I am a foreigner.
However much I want to believe I am part of Singapore, however much you believe I am part of Singapore, this is reality.
My passport is blue, not red. It gets me stopped at near every border I cross.
“What is the purpose of your stay?”
I go home every day to a little room in a rented apartment in the middle of nowhere, and I see my family for at most a few days a year. For the many, many years I have lived in Singapore, there has always been a very tangible, very obvious expiry date stamped in bold on my visa. A stark reminder that yes, you may be a student/employee/other, but your time here is limited. You do not belong here long-term.
I have experienced much xenophobia because of this. I have been told that I cannot have an opinion on Singapore, because I am a foreigner. I have been told to “go back”. I have been told many things.
“FT are just cancer.”
I do not get the same medical treatment as my peers, I cannot buy a home with my girlfriend, I have minimal economic freedom, and I am reminded daily in some way or another, that I am a foreigner.
But every morning, there is nothing I’d love more than to wake up with prata and teh tarik. Or a good carrot cake. Or Set C at Yakun. I speak Singlish more often than not, I complain about SMRT on Twitter, I stand on the left of the escalator and walk on the right, and I return my tray at the food court. I address elders as Aunty and Uncle, I sing Majulah Singapura silently in my heart when I hear it (because as a foreigner, I was told I have no right to sing it).
I also cry every time I hear Kit Chan’s “Home”.
And I have been devastated by the passing of Lee Kuan Yew.
Singapore is home, truly. I came to this country unwillingly, and many do not know this. My parents were adamant that Singapore was where I’d complete my education, but I was not ready, I was too young, I didn’t want to leave to a completely foreign place. And yet in Singapore I have found more than an education, more than a job. I found that this is where I know I belong.
I have benefited immensely from policies that were built on the foundations LKY laid. I was able to leapfrog from a third-world country to an economic superpower, and get a globally-recognized education, simply based on my abilities. On merit. There was no scholarship, no easy ride, and my parents worked hard to pay the thousands of dollars it took for me to live and study here. Year after year, merit was able to get me further and further in Singapore. I was able to use an unbelievably reliable public transport system to get from one far flung neighbourhood to another. I could safely walk anywhere I wanted at any time of the day, without fear of getting knifed in the dark, or beaten by overzealous police. I knew that around any given corner, I could find sustenance for less than $10.
I found someone who loves me and accepts me as my family have, and who has become my family.
I have lived in two countries that have had 50 years of independence each. While Singapore recovered from war and massacre, and occupation, the Maldives flourished as a British Protectorate, and were largely untouched by any wars. One had no natural resources, the other had all the bounty of the ocean, massive biodiversity, and some of the best beaches in the world. Yet look at both today.
In Singapore, we complain about things like long queues, buses being two minutes late, and air conditioning breaking down. These are things that make headline news sometimes.
In the Maldives, people worry about drugs. About gang violence . About power-mad politicians who won’t think twice to have you brutally murdered if you fart the wrong color.
Singapore has gone from nothing to being known, and the Maldives has languished in it’s own inadequacy. I hesitate to say it has regressed, because was there ever progress?
I have cried with the passing of LKY, not simply because I am sad. I am unashamed to say I have felt a deep attachment to all he has done, and to the man himself. Long before I came to Singapore, my father would tell me of this amazing land, and the amazing man who had led it beyond the future. I was in awe, and Singapore did not disappoint when I finally exited Changi Airport for the first time.
I did not cry only because I was sad at his passing, but because his mortality has brought home how much Singapore has changed since I first got here. How much people have changed, and how much is taken for granted each day. I am devastated, because I have seen how bad it can get, and how good we have it here. It claws at my insides that I am unable to voice my thoughts on this because I’m a “FT”, and am thus not entitled to an opinion. I am unable to take benefit of all the schemes, programs and systems that make life as a Singaporean incomparably great as opposed to so many other countries.
Just look around us. At our neighbours on all sides. Then look inwards.
Singapore was built on nothing. Look where we are today.
I hope in death, that LKY can teach us one last lesson. That we can learn to go back to that Singapore spirit. To not take all of this for granted. To work hard and earn our keep, to be thankful for the home that we have here, and to become the Singapore that he dreamed of, not the one he feared may come with his passing. To put aside petty differences and celebrate what we can do when we come together with a common purpose.
I say we. I am a foreigner.
I sound Singaporean, I look Singaporean, I dress Singaporean.
In my heart, I feel Singaporean. This is home. And together with each and every one of you, I mourn the loss of the man who was sometimes PM, sometimes SM, sometimes MM, always our leader.
Rest in Peace, Sir.