At the time I write this letter, you have made it known to your mother and I that you have a love-hate relationship with Singapore. At the time I write this letter, though, you associate the word “Singapore” with the National Day Parade. That justifies an explanation to you about what National Day really means. And to simplify the explanation, I’m going to use the human life cycle as an analogy for highlights in Singapore’s history from independence to present day, because the things that happened every decade that this country sees through reminds me of the milestones I see you going through.
The birth of every child begins with crying. It is a moment where harsh reality hits your fragile, naked body, an activation of all senses to the sudden reality of your surroundings, a sudden onslaught of pain from the air, the light, the sounds around you. But as much as a newborn baby’s very first moment is a reaction to the confusion, it is also a call of survival, a cry that informs everyone around you that you are in fact alive, and you’re planning to stay that way.
This was the decade when a tiny, vulnerable country learned about the world, and how to deal with it. Just as a baby develops its immune system through nourishment and love, Singapore looked within to build its defences.
It was only natural that we would try to cover our bases and build a foundation. I believe this was the time a popular analogy was created; that if all the people from any one of our neighbours were to come over and each person so much as spit on us, our island would drown.
And so the baby grew.
While the physical body grows in strength and immunity, your mother and I know to keep you safe and strong, to teach you about avoiding danger and to confront it, to ensure you know how to deal with people, and to take care of yourself.
Our country developed the same sensibilities, went through the same lessons and learned above all, how to take care of itself. We started understanding what to do, developed our 5 pillars of Total Defence, and made doubly sure we could convince people to invest in us, just like how you always ask us for $1 coins to operate kiddy rides.
We started playing harder. We tried to be artistic, develop a sense of humour, tried to open up a little with opinions. But our “parents” didn’t really like it.
We shut up, for a while, until we couldn’t really stand the silence any more.
2005-Today: Teenage Angst
We learnt how to use the computer, read up on the Internet, knew more, and spoke out more. It isn’t the prettiest of sights, seeing kids grow up this fast, and to be frank, a little hard to accept sometimes. But we were growing wings, and our parents are finding it increasingly hard to stop us from saying what we wanted, doing what we wanted, and essentially, growing up into adults.
Indeed, the 2006 Elections saw a renaissance of social and political consciousness, possibly spurred on by what had happened to one intrepid blogger who thought it appropriate to speak against authority. Sometimes we would have a great sense of humour, sometimes we wouldn’t. But we were always cynical, and always questioning authority – and questioning ourselves.
I don’t need an image to show you the teenage angst, this search for our own identity, the beginnings of understanding who we really are, and coming to grips with knowing our parents aren’t always right. You’re looking at it right now, in your computer screen. It’s the Internet – your Facebook account, government gazetted socio-political websites that don’t really care that they’re government gazetted, bloggers that care, bloggers that don’t, and even bloggers that don’t know what’s going on in the first place.
Just look around.
We’re living in the teenage years of Singapore, and I have to tell you, it’s as interesting and stimulating as the teenage years that I remember.
Happy National Day, son.