He is a white male, from the United States. He had neatly-cropped hair. He wore rectangular specs that made him look like a goody-two-shoes. I think he is in his late twenties or early-thirties.
When I overheard him bad-mouthing my motherland, Singapore, the Gf and I were on a boat … sailing out to sea with some other tourists whom we were going on a snorkeling trip with. We were off the coast of Cebu, Philippines.
“When an economy gets too advanced, the whole country just becomes some soulless, corporate fixture. Singapore is so corporate, so sterile!” he quipped.
An awkward moment on a boat
The moment I heard that, I interrupted him and told him I was from Singapore. Just to stop him from saying anymore things that could potentially cause a tensed atmosphere between him and me, on the boat. Immediately he got slightly embarrassed and said that he worked in Singapore for 5 years until he got tired of it and left. As if by saying that, he had the justification to continue his bad-mouthing. This guy is a tax-accountant (or probably some other boring shit-ass job that caused him to have such a grim outlook on our nation.) He worked in Changi Businesspark for 5 years.
“A better word to use is efficient,” I said, smiling. This was not my genuine, you-are-my-bro kind of smile. This was a ‘You-Better-Watch-What-You-Say-Next’ smile.
“Too efficient! It’s sterile!” he replied awkwardly. “But it’s a nice country.”
Nice save there. It’s like when you meet a boring person and can’t think of anything to say about him… you say… “He’s a nice person.” Anyway. I left the conversation at that. Partly because I did not want to get into an intellectual argument with someone I barely know, in the middle of the ocean, and on a holiday!
This guy continued talking about how he loved staying in Manila, where everyone is happy, and how Philippines is a country full of culture, and all that other Eat-Pray-Love crap. I wondered if he knew that 1/3 of the population in Philippines is living in abject poverty. I wondered if he knew that every time election season comes, someone gets shot. I wondered if he knew that things we take for granted here in Singapore, like good roads, public transport, education, clean water, electricity… are not that easy to come by in certain parts of Philippines.
A Skewed Perspective
Now I am not dissing Philippines, or USA. Please don’t get me wrong. But what is infuriating me is how this guy, who comes from a First-World country, can make these kind of stupid comments just because he comes from a financially-stronger position. To put it in context, it is like us Singaporeans going to Malaysia or Thailand, and remarking out loud how great it is to have a stronger dollar and how cheap things are over there. But ask any Singaporean if they would want to GROW UP in a third world country, with no education or facilities or internet and wifi…. I bet most of us would say NO.
What I am trying to say is this… This Guy, is comparing the pros and cons of a country, as an expat or a tourist, coming from a RICH country. He is failing to take into account the lives of the citizens in that country. He is failing to ask himself the question: “Where would I rather grow up in?” He is failing to consider other factors like safety, efficiency or wealth over his so-called plus points – culture or a more stress-free lifestyle.
He is a RICH guy living in a less-expensive country and saying that the country is awesome… that’s because he can freaking afford to pay for it!!! ( But what about the locals who cannot afford the things he can afford?) And apparently, THIS GUY, has been going around telling all the other Aussies and Europeans in the resort we were staying at, about his perspective of Singapore. He tells them his negative experiences in Singapore with his clear, articulate English, that makes him sound smart and convincing. And all the other tourists lapped it all up.
The thought of other people looking down on my country, without considering our History… SERIOUSLY. PISSES. ME. OFF.
I know of many foreigners from Third World countries who’d love to be in Singapore. I have students from Cambodia, Myanmar and India who say that they would rather grow up and study here…even though it is more stressful. Even while we were travelling in Philippines, our Pinoy tour guide was happily recounting the times when he was working in Singapore, and how he was so sad that his Visa application was rejected after it expired.
I think that THIS GUY, is just one of your pasty, over-worked white-collared executive, who can’t achieve a positive mindset, hates his job, barely makes enough to cover his bills…and instead of taking massive action, he packs up and leaves to a less expensive country, where he can spend freely and live more easily… and spend the rest of his life blaming Singapore for his failures. The problem is not with our country ( or any other country for that matter). The problem is that — HE IS A WHINY LOSER!
And then I got a 2nd Chance to Defend Singapore…
Miffed that I didn’t get to engage that loser expat in an intellectual debate, I spend the rest of my trip debating with the Gf, who wasn’t interested in what other people think of our country. So she just nodded and listened. The fire was still in me, waiting for a chance to pounce and defend my nation at the next opportunity… and yes, that opportunity came.
On the last night while we were hanging out at the bar in our resort, we struck up a conversation with the managers of the resort. When they heard that we were leaving tomorrow… one of them sneered…
“Back to your concrete pavements and work… huh?”
THIS TIME I WAS READY.
Confident, smiling, and full of #swag. I lifted my nose and said…
“Hey man, those are just First World Problems. I would choose First World Problems over Third World Problems any day man…”
Sensing that this chinese guy was protective of his country, the other manager ventured to say…
“The Philippines government is trying to turn Cebu into Singapore… not sure if that’s a good idea.”
What an ambiguous statement. Is he worried that this beautiful island will become a concrete jungle of hectic work but wealthier citizens? Is he worried that this paradise, where he can come and live like a king because of his stronger European currency, will be taken away from him?
“Nah… not easy,” I replied. “Singapore’s advancement within the region… or even in the world, is a statistical anomaly. It’s going to be very hard to replicate our pace of urbanisation. Just 50 years ago, we were still a nation of pig farmers living in attap houses and kampungs. Heck, my father was so poor he had to eat leftover food from his British colonist neighbours when he was a child! Look at us now! Holidaying in Cebu, driving on smooth roads back home, sleeping in air-conditioned rooms, earning good incomes… eating steak… It’s not easy to replicate Singapore’s success man.”
The 2 managers glowed with understanding. Suddenly, this corporate, soulless country…. seems like a miracle island that transformed into one full of wealth and riches.
Singaporeans, don’t let others talk down OUR nation!
Yes there are many things to hate about Singapore. There is no lack of Singaporeans who HATE Singapore. And they raise valid points!
- high stress
- high-standard of living
- homework and exams
- no natural wonders like lakes or waterfalls or mountains
- pavement and concrete everywhere
- crowded public transports
- lack of the Arts
and so on…
But do remember, all these problems are trade-offs from our past. These are ‘First-world problems’! In case you need a history lesson, go talk to your parents or grandparents to remind yourselves what living in POVERTY was like! We are just a little dot, with no resources, no land, no water, no nothing. We had hostile relations with neighbours who bullied and picked on us. We were laughed at and sneered at by others… who thought that we were doomed to failure. We were just a bunch of immigrants who stumbled upon this island, in search of a better life. We were a tiny nation that nobody gave a shit about.
But look at us now…
This concrete, soulless nation looks pretty good huh?
I don’t know about you…
But I’d rather live in the world’s most expensive country, than in the world’s poorest country.
I’d rather have First World Problems than Third World Problems.
I’d rather have efficiency and safety than culture and crime.
I would rather have soulless concrete pavements than sandy roads full of potholes and ‘character’.
I would rather be stressed but rich… than be stressed about being poor.
I am not saying Singapore is super awesome and all other Third World countries suck.
( If you are thinking of putting in a hate comment, please re-read this sentence again: “I am not saying Singapore is super awesome and all other Third World countries suck.”)
I just want to put into perspective that – when a country advances, we simply substitute our old problems…for newer ones. But, it is up to us, how we view such ‘problems’.
Our current problems… are really not as bad as they seem! ( Compare Singapore’s problems now vs Singapore’s problems in the past.)
Also, from my personal interactions and observations, I want to point out that… I realise many nationalities – Malaysians, Thais, Cambodians, Pinoys, Americans, do not hesitate to speak proudly about their own countries. They will happily tell you about the all the wonderful things in their countries. And I admire their patriotism!
But when… they question us about Singapore, I noticed most Singaporeans have nothing good to say!
So please, if you are a Singaporean reading this… act like the song you sang in primary school – Stand Up for Singapore!
And finally… one last thing…. Whenever we want to complain, or whine about our country – Remember your roots, remember your history, remember how our forefathers lived in the past.
My dear Singaporeans, we have so much yet we don’t realise it.
Thanks for hearing me rant.
From the Bf Gf Money Blog
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