As a Singaporean expatriate hipster, you can imagine the horror on my face when someone suggested I register for Singapore Day 2014. One would have thought I would have broken out in hives hearing words like “fun-filled day” and “Phua Chu Kang” used in the same sentence.
This wasn’t Glastonbury or Rolling Stones on Tour. Yet every overseas Singaporean I knew across the globe was on it – checking to see if I would attend since it was in London this year.
Don’t misunderstand my hipster moustache (indian girl joke), I’m not an overseas Singaporean in denial of her kampung roots. Even after almost a decade abroad, I can flex my rainbow arsenal of Asian-English accents to suit even the most discerning traditional auntie.
But like most semi-cool kid Singaporeans, we grow out of these very Singaporean displays of natural pride. Meaning, any government-run celebration becomes a primary school faux pas. Like Kaimara school bags… and Bata shoes.
I couldn’t remember the last time I was interested in a free goodie bag comprising of some discount coupons, flags and a promotional pen.
Ok let’s not criticise the promotional pen, because they’re useful for filling up..
LABORIOUS AND LENGTHY SINGAPOREAN FORMS
After careful deliberation, I decided that I needed some sort of alibi. So I decided to take my aunt to the event, as she was visiting London for the day.
I registered through an online form that seemed require every possible personal detail. “When are you intending on returning to Singapore?” Good question, my friend. Gooooood question.
I hit submit and confirmed attendance. Now it was set in stone. I was *definitely* going to attend a government-run event.
Two days later I received an e-mail with some tips on how to survive the event. It mostly began with…
THE VERY SINGAPOREAN & POLITE LIST OF “NO” RULES
This badly structured EDM template from the 90s brought forth a “kindly be reminded” expansive prohibited items list.
- Alcoholic beverages
- Drugs (exception: prescription needs for medication)
- Flammable materials including aerosol sprays and cans
- Glass bottles
- Weapons (include but not limited to, guns and knives)
- Sharp objects (such as scissors, butter knives, etc.)
No butter knives? This was starting to sound like a LONG day.
LEFT THE GUN & FIREWORKS AT HOME, ARRIVING AT DESTINATION
Following a short cab ride I rocked up to Victoria Park with my aunt and followed the signs to a walled up fortress which was uncomfortably quiet.
“Why so quiet?” “Do you think we got the dates wrong?”
After living in London for five years and attending many public events in Victoria Park – one becomes used to the uncontrollable crowds and their chaos and noise. I felt like I was among the peaceful meditative mountains of Nepal.
After walking for 10 minutes round the perimeter we finally arrived at the entrance… fashionably late.
After a quick bag check, my world suddenly came crashing down.
The security officials casually dropped the bombest of bombs…
I JUST MISSED MEETING PM LEE HSIEN LOONG FOR A SELFIE
This sudden sadness in my heart.
I mean, it would have been cool to just… you know… See how he sounds like in real life? Drop a few casual questions… like if they used a bomoh for the sunny weather, or if he was jetlagged, perhaps he flew with Singapore Airlines.
This feeling was nature. I finally discovered my inner closet LHL fangirl.
I’m not sure where this is going. I am going to try and pretend it never happened. But this was the start of a long, slippery slope.
YOU CAN TAKE THE GIRL OUT OF SINGAPORE, BUT YOU CAN’T TAKE HER….
And just like that I had just let my years of government event sobriety slip down the drain as my inner suahkoo took over.
“Quick go and take first. It looks like an ombre bag. Oh my god it’s actually a kopi ikat design. Eh there’s Yeo Hiap Seng drink! There’s a picnic mat!”
God help me.
LET THE NICE SINGAPOREAN AUNTIE/UNCLE BONDING COMMENCE
After realising that all the food was free (what!) and that as a result, we had to queue up for an average of 30 minutes per dish, we received our first plate of achievement. A little bowl of chilli crab and a sliver of french loaf. #atkins
We sat down next to a Singaporean Chinese “auntie” in her fifties, who was carefully examining her plate of Indian Rojak.
“Wah where did you get that?” I asked with no shame. “Oh at the Indian Rojak stall. Only about a 20 minute queue. You want some? I haven’t started on it yet,” she smiled, pushing the plate at me with a warm smile.
I was bonding. With another Singaporean. Over Rojak. And an Auntie at that. I forgot it was ok to be friendly with strangers, because that’s what we Singaporeans do.
One quickly learns as a Londoner that Brits do not speak to people they do not know very well with familiarity and openness. In fact they are extremely private in culture and frown upon anyone who is too friendly. In other words, since moving to London for work, I survived mostly in conversation with my cat.
In fact, it’s probably one of the nicest things of our Singaporean culture. That you could meet a fellow Singaporean, even someone old enough to be your mum, call them Auntie/Uncle, and they will likely will break out into genuine conversation like they knew you all their lives. They might even invite you round for dinner… and mean every word.
That nice, sincere kindness that we don’t notice we have till we are away from home. Where we don’t feel like we need to watch our backs. Or our bags – as another Auntie passing by asked if I didn’t mind watching her stuff while she nipped off to the loo.
I remembered my sincere nice self that I left at Changi Airport and jumped at the chance to be guardian of an unattended bag of a complete stranger. <3
The niceness continued throughout the afternoon. A girl asked me if I wanted her spare Singapore scarf when I asked where she got it from.
“I have extra, don’t worry. Just take!”
THE NANNY STATE OF NICENESS
It was a little sad when I realised how walled up I had become after just 5 years to cope with living in a more self-enclosed environment like London.
I had forgotten how nice it was to be around the open, perhaps even slightly “naive” kindness of Singaporeans. But in Singapore, it’s absolutely normal to be naive, because you had nothing to worry about. No reason to constantly have to watch your back or look over your shoulder.
Sure, I wish it wasn’t all so mechanical and rule abiding at times… but we’re just so… nice. Something that a lot of cities lose. The ability to be nice.
As all 9,000 nice Singaporeans began to exit the event, I watched the British police observe in disbelief at how quiet and orderly we were at exiting Victoria Park.
With not a drink can in sight, we voluntarily cleaned up after ourselves and disposed of trash in the sparse but available bins. Complete strangers offering to help those who were struggling. Walking on footpaths and crossings, laughing and conversing in soft voices, proudly carrying their free goodie bags.
It was a sight to behold. Seeing this graceful, somewhat utopian society. One that could quite possibly put Scotland Yard out of a job. Or my aunt described quite aptly, that we are in fact, a standout “dignified society”.
And at that moment, despite the queues and tacky government displays;
despite Phua Chu Kang and Barbarella’s irritating repertoires;
despite wanting to tear my hair out every time a Dick Lee song was played;
despite all of her societal shortcomings from foreign talent to rising costs of living…
I was reminded of what it meant to be a proud Singaporean.
We’re just, so nice.