What it means to be Singaporean. ?
written: 6:31 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

First, this entry might come across as slightly elitist, for which I offer my most sincere apologies. In my defence...well, I don't have much of one, except I can't help it, and it's more a reflection on myself than my fellow school mates. If that helps.

So I attended my first non-law lecture ever, Nation Building. After 40 minutes of purely administrative matters, the lecture properly started, and by the end of it, I simultaneously felt like I'd entered some strange twilight zone and, for once, felt genuinely appreciative of law school. To take it even further, I was glad I chose law over FASS those, what, four years ago.

The lecture wasn't lousy. The lecturer spoke decent English, expressed himself clearly, and didn't put me to sleep. I even took down notes rather diligently for the first half of the lecture.

What made me stop, and what led to my reaction as described in the preceding paragraph, was the sickening patriotism on display when he got to the "success stories [of nation-building]" part of the lecture. I genuinely did not expect Singapore to be cited as a success story. I did not. Even worse, I genuinely did not expect such an unintellectual and even naive account of our success at becoming a nation.

He first started off by reading out the lyrics to one of those stupid, annoying jingoistic patriotism National Day songs ("There was a time when people said that Singapore won't make it/But we did". WTF is this one called? Wait, I don't care). He continued by showing us ten million statistics in a bid to show, to prove, why Singapore is, like, totally the best country, like, ever!1!1omg!1!1!: Singapore's the #1 place in Asia to do business, Singapore's the top 5 in terms of security, Singapore's the #1 destination for Asian expatriates, the #1 place for shopping...

Look, I don't dispute that Singapore's economic success is something to be proud of. I don't dispute, too, that Singapore's security is top-notch (well, minus Mas Selamat's escape). Singapore IS probably the most well-off country in Southeast Asia, and one of the most safe countries to live in in the world. Compared to many of our neighbouring countries, Singapore is amazing.

BUT what I absolutely cannot stand is how this annoying, sentimental patriotism is justified by comparing ourselves to countries that are obviously worse-off than us. Burma, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia. I mean, really. Do we even have to think about this? And what kind of real, legitimate pride can we really derive from such silly and pointless comparisons when it's been 43 years of independence, and we're STILL striving towards so little? The problem is that as long as we keep comparing ourselves to countries so much worse-off, we're always going to think we're fine the way we are - which means we're going to stagnate at best and regress at worst. I firmly believe that when a country reaches a certain stage of political, social and economic stability, that country has met the most basic conditions for a freer civil society, and therefore, towards a truly modern, free and democratic society. Singapore, at least in theory, has what it takes to make its move - but not only does the government seemingly not want this to happen, some of the people don't seem to give a shit either way because Singapore totally pwns like Indonesia and Vietnam and Burma, wow!

Colour me unimpressed. I don't expect us to be any worse than other Southeast Asian countries, but I sure as hell expect Singapore to at least be comparable to other developed nations - the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, and I'd even say Taiwan if its economy weren't doing so badly right now. All this "we're already quite good already" shit is just fucking irresponsible and complacent and if I truly loved Singapore, I wouldn't feel pride in comparing my country to those obviously worse-off.

That aside, I'm not quite sure what, if anything, those statistics have got to do with Singapore as a nation. When I think of the word 'nation', I think of a common sense of what it is to be Singaporean, a sort of national identity, something quite intangible but expressible that tells us what it means to be Singaporean. Does the fact that Singapore is ranked #1 in terms of business-friendliness tell us anything about Singaporeanness? Maybe it shows that we're efficient, but is that really our national identity? Isn't it more than just statistics and numbers and figures? What about our values (Our Shared Values - HAHAHA), our principles, the things we stand for?

I suppose perhaps efficiency is our principle. Still, that's not quite what I think of when I think of nationhood and nation-building. I think we've done fantastic to build a state, but in terms of a nation, we're halfway there, with still a considerable distance to go. When MT talked about the relationship between a Constitution and a country's national identity, I invariably thought about our own Constitution and how it has no declaratory preamble like the US Constitution, and how the first article says, mechanically in a robotic, no-nonsense fashion, "This Constitution may be cited as the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore." If a Constitution is reflective of a country's national identity, what does that say about ours? That we're straightforward, to-the-point, emotionless and robotic?

I concede that maybe that IS our national identity, and the problem is simply that I don't like it. But then, I still stubbornly believe that there has to be more; it's just that we haven't found it yet. Maybe I am naive, idealistic, whatever; but in my idealism and naivete, I care about this country. Which is a lot more than what I can say about the complacent, selfish Singaporeans that rest on their laurels and think that we're in a good place, will always be in this good place, just because "we are better than many other countries what."


Just so we're clear, I'm not attacking the lecturer's patriotism. I'm just saying that 1) being better than other Southeast Asian countries doesn't say anything meaningful about Singapore; and 2) I don't see the connection between the statistics he showed us and our cohesion as a nation. As for the lecture itself, I think the analysis could have been more intellectual. But that's just me.

Simultaneously, as much as I decry blind, senseless and simplistic patriotism, I equally cannot stand blind, senseless and simplistic anti-government vitriol. It's one thing to criticise the government, and quite another to critcise it to the point of unreasonableness and idiocy. I used to be one of those people that make statements like "we're openly raped by the government every day", but um...not so much anymore. I'm obviously not pro-government, but I also cannot stand Singaporeans that sit around bitching about the government in the most meaningless and trivial manner, based on the most ridiculous rumours and (mis?)conceptions. Criticism only becomes constructive when you have an actual, proven basis upon which you mount your argument. Otherwise, whatever you say is further testament to the saying, "Empty vessels make the most noise."

Along a similar vein, I absolutely cannot stand baseless criticisms of the United Nations along the lines of "the UN is useless" when the person criticising has no idea what he's talking about. But this is way too loaded for me to get into so I'll just leave it. Because I'm lazy.


Anyway, I dropped Directed Research and added Land, Law and Development in Asia. I figured it should be relatively easy for me, considering I did Law, Governance and Development in Asia last semester. HAHAHA.

I drove Napoleon and Candy back to BTC and I was soooo scared the whole time! I'm surprised I didn't get us into an accident. I'm still incredibly nervous about driving other people, and it was only because I was going back to BTC anyway that I offered them a lift. Otherwise, I don't think I would have - not because I don't want to waste petrol or I'm selfish or whatever, but simply because I'M SCARED.

There was a traffic jam along that straight road from NUS to KAP, whatever that road was called. I swear we were stuck there for like, ever. Twenty minutes maybe? IT WAS SO SHIT. And when I was driving home, there was a jam IMMEDIATELY when I turned left out of the campus and onto the main road. The cause of the jam? Some van got into some accident and its wheel came off and the wheel was left stranded in the middle of the road, like the middle lane. Oh my gad. I was so shocked to see a fucking wheel lying in my lane that I braked quite hard, quickly signalled right, and proceeded to stare at the wheel and the van when I saw the heavy stream of cars on the right lane and all the cars behind me trying to change lanes, until some car horned at me. Apparently the cars gave way to me! And I was stoning! HAHAHA.

I think the van was okay. I didn't see any police tapes or injured persons lying on the road. It was probably just a punctured tyre...which is quite scary actually, considering my parents have been messing with the car's tyres lately. I hope the tyres are fine!

On another note, I have like, ten million stacks of readings to do for practically ALL my modules, and I'm doing six. Mag told me that International Criminal Law has a hell lot of readings. I haven't looked at the workbin. Fuck, I'm damn stressed out! I need that amazing list of amazing grades to get the amazing 2-1 but I'm also amazingly lazy. My attention span doesn't last beyond one paragraph - seriously. I have difficulties concentrating, even while I'm driving, and focusing on academic articles is just asking way too much of me. ARGH. WHY DID I GET MYSELF INTO THIS MESS.

I'd say if only I hadn't got all those C's for the 8-credit modules in my first two years, but I know there was no way I could've done it differently. Even now I'm avoiding modules that require me to do real law, like cases and stare decisis and discerning the ratio of a case, all that crap, and applying it to my hypothetical question. I can't do those things. I can get an average grade, but I can't afford average grades this semester. Thus, I chose Land, Law and Development in Asia over Legal Aspects of Celebrity - simply because I can't do the law thing. I just can't, not academically, and it's not worth risking a bad grade.

Besides, I'm more interested in my human rights and constitutionalism and the "ought" as opposed to the "is" and the theories and ideals shit. Yep. I don't know what the hell I'm doing in NUS Law School either.


Okay, have to finish this or I'll be late to meet Chloe. I'm playing tennis again this Saturday. I can't wait!

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