By: Gilbert Goh

Happy 51st birthday Singapore but I am not a proud Singaporean.

There is no feeling of pride or nostaglia as the country celebrates yet another national day. Something is lost during the past few years as we saw less people smiling on the street or in the crowded trains.

A foreign friend while visiting Singapore recently told me why we always wore a scowl on our faces and that we seldom smile to each other. I told him if we smile at our fellow Singaporeans in the trains without a reasonable cause they may report us to the police or IMH!

We avoided eye contact with one another in the HDB lift or market place and go our own way – fiercely protecting what we considered our very own. Some have mentioned that the country is soul-less and lack humanity – you can go about your way the whole day without anyone paying any attention to you either dead or alive.

I shudder what values we have imparted to our future generation as they see how we live our lives on a daily basis. Its no wonder 60% of young Singaporeans polled have decided to emigrate from this heart-less place if they have a choice.

We constantly try to live in isolaton fiercely protecting our own little space in our crowded island oblivious to our nearby neighbours or colleagues. Its difficult to pierce through the thick exterior shell of our fellow Singaporeans unless the earth shatters beneath their feet like the loss of a job or someone dear passes away.

Some may then wake up realising that they can’t live alone anymore as they now need the solace of their fellow countrymen but many never change their life’s stance and suffer intensely on their own.

More and more elderly people have also committed suicide and I suspect the main reason is the lack of a human touch as their grown-up children live their lives oblivious to the blank look of their ageing parents.

They are only missed when they pass on leaving behind much regret for the lost time when they could have done something meaningful together with their elderly parents.

People are also less cordial towards one another now as we witnessed plenty of road rage incidents going on due to the smallest of incident – some even ended up in fist fight just because someone snatches away a crucial parking lot.

We have lost the kampung spirit long ago and most of us try to live our own life and in the most self-centred way we can.

Our social engineering mechanism of taking care of yourself the best you can has produced a generation of me-first Singaporeans sometimes incapable of much compassion and kindness.

We mind our own business strictly and can go through the whole day at work without acknowledging our fellow colleagues.

Only a life-and-death wake up call like the discovery of a life-threatening sickness or the loss of a good-paying job make us realised that we can’t be an island living all on our own.

I believed the success of a country is not measured by the growth of its GDP nor garnering several number one accolade for it’s modern infrastructure but its the way how people treat one another despite his background or lack of wealth.

Visits to many third world countries make me realise that their happiness quotient is often measured by how they treat and take care of one another starting from the lowest rung and never about how wealthy or how many houses the person has acquired.

Conversely in Singapore, we often value our friends through the way he is dressed, where he works and whether he drives or stays in a condo. We mixed more with those who are seem successful exteriorly but never really look deeper into his inner self – is he kind-hearted, considerate and respectful of those who are poor?

Many Singaporeans are guilty of this misnomer and it is time we look beyond the shiny prosperous exterior self.

I have fallen into that trap before many years ago and felt proud that my residency bore a private address but paid for the showy self through my nose. We only felt better when we sold off the house later but the financial stress during 18 months of unemployment has ultimately robbed us of a family.

Many of us try to live the good life through the hard way and we fall apart when we are retrenched. We realised that over-extending ourselves financially or buying another house is not how we should meaningfully live our short life.

As Singapore celebrates yet another national day amidst a very sombre downcasted economy this year, let us take stock and perhaps for those who are unemployed trying to simplify our lifestyle may be the key to a happier and more satisfying life.

Moreover, we can’t bring anything along with us when we perish so why not live a life that blesses many others in the process?

Have a happy 51st birthday Singaporeans nonetheless!