigger than I’d anticipated, and more will be stepping forward to share their views. I thought I’d be able to reply every single one of you who commented, but I can’t, or won’t. It’s almost 4AM, and my left arm is still in a cast, but I will share some top line thoughts and motivations to what drove me to write that particular post.

First of all, thank you for everyone who re-tweeted the message I wanted to share, for blogging about it and driving so many readers here (Mr Brown!). For everyone who liked a comment (ANY comment), and most definitely, everyone who left a comment. Whether you agree or not with my point of view, is not the point. I want to thank you for leaving a comment, and sharing your opinion, because it matters to someone. For those of you who encouraged me, thank you, I’ve been tired out from this because I’m not used to this sort of attention, but I’m learning to handle the pressure. You’re helping ALOT. And if my fuse was short on some, I apologise.

What it was not about
1. First of, it was not a blog post: extolling the MCYS, the ministers behind it; a political mouth piece with leanings to the current government in power nor about offering justification to why we should have held the Youth Olympics here; nor discuss what good or bad will come out of it.

2. Second, it was not meant to be a political piece, forcing people to take sides, that you are either for-or-against the Youth Olympic Games, and therein lied your political alignment.

What it IS about
1. It is an independent voice. It is meant to talk about human values and human spirit, despite our differences in opinion about the games. You as a reader can choose however you want to take my words, but I stand by the integrity of this blog, that it is a post meant to encourage everyday people like you and me, working & volunteering on the ground, and putting a spotlight on youth athletes who show us the values of human spirit; hard work; and how celebrations and disappointments are a natural course of life.

1. My main motivation for writing this post, is perhaps best embodied in my previous post, “The Case Of The Local Music Scene Vs. You, The Consumer” My main motivation was to encourage. I’ve been playing in Singapore indie bands for about ten years, never breaking the mainstream, or seeing so many of my friends hit a ceiling when it comes to how far we can take our music. I’m not pinning the blame on the consumer / audience, but we know what it’s like to struggle, and fight for a craft, and no one seems to care. You could say I empathised with the athletes, volunteers and workers, because I felt that they were in a similar situation (despite a multi-million dollar budget).

I could just not care, and continue being a trainer for 2 weeks, collect my pay and go home, carry on with my life and write in my blog about other things. But like my previous post, I realised that *while* it would be nice to change mindsets, that’s way too selfish and self-righteous.

What was within my capacity, as a normal person in living in Singapore, was to give encouragement to those who needed, wanted, or were looking for it. I’m not saying I’m a saint, but like some of us who give monetary donations to feed material needs of the less fortunate. Maybe I felt like I still had an exccess of soul and spirit to give, so I shared that, to anyone who needed or wanted it. And that was really it.

2. It’s not that I’m proud of Singapore as much as I’m proud of people in Singapore. Do not mistake this with nationalism, and please try to understand that I have been contributing art and culture to a place that can be seen as home. (My family + friends are here, I am investing my time here to contribute to a society.) But while others choose to see the bad and wonder why we’re stuck in Singapore, I know I’m not alone with people who see the good, that this is where we would like to see local arts & culture flourish, as much as our home as a whole. Almost like rooting for the underdog I guess.

Why did I feel that motivation was necessary?
1. I definitely made the mistake of grouping all negative sentiment into a category of “haters”, or people not proud of Singapore, prior to writing the “Singapore, What Do You Want?” But I would like to remind everyone, that this is very wrong thinking. I can be guilty of it when my emotions get the better of me.

But there are definitely some purely negative statements that get vocalised, and tear away at peoples’ souls. Ridicule for people who believe in something different from them, getting called names for the amusement of showing everyone how smart alecky one can be. I can appreciate satire, but I think we can draw a line when our words deride the integrity and character of someone we do not know. But again, this is a personal standard, how you use the Internet is entirely up to you. You will understand if I don’t listen to what you have to say if I cannot learn anything new.

But in the course of understanding the various grievances that we have, we should raise our voices if we do not agree with something. It is through public discourse that we can understand each other and work together for a better home for all of us. It doesn’t always have to be more money, welfare or convenience, it could also be more understanding and social graces with each other.

Thank you again, for reading. For leaving your comments, for sharing your experiences, thoughts, frustrations and hopes. I think Singapore is in an important transition, and I’m no expert policy maker, economist who can increase our GDP at the drop of a hat. But I, like others, can at least contribute to the culture of Singapore. Something I feel we’ve left behind in the name of progress. It may not mean much to some, but it means a lot to others. We’re not waiting for some great external act to galvanise the people, or have a sense of community. But I think we can start in our own little pockets on the ground, and slowly chip away at the unfinished identity of being a son or daughter of a place we would like to call home.

Culture, Opinion

Anywhere But Here

high street
Credit: Mr Low Kam Hoong

Tonight, a friend asked me if I knew that Singapore was going to be the place I ultimately settled down in. I honestly didn’t have much of an answer, perhaps because many of us still harbour dreams of carving our niche in a land of opportunity, good things and a bright future.

Noble aspirations I’d say, and nothing wrong with dreaming big if you have the means to make them a reality and it doesn’t get in the way of yourself being happy. For me, I suppose I felt like I was being asked, if I was settling for Singapore, when there is so much more to the world.

It’s true, the world is a fantastical place. So many different cultures to learn from, so many good things to taste and see. In Singapore, we merely get a fraction of what the world has to offer. Alfresco dining, a culture for freedom of expression, wide open spaces, oscar winning movies, fresh seafood.. etc.

But on the flipside, it’s always a double edged sword. Every other country also has their own fair share of problems. I read about the wonderful things in other parts of the world in my favourite magazine, Monocle, but when I read about my own home in Monocle, it all seems rather sugar coated. I believe it might be the same for another local of another country, when he or she reads about their own culture from a third party.

What I’m trying to say, and establish, is that while there are things that I wished were different here in Singapore, ultimately, I recognise that what I perceive of the grass being greener on the otherside, is equal parts lore, as well as reality. Objectively speaking, it might be possible to establish a system of weights to measure if one country is better than Singapore. But the equally emotional and romantic side, is that home is where your heart wants to be. I may be resigned to a land that will never appreciate a good brew from a friendly barista that isn’t from a coffee chain, but I still have my sock-pulled kopi from just about any hawker centre.

I’ve always said that Singapore is a young country, and the culture has not caught up with the more liberal thinking of a generation blessed with education, and the opportunity to experience more of the world than our parents. Thus, the only reason we can say something is better than what we have in Singapore, is simply because we were given the opportunity to taste it.

Now, complaint is just the first step to rectifying the problem. In our young culture, and my being a culture junkie, even though I may not reap the benefits in my lifetime, for each time I write an entry in here, or I get to play a gig with my bands, or simply attend another show organised by locals, or buy a locally produced product, or use a local service.. I add one more building block to the lore that shapes Singapore.

New York City didn’t become the greatest city in the world overnight. Paris did not become the most romantic city overnight. Singapore.. well.. haha, maybe Singapore became Disneyland with the death sentence overnight, but I’ve learned in my ten years of playing music in Singapore, that even if we don’t have a cultural export yet, it’s better to fight the good fight, uphill as it may be, than to give up the opportunity to shape Singapore for ourselves.

You can’t exactly put these things in a balance sheet and decide when it is you want to not call Singapore, a home. It’s called heart, and looking at the smaller things. The way the air moves, or even if the gardens are somewhat artificial, the families gather in the parks to fly their kites, eat Marigold ice cream sandwiched in wafers.. the little pockets of happiness that every culture has to offer, if you choose to look for it.

There is no right or wrong answer, and for now, Singapore as a country simply exists. The meaning we make of its existence lies in our hearts. Until the day it ceases to provide a roof over my head and people to love, meaning is found and made every other day.

So yeah, anywhere but here, the unfeeling void of synthetic happiness.