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Journey to the West?

Posted by inspir3d on October 10, 2006

This is a spirited response to Kitana’s ‘Why I Would Like to Leave,’ by young Aerasio who, despite his youth, already feels strongly grounded in Singapore. It’s not as long an essay as Kitana’s, but I am particularly struck by his youthful idealism and expressed conviction to stick to his beliefs. It is my hope that by publicising it here to a wider audience, his idealism will be preserved and spread.

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Journey to the West?, by Aerasio

I was reading a post on Intelligent Singaporean on the reasons why Singaporeans emigrate to other countries. Basically, what the author said was that emigrating Singaporeans did so because of the tolerance and freedom of other western countries and that these qualities overrode all the good points of Singapore, despite the negative aspects of foreign countries. The inclusiveness and acceptance they found abroad was infinitely preferable to the inanely busy pressure-cooker rat-race that we find in Singapore.

Doubtless, there are many who agree with [her]. Singapore, for all its safety and efficiency, is certainly lacking in social friendliness, inclusiveness and accountability. We have a Kiasee/Kiasu culture that to some is essential and endearing but I find sad and at times repulsive. I don’t know about all Singaporeans, but in the circles that I grew up in and among my friends, it is the rare Singaporean that is concerned with issues in society and things outside of their immediate view. It is a kind of apathy that I abhor, a willing ignorance or mayhap subconscious fear of the government and its actions. Politics and civil liberties are over their heads, not their business, and so they don’t care about it. This I feel is the reason why we don’t have political freedoms. Not because of government repression, but because of an instinctive fear and unwillingness to fight in the average Singaporean. Because we lack the will to fight for it, we lack the responsibility and maturity to have it and defend it and are unable to pressure the government into letting us have it.

Yet despite all these intellectual concerns, I don’t think I will leave Singapore. In the end, it is my homeland. It is the place where I grew up, where my heart is. America is big, and free but it has its problems as well. Canada may be wonderfully tolerant, but too much liberty is bad as well. I still can’t bring myself to abandon the culture I grew up in, the people I grew up with, the bonds I have, the ties I’ve forged. It is one thing to say “that country is more free, I think its better to live there,” it is another to say “I’m going to leave everything I know and love and go to where it’s nicer”. Another part of me rebels against emigration for another reason, the idea of patriotic duty. This may not have been the land of my forefathers or my ancient ancestors, but it is my land. I was born here, raised here, and I see its problems. Does that mean I take off and go to a place where there are less problems? Do I leave my home because its uncomfortable intellectually to stay? I guess it would be pompous of me to say no, but I still say no. I think that the right thing to do, would be to fight for it, though everyone else may not. To at least try to do what you feel is right. The author is right when [she] talks about the pressure of Singapore. The constant stress, the immense pressure to succeed, and the materialistic and ultimately worthless nature of that success. It is a problem, but instead of avoiding it, or running away from it, maybe we should try to change it.

I realize that the author’s words may have merely been intended to justify the actions of those of us who have migrated. I don’t think that it makes them any less human or justified. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, thats what the creator endowed us with right? I guess I’m just too backward to admit that “Singapore is not a place where such dreams flourish”. Too idealistic to admit that my efforts probably won’t amount to anything anyway. But I’ll stay on, and do my best to live there anyway, because thats what I believe in.

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19 Responses to “Journey to the West?”

  1. OrnateGhost said

    At different phases in life, one will view things very differently. I recall a long time back when I possess as much patriotic zeal as young Aerasio. But things do become very different as one’s perspective broadens and options opened up with age / experience and exposure.

    As such, the persons really worthy of respect is CSJ and JBJ.

  2. Do your best to live there only because you happen to be born there?!

    To me, it sounds very fatalistic and defeatist ….

    reminded me of those old cantonese movies where the poor women tend to say such things – born to the Lee family, die as the Lee family’s ghost….

  3. anon said

    What a nut case. probably too young to remember JBJ.

  4. Just because we remember JBJ, we have to leave? Exactly because if you remember JBJ, you should stay on to change the status quo. Else, any patriotic Singaporeans’s previous sacrifice for us (the current generation) will be for naught!

  5. aerasio said

    Mayhap my opinion and view will change as time moves on. Who knows how the whirligig of time will take them? However, this is my view at the present moment, and I stick by it. I will be the first to admit that I have not the wisdom of my seniors, nor the eloquence of my contemporaries or the passion of the truly commited. All I have are my opinions and that is all that the above words are.

    To ‘Whispersfromtheheart’, it is not that I feel some kind of ritualistic duty to Singapore, but rather it is because of the emotional bonds I have with people in Singapore and a ‘patriotic’ sense if you will toward the land I was raised in (note: not just born in, but raised in). I question your simplistic dismissal of the attachment those old cantonese ladies had for their families. It is upon the backs of such simple folk that the communities of great civilisations were forged. To dismiss them with such a lack of respect is, I feel, a mistake.

    I resent being referred to as a nutcase without being given proper a proper reason for the term and hope the person who labeled me so unkindly will give his future victims more explanation.

    Lastly, I thank cobalt paladin for his agreement and firmly hope that there are more like him among u Singaporeans.

  6. aerasio said

    Mayhap my opinion and view will change as time moves on. Who knows how the whirligig of time will take them? However, this is my view at the present moment, and I stick by it. I will be the first to admit that I have not the wisdom of my seniors, nor the eloquence of my contemporaries or the passion of the truly commited. All I have are my opinions and that is all that the above words are.

    To ‘Whispersfromtheheart’, it is not that I feel some kind of ritualistic duty to Singapore, but rather it is because of the emotional bonds I have with people in Singapore and a ‘patriotic’ sense if you will toward the land I was raised in (note: not just born in, but raised in). I question your simplistic dismissal of the attachment those old cantonese ladies had for their families. It is upon the backs of such simple folk that the communities of great civilisations were forged. To dismiss them with such a lack of respect is, I feel, a mistake.

    I resent being referred to as a nutcase without being given proper a proper reason for the term and hope the person who labeled me so unkindly will give his future victims more explanation.

    Lastly, I thank cobalt paladin for his agreement and firmly hope that there are more Singaporeans with such sentiments.

  7. If everyone stays put, the new world would not be found …

    I had actually hoped for our young to be more adventurous and forward-looking.

    If you know your efforts in staying would be meaningless, why not look around to see if there are undiscovered horizons?

    I am an old lady too but I seriously don’t think very much of those virtues … I believe in meritocracy, LKY taught me well. I try to maximise my potential and growth as much as I can.

  8. anon said

    History will forget JBJ, Tan Liang Hong, Francis Seow, and others..
    Just because they will not be remembered, I cannot stay. Who will remember them? The current generation? Go ask around.

    The nail that sticks out will get the hammer.

  9. simple man said

    Actually, leaving is more “hip”.

    Just ask around and it will be obvious that most perceive those who stay (the future generation) will be those who can’t and unable to leave.

    Very soon, the government will have to do some rebranding again. To make stayers more hip and happening … not the “pak si buay chow” types who can’t conveniently die off.

    Maybe that’s why Yue Fei was brought up once to incite blind faith in Singaporeans. It didn’t work well with my kind.

  10. kajagoogoo said

    Hi Aerasio

    I am very curious in how you are going to stay and make a difference to the elitist/repressive environment that is uniquely Singapore under the current regime?

    Political activitism at the student level has been serious curbed since the ruling party survived the student riots during 50s and 60s. Singapore and Singaporeans have been depoliticised by the current regime through the systematic erosion of civil society institutions such as societies from participating in the political sphere.

    ISD/Defamation suits/Mind control through the main stream media are used to control dissent and stifle fledging thoughts of alternative forms of governance and of being governed. Potential rivals are systematically co-opted into the regime through ministerial/parliamentary posts.

    Foreign publications are stifled from publishing any critical reports that allege that we are not as meritocratic as we claim to be.

    Yes stay and fight, but what you are going to do to be counted rather than writing in the blogosphere (which is a good start). 🙂

    kajagoogoo

  11. bing said

    Ah, idealism at its peak. I remember the days when I was just as patriotic as you.

    One question: Didn’t our forefathers decide to leave their homelands just as the many “quitters” are currently doing?

  12. PH Law said

    In a nutshell, any country that is run by one family – is defintely disastrous for the population. Especially if the rulers are very cunning and shrewd enough to hide their own agendas under the disguise of good governance.

    Because people eventually become moulded by this iron-fist rule, and selective democracy – to become obedient servants to the ruling family.

    There are a few examples of such system in the world – North Korea is one.

  13. travailingdoc said

    Hi Aerasio,

    I am a “quitter” and have experienced the throes and consternations in my translocation to the West.
    You are right in many ways and I admire guts and principles…these qualities are not seen much today.

    For many not remaining and running off is not always what it seems to be..

    Many emigrated because of their children’s education, or they are unable to get a job in Singapore .Its a myth that emigration is a less stressful vnture, infact, there are more hardships, anguish and pain than anyone who had remained behind can imagine. It is no bed of roses… you have to be totally self reliant..no maids, no extended family support, no community help..You are all alone in a strange culture, and place.

    Yet, after a while, with acculturation which do not come immediately, I have come to blend into this new society.
    I soon realise and can contrast more vividly between true freedom and a cloistered and repressed society, and to appreciate values like hardwork, honesty, compassion, caring
    and love of neighbor. An individual is not measured in dollars and cents. He is a wholesome human being worthy of himself and not viewed as an economic commodity to be bantered and traded like slaves.

    He is free to be what and who he is and to live to his fullest.
    He is treated with dignity and respect and allowed his own space and growth.

    BG

  14. Ex-Singaporean said

    I love this: “Singapore is a country run by one family!” – why do the masses not see this? Blind or prefer to look the other way?

  15. America is big, and free but it has its problems as well.

    Truth be told, America isn’t feeling very free any more. A lot of it due to the current politics. I sometimes have trouble telling Singaporeans how bad it’s gotten… that and some of its mentioned problems are actually making me leave… and RETURN TO SG. I never thought it would happen.

    I would like to see more Singaporeans in Singapore who are more socially aware – and I have hope. I think I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always been blessed with intelligent friends and company in Singapore, even if a lot of us feel helpless amongst the rudeness and superficiality that exists in SG. But I can say now with certainty that those faults exist EVERYWHERE! And now Singapore has a thriving blogosphere to make me feel better too.

  16. Ning said

    being an ex class mate of aerasio, i just have two cents to add. Not to be rude or anything, but i think he is only saying this because he has already been to america, studied there. i think we should reconsider all these rheotics about believing the grass is greener and see the point in his essay. Life is more than just having a better greener pasture to graze on. it is the family, the friends, the culture that we should treasure and continue to believe in because without those, a green field would just be an emty green field. btw, aerasio is 16 and has moved on the an american university already, mayhap thats why he feels this way, i don’t know.

  17. bornin aprison said

    I envy Aerasio’s idealism and sincerely wish him luck in making a life in sg…
    I couldn’t help but wonder, though – has he ever experienced what it’s like to live in sg as someone who’s poor? illiterate? non-English speaking? elderly? disabled? non-Chinese? homosexual? or, God forbid, not a member of the elite?
    I imagine he’s had the good fortune of living not in the margins, but in comfortable confines, where one can easily overlook many of the systemic prejudices that rive sg’s society. Would he feel that same warm feeling of ‘home’ if he had to go through life unaccepted for who he is or made to feel unwanted?
    To those who deride “quitters”, consider this for a moment. Can you fault someone for wanting to find a place that is more welcoming of them?
    Place of birth is an accident of circumstance; no one chooses where they end up. I too was born and grew up in sg, but all too often I felt like I’d been born in a prison, or birthed by the type of mother that abandons her babies in the toilet.

  18. Elaine said

    I am not an “intelligent” Singaporean who aced my A level, bagged a scholarship and won numerous national competitions. I am only an average Singaporean who was born overseas in Japan because of my parents’ job; educated in Singapore, Japan, US, Australia and Hong Kong due to family circumstances but who nevertheless considered myself Singaporean. I am not a top student but one individual in the healthcare profession that Singapore heavily needs. And the all these years abroad, I have only considered myself a Singaporean, not so much Asian, not so much Chinese but a Singaporean.

    When the arrogant Chinese boost to the “Ang Mohs” that “Chinese” ruled Singapore, I would be the first to draw the line between Singapore and China, making it clear that Singaporeans rule Singapore and that Singapore is multicultural (many “Ang Mohs” actually thought Singapore was being colonised by China). Deep inside me, I am a proud Singaporean.

    However, all these changed when I returned to Singapore 6 months ago. I was ridiculed my my fellow Singaporean for “faking” an “Ang Moh” accent that I cannot control. Yet when I eventually shake off that “Ang Moh” accent to speak English the Singapore-style, I was blamed for being incapable of speak “perfect English”. It’s clear my fellow Singaporeans didn’t like me.

    I was picked all for all the things I do and said. My overseas edge and culture were not appreciated by “vibrant” Singapore the way fellow Singaporeans appreciate the differences and open-mindedness of the true-blue “Ang Mohs”. I was expected to think Singaporean, act Singaporean, speak Singaporean. When my education and values clashed with Singapore’s politics and healthcare practice, I was told that Singapore is a world class city that has first world healthcare standards that I cannot agree with. While I expected that I would learn skills from my mentor in Singapore as an intern, her focus was on proving herself right to me, that Singapore is better than Australia and to show me that her diploma education at NYP was better than my university education. She has made her point and she acted to break my spirit by failing me.

    The people here are cold, there is no emotional support for students and there is no guiding. Students – are supposed to suck up to supervisors. Full stop.

    One day, two Australian podiatrists told me “Singapore is not meant for Singaporeans… I shouldn’t have done my internship in Singapore”. They left Singapore the following week when their two years contract expires.

    With me were two other “overseas interns”. One an Australian Vietnamese and the other a Singapore born-Indonesian who was educated for most part of her life in Singapore. They echoed the same thing and told me life is easier for them as interns here because they are non-Singaporeans because Singaporeans hate Singaporean.

    True enough, these two other interns, my seniors – older and wise and doing doing their masters had things a lot easier than myself. When I have a question to ask, I was often given the reply “what do you think?” or “go and find out”. Please understand that I wouldn’t have seeked her advice if I knew the answer or have any avenue of finding out.

    When I was asked to do a home-modification project, I was not informed that there are sample resources in the hospital that I could used. I spent 2 days of near sleepless nights researching for information and planning. The other girl was given a brochure and quotation list for similar duty. I ended up doing a bigger and better proposal but was told it’s not practical due to cost. For someone barely two weeks back in Singapore after being overseas for a decade, I do not know costs here. Nevertheless, she did not direct me to the available resources. I only found out when the other girl told me about this. With it, she added: “I am glad I am not Singaporean and never told her I was born and bred in Singapore”. I shivered.

    On the final day of my internship. I was asked a question about Singapore’s politics. About NCSS and MYSC. Both are abbreviations that I have never heard of before which I do not understand how they are related to SGH or neurology. I failed this component. For the same “politics” part, that “Indonesian” girl was asked “What are the differences between A class wards, B class wards and C class wards?” For sure, she received full marks.

    Couple of weeks ago, one of my superiors had a casual discussion with me and another colleague that she thinks Singapore has good employment policy because if I need someone from India to fill a position here at half the cost, she could do it anytime. Western countries in general doesn’t allow it due to protectionism and employment laws and that is not good for the centre’s budget. I cringed. To employ a trained staff here in Singapore (I cannot name my occupation sorry), it would cost about $2000 whereas someone from poorer countries are willing to do it for less than $1000 per month. I wanted to inform her that an equivalent personnel in Australia, UK or US would expect a minimum of $4000 starting as a fresh grad. But I did not. I have learned it that hard way that Singapore in Singapore do not like a different opinion from someone in a lower position. All I felt was a sense of lost for myself and Singapore. I hope she realised that one day, she could also be replaced by a Filipino willing to do her work at double the weekly hours but for half her pay – when she reaches 40.

    Friends here, they are cold. I thought we share something similar. Yet when we met, they have already become experts in office politics with topics like “sleeping with bosses” and “back-stabbing that bitch” coming up in every small chats. I know we have grown different and drifted apart.

    Back to ethics, maybe I should share with you that I have once been told by someone at a prominent hospital here that I should not waste too much time with C class patients because they are subsided and pay only $27/ hour. A class charges are around $150/ hour. I might have interpreted that wrongly but strong arguments are required for me to change this interpretation.

    6 months in Singapore and I am convinced that I have no friends and reasons strong enough to make me stay.

    6 months and I have not felt and warmth, vibrancy, open-mindedness and opportunities in this self-acclaimed world class city.

    6 months and I have suffered enough humiliation and disappointment as a Singaporean in Singapore that none of the 7 other countries that I have lived in ever made me felt. It is an outright insult that I felt more foreign in my own country than in a “foreign country”.

    Therefore, I made a very painful decision recently to denounce my Singapore citizenship so I am now enjoy the benefits of being a “foreign talent” in Singapore for a short while until I return to my new home many miles away.

    They have not lost only a trained healthcare professional but also someone who has got huge financial capacity to invest heavily in Singapore. I do not think Singapore is the best place for business but I am willing to do it because I love Singapore. Sadly, Singapore does not love me. So the many multi-millions that my family has got now get pumped in US and Australia that happily give my dual citizenship, a decent income approx. 2.5X that I would get in Singapore as a healthcare professional and a tidier profit margin in business investment.

    The grass is not greener over there but it is definitely better than Singapore – a place not meant for Singaporeans as my “Ang Moh” friends have called.

    I am sharing my experience because I hope someone someday will understand what Singapore has lost and do some serious reflection.

  19. patriot said

    Singaporeans blame Singaporeans.

    Singaporeans blame Foreign Talents.

    Foreign Talents say they are unwelcomed and bullied.

    Singaporeans blame their Leaders.

    Singaporean Leaders think their Citizens lazy, stupid and have to nanny them(citizenry)

    IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR THIS TINY COUNTRY??

    patriot.

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