Many Singapore Stories, one resilient nation

Many Singapore Stories, one resilient nation

It's that time of year when red and white are in the air and you're faced with a choice of whether to hunt down your national flag (if you had one) or to part with a few dollars to buy a flag-emblazoned cover for your car's side mirror. (Hint: The latter is available at your friendly neighbourhood petrol kiosk... or on Chinese e-commerce portal Alibaba for US$0.37 (S$0.45) apiece, minimum order of 50 pairs, shipped direct from Guangzhou, China.)

Which brings me to the point of my ruminations.

What does it mean to be a Singaporean, in this day and age?

To me, it means being a polyglot, and living in comfort knowing that we possess nothing and therefore we are open to owning and operating anything from around the globe - and thriving while doing so.

Some people say Singapore is becoming more xenophobic and insular. But how can a Singaporean be insular?

National Day car mirror covers made in China aside, the water we drink from our taps comes from Johor, Malaysia - mixed with water from our own reservoirs, and from desalination plants and Newater.

The food we eat is more than 90 per cent imported. Beef from Argentina, pork from Australia, and poultry from Brazil. Vegetables from China. Rice from Thailand. And lots of stuff - eggs, chicken, vegetables, fruit - from Malaysia.

The very soil we stand on is in part foreign, as is the construction mix for many of our buildings. That's because Singapore has imported sand from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and China. Even Australia: Resorts World Sentosa imported sand for its beach pool all the way from Down Under.

A United Nations Environment Programme report in March said: "Having imported a reported 517 million tonnes of sand in the last 20 years, Singapore is by far the largest importer of sand worldwide and the world's highest per capita consumer of sand at 5.4 tonnes per inhabitant."

And as we can all recall from the terrible haze last year, the very air we breathe comes with free added ingredients from burning forest fires in the region.

When you live in such a tiny country, a little red dot with no hinterland, you learn to accept the reality of your dependence on the world.

Singapore's expulsion from the Malaysian Federation - and our consequential independence as a nation on Aug 9, 1965 - was predicated on our dependence on the world.

Singapore had no choice but to throw itself at the mercy of the world, so to speak. Without that radical dependence on the world, we would not have thrived as a nation.

Singapore is 49 this year, on the cusp of our golden jubilee. We have grown up on stories of our unexpected nationhood, and read or heard stories of how the nation leapfrogged from Third World to First with ingenuity.

And through it all, the silver thread of the narrative goes, we are vulnerable as a nation because we have no hinterland, no resources; we are fragile as a society because of our ethnic mix; we are forever doomed to a state of anxiety as a prosperous shining red dot of a Chinese-majority nation in a sea of Muslim-dominant neighbours.

I know many younger Singaporeans do not buy into this narrative. Some older Singaporeans, too, consider this a tired story, akin to a bogeyman invented by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to keep the children-citizens in order.

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