A Message to My Family

Writer's Note: This post is a entire text that I posted to my extended family WhatsApp group chat. It's been edited slightly for grammar and clarity.

The whole thing got started thanks to the perceived hypocrisy that now that Joseph Schooling had won a medal at the Olympics, everyone in Singapore is all for promoting sports when before this Sports was never really taken seriously as a possible 'career'.

I decided to weigh in on the conversation which some how sparked off this 800+ word mini essay.

I've always had a lot of thoughts in my head about Singapore but have never found a way to link them all together. Somehow the debate on WhatsApp proved to be the perfect impetus for a piece of writing that I'm now quite proud of.


Actually Schooling is 1 out of 3.5 million Singaporeans. There are roughly 2 million foreigners in our tiny island. That a country of 3.5mil can raise a champ to beat one from a country of 300 million is extraordinary.

But it's sad that he has to go overseas to complete his training. For all of Singapores ambitions, I agree wth J, sports is not an overly prioritised area of development. The new sports hub is bleeding because there just isn't enough interest to sustain the initial projections.

Singapore is just too small, both literally and demographically. Money has to be spent on securing our natural resources, security and economy because without these we will not have any of the 1st world comforts we enjoy today. It's the kiasu attitude of the government that has kept us afloat even in the area of water security where our neighbours are now suffering from water shortages.

But it's this same kiasu attitude which restricts the dreams of the future generations. I felt that it's a little ironic that the theme for this years National Day Parade was on dreaming because there isn't a lot of flexibility within the Singapore system to support everyone's dreams. There may never be, for instance, a Singaporean astronaut because that doesn't align with the prospects of our nation. The Singapore government's funding has always moved in directions to secure our future. Even now you can see how kids are being steered towards robotics and programming at a young age because this is to deal with a future of many elderly folk and less workers. Innovation is the key to our increasingly labour short future.

And it's a future that relies heavily on engineering expertise. But where are all the engineers? Many get burnt out by a leadership that is also unwilling to accept new ideas. Look at SMRT where the engineers were already aware of the issues on the ground and yet management turned a deaf ear, blinded by profit driven activities. Many of these engineers then head to the only sector in Singapore that pays them well for taking abuse: banking and finance. No wonder the entire country is now low on engineering talent and innovators.

Which is not to say there's a lack of entrepreneurial spirit! Look at all the micro businesses which have sprung up over the years! The Internet has truly revolutionised how SMEs that don't need an office space can be set up. Younger people are increasingly turned off by corporate jobs that offer stable wages and hours in pursuit of a thing they can call their own. The number of young hawkers featured in the news understand that this is not the dream their parents had for them but willingly claim it as their own. So the fiercely independent spirit of our fore fathers lives on in another dimension.

Could Singapore's leaders, in their pursuit of stability and economic development also likewise be blind siding the next generation of thinkers and 'dreamers'? Once a country has attained a certain level of stability is it not then wise to look for growth in the softer areas of sports, culture and also morality?

Parents of today may lament the uncertainty of the future, but when has Singapore's future ever been secure? Surely we are made by our circumstances and if so, Singaporeans are survivors by nature. If things do not go well for them in one circumstance, they will then look for other opportunities.

My fear is that of a future where everything in Singapore has been torn down and replaced in the unquenchable thirst for development. Where then are the physical roots that hold the people here? Giving younger people a true stake in the country naturally emboldens them and teaches responsibility and ownership. The older generation needs to learn to let go and allow the young dreamers to pursue their interests not because this is necessarily the best path for them but because this is the best path for learning and for forging a secure future.

I don't know what my children are going to be when they grow up. I don't even know if they can afford a house when the time comes! But I know that if I imbue within them a love for learning and an unbeatable spirit they can overcome any obstacle. My philosophy is this, if any of them came to me and said he wants to be a garbage collector, then my advice to them is this: he/she better be the best damn garbage collector ever and not only collect rubbish but revolutionise the entire process and industry. Because to do otherwise is to not live up to the standards of our forefathers.

Similarly for Schooling's parents, they should be applauded because they chose to believe in him and allow him to pursue his passion. His actions will no doubt pave the way for others who never thought such dreams possible. And then hopefully Singapore will become the country with the highest number of medals per capita ever!