What It Means To Be A Singaporean

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So I have been posting pictures of food that I made on my Instagram and Facebook page.
Yes food.
Glorious food that reminds us of home.

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Food that I would have easily picked up from any food court or HDB kopitiam back home, a stone throw away from every corner of the island.

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Food that is unheard of in this part of the world, where a decent Asian supermarket is 2.5 hours drive away and getting the necessary ingredients itself is a logistical nightmare which requires careful planning.

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Food that I probably wouldn’t bother learning how to make because there is always my mom and mom-in-law whose culinary skills are unmatched.

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Food has helped me better understand what it means to be a Singaporean.

Recently, during a trip to a museum in Washington D.C, I was thrilled to see a ‘Food Court’ within the museum premises.
I brought the kids there and we were greeted by 20 counters opened for orders but they only sell one thing, MacDonald.

My jaw dropped because I was expecting the kind of food court we have back home with 20 stores selling 20 or more different kinds of food.

The food court we have back home is colourful and vibrant with a wide variety of food and I realised that perhaps that is what symbolises Singapore and its diversity.

I bought some homemade jam during a trip and gifted it to my New Zealand friend and she asked whether I made them.
I told her, no they were store bought homemade jam.
She laughed cos that’s what she makes back home all the time.
Fresh fruits from her backyard made into jam.

I learned not to serve my Italian friend my focacia bread; the French, macaroons and homemade waffles to my Norwegian friend (she calls them ‘Waffels’).

From food, I learned about a country’s culture and what it means to be uniquely Singapore.

It is evident that I have gone through some kind of identity crisis

During an international gathering, my cheongsam looks unauthentic beside a Taiwanese or PRC Chinese.
And my Singapore Airlines kebaya seems like a joke next to an Indonesian.
An attempt to forge an accent or roast a turkey for Thanksgiving are tell tale signs of how superficially Americanized I am.
What should I wear? How should I speak? What food should I introduce to my foreign friends?

When I visited the US for the very first time, I didn’t know how to respond to comments on how clean Singapore was. I was like, “Really?”
20 years later, I still am not sure how I should respond.

Are they talking about our fine system which has given us the reputation of being a ‘fine’ city?
Are they impressed by how civic minded we are for not littering
Or are they referring to the army of foreign workers that we employ to help clean our streets and prune our trees

When people bring up issues like our bubble gum law and caning policies, I wonder if they remember Michael Fay and they have something to say about our draconian laws

I agree that there are many things that Singapore could have done better

Like how the education system should be made less competitive, how we shouldn’t have opened the immigrant flood gate, how our MRT shouldn’t break down so often, how things shouldn’t be so expensive and malls shouldn’t be so crowded

But things were put into perspective as I recall how the subway in a most beautiful city in a first world country reeked of urine; sometimes the city came to a standstill because the train workers were on strike; me and the kids were packed like sardines in a train without working air conditioning during a hot sweltering summer; and worrying that my pockets would be picked (which eventually did happen).

So, I am okay with not having fellow Singaporeans greet me with a “Bonjour” or “Pardon” before shoving an elbow into me because they wanted to get pass and I was too slow to make way

I am grateful that I needn’t have to spend a day waiting at the driving school to get my driving license just to be told to go home or tip the policeman who gave me a bogus speeding ticket or being spat at by some young punks while driving past some suburban residential area because I am different.

I am thankful that I needn’t worry about being carjacked because I accidentally drove into a bad neighbourhood late at night; or coming home to a dozen policemen surrounding my house because there was a gunman in my backyard; neither do I need to worry that some crazy kids will decide to bring his dad’s semi-automatic and gun down half the school.

And I am glad we don’t have to have a Martin Luther King national holiday to remind the nation what Dr King stood for and how he lost his life to racial violence.

All these make our far from perfect education system, overwhelmed transport system and sometimes difficult to understand government policies normal because it is normal to be imperfect.

I love Singapore not because of how much she has achieved or how perfect she is.
It’s like I love myself not because of how successful or how flawless I am.

It is loving myself even when I am far from perfect.
And to me, that is what it means to be a Singaporean.

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3 comments

  1. Adeline says:

    Food is definitely what true blue Singaporeans can appreciate and bond with each other anytime, anywhere! Loved reading your perspective of what being a Singqporean means to you. Your chai tow kuay looks really delish by the way! Thanks for linking up!

  2. malmal says:

    Thanks Adeline ! Food is actually a good way to introduce a country. We have cooking classes here where different countries take turns to host the classes and everyone get to taste and learn to make food from all over the world 🙂

  3. Jovin says:

    Dear Rachel,

    You sum it up the essence of being Singaporean all so well. I can totally resonate with the food pictures and full of pride to be Singaporean reading your beautifully written post.

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