Observing the Merits and Appreciating Kindness (OMAK) of living in Singapore as a Singaporean

I was excited but at the same time apprehensive when asked to share an article to OMAK Singapore. There are a lot of merits being a citizen of Singapore but these were not obvious to me until I started travelling extensively for leisure and work. Some of these include the heterogeneity of our society, the talents that we have produced over the years and being situated in a geographical region of relative peace.

From all the travelling trips, and reflections, I have gained certain insights. Hence, I would like to share some observations and alternative views on the merits and appreciation of kindness of being a Singaporean living in Singapore.

1-    An English speaking society, with emphasis on mastering a second language.

When I was travelling solo, many foreigners were surprised that a Chinese/Korean/Japanese looking person could articulate and comprehend English well. Ex-colleagues from Taiwan frequently praised our government’s decision to enforce English as the official language as that has provided Singaporeans with a lot of first-mover advantage economically in the 80s and 90s. With Mandarin increasingly becoming another key language in the international arena, our foundational exposure from young, would provide us with the necessary language skill to engage the world of the future.

2-    A uniquely heterogeneous society.

Neighboring countries like Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand typically have their own long history of deep-rooted and distinct uniform cultural traits. For Singapore, on the contrary, at the societal level, we had differentiated ourselves by intentionally emphasizing equality based on individual merits. This mentality allows us to quickly assimilate all the positive points across different cultures in the world and adapt it to suit our needs and conditions. As such, heterogeneity is our uniformity. It is up to each individual to find his/her own space here, and yet be able to integrate into and respect this heterogeneity.

3-    An unusual way of governance-- my “national service”

Due to the nature of my work, I interact with various nationalities of different cultural background. They are usually very knowledgeable about their own country’s way of governance and are eager to share. At the same time, they are also very keen to learn about Singapore’s success story, its potential flaws and its future. Hence, I always feel obliged to present Singapore in the most thoughtful and truthful manner during these conversations. Being an ordinary citizen, this is an alternative way to serve national service.

4-    Rare talents who make their mark on the world stage.

There are only about 5 million plus Singaporeans out of the 7 billion in the world. Despite various recent reports about Singaporeans lacking the risk taking or innovation spirit, we should instead highlight and celebrate the success of those who are already demonstrating these attitudes. These are Singaporeans who stick to their inner callings and charter their own unique journey. In recent times, there has been an increase in the number of filmmakers who have made their mark on the international stage. Talents such as Kirsten Tan and K Rajagopal. Numerous singers have also left a strong foot-print in the very competitive Taiwanese music scene. From the fashion industry, we have international fashion designers such as Andrew Gn and Ashley Isham and there is the world-renowned photographer John Clang, who grew up in an average neighborhood in Singapore. From the sports arena, we have Fandi Ahmad in the past and Joseph Schooling at present. While our educational system is emphasizing on academic grades and jobs offering financial security await, each of these Singaporeans has chosen to walk the unconventional path and become successful in their own right. For a country with such a small population to produce these inspirational talents, we should truly rejoice.

5-    A place of “opportunity”

As stated in the Lamrim, in the chapter on a human life of leisure and opportunity,  the four aspects on opportunity that pertain to others,  are; 1- the sublime teachings is being taught, 2-the teachings remains, 3-there are those who follow it and 4-there is caring for others. All these elements are present in Singapore. They are there for us to contemplate and act upon. The heterogeneity of our society is the environment that allows us to practice compassion and different ways of caring for others.

In conclusion, enforcing English as the official working language has given Singapore an early economical advantage over many other countries in this region, leading to general prosperity. The positive aspects and drawbacks of the governance of Singapore are what I could now happily share with people of many different nationalities. The increase in the number of international talents here, hopefully will inspire more to come. Lastly, being situated in a region of relative geopolitical peace, I would treasure this opportunity to learn and practice the Buddha-dharma more conscientiously.

Credit - Article by Leow P Shan