SINGAPORE - Singaporeans must do more to define their national identity - this was a key takeaway from a novel "social dining experiment" on Tuesday night.
The gathering at the National Museum of Singapore hosted 26 participants, from all walks of life, from civil servants to entrepreneurs and entertainers.
Over a three-course dinner that included pumpkin soup and garlic butter risotto, the group of strangers delved into social issues, discussed what it meant to be a Singaporean and shared their personal stories.
The dinner conversation kicked off with entrepreneur Benjamin Loh sharing that he had problems describing what is "Singapore culture" while on a student exchange trip in South Korea.
"All I could talk about was our love of food, but I felt there had to be more," said the 26-year-old.
Other participants also said they had one time or another grappled with what it meant to be a Singaporean.
Security officer Xu Bixia, 30, observed how some Singaporeans prefer to complain or yearn to leave for greener pastures.
But citizens of other countries not as safe and clean as Singapore had a stronger sense of belonging and desire to improve things.
Mr Loh added: "Complaining is still better than apathy, and it is a sign that we still care."
The event, organised by Nexus, the Ministry of Defence department responsible for Total Defence and National Education, also featured a mystery speaker, freelance entertainer Matthew Liu.
He shared how national service had changed his perspective about what it meant to be a Singaporean.
The 24-year-old served as a firefighter in the Singapore Civil Defence Force, meeting people from different backgrounds.
This helped him to understand his country better beyond his own privileged upbringing, he said.
"I really wanted to join the army... (but being) sent to the SCDF taught me so much," said Mr Liu.
Two more of these dinners, held as part of the 30th anniversary of Total Defence, will be held on Feb 18 and 20.
For information on how to join, go to http://www.totaldefence.sg/
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