national day

a day past the 9th of august and i am thinking about national day, and what it means.

i was in the shower (that’s where i think all my deepest thoughts) and i was remembering important dates. this time it happened to be jeremy yam’s upcoming commissioning date: the second week of october. and then i thought about going there, and what it would mean. standing on the safti parade square, watching a new batch commission, remembering what i’ve similarly been through, and remembering that incredible feeling of throwing that peak cap in the air as they declare you a newly commissioned officer of the SAF.

but what precedes that absolute explosion of joy is the recitation of the officers’ creed, which ends with

‘i dedicate my LIFE to Singapore!’

in that moment i must admit i was not terribly cognizant of what i was saying. it was 2 weeks of rehearsals and it was the loudest i ever shouted out the creed. i meant it, too, but i didn’t fully grasp what it really meant.

dedicating your life to Singapore? it means when button press you just go, no questions asked. it means despite complaining about ICT, IPPT, RT, PT, and even OTOT, you just do it anyway because you know you have to. because you have a responsibility to, and because you want to.

a lot of older men i talk to say that yes, when the call comes, they will fight. i ask them, why? and the inevitable answer is that they will fight for their loved ones and their homes. i can’t help think that despite the apparent anti-establishmentness and disdaining of NS as an institution (‘fight for the country? no la! fight for my wife and family…’), there exists an undercurrent of national pride which is expressed in a different way.

fighting the enemy when the enemy comes – that’s inevitable. but fighting to keep the place which your family calls home – that’s a choice.

and why do i call this little red dot home?

‘little red dot’ – a derogatory term that has become a term of endearment. we glory in our little red dotness – that a little dot that is thought to be ‘another province in China’ has made it. we’ve made it in literacy rate, GDP per capita, education levels, life expectancy. you name it, we’re probably there. and there’s a sense of pride in being the successful underdog.

but why do i love home?

because home is where it’s all at.

home is my hokkien mee and char kway teow and chilli crab and sambal stingray, cooked in a singaporean way (more chilli thx), consumed in the humid evening air, in the hot kopitiam with the uncles at the edge, drinking their Tiger and watching the TV. home is orderly asphalt roads with clear road signs and greenery decorating the place – so much greenery that we automatically assume every road in the world should have rows of neatly planted trees running parallel to the direction of traffic. home is airconditioned shopping malls, complete with noise and hordes of schoolkids trawling the malls, wearing their uniforms in various ways as statements of where and what they belong to. home is the MRT, which is so awesome that once it even breaks down once, it sparks off an entire furore over how our MRT system is a failure – when my friends who study in London only now can appreciate the incredible efficiency of the MRT when compared to other train systems. home is when travelling more than 30 minutes is considered ‘long’ because our tiny island is awesomely small. home is where 20% of the existing land space is given to military training areas, which one only discovers upon entering that defining rite of singaporean manhood and singaporean-ness, as much as we hate to admit it. home is my HDB flat, where high-rise housing actually works. home is my education system, much maligned by participants (both students and parents) but the envy of many other nations. home is where singlish is the lingua franca of the void deck.

home is where i’ll be when the button is pressed. that’s why i have a flag flying from my room in hall.

and after you read this, don’t think that i’m overly patriotic, or i’m deluded and i’m a fool to believe all that the government has fed me, that i’m simply a product of an effective system.

think about the things and places you truly value, and then think about the system and the country that got those things in place. think about where you would be without it. then ask yourself, are you proud to be a Singaporean?


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