Wednesday, August 08, 2012

National Day Speech by a Singaporean Artist - Majulah Singapura!

Note from me:  I sought my friend, Kiat Sing's permission to post her National Day message on my blog and she readily agreed.  Like her, I am proud to be a Singaporean for we are unique in our own way and certainly, we have come a long way.  Almost like her, we used to live in a small house without room, just a hall and all seven of us including our parents squeezed in this small house.  To give myself a little more space and to avoid getting kick from my brothers in the middle of the night when they were soundly asleep, I had to sleep in the kitchen.  I lived in that small house till I reached 16.  My National Day message to our country - Continue to innovate, continue to progress and more good years ahead. 

Many friends of mine have claimed that I’m not a typical Singaporean because I’m calm and patient. I’m an artist not a banker, lawyer or engineer running the rat race like the usual people they meet. I used to agree. However, a recent incident has changed my opinion totally.

I was paying up for my hiking trip at YMCA recently and the Filipino casher and administrator has mistaken me as a PR because of my passport number that doesn’t start with an “S”. I was surprised at how upset I was. The fury stemmed from the fact that I am a local Singaporean, born and bred in Singapore, when the island state has nothing favorable to offer me. I grew up in a village and moved to a HDB new town only at the age of six. At that time, there weren’t Hougang, Yishun, Woodlands, Pasir Ris, Sengkang or Pungol HDB towns. Our parents like many other parents and grandparents of fellow Singaporeans, marched and dug drains with Lee Kuan Yew under the banner of Barisan Socialist. My father who is a retired contractor provided doors to HDB and I still remember how my mum used to complain how the only breaks he took was during Chinese New Year. So we literally built the nation with our bare hands.

I have seen how some friends of mine were totally appalled when some PRs didn’t know that we had a Socialist party, some didn’t even know that our national language is Malay and the reason why we have English as our first language was due to racial riots. They also do not know what the true origin of Merlion was. I share their disappointed sentiments. On the other hand, I also have many foreign friends who expressed their genuine joy in being part of Singapore, many of them has told me privately that they feel more at home in Singapore than in their motherland. I am very glad to hear that. And I think a major part of it is due to how Singaporeans truly understand that our harmony and acceptance of other races and creeds is a great virtue. We don’t take it for granted. We have all grown up with Malay and Indian friends; it is part of our second nature to accept differences among us and to embrace them. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed some people being taken for granted by their foreign friends who are not used to this concept. Singapore is unique indeed. Tolerance and acceptance is part of being us and such terms are not to be interpreted negatively because it is a merit and understanding that so many other nations lack. And with my many new foreign friends, my life has been enriched further as I open my eyes to even more cultural differences.

Hence, I’m a typical Singaporean! I am proud to be one. I am nice and reasonable, like how most friends know me to be; and I’m glad to say that most Singaporeans are like me. If you think otherwise, you should really make an effort to go out and know them better, make more local friends instead of jumping upon stereotypes that simply shows that you are unable to be integrated into our society as you have overlooked the core value of our beautiful island and have taken it for granted. The country and its people have much to offer and we also look forward to genuine friendships where hearts are involved, not just judgement without true understanding. And we are not here to judge you as we all know too well that our forefathers were immigrants like yourself. They have come to learn the precious lesson of self-respect and mutual respect and have imparted such marvelous life skills to us.

I am constantly amazed when I travel to China and being asked the question which province I’m from? And at my art events overseas like Europe, USA and India, why I can speak and write fluent English? Some friends have also marveled at how we not only speak English, our mother tongues, some Malay but can also swear perfectly in Hokkien, Teochew and some of us Cantonese or even Hainaese. I’m proud to be a Singaporean artist albeit our identities are often misunderstood overseas. Perhaps that’s why we are special and it might take several generations to come for others to recognize us more prominently. Well, after all we are just 47 years old. Happy Birthday to my beloved country! Majulah Singapura!

Quek Kiat Sing

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