Singapore turns 49 today! It marks the day on which Singapore separated from Malaysia and started its journey to becoming what it is today. One of the most beautiful cities in the world.
When I had just come to Singapore, I had found it culturally devoid. I had found it to be a very rich corporate jungle which financed fast paced lifestyles. People had seemed to be living in a very mechanical way. Work, tablets, phones, shopping, running, drinking. That was all I could see. Where were extended families, festivals, cultural symbols, religious symbols, old historical buildings, associated folk tales, ancestral stories? Coming from a rich historical and mythological background of a country full of symbols, I found Singapore very dry, to say the least.
After living a better part of an year here, I now understand this island country a tad better. It has a very interesting story of its own. Singapore is a phoenix country. It dies and comes alive, again and again. Being a port, it was always important for nearby countries. It was ruled by many rulers; starting from a South Indian emperors, Malay rulers, European countries, before becoming a British port around two centuries ago. For East India Company, it was a trading port and henceforth the city saw inflow of mainly three ethnic groups which are still predominant in the country: Chinese (74%), Malay (13%) and Indians (9%).
Most of the Chinese living in Singapore had come here during Opium Wars of the 19th Century or during the World War II fleeing the Japanese atrocities on Chinese. Recently, I met a senior Chinese origin Singaporean who told us the story of how he was the youngest in the family,until his older siblings were all killed, but he had managed to escape with his mother from China. Most of the Chinese-origin Singaporeans would have such a family story, though it is very much possible that today’s generation is unaware of it.
Unlike in the 19th century, when Chinese community of Singapore had a strong sense of belonging-ness to the main land and played a major role in Chinese revolution and establishment of the Republic of China, in today’s time the young Chinese origin Singaporeans have developed a national feeling towards their island home. Although, they obviously share the appearance with main land fellas, nothing else really matches. The demeanor, dressing style, etiquette and the spoken dialect-language, everything is different. And a Singaporean would be quick to notice the difference and point out it out while standing in airport check-in line! They want to be different!
The main festivals of the country are predominantly Chinese. I was pleasantly surprised to find the extreme similarities between Indian and Chinese culture and customs. Starting from following the Moon calendar, belief in ghosts and supernatural, respect and prayers for the dead, the ceremonies during birth and marriage are also very similar including the concept of ‘arranged’ marriages!
Yes, the country is filled with symbols. Old, new, of different religions and different customs. You just need to turn away from skyscrapers and shopping malls. You would surely find many interesting symbols representing ancient beliefs!
Today represent’s the day Malaysia expelled Singapore from itself. The current PM’s grandfather, Lee Kuan Yew, the PM at that time, had quoted “For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories.” The same man spent the result of his life in building Singapore what it is now. Have you ever heard of such a story of independence? Being expelled and then becoming great.
I bow to this country for it’s colorful and struggling past and beautiful present and hopefully a much better future for its citizens! Happy National Day to all Singaporeans!
PS: Mentos Singapore comes up with most hilarious videos pointing out the present day issue the country faces. Must watch: