Big hearts that make our little red dot shine bright

My heartiest good wishes to all, as we welcome the Year of the Monkey.

Chinese New Year is a special occasion. It is a time to remind ourselves of the importance of family: How it is our pillar of strength and support; how it cheers us on when we are down and rejoices with us when we achieve success; how it is always there for us.

So during this festive period, we look forward to reunion dinner with our families on Chinese New Year's Eve. We catch up with not only our immediate families, but also our grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces. We exchange mandarin oranges and indulge in delicious New Year goodies. We make New Year visits to each other's homes, to bai nian (pay respects to elders and wish them a Happy New Year).

We welcome new additions to families. The not-so-young ones tease the younger ones with embarrassing questions - asking singles: "Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?"; asking young people who are dating: "When are you getting married?"; and asking newlyweds: "When are you having a baby?"

I was delighted that last year, more Singaporeans welcomed babies into their families - 33,800 citizen births, the most in 13 years, and even slightly more than the Dragon Year in 2012. I hope we will have more babies in the Year of the Monkey. The Government will continue to support Singaporeans in the many responsibilities and joys of parenthood.

Besides babies, family is also about living a full life, experiencing joys and sorrows over a lifetime together with our loved ones - from being a child, growing up, finding love, starting and bringing up a family, growing old together. So when I watched this video, I thought it encapsulated what family really means. This is why the family is such an important building block of society. It is the model of how we should relate to one another as fellow citizens, seeing one another as members of an extended Singapore family.

Last week, I met the finalists of The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award: a builder of schools for the poor in South-east Asia; a nurse who risked her life to care for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone; an ex-consultant who opened up his home to take care of at-risk youths; a sales promoter who cleaned up a stranger who had soiled himself while grocery shopping.

I was humbled and inspired by their stories. None of them thought what he or she did was special. They were all ordinary Singaporeans, but they all did extraordinary things. They brightened life a little, motivated only to put right what they found wrong, and bring solace and hope to those who were suffering or needed help. By helping others, and inspiring many more, they have made a difference to Singapore and to the world.

That is what Singapore should be about. How we treat each other and what we are willing to do for one another defines who we are. This country belongs to all of us, and is what we make of it. It is big hearts that must make our little red dot shine bright.

Chinese New Year is also a time when we wish each other good health and prosperity. That is why we give each other pineapple tarts, because ?pineapple in dialect sounds like ong lai, which means "may prosperity come".

Yet, I know that the economic outlook is filled with uncertainty. The world economy is slowing, and even China's economy is softening. Stock markets around the world are down. Business sentiment in Singapore is guarded.

The Government is watching the situation closely. We do not expect a severe downturn, like the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The Government will continue to support businesses and workers as we restructure and upgrade. We must continue to strive to get on to the right path, so that we can prosper again when conditions improve, as they will.

We should take these ups and downs in our stride. We still enjoy full employment, and there are still opportunities to be seized, in Singapore and in the region. I hope you will continue to go for them, to be jizhi lingqiao (quick-thinking and dexterous), just as the monkey leaps onto higher branches to pick peaches, and through his wit and agility takes care of himself, and stays at least one jump ahead of others.

Happy Chinese New Year!

PM Lee Hsien Loong

This article was first published on February 7, 2016.
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