Dear All Singapore Stuff,
I would like to share my reflections on what the upcoming SG50 anniversary means to me, based on my personal experiences as an average Singaporean.
I have come to realize that the poor and lower-middle class represent an entirely different Singapore from the rich and upper-middle class. We are like two different nations.
Kids from the rich and upper-middle class are different from birth. They are equipped with skills an average Singaporean will never get. They are taught to play various musical instruments, taught a variety of sports and even go for supplementary classes from a young age. Not surprisingly these kids end up doing well academically and also excel in other activities. Even if they do not succeed academically,they have the financial support and necessary connections to set up their own businesses to establish themselves. These kids dominate the better schools and will inevitably become the next generation of elites. As an end result, we have the elite producing more elites.
What happens to the kids from the poor and lower middle class? The vast majority ends up in the neighbourhood schools. Less conducive environment, no guarantee of good teachers (I was once scolded by a MOE teacher for bothering her with too many questions about a humanities subject) and limited enrichment programmes. There are less opportunities for students to participate in competitions to boost their own confidence. Many cannot afford tuition. Quite a number are from broken families (myself included), and they are troubled by family problems even as they study. They also have to deal with exposure to kids who smoke, gangsters, bullies and other delinquents. These kids even have to work part-time during school holidays to increase their monthly allowance. Most end up in polytechnics or neighbourhood jcs and very few enter the local universities.
Being one of the few neighbourhood school kids who entered a good jc and then a local university, I experienced a culture shock. I could not relate to the majority of my classmates in my jc. Almost everyone in my jc class stayed in a condo or landed house.
I could not effectively communicate with them because I lacked relevant experiences like overseas trips as well as musical and sports talents. I couldn’t understand why every outing had to involve eating at a restaurant in the city area and why there was so much spending. Most of the girls stayed in condos and frequently called others to come over for tennis games, swimming, barbecues and other frivolous celebrations. I actually felt embarrassed to be staying in a hdb flat with so few fun facilities as I could not engage my classmates in a similar manner. They had perfect families with supportive parents and they went on overseas trips every holiday in contrast to neighbourhood school people who usually worked part-time during holidays.
They were seasoned travelers who had no qualms about staying overseas for weeks without their families! Same thing in university. I found that there were fewer and fewer of the neighbourhood school kids with whom I could better identify. Those I know who went on exchange programmes and overseas CIP trips were mostly scholars and wealthy people. Those with greater purchasing power also enriched their university experience with participation in marathons, camps and clubbing events whereas those who were poorer were stuck with memories of lectures and tutorials, school activities and the inevitable bank loan.
Most of the rich people tend to think and behave similarly. For instance, during jc, they were taking their Grade 8 piano examinations at the same time, they took SATs while preparing for ‘A’ levels and later on in university, they took up driving lessons simultaneously. I could not even afford to take up driving and I didn’t see the point of it because I have no car.
I think the poor and lower middle class appreciate simple pastimes better. A stroll in the park, running at the stadium, playing board games or card games at a void deck or playing basketball at a public basketball court is simply too boring for the wealthier people. Window-shopping without any purchase is ridiculous to them. They will never be seen doing any of these activities and will sneer at you or look bewildered if you even suggest any of these activities. If you say that $13 is too expensive for a movie or that $70 is too much for Universal Studios, they will just scold you for complaining so much. Gradually,they will abandon you for being such a boring and negative person.
I have seen enough to believe that the non-elite can never truly be part of one Singapore with the elites. We have different upbringings, different values, different lifestyles, different educational experiences and a different sense of identity. Our life goals are also different. While the elites love to say that what we see as elite is what they see as meritocracy, the hard truth is that there’s such a thing as inherited meritocracy, and the non-elite lack the necessary resources and upbringing to properly compete with them. This leaves the majority of the non-elite with limited social mobility.
Equality is a lie. Rather than deceive myself into thinking that there can be a true, lasting friendship with an elite person, I choose to believe that elites can never understand or appreciate simplicity while living within the comforts of their condos and landed houses. Of course, I will work hard. But I also accept the reality that I am disadvantaged relative to the wealthier segments of society. Fraternization with them will only be counter-productive to my life goals.
As far as the non-elite like myself are concerned, it is best to leave the elites to their extravagant lifestyles. I strongly believe that the poor should not provide any entertainment to the rich. If we are invited to their parties, we should decline. Leave them to celebrate with their ilk. As we prepare to celebrate Singapore’s golden jubilee, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are all one. We certainly are not.