In one of his latest videos which featured Singapore, Nas unearthed and magnified issues about my country that put both a smile and shame on a born and bred Singaporean like me; who admittedly had no idea about the interesting and queer facts that he raised. Who knew our dumping ground could easily passed off as a holiday resort with its lush foliage? Or that a marrying-age daughter could rent a boyfriend to fool her anxious parents?
From the lens of a foreigner, Nas extolled the virtues of my country he was initially skeptical about. What is so cool about this tiny city that has earned a bad reputation as a nanny state with helicopter-parenting style government? What is the draw of this miniscule island that has no natural resources to boast of? And is it true that its citizens are mostly Crazy Rich Asians as depicted in the box office hit? (We wish)
In his signature candid, succinct and inspiring delivery, I was reminded how being petite is never a hindrance to success, and how against all odds, Singapore has emerged as the poster child at just 53 years young. Major problems have been fixed and may I boldly add, mostly with a whip - literally and figuratively. The old adage still holds true back home: Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Just as Lulu Chua-Rubenfeld, daughter of Amy Chua, famed author of the controversial memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, reflected in an interview when she turned adult, “Having a hard-working Tiger Mom can definitely pay off in the end”. Under our persevering Tiger Granddad Lee Kuan Yew’s no-nonsense tutelage, it certainly did but at a cost that is debatable. Singaporeans were rapidly molded into law-abiding citizens as we got used to not chewing gum or tossing trash on our tree-lined streets. In fact, here’s a funny story. When I first arrived in Shanghai, my driver had to teach me to litter when I didn’t spot a rubbish bin nearby. He reasoned it wasn’t my fault anyway.
Disclaimer: I couldn’t. I held on to my waste tightly until I saw a trash can. Tiger Granddad raised me well.
Another trait I am in awe of is Singapore’s unique housing planning initiative where you’ll never know which race you get to be neighbours with. At my mother’s HDB flat, we had a rotation of Malay and Indian neighbours over the years. Coming from different religions, cultures and habits, we don’t always agree but we have learnt to adapt and live alongside one another despite our differences and understand that whilst we may not look the same on the outside, emotionally we are not that different: We just hope to live in harmony side by side. While it is comforting to move with your herd, it is far worldlier to know there are people who are not like us and that’s cool. This early exposure to different cultures has definitely served us in good stead in our travels and life abroad.
But times have changed. Governance styles of today greatly differ from our parents and grandparent’s era. Technological advancement has opened up infinite opportunities for people to connect and share their thoughts, and the government to gather on ground sentiments from the citizens themselves, the ones on the receiving ends of policies. Unlike the malleable citizens during our founding father’s time, now activists, influencers and keyboard warriors are pushing policies behind screens.
Overseas Singaporeans like us are also able to stay in touch with families and news back home. We are now more exposed, more connected and more informed than our forefathers ever were in their lifetime. I too find myself learning how to parent my tweens in this social media and digital age. My role as a parent is not to rule with an iron-fist, but to empower my children to be media-wise and critical thinkers when they are left alone with their devices. What will hopefully guide them is these values I have imparted.
This is a favorite quote of mine that has stood the test of time. To me, it perfectly sums up the very core essence of a parenting journey:
“Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.” Dalai Lama
Last week, I was chatting with some foreign friends about their vacation plans for the upcoming Golden Week. They shared their itinerary excitedly and when it was my turn, I shrugged and remarked we will be staying in Shanghai but who knows, we may decide to fly out if ticket prices nosedive. They stared at me, appalled, “How is it possible to plan your vacation so last minute? Don’t you need time for travel visa?”
Oh, that’s right! How could I forget how lucky I am that my little red book accords me the luxury of flying on a whim? Schedules change, I may not go to the destination I planned after all. But with my indomitable passport, it’s okay to change my mind without much hassle. After all, Singaporeans have 189 visa-free countries to play, which makes it the mightiest passport in the world.
Our almighty Little Red Book
As Singapore progresses and our leaders and citizens are experimenting new ways to get their voices heard and empower us Singaporeans, what remains is our Singaporean Identity. The mantra of tenacity and grit of our forefathers is still evident in our youths today. Our young people still possess that unwavering steadfastness of our leaders who persevered to turn our simple fishing village into the world class city we enjoy today. Singapore was built through sheer hard work and a ton of resilience. Those are definitely good parenting tips that we should continue to dish out to future generations.
PM Lee in Nas Daily
Singapore still has a backlog of problems, but which country doesn’t? I think our “parents” are trying. Our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, even made a surprise cameo appearance in Nas Daily. Like me, they too are learning to connect with their young through this complex yet fascinating e-world that will be here to stay. In my Singaporean support group TTT in Shanghai, a mom recently forwarded a video dedicated to those who were born in the 1970’s and 80’s Singapore. It was a memory trip that depicted old toys, snacks, textbooks and scenes from our childhood that are now defunct. We shared the video with all our Singaporean friends in Shanghai and gave each other an e-hug. This is the new way of bonding and it felt warm and fuzzy. I am hopeful if we continue to reach out to the young this way, to empower them and remind them how incredibly blessed Singaporeans are - through social media (not too much, else it’s e-nagging) - the future is bright.