Happy Birthday Singapore

Being Singaporean means I could have roti prata for breakfast
Wanton mee for lunch
Satay for dinner
Char Kway Teow for supper
Or a combination of all in one meal

Going to school,
it meant reciting the pledge
and singing the national anthem every day
but not understanding why we do it
Or to what allegiance or debt we owe
But to this day, they are ingrained in my consciousness

As I grew older
Being Singaporean meant I was gifted in languages, but never being aware of it
For I could speak English, Chinese, Hokkien, and a spattering of Malay
And that’s at least two more languages than most Americans can speak
Yet, it also meant that I spoke broken English, or Singlish as we love to call it,
And struggled to express simple ideas like “wah lau eh” in proper English

As I became an early adult
Being Singaporean meant I had to grapple with the realities of national service
You either went through it as an able bodied male,
or you knew someone close who went through it
Either way, it affected us and continued to impact our lives

As I travelled and lived overseas
I smelt the urine in the subways of Paris,
became a victim of petty crime in big cities
and was frightened by the lax gun laws of the US
Being Singaporean meant being grateful for the state of our MRT system,
and being able to walk alone and unafraid at night

Every time I return to Singapore after an overseas stint, I find something new
We have totally transformed the Marina Bay area
Marina Barrage and Gardens by the Bay are featured on National Geographic
We have $90,000 COEs, and jaw dropping prices for cars
But the roads are increasingly congested
We have the North East and the Circle lines
But the trains are overloaded every morning
We opened our doors to foreign talent,
But we have PRC workers that don’t speak English selling roti prata in food courts
We have multiple rounds of property cooling measures
But the property market continues to defy gravity

Alas we don’t have a perfect Singapore
But I still remember my beginnings
I lived in a kampong with the toilet in the backyard
My parents slogged through life
and I had to take care of 3 siblings growing up
There was a time without MRT
and there was a time that life was tough

Today, life may still be tough for many
But as I attended my very first National Day Parade preview,
I remembered how I said my pledge and sang my anthem
in an old dilapidated school house with monkeys watching on

And as I looked at the Red Lions glide through the sky
and the fighter jets tear through the sky in their senseless noise
I am swell with pride and patriotism that makes me want to stand up and salute the flag
For we have come a really really long way
and we shouldn’t forget that we are a little country in a very big world

And as I recite the pledge and sing the anthem again after a hiatus of many decades
I finally hear and understand the words that I have recited for so many years in school
With the simplicity and beauty of those words, I feel my responsibility to my country
There is a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes
I can only say that I am so privileged to be here

Happy Birthday Singapore
I am proud to be a Singaporean





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