The recent driver strike, sex-in-the-city, rants-gone-wild, scholar-turn-porn, and other hot topics give an impression that social cracks are widening beneath the glossy cover of Singapore Inc.
The swift actions by the authorities, sensational media coverage, and active online forums reveal how Singapore and Singaporeans react when things get out of line.
Are we near the tipping point of a social disintegration? Are things really getting out of line or are we reading too much into such ‘isolated’ incidents?
In 2011 MM Lee reiterated that Singapore is still a nation in the making and despite progress, there are vulnerabilities.
The notion of a nation is rather skewed towards physical boundaries and what was agreed after the big war. In our case, we became a nation after our separation from Malaysia.
Being a history buff I am, I can’t help comparing what’s happening to Singapore today with what happened after the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty when the British outpost became a major entrepot trading hub in this region.
Within a short time the population grew from a small Malay seaside community to overcrowded enclaves of majority Chinese, and groups of Indians, Arabs, Jews, Japanese, Eurasians and Europeans – all living in an urban area around the Singapore River.
While the English-speaking straits-born Chinese Peranakans assumed birth rights and were well-placed in society, the new immigrants from China established lucrative businesses and became the workforce of the fast expanding economy.
The population explosion came with its associated problems such as social unrests, inequality, abuse, poverty, and short-term focus on monetary gains as cost of living got higher and low-waged workers grew desperate.
The British administrators in their well-starched suits and tropical bungalows tried their best to make this island a jewel of the east for the empire. And so they did. Singapore was an extremely profitable colony to the British crown.
The similarity then and now is uncanny. Today Singapore is the richest country in the world, so declared the Wealth report. Singaporeans are like the Peranakans – look Chinese, speak English. Sure some are bilingual but the native language for most of us is English (or Singlish).
So is Singapore far from being a Nation?
If we go by Wikipedia’s definition “A nation may refer to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, or history”, then we are not yet a Nation.
Another 40 years, maybe. Will we be around to see it happen after all these years of pledging? Does it make a difference?