25 May 2018

Lifestyle & Arts

It's All In The Spirit

Sometimes, the smaller you are, the bigger you dream. I’ve witnessed this in the transformation of Singapore over the past decade, and have been reminded of it yet again by our little dog who’s small in size, but large in spirit.

Cindy Tong

Schnappi is our two-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that we welcomed into our lives when my husband and I first moved to Germany two years ago. She was quite the little terror as a puppy, tearing down the corridors of our apartment on her four tiny legs, bleating like a wounded lamb and demanding to be let up on the bed together with us. She’d burrow holes into nicely-folded piles of clean clothes, while helping herself at the same time to unlimited servings of dirty socks from the laundry basket.


 Schnappi. Docile as a mouse at home.


She couldn’t have weighed more than a kilo back then, but her personality was strong. And as she grew older and bigger, her spunk grew alongside her in size. Once, she boldly walked up to an Alaskan Malamute five times larger than she was and pounced. Her little six-kilo frame barely made a dent, but she came back to us, tail between her legs, minus a few tufts of hair from the top of her head.


In Germany, especially in the countryside, where larger dogs are favoured for their working abilities, people made disparaging remarks about her. What a cute little handbag dog, they cooed. What a pity you can’t do much with a frail, little thing like that, they whispered.


Yet, our Schnappi is anything but a docile lap dog. At home, she is generally calm and well-behaved, following us around the house and cuddling with us in front of the television. Outside in the woods, however, she transforms into a hunter. She’ll run up steep mountain slopes and leap off mini cliffs into the thick woods. Sometimes we can’t see her, but just by the rustling sounds made by the leaves and bushes, we know she’s probably not too far away. We’ve had our heart-stopping moments when we thought she’d simply run off into the Black Forest, but all it took was one whistle for her to reappear in the far distance, racing down the dirt path to catch up with us again.


Schnappi. Right before a deer hunt.


She chases deer and squirrels, yipping frantically when they disappear between the trees. She may be fast and agile, but she’s still not quite as quick as the wild animals who call the woods their home. The most amusing thing, however, is watching her indomitable spirit at play whenever she spots a flock of birds. It doesn’t matter where she is—off the leash in the woods, or strapped to a harness in the middle of town or about to cross a road--she’ll leap in the air and go for the chase. The birds can fly, but you can’t, you silly dog, I’d mutter under my breath.


Even if she understood, it wouldn’t matter. Schnappi believes that one day, if she just tries hard enough, anything is possible. You see, Schnappi may be a German dog, born and bred in the untamed woods of the Schwarzwald, but she has a human mother whose blood runs a passionate red and white. At the end of the day, Schnappi’s spirit is indisputably Singaporean through and through.


After all, she may be tiny in size, and timid in appearance, but like Singapore, she has spunk and personality. Like Singapore, she has the courage to chase big dreams with a ferocity that belies her looks.


Daring to dream

I remember the 1980s in Singapore. Those were the years of my childhood, when characters like Mr Wollie and Mr Yakki, Miss La La, and Bobo were the highlight of English class, when going to the movies meant not popcorn and nachos, but kacang puteh from the uncle sitting on the wobbly metal stool outside the cinema. He sold his snacks from plastic bottles with a red lid, and he dispensed your sugared nuts and salted green peas in paper cones rolled from used magazine pages. In those days, Centrepoint was the hippest shopping mall in town, and Swissotel the Stamford, known then as The Westin, was the fanciest building in all of Singapore.


Our Singapore skyline. Because we dared to dream.


The old Singapore is one that I remember with fondness. And yet, that’s not to say, I don’t marvel at how far we’ve come. I’ve lived away from home for five years now, and during my yearly trips back to visit friends and family, I always find myself amazed at how quickly things change in Singapore. Sleepy neighbourhoods have become pockets of creative energy for up and coming street artists, and what I thought was a risk-averse culture is now populated with young ambitious entrepreneurs.



Haji Lane. Once a sleepy neighbourhood, it’s now a pocket of creative energy.


All this because we always felt that as long as we tried hard enough, anything was possible. We transformed hope and imagination into reality because regardless of our size, we believed that nothing was out of reach. At the end of it all, it is this faith that I hope will see Singapore through even better years.


Our optimism for what lies ahead will see us chasing bigger dreams and never giving up. Just like Schnappi and the birds.


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.