5 Reasons why I left America OR What matters most to me about Singapore
I’ve been waiting and waiting for that invitation. But, it hasn’t come. Yet.
I mean that invitation to attend some forum or other, where I, a citizen of Singapore, can participate in THE Singapore Conversation.
Notwithstanding that last week I wrote – “I am my own homeland, every other piece of paper about my national identity just a ticket” still I find myself inexorably wanting to be a part of this new big thing.
“Die, die, I also must try to get involved.”
The newspaper today said, the 3 essential questions for the conversation are:
- What matters most to us
- What are the values we hold in common
- How can we work together to meet the challenges of the future.
These are big issues. Didn’t I just confess in my last blog that such BIG ISSUES are beyond me?
It’s true. I can’t zoom into the big questions just like that. Like any born on the soil spoilt brat Singapore IC card holder, I need to start with the “I DOWAN!” What I don’t like.
What better way to approach the problem then, than by looking at why I left America and high-tailed it back here after 15 years abroad.
5 Reasons why I left America OR What matters most to me in Singapore:
- America isn’t very good at geography. I got tired of having to explain myself and to explain Singapore. I got tired of being stuffed in an Asian American category I wasn’t, of Chinese restaurant staff assuming I was a Mandarin or Cantonese or Teochew speaking Chinese from Taiwan, Mainland, Hongkong, Bangkok or Vietnam. In short, I got tired of having to constantly correct the mistaken impression that I was someone other than myself. I wanted to live amongst people with a shared history, shared baggage. I wanted my children to live in a place where people were rooted in Asia but understood the rest of the world.
- America is full of hyphenated identities. Despite calling itself an immigrant society, America isn’t a melting pot. It’s a country of African-American, Asian-American (subclasses for South Asians, Pacific Islanders etc.etc.), Native-American, Latin-American. Despite the rapidly changing demographics, it’s a country with a white majority and tribes of vocal minorities. When I grew up in 1970’s Singapore, we were all Singaporean, regardless of race language or religion. I valued that. We’ve lost half of it since we reverted to mother tongues and ethnic self-help groups. Let’s stop the emphasis on our roots. We need to know that for sure. But let’s have a Singapore narrative that’s about how a bunch of different people grew from their roots to become one.
- America is fiercely and ideologically into freedom of the individual. I didn’t want to live in a country where groups of people hugged so tightly to the right to carry arms, where drug dealers could escape punishment because of due process, where market forces invaded the blood donation system, and health care cost the moon. I wanted to return to a place where decisions were made on the basis on what worked! In this regard, I think the powers that be have become too enamoured of market indicators for the social sector. It’s time to realize that market indicators don’t work for health, welfare and education.
- There are no hawker centers with char kuay teow in America. Food courts in America are manufactured, corporatized, homogenous and fast! The hawker center is a class-less gathering place for eating soul-satisfying food. It’s the dining room of latch-key children and overtiming couples. It’s where the poorly educated can start a business and if they have true talent, make it big. It’s the last bastion against inflation. I wanted to enjoy the handcrafted community of Sunday morning at the hawker center before they went extinct. Extinction is a real possibility if we look at what’s happening with our more or less generic shopping malls. Let’s allow our hawker centers to remain neighbourhood places where a slower older way of life can prevail, where business opportunities are provided for individuals, where all levels of Singapore can gather and recover their souls.
- My family didn’t live in America. In the end it’s family ties that bind. My father and mother lived in Singapore and were getting on. I wanted my children to grow up with grandparents and grand aunts and uncles, to be there when travelling cousins visited. Singapore is also near Vietnam, my husband’s birthplace. We could all visit. And now that the older members of the family are getting on, well… it’s good to be around the corner. To lend a hand. I wanted to live in a family friendly place, and compared to America, Singapore was friendlier then, twenty years ago. But it’s gotten worse over the years – the ever more stressful school system, the increasing demands at work, the expensive cars, the bad transportation, the competition for child care places. We need to improve.
Most big ideas need individual stories to carry them. So, there. Here’s my first contribution to the Singapore Conversation – the things I valued but couldn’t find in that other place, the things I came back for.
Some of these things – our commitment to a single Singaporean identity, the importance we attach to making sure things work and not be too ideological, our attachment to hand-crafted individual pockets of endeavour, the value we place on family – are more difficult to find in Singapore now. But, then, as now, I believe they’re crucial to the Singaporean identity, the Singaporean narrative. In our race to be better, richer, stronger, please don’t let’s jettison them.
What are the 5 things you value about Singapore or would come back for?
Share them. I’d love to hear. Leave a comment.