A brief reflection on the Prime Minister’s National Day Message 2015

For the 8th of August, 2015 – PM Lee shares

“My Fellow Singaporeans

50 years ago, on this very night, Singapore was on the eve of a momentous change. The Cabinet had already signed the Separation Agreement. The Government Printers were busy printing the Separation Agreement and the Proclamation of Independence in a special Government Gazette. The Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the army units had been told by the Malaysian Government to take orders from the new government the next day. But all this happened in strict secrecy. Our forefathers went to bed oblivious of what was about to happen, still for the time being citizens of Malaysia.

Then morning came. The 9th of August 1965. Our world changed. At 10 a.m., a radio announcer read the Proclamation. Singapore had left Malaysia and would “forever be a sovereign, democratic and independent nation”. The Republic of Singapore was born.”


(Read the full transcript here.)

I found this particular portion to be the most poignant of all –
“Year after year, we have kept the promises that Mr Lee Kuan Yew made on the 9th of August 1965: that we will be “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion”; that we will always have a bright future ahead of us.”

* * * * *

The stuff that makes the news indicates a world filled with people who are not very friendly towards someone of a different race, someone who speaks a different language, and particularly someone who worships a different religion. After seeing for myself how the Christians and the Muslims are restricted from practicing their religion in China, after being a victim of racist comments and rude gestures on Australian streets – I consider myself glad to come from a society that celebrates unity despite race, language or religion, and considers it sacred enough to be enshrined in the National Pledge. I feel thankful that, as a Singaporean Chinese, I have close friends of different races and differing religions. I feel proud that I teach students of varying races, nationalities and religions, but who nevertheless live, study and play together (but with the occasional non-malicious racist joke).

Case-in-point: After the recent National Day Observance ceremony in school, my class gathered to bid farewell to another teacher of my class who is leaving for maternity leave. Someone made brownies. While serving them out, she suddenly exclaimed in mild anguish, “OMG! I am so sorry – I just realised that my brownies are not halal! Halal ingredients but not baked in a halal kitchen. I’m so sorry, can you still eat it?” The Muslim students politely declined, but they hung around to socialise anyway. I thought that was a brief and beautiful slice of inter-faith, inter-racial interaction in Singapore.

Of course, there is still an embarrassing amount of ignorance about other cultures and each racial harmony day brings much cultural (mis)appropriation. People still commit faux pas in these matters, but we are not in conflict, and I think we are continuing to learn with each day, with each year.

Happy 50th, Singapore. I am so proud to call you my country.

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racial harmony day 2014

we were invited to dress [up] in ethnic wear in celebration of racial harmony.

(not sure how long i can keep these photos up, depending on how open my colleagues are to online privacy)

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some of my closest friends for the past decade in my life are from the minority races, and every now and then, i get the sense that i seem to be the minority for that.

racial harmony day hardly scrapes the surface of the issue. while i think racial prejudice will continue to exist in some minor form or another, true racial harmony should imply more than just the absence of racially-driven conflict.

how can we become as colourblind as, say, the brazilians? can we do without the “race: chinese/malay/indian/other” option on forms? will it actually matter, if we take race out of the identity card (and replace it with something more useful like the blood type?) can we begin to take colour out of public speech, beginning with parliamentary concerns and non-colour/community-divided national day rallies? of course, all that is easier said than done, given that different communities have varying concerns that require different policies and solutions.

still, something to look forward to. (ok, given the way our youth are becoming effectively monolingual in English anyway, perhaps the rallies in non-english official languages will be scrapped soon enough. and that is another issue for another post)