National Day is around the corner. Some thoughts have been banging about in my head for awhile, so writing it down here might help me stop ruminating about it and clear my thoughts.
I read this quote from Lin Yu Tang some time back (I have not read him but I admire him for his quotes on Wikiquote). It reads:
“What is patriotism but the love of food one ate as a child?”
I thought back to when I was a boy, how I felt pride swelling when it came to National Day. I thought I loved my country, but I did not know why. And I still don’t know. I think I am disenchanted by the growing commodification and general tackiness of the celebrations; neither was I ever educated with the concept of ‘Asian Values’ popularised in the 1990s by LKY and Mahathir. I only know love for some of its foods, and that I may not be happy living anywhere else because I can’t find similar food out there (M’sia doesn’t count because of the uncanny valley effect and it’s less convenient) .
A big part of any culture is its cuisine and Singapore is no different. Food is essential to the Singaporean identity, it’s a supporting superstructure which our lives are built on. It’s what gets us through when we’re down, how we celebrate, how we plan the hours of each day. It is probably the strongest ‘pull’ reason for myself.
I’m not in love with Singapore (champion grumbler). But I do prefer Singapore to life in almost every other country because of the food, and the culture. I think I need to say this before I enlist, so that I have a reminder of what my thoughts were like before I undergo brainwashing (yes it’s a dysphemism but the alternative is euphemistic and I’d rather go with cynical than optimistic).
My reflections on National Day also dovetail agreeably with my thoughts about the future. It has been on my mind frequently. Recently, I attended the Edvantage scholarship and careers exhibition. I loved the talk on MFA. At that point I was determined to study PPE and become a diplomat. Keeping on top of new developments, meeting important people, writing lots! How exciting, I thought. A few days later, the heady feelings had waned. It’s certainly still an attractive prospect, as of writing this post, but I understand that I have a problem with impulse, and I am waiting to see if I still want to pursue it after a few years and if I have God’s favour. I tell myself this: if I do become a diplomat, I do it to protect the way of life here from excessive foreign influence. I want to still be able to eat nasi lemak 70 years from today, tasting the way it is now. Perhaps I am a sappy romantic, my mind rotted by the disease of nostalgia. I must remind myself too that while it is a pleasant malady to succumb to, those who are stuck in their ways are consigned to oblivion.
A nation’s history, as is the history of all nature, is characterised by cyclical fluctuations due to the caprices of fate. Regarding Singapore’s future, it is clear Singapore needs to adapt, but I think it improbable that anyone as prescient as LKY will surface soon to guide Singapore over the next 50 years. I muse about Singapore’s downfall and how I feel about it. I think, I will only be sorry to see the cuisine perverted and my family influenced by other cultures. I am oddly optimistic that even as Singapore declines, she will boomerang to even greater heights of prosperity after shedding away and sloughing off what my mind vaguely classifies as “everything evil” (maybe I think of the rat race, the relentless, materialistic pursuit. I deny it, but I am naive and idealistic.)
It is painful – I do not know what to think. I wish for LKY’s drive and foresight, or Godly wisdom.
I worry about enlistment as well. What will 2 years in the army do to me? I am apprehensive. Will I become an unthinking Neanderthal, unable to critically evaluate my situation, my head turning to mush and my heart only filled with plastic love for Singapore? (My pride probably has a vested interest in this.)
Yet all will be for naught if I bomb the A levels. While it is most obviously an academic evaluation, it is the ultimate litmus test of a Singaporean. I care very much about doing well in this examination. As dissenting and unfilial as I am, surely I am still a son of Singapore.