Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Too Know What I Am Fighting For

Note from me: Some years ago, I remember SM Goh who was then the PM, raised the much talked about topic asking Singaporeans, "Are you a quitter or stayer?". Many former Singaporeans called it quit for a myriad of reasons, I fully respect their decision. Is Singapore really that bad for them to uproot and seek greener pasture elsewhere? Our lack of 'so-called' freedom of speech or fearful to speak one's mind, painted by some very 'liberal-minded' western media gave wrong impression that Singaporeans living in this little red dot are largely restricted, sigh. Fortunately, it is not true at all. While many Singaporeans are still battling hard within themselves; to stay or quit?. Perhaps, this article below, which was written by a non-Singaporean may have changed the mindset of some quitters-to-be after reading what she has to say.

Her name is Zhong Heng, a first-year 19-year-old student at Nanyang Technological University and her article first appeared in Lianhe Zaobao and later, Straits Times which was picked up by me. As a Singaporean, I am proud of her for defending our Singapore in her capacity as a non-Singaporean but soon, she will be one of us, I am sure.

I recently read an article in Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao entitled I now What I Am Fighting For, written in response to comments made by a Nanyang Technological University student who said he did not know what he was defending. What the writer said resonates deeply with me, and I want to echo his views: "If I too know what I am fighting for."

I am a 19-year-old Taiwanese. My ancestral home town is in Shandong, China. I was born in America, spent my childhood in South Africa and now I am studying in Singapore.

For the sake of the future of three children, my parents moved the family from one country to another. My father said we had to seek the best place to settle in, while my mother said she was like Chinese philosopher Mencius' mother, who moved house thrice with Mencius before being satisfied that the environment was good for her son.

My parents are educators. They are not rich or powerful, but have a wider world view and more guts than others. Wherever we migrated to, they started with nothing and had to put in a lot of hard work.

We had relatives in all the places we lived in, except for Singapore. But we never lived more than three years in any country, until we moved here, where we have been residing for the past 13 years. We have sunk our roots here.

I was only seven when I first came to Singapore. When I began Primary 1, my parents taught me to fight to survive. This place was more competitive than other countries, we had no friends or relatives and we were new, so I had to reply on myself.

But fight? That sounds militant, but it is not. My first principle of war was to make friends and integrate, while the second was to strive to be better than others and earn their respect.

To win friendship, I was humble. I willingly took the initiative to give of myself, and to show sincere care for others. To earn respect, I was more hard-working than others. I studied hard and got good grades.

My six years in primary school were enriching and happy, as I did many things that others considered insignificant and did not want to do. I lived near the school, so I volunteered to be a traffic warden: Every day before sunrise, I was the first in school, collecting my equipment for the job. After school, I stayed behind to help the teachers tidy the classroom and do other stuff.

I never had tuition, only supplementary lessons in school. And I often got home late because I was helping my classmates out: keeping them company as they waited for family members who were late in picking them up, helping them locate lost items, taking part in group projects, taking care of my juniors in school.

Besides these trivial services, I also actively participated in all sorts of inter-school competitions: speech, art, athletics. All these efforts were to win glory, in the hope that my family, classmates and school would be proud of me.

Later, I made it to Raffles Girls' Secondary School (RGS) after topping my school in the Primary School Leaving Examination. My mother attributed my good results not to tuition or my intelligence, but to the love I gave my school and my efforts to integrate, as well as my joy in learning.

One example proves her point. I remember the day I went back to my primary school to receive my commendation. I met a teacher at the staff room door. I asked her sincerely: "May I get you just one more coffee or tea?" She smiled as she embraced me.

Over the years, every time I had passed her window, she would ask me to get her a coffee or tea from the canteen. After a few times, I did consider avoiding that window. But I quickly realised that I was more privileged than others to have the opportunity to render my teacher a service, which was great. So I did it willingly.

Over time, this teacher and I got into the habit of holding conversations through the window, and I unexpectedly gained from her teaching, which felt good.

Over 13 years, I have made many friends and never once been ostracised. I never think in terms of old or new immigrants. I feel I have become part of this place, and that this is my home.

But as I grow older, I often ask myself who I really am: Chinese, Taiwanese, American or Singaporean? After graduating from RGS, I suddenly craved a sense of belonging. I gave up the chance to study at Raffles Junior College and went to high school in the United States, to experience being an "American". I thought I would have to study for two years, but I graduated earlier than expected, as what I had learnt in four years at RGS went far beyond US high school standards.

When I joined the high school, the school realised that I was up to standard in all the subjects and I had to study only two - American history and physical education. (Singapore's physical education system is good too, but they did not accept my PE grade from Singapore as the system there is different}.

So I had an easy time, with plenty of free time to get my driver's licence - in the US, one can get a licence and drive at 16. I also worked part-time at a relative's company, typing documents and reports and doing filing work for US$5 (S$6.50) an hour, the minimum wage. I worked three hours every day after school, and eight hours on weekends and during vacation. The pay was a little low, but it was a month's pocket money. Compared to the rest of American society then, mired in the sub-prime crisis, with so many people bankrupt and out of a job, I was doing quite well.

I never thought that my US stint would allow me to witness the country's biggest economic crisis and the many social problems that resulted. A young teacher whom I admired lost his job due to the financial crisis faced by the California government (Teachers lose their jobs too!); an elementary school near where I lived had to cancel its music classes; and the state government had to cut the number of scholarships, and bursaries, so many people were unable togo on to university.

But the crisis did not affect my relative much, as he had business dealings with China. That is why he was happy to have me working for him, as my English was better than his other employees', and I could speak, read and write Chinese too. His own children spoke only simple Mandarin and could hardly read the language. This was his biggest worry.

After my stint in the US, I no longer had any illusions about the country. Once I got my high school certificate, I returned to Singapore, happy that I could still choose.

Perhaps I was affected by the US economic storm, but I was still a bit hesitant as to whether to return to Taiwan or go to China - so I applied to universities in both Singapore and Taiwan. In the meantime, I took the opportunity to vist Taiwan and South Africa, where I had spend my childhood.

I had been too young to know much of these places before, but on this trip, while the natural landscape in both places was stunning and I was moved by their unique ethnic features, South Africa's serious problem with law and order and Taiwan's chaotic politics left me shocked and disappointed. I had a sudden thought: When I have the means, I will go back and help African children who do not go to school, and change Taiwan's chaotic politics.

The strength to dream big probably stemmed from my 10 years of education in Singapore. Even I was surprised that living in such a small country would give me such a broad perspective of the world.

When I received admission letters from both Nanyang Technological University and National Taiwan University, I decided to stay in Singapore and continue to arm myself and face challenges. Here, I can see my future clearly, hone my skills with peace of mind and realise my dreams.

Before, I could not decide on my birth, place of origin or migrant journey. But now I have grown up and can decide on my own future. Of course, I will not forget where I came from. One day, I may seek my roots. But I cherish even more my present life and this country that groomed me. For this, I am very grateful to my parents for making the right choice.

Unlike 13 years ago, I no longer fight alone. All around me are more and more comrades around my age from different countries, of different nationalities and ethnic groups. Our aim is the same: to shine on the international stage. We never ask what we are fighting for, as it is clearly for ourselves, our families and the country we live in. As for the issue of old and new immigrants, who cares?

If I want to make Singapore proud of me one day, would you be so calculating as to ask me where I come from?

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