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Monday with the Editor: National Day Ponderings


Singapore turns 39 next Monday. Now, that means I am a big brother to this birthday boy simply because I am 46 this year.

Come to think of it, I have been around before this new nation was born and when new generations of Singaporeans are born and they study Singapore's past in their history or civics lessons, I will be counted by them as someone who was around before, during and after the birth of Singapore as a nation. 

That makes me special in their eyes, for my experiences and memories of that time just before, during and after the birth of Singapore make for interesting study. 

So, in anticipation of that time coming, I am, right here and now, penning my thoughts on Singapore turning 39. In fact, that's what this Web site is all about - collecting Singapore of the present and preserving it for future generations of Singaporeans to appreciate. 

As a 40-something, what are my thoughts on life here? Well, for one thing, I am sure glad I was born after the Second World War. I missed all the suffering and the pain. But, that's not so good after all, for without such suffering and pain, I could not have gained insight and hindsight - elements which would stand me in good stead for weathering the storms in life.

I would be branded a softie - the kind who would not be resilient in times of trouble. I would be one who likely won't be able to stand again after a fall. But, it's not as bad as I have made it look, for I have people born before and during the Second World War - who are still alive and well now - dispensing advice around me.

These chaps have 'chiak yiam' (eaten salt), especially since they have been through the baptism of fire in the form of the Second World War.

What of me? What enriching experience can I offer the future generations of Singaporeans? As a baby boomer* I cannot boast of having survived the Second World War. I also cannot say I am part of the generation which prepared the coming of Singapore into nationhood - that rightly belongs to the pre-war residents of Singapore.  

So just what can I, a 40-something Singaporean, boast about? I know what - I am the first generation of Singaporeans who get to bask in the efforts of those who created the Singapore nation. I am among the pioneer batch which got to taste the beginnings of a better life here in Singapore. I am one of those who can look back to the time of Singapore's birth and declare proudly that since that day, life here in Singapore has been getting better and better.

From living in someone else's pre-war shophouse to making my own home in an HDB flat, from hearing - yes, hearing - black & white TV (for those of us who did not have a TV set) in the corridor outside someone else's house to having my own colour TV set, from having to keep cooked food overnight in a meshed wooden cupboard to owning a fridge, the list goes on and on.  

These are the things that the younger generation takes for granted. Why? They were not around to witness the times when there were no such things in Singapore. They were not privy to hardship and suffering. Theirs is a world of McDonald's restaurants, and mobile phones.

Now, that rings a bell. It's a case of the pot calling the kettle black, for I am part of the generation which went through what the younger generation is going through now - basking in the success of this island-state called Singapore.

Is life here indeed getting increasingly softer, as it gets easier, for us Singaporeans?

What can and should we do to arrest the trend of us Singaporeans taking things for granted, of expecting everything to be run like clockwork?

The schools have made community project work compulsory for all young Singaporeans. That's a good start. The idea is good, but our young must be made aware that doing community work is not a perfunctory exercise done for the sake of collecting curriculum merits. That's where the teachers come into play - to inspire and guide.

In the very least, our young will learn to appreciate that the good life they are now living right here in Singapore continues because more of us consider ourselves part of the community, with a role to play.

This way, they will be better able to weather the storms that future years may bring - long after the pre-war and the baby boomers have moved on.

And, hopefully, when future generations of Singaporean students read this story as they study Singapore's past through anecdotes and other writings, they can say to themselves this - that life is indeed still getting better in their time. 

Now, that's what I wish for Singapore this month as we celebrate National Day.

Have a good week!

*baby boomers:

- Early Baby Boomers  (born between 1947 & 1954)

- Late Baby Boomers   (born between 1955 & 1964)

Are you a baby boomer?

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Public Holidays NATIONAL DAY is the next public holiday. It falls on 9 August 2004.


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2 August 2004