20 February, 2013

Rant: 6.9million in Singapore

Been catching up on the news about the White Paper recently, and it does bother me too.

To be completely honest, I don't read the news everyday, I don't understand politics completely, but one thing I can be sure of, is how my feelings for this country has changed over the years.

Singapore used to be a place I call home. As was stated on the wall of my primary school, Singapore is our homeland. This is where we belong.

Years ago when I was a little child, Singapore was The Place to be. I enjoyed life because food is cheap and  it felt good to be home. Heck, I even enjoyed the leaders' debates about Singlish.

At then, leaving Singapore was never an option I'd consider. Not the least bit.

It's the sense of belonging that the country and National Education gave us.

Then when I grew up, I started to understand parts of the bigger picture - why people say Singapore's General Elections were "no kick", and I remember seeing candidates carrying a leader in a walkover celebration.

The first time I saw a foreign student, was in primary five. My primary school accepted a transfer student from China, who became pretty good friends with me. She aced her academic studies and was really outspoken. That was the first time, we felt the gap between their standard and our standards.

During PSLE results release, she was, of course, the top scorer. The second top scorer was a local and I remember some whinings that "had there not been a foreign transfer student, that local kid would be invited back to school ceremony the following year". Same for secondary school.

The issue slowly surfaced on newspaper, and our leaders call it a policy to raise our standards. That it was nothing to worry, because once we catch up, we can be comparable to them.

Secondary school years came. As people from my generation would know, at the end of Secondary 2, we have to choose from a series of Set Meals the school has designated - double/triple/combined Science, A/E Maths, pure/double/single Humanities.

McDonald's Set Meals were good. Because I could change a drink, upsize my fries, add cheese to my burger. Ultimately, decide what I want and what's best for me. Not in these Set Meals though.

One thing I knew then, was that I really loved Chinese. Way earlier in Secondary 3, I've decided that Chinese Studies in Ngee Ann Polytechnic would be my aim.

I've opted for Chinese Literature for Secondary 3, because I thought that would give me an edge when it comes to JAE.

I didn't get any news from school, even heard rumor that there's not going to be Chinese Literature class because "there wasn't enough students".

That's a pity, but a valid reason, right?

Next thing I noticed, was seeing a group of China students taking Chinese Literature in our school.

So apparently there was this course. Maybe I wasn't good enough. Maybe I would pull the statistics down.

But what was schooling for in the first place?

School's statistics, value-added awards, accolades and rankings?

That if a student in Hougang isn't good enough to meet any aggregate scores, he'll have to travel to other areas for schooling?

Not to mention, I had a friend who wanted to go Anderson Secondary School, but screwed up his PSLE. But for "face sake", the mother insisted him to go Anderson Normal Academic, instead of a neighbourhood school Express stream.

What exactly has the education system done to the students?

Aside from those who do well enough to be on stage, Aces listed on projector screen, how has it benefited the rest of us?

Polytechnic years were the best of my youth, partially because all the foreign students have gone to Junior Colleges. We were competing on equal level grounds.

But looking back, I can't help but feel sorry for our younger generations. During my time, if you liked basketball, you could join the bunch and play during recess, after school. After my generation, they had the Catch Them Young programme, putting "potential" kids in bright orange t-shirts.

How can you be so sure? How about the rest? How do you expect them to bond and grow as equals?

But the way I look at it, it's a sign of how our country changed. For that small group of elites and successful people, the rest of us have to pay the price, be the spectators, cheer for them, be seen and not heard.

In a sense, we've always lived here believing Singapore is THE PLACE to be. As kids, some of us laughed at Made In China, as is with many online chatter.

That changed, when I had the chance to go China for cultural immersion programme for four months.

Trivial as it may seem,

1) Their bus fare was 20cents regardless distance
2) On rainy days, there's a guard at mall entrance with fully automated plastic sealing machine for wet umbrellas
3) Their speed of loading Baidu is way faster than our local internet speed
4) The part of their university where we lived was a "town" on its own, with basic toiletries, food stalls, hangout spots, bookstores, ticketing booth, tour company outlet, post office, ATMs, market and even electronics store. [Don't tell me you have Cheers in your uni. That's just sad.]

It was a sound wake up call for us, the Singaporean students.

I guess that's why they say students who have been overseas have a wider horizon.

When we came back to Singapore, some of us realized that China isn't laughable, compared to our state of being here.

Seeing how SMRT is making a profit, and still sees the need to increase fares, seeing how we are losing sight of locals and they still want to bring in more foreigners, seeing how our media hasn't evolved in fairness, I can't help but feel a little disappointed.

I don't think it's right to blame the government for everything, but EXACTLY what right have we got?

I have friends who want to bake in their free time and make a little pocket money, but the rules state that a bunch of limitations and conditions.

I thought they encouraged entrepreneurship in youths? How is it that we could sell what we bake in school, yet we can't sell what we bake at home?

I'm glad that Singapore has evolved in the sense that our buses are mostly air-conditioned by now, we have more MRT stations, more bus services and all.

But why do we not feel as safe as we did, why do we feel like we don't belong and why do we feel unhappy so often now?

Exactly what has changed?

I've met people who asked, what's so whine-worthy about a 2-cent increase in bus fare?

Well, that matters when you have to take 4 buses to and fro work, earning meager sum to support 2 kids and the family.

How many of our MPs actually experience waking up at 6am, boarding a crowded bus with a laptop in hand and bulky backpack, stand on the bus from Seng Kang to Bukit Timah Road, suffering the anxiety of being late when your bus gets caught in the Lornie Road jam and dammit Jalan Anak Bukit car accident jam?

Don't tell me holding on the pole on a not-so-crowded train is your "daily life experience". Not even close.

How is it that Polytechnic school fees are ridiculously higher than Junior Colleges, but we have to pay more for our bus concession?

Why am I taught that D&T is not an option for me, because "it's for the Normal stream students"?

Do you stop people from dancing because they are not good dancers, or do you allow them to embrace their interests and learn to be part of a team?

Does a "Singapore team" comprise of "a group of elites of the very best", or does it comprise of "people from all walks of life with a common interest"?

Why do we live our lives like a competition in this society?

With Polytechnic, University debts, marriage expenses, family planning costs and HDB loans, how do you expect us to cope? How worse can it get?

How can we embrace changes, if changes uproot what we have and who we are from the beginning? We embrace foreigners when they are present sparingly, not when they drown out the locals.

We object the casino, but there they are.

The White Paper caused an uproar, but it's like our roar is a mere mew-ing that was waved aside as a no big deal.

People say we have a right of say in our country, for our future. They say we have responsibilities too.

But where do we begin?