Almost regular musings of a (somewhat confused) graphic designer.

The Yesteryears of Singapore

I was actually doing a lot of reflection on my life during the long weekend of National Day and Eid. I can only say one thing; I’m pretty lucky than most people. I’m lucky to be a Singaporean. I’m lucky to have grandparents who lived way before Independence, experienced WWII, the Japanese Occupation and grew along the ever-changing faces of Singapore. From a poor nothing in the 50s, it became one of the leading financial centre in Asia today. Which is no wonder why my grandparents still have such high regards for the Lee Kwan Yew government.

I’m lucky to be able to hear stories from Olden Day Singapore. And to hear their stories they’ve heard when they were a child. Contrary to what people think, anyone who isn’t Malay or Chinese are relatively new to this country. I could trace back my bloodline, at least 4 generations ago. Even I, as today get asked if I am from India. My answer is no. I couldn’t identify with Indians. I could only identify with Singapore and Singaporeans. Singaporeans like me, who are at least in the 4th generation of immigrants/Malayan-Singaporeans. Lucky enough to see our first Premier stepping down, lucky enough to experience chewing gum before it was banned. Lucky enough to experience retail therapy before GST was introduced.

Growing up in the 90s, never felt stressful. Even for my parents. There were no social problems like a wide income gap, poor wages, sky rocketing property prices, most of all what I felt a lot was the Singaporean togetherness. It didn’t matter to much people then if they were rich or poor. In fact, among the ordinary, neighbourhood school-going Singaporeans, no one was really that rich, and no one was terribly poor. The word “elitism” was pretty much unheard of.

Right up till the mid-noughties, then it was the first time I actually realised a significant change. The 2006 elections was a pretty ugly one, taking note of the gerrymandering issues, and how the government tried to justify cheap labour, effectively removing many Singaporeans from work in those industries. This was just two years after the second Premier changed hands with the son of the first Premier. It was around that time, when property prices suddenly went high with the increase of GST. And suddenly the term, “foreign talent” was coined by some minister who told us why we need them.

Now today, we have a Singapore… that was rapidly developed in that span of 6 years. Flat lands that no longer exists due to urban development. Malls everywhere. A  tight squeeze in the train every morning – because honestly, our infrastructure was never prepared for this influx. And today, there are angrier Singaporeans than happier Singaporeans. Sometimes I ask myself why are many Singaporeans in my generation so angry? Felt cheated maybe? Is it because that Singaporean identity is now lost? Is it because everywhere you turn, there’s an unfamiliar, unfriendly foreign face? Is it because we cannot accept that our city-state is basically a playground for the wealthy, whilst we wonder how we’re going to pay our increasingly expensive flat? Is it because once upon a time we felt comfortable with our neighbours (whom we grew up with), but not anymore?

Sometimes I feel this way, but I realised that it’ll come to a point where it’s all about acceptance that this is actually one of the changing faces of Singapore. Sometimes I wonder how my parents and grandparents would’ve felt back then, when the URA got rid of all the kampong dwellings to make way for tar and concrete. How would they have felt then?

I can understand it totally, because my parents reminisce about their days nearly all the time. Sometimes I feel a pang of jealousy because I never actually felt what they’ve felt. Some of my foreign friends even at my age, had their share of the “country life”. As Singapore grows older, the lines on her face will get even finer, more  refined, hopefully it will age gracefully with happier citizens.

As Singapore turns 48, I’m thinking to myself, what challenges will life hold for the future generation. What delightful stories of Singapore would we tell our children? How do we remind ourselves of our roots? Maybe it’s time we start preserving them in our hearts. Like Morgan says; the best photographs are the ones in your memories.

Me during a train ride in 1988 when SMRT first opened its lines in 1987. This is what kids love to do then. There was plenty of seats back then.


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