Where I live, in Hougang, I have been seeing more
foreigners nowadays, sometimes during my routine walks to the neighbourhood
shopping centre and the MRT station, and often while I am on the bus within
For the past few years, Indian and Chinese
nationals were a common sight in Hougang, but now, it also appears there are
Caucasians and Africans in the town.
If this is representative of a trend happening in
HDB towns, it points to Singapore becoming truly more cosmopolitan as people
of other nationalities integrate into the heartlands of our city state.
Should Singaporeans have reason to complain about
the perceived demographic change taking place? I see no basis for any
Let's face it. We were never a homogeneous
population. Our parents and grandparents came from China, India, Malaysia and
other countries. They settled down as total strangers in a new land. But, they
quickly became friends with people of different races out of a common need for
security and mutual help. In time, communities grew out of this motley group
I was reminded of this ease in which older
Singaporeans of different races blended with each other recently when I was on
the bus back to Hougang.
I was standing on the lower level of a
double-decker bus, taking notice of the passing people and vehicles on the
road when my ears picked up a conversation between two elderly people. Both
were using Malay as a lingua franca, for one of them -- a woman -- was Indian,
and the other -- a man -- was Chinese.
I realised that they were total strangers when I
paid attention to the content of their conversation - the woman was asking the
man where he lived and what he was doing for a living. Here were two perfect
strangers, who happened to be seated next to each other on the bus, exchanging
their views on a myriad of topics. Yet, they were engaged in an animated
conversation that could only have taken place between two persons who had
known each other for ages.
Are our younger Singaporeans -- those in their
forties and younger -- as forthcoming as our older Singaporeans when it comes
to mixing around with people of other races? Personally, I have yet to see
I have to admit that I am guilty of not being
friendly. If you were to put me in the same situation the two elderly
passengers were in, I daresay I would have kept mum and remained
So, what's wrong with people like me -- the
younger generation of Singaporeans? Have we not inherited the 'blending'
skills that our parents and grandparents tried so hard to acquire in order to
make living in a new land palatable?
I remember when I was in primary school in the
early 70's, my neighbours were Indians. I remember I used to visit them every
day. On their festive occasions, I would join them and their relatives, seated
on the floor in a circle and eating their delicacies. I even followed them
when they were doing the Thaipusam walk all the way up to Mount Faber.
Yet, today, I have difficulty bringing myself to
talk to strangers, whether they be people of other races or my own race, in
public areas. I hope my behaviour is not representative of a trend taking
place in Singapore. If it is, it begs the question: Why are younger
Singaporeans withdrawing into their own cocoons nowadays?
I cannot answer for others. For myself, I would
say that I have become reticent, unwilling to take the first step. Unlike in
the past, there are no disincentives for not taking the first step. Our
parents and grandparents would have found Singapore inhospitable if they had
not mixed around. Today's Singapore presents too much of a good life for us
Singaporeans. Inhospitable conditions do not exist so we need not take the
first step in becoming neighbourly. We are in danger of becoming strangers in
our own land.
Alas, what our parents and grandparents tried so
hard to build may be lost to future generations through our complacency. But,
all's not lost. Though I don't mix well with strangers, I don't look down on
them. I treat them as equals. It's just that I rather not come out of my
cocoon. But, rest assured that in times of trouble, I will not fail to help
other neighbours, just as I did last month when I alerted my Malay neighbours
living downstairs of a fire in their kitchen -
the whole family was sleeping in their air-conditioned bedroom though the flat
was blanketed in smoke.
So how do we ensure that our younger Singaporeans
do not become withdrawn socially? By actively imbuing in them, when they are
in school, racial integration skills and appreciation for other cultures. By
actively encouraging neighbourliness among residents in housing estates.
Already these are things being done, but needing to be improved upon.
But then, there's only so much the Government can
do. We Singaporeans need to break out of our self-induced reticence too. With
Caucasians, Africans and other nationalities assimilating into our community
of four races; and with mixed marriages become more common, we don't have a
choice. Singaporeans have to get used to a new Singapore - cosmopolitan and