Thursday, July 3, 2008

On Patriotism

To those who love your country: How much of that love can you justify with logic?

For those of you who have grown up in Singapore in the 80s and 90s, you'd be familiar with the constant media bombardment of calls to love Singapore. National Day Parade on TV, newspaper features every now and then extolling the various things Singaporeans supposedly enjoy.

My first memory of patriotism was when I had to draw the Singaporean flag in kindergarten at age 5. And naturally, that was a graded assignment. For quite a while, I associated patriotism with the act of expressing how much you love the country. Colour within the lines on the national flag, and you're patriotic. Bonus patriotism if you get an A for it. The louder you sing the national anthem, the more patriotic you are.

When I was 12, I stopped singing the national anthem when they raised the flag every morning in school. Figured that it won't contribute one iota to the progress of Singapore or to the happiness of its people. C'mon it's just one silly song we're obliged to repeat ad nauseum! Surely there are more important patriotic things to do, such as keeping Singapore's coasts clean and donating to the poor? Or simply keeping the school canteen clean and therefore letting the Singaporeans in the school enjoy a cleaner environment.

When I was 13, I realised you'd be labelled a total prat if you're a fan of a band just because advertisements and radio chart shows tell you to do so. And why shouldn't one be labelled a prat if he loves Singapore without being able to justify it? Why should 'I love Singapore because I grew up with it and it brings back fond memories' sound any less batty than 'I love my rusty Sanyo microwave oven because I grew up with it and it brings back fond memories'?

When I was 15, I read the foreign news via the Internet and realised that the Singapore they speak of and the Singapore our local press speaks of are really quite different countries.

When I was 16, I mellowed out. And realised that Singapore's clean tap water, low poverty rates, manageable crime rates and decent healthcare are actually quite alright.

When I was 18, I had to pay penace for being a Singaporean. National Service.

When I was 20, I realised that if I were a British citizen, I'd be getting a better and cheaper education there, instead of what I'm getting in Singapore.

When I was 21, I did hospital attachments in school and realised that the sheltered bubble I've grown up in is totally different from the real, working-class Singapore. The phrase '8-5' is really a lie here. Property prices were skyrocketing and incomes static. I realised that a blue collar worker's paycheque doesn't even cover half the cost of renting a decent apartment for 2 people.

When I was 22, I visited Thailand and realised their sanitation, poverty, crime and healthcare aren't as bad as what our media makes it out to be. I visited Hong Kong and realised that even in densely populated places, public transport doesn't have to be slow, crowded and painful the way it is in Singapore. All it takes is proper town planning and funding.

When I was 23, I visited Melbourne and realised that I prefer the weather and the culture there.

And in my whole 2 decades and a third of life in Singapore, no one ever told me what patriotism should mean to me.


Anonymous said...


patriotism in my layman opinion is; you are a happy citizen, you have a happy family, you have happy friends, colleagues and neighbours, thus a happy country.

If you find them mostly unhappy and the unhappiness is due to policies, you help out in any way you can, including telling it straight into the faces of the policy makers.

In short, patriotism means one who wants his countrymen to be fairly treated and happy.

A long definition that may not neccessarily fit into traditonal meanings of the Word, but I try. Hope others will help.


Desmond said...

Good post. Totally agree with you. Esp. the way you realised that our main stream media seems to always put down the other countries, saying we are the best the cleanest. Anyone who has worked, travelled or lived overseas would know that things are never as bad as why our media says it is. Not the crime, not the pollution, not the traffic, not the public transport, etc.

Kaffein said...

I have migrated. What I had suggest to many Singaporeans is to stop seeing the world through the tainted glasses the media and government want you to look through.

See the world for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Singapore is a really fine (pun intended) city. But I do not see my next generation growing up in that kind of environment anymore.

Choose wisely. It still is not a bed of roses elsewhere, but you realise you have a choice in how you want your life to be. Back in Singapore, you don't have choices. It's rat-race, do what they tell you or fade away and die in the background.

Patriotism? I'm still figuring it out today. But I can summice like this to what runs through my mind:

A patriotic person is akin a solider in Iraq war. He gives of himself for the country, knowing the risks and glories, yet chooses to be a soldier because he believes in what the country (not the government) stood for. It is no loss that he sacrifices himself for the cause. He is not motivated by greed, nor by political means, nor by the media. He does what he chooses to. He has a choice.


kc said...

wow. i never expected so many readers to reply. thanks everyone!

i think what's particularly painful for me and many i know is to be brought up to love singapore

then, over the years, realising that the basis of our love for singapore was both blind and illogical.

betrayal is painful.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I have migrated as well.

My point of awakening that my love for Singapore was no more was when I returned to SAF as a SAF MO.

Firstly, Singapore changes all the time. Buildings are torn down every now and then. There are no natural landscapes (eg mountains) that Singapore has. Marina bay is man made. So is Sentosa.

So if you are away for a while, the Singapore you return to is something you cannot recognize anyway!

Lastly, I believe that people love to be loved. Singapore wants to be loved. But does Singapore love her people? The answer is a straight no in my eyes.

So rather than always be in a state of unrequited love, I'd rather break off this win-lose relationship.

PanzerGrenadier said...

Patrotism cannot pay the bills.

Enough said.

Anonymous said...

The emigration numbers of Singaporeans is withheld by the PAP govt. You have to start wondering why. I came across a report several years back that claimed Singapore has the highest emigration rate for developed countries.

Anonymous said...

im a medical student myself and yes, being a doctor in singapore sucks

low pay, lotsa public suspicion and foreign-docs-overdose

being a medical student in england, studying in cambridge only means 4kpounds a year

breaking your neck trying to get into nus medicine means 18ksgd a year

income is static for doctors, a gp in a government hospital earns less than a pharmacist

so far, the only people getting rich are those who inherited landed properties

no government is perfect, but somehow PAP is seemingly only concerned with protecting the rich..

fuck singapore, i'll migrate and do medicine elsewhere later in my life

kc said...

oh youre studying locally or overseas?

yeah the job prospects arent bright, but sadly its crap for all the fields that i had previously considered. especially doing engineering here (which i'm still pretty interested in actually)

looks like social mobility is dead and property is king once again

also i gotta clarify:

don't get me wrong - i don't _hate_ singapore. it's an excellent place for those whose needs and wants align with singapore. and that's why sizeable populations immigrate here

but it's just not the place for me

kwayteowman said...

What's patriotism? It's summed up in the words of JFK:

"Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country"

That's about it.

If it is indeed true that some of those who posted above indeed local medical students, then the quality of medical students that we have in Singapore is certainly wanting.

But does Singapore love her people? The answer is a straight no in my eyes.

What the heck is this doctor trying to say? What is Singapore? Is Singapore an entity capable of expressing love? Singapore is really the people and from the posts, it is clear that people are only interesting in getting rich and in what they can get for THEMSELVES. For such folks, discussions of patriotism are IRRELEVANT, so spare us your whines and try not to be too smart.

Kaffein is also spouting crap. Even in Singapore, there are always choices. It's a matter of whether people have the guts to make those choices.

And in my whole 2 decades and a third of life in Singapore, no one ever told me what patriotism should mean to me.

In any case, why are you waiting for people to tell you? Aren't you old enough to figure that out by yourself? Not enough spoonfeeding from the system already?

If you think that Singapore is not the place for you. Go. Don't expect people to be grateful to you for choosing to stay. The KTM won't. :-P

Anonymous said...

The KTM has spoken. Wah I didn't know KTM also read this blog! Haha.

Anyway KTM is right. Singapore is a country, it is not an entity that can express love.

Often people make this mistake and so did I.

Actually when I think about it again, if we consider Singapore as just a place. Then what's there to love?

But Singapore is also a country.

I think I dun have attachement to Singapore because I dun feel a part of the country. It's more like a company and if I contribute then I am told I can stay, if not then I should leave.

The KTM is also saying the same.

I agree also that the people are partly to blame (I am part of the people).

The government also plays a big role in all of this. I don't feel they listen to the people.

I was talking to a friend from Myanmar. So many people in Myanmar want to leave. Really SO MANY. But do they love Myanmar? They do. And those who left Myanmar say that should the military regime get overthrown they would return to Myanmar.

But when I ask myself whether I would return to Singapore if the government changed? I would say no.

Heck even if I was asked to run the country I also dowan.

SO truthfully I really don't want Singapore as a place as a country or anything.

So yes, that's why I left and won't be coming back. Not asking anyone to say that I should come back, or that others should leave or anything. Just sharing the choice I made.

kaffein said...

Thank you KTM.

"Kaffein is also spouting crap. Even in Singapore, there are always choices. It's a matter of whether people have the guts to make those choices. "

... and go to jail.

Sure go ahead, make my day. Just carry a sign-board that says, "GST sucks!"

Sure you can make choices. Unless you get a 'jail-free' card, it's a direct 'do not pass GO, do not collect $200, go straight to jail'.