Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Things that make us Singaporean

A response (lighthearted) to What is a Singaporean by Kishore Mahbubani

From a post in Oct 2009.

A Singaporean is someone who drinks water from Malaysia, breathes (smoky) air from Indonesia, eats pork from Australia, chicken from Brazil, rice from Thailand, live in flats builit by Bangladeshi construction workers, cleaned by Sri Lankan and Indonesian maids, surf the internet on IT infrastructure maintained by Indian IT engineers, watch Korean dramas and American movies, listen to Canto-pop from Hong Kong, and whose children and elderly parents are cared for by Filipino or Myanmarese maids.

S. Rajaratnam says that Singaporeans know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We will sell our homes for a proft and get angry with our neighbours if they don't support en bloc sale. Rajaratnam was wrong. We may not know the value of a home. But we think we know the value of money, of cash in hand.

We were raised to believe nothing is for free. Water from our taps - pay. Toilet in your house - pay. Football on TV - pay. Want to buy a car - pay for the privilege to do so.

So when we find something FREE, we are so taken by it, we maximise our "enjoyment" of it. That is why people who are capable of walking very well, and very quickly, suddenly STOP dead in their tracks the moment they step onto an escalator (regardless of whether it is going up or down) or travellator! You see, it's a ride that they DON"T have to pay for. It's FREE! Enjoy!

Hainanese Chicken Rice and Chilli Crabs are our de facto National dishes. Actually, the real reason we like Chicken Rice is because of the chilli that accompanies it. One of the reason we like it? It's FREE. Don't believe me? Guess how long the queue for Chicken Rice will be the moment they charge for the chilli sauce.

And of course Chilli Crab is nothing without the chilli. We like chilli or sambal so much we put it on everything we eat. The way we take wasabi scares even the Japanese.

Singaporeans who go overseas beyond S.E. Asia complain that french fries don't come with chilli sauce. Or that the chilli sauce doesn't not taste right, or is just not "hot" enough. Singapore doesn't have a lot of GREAT food. It has a lot of Good food with GREAT, BIG, HEAPING PILE OF CHILLI ON THEM.

There is a Chinese saying "I've eaten more salt than you have eaten rice." Which is a a way of saying, I'm older and more experienced than you.

The Singapore version of that is, "I've eaten more chilli than you have eaten rice." Or salt.


We have been raised to respect our elders. Everyone older than us is an uncle or an auntie.

But everything that doesn't work properly is the fault of the government. Why do we blame everything on the government? That, is also the government's fault. The SG government having been so efficient and effective in the past, is now faulted for every inefficiency, insignificant or not. Also, the SG Government does everything. Who else do you blame if there are not enough HDB flats, or they are too expensive, or if there are not enough car park lots, or if the roads are congested?

In any case, our debating skills were learnt from the government. And our mothers (well mothers from my generation anyway). From them we learned absolutism. When we told our mom that we were only doing what Ah Seng did, she would retort, "Then Ah Seng jump off a cliff, you also jump lah?"

From our government, we learned to respond badly to criticism. When we criticise the (old) Government, the Old Man would say, "If you think you can do better, set up a political party and contest in the next election. Otherwise, shut up."

So now when people praise Singapore, we tell them, "you like it so much, become a citizen lah."

And when they criticise our city, we tell them, "you don't like, go back home lah, you foreign talent! Why you stay here and complain and complain."

Because besides shopping, complaining is the other Singaporean favourite pastime. We like it so much we don't let our foreign workers, foreign maids, and foreign talent take it from us. This is the sole right of a Singaporean - to complain.

Even though we don't have a lot to complain about really.

We have a pretty good government, but we complain about the salaries we have to pay them. We have good roads but we complain about having to pay to use them. We have a pretty good and reliable public transport system but we complain if we have to wait for longer than 10 minutes for a bus, or have to stand in the train, or the train is too full and we have to wait 2 WHOLE FUCKING MINUTES for the next train (to be fair, the public transport service has been bad - it is still relatively reliable, but there is greater uncertainty). We have good public housing, but we complain that the sellers want extra money. Of course when it's our turn to sell, we'd probably ask for extra cash - as much as we can squeeze out of the buyers.

It has been said that the secret to happiness is to have something to do, something (or someone) to love, and something to hope for.

The secret to making a Singaporean happy, is to give him something (good and spicy) to eat, something to complain about, and a bargain to shop for.

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