I am very pleased to wish Singapore a happy birthday from myself and behalf of Be An Idea. Over 9 years ago, I came to the shores of this island nation with a hope to build a life, and it has been amazing to see how the country has developed in a short decade, let alone the last 50 years. While other countries are locked into a direction by the weight of history and their culture, as a young nation, Singapore has an emerging discourse on its direction and values that is both vibrant. It feels like a work in progress, but one that its people, residents and foreigners can still greatly influence in the choices that we make.
Singapore’s influence on my life is almost as old as the country itself. My parents first brought me over to live here when I was three years old, and my earliest memories were formed growing up at the iconic Futura Apartments in Leonie Hill road. Back in the 70’s, it was very much Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore. While my parents brought back anecdotes of the more bizarre policies of the time, such as mandatory haircuts at immigration if your hair was too long, they brought back so much more in the form of life-long relationships and a love affair with the country that persists to this day.
This love affair would see me coming back to Singapore on regular vacations during the 80’s, as my mother and I would travel with my father on his work trips to Asia which, to a child, seemed like it was an annual event. It was always a safe and familiar starting for a Dutch family to jump off into the rest of Asia.
I also remember spending a few summers here with a good schoolfriend of mine, David Brim, whose family also love to visit. To two young children, our Singapore was a great garden city filled with all the exoticism and progressiveness of Asia. We bonded back at our London prep school over shared memories of thing such as Yang Chow fried rice, or the 9-levels of hell depicted at Haw Par Villa, all the while showing off our latest gadgets procured at Lucky Plaza to envious schoolmates. While maybe not the reality of Singapore at the time, or even today, it definitely put Singapore into the heart of a 9 year-old boy.
Eventually, I returned to Singapore in 2006 after having grown up and studied in London with a short five year side trip to Hong Kong. While I mostly came here for my Singaporean wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, it also had a sense of homecoming to a familiar place. If there was logically any place I would end up other than London, it would be in Singapore. The fact that I moved here and have called the city home for almost ten years, the longest place I have ever lived outside of the UK, I think is testament to that feeling. I also take great pride in now having a son who is Singaporean.
I say all this to help highlight my gratitude and love for a nation that is not my own. And also to take the edge out over my next statement - Singapore isn’t there yet. Fifty years is a fraction of a heartbeat in the history of the world, and in many ways it feels that nation is still the minnow that swims with giants. We need to continuously be swimming forward to avoid either dying or being eaten up whole.
I set up Be An Idea as a consultancy to reflect my own desire to help other people achieve a better world. Opportunities to make a difference exist all around us, and at many different levels, but Singapore provides a rare opportunity to its people. Where the country is headed is still very much decided by its people, in contrast to older nations that are tied down by cultural dogma, historical precedent and moral apathy.
True, nowhere in the world is perfect, but that shouldn’t mean we should let complacency settle in. It took five decades of hard work, sacrifice and service of its people to get where it is now. SG50 is also about looking forward. Imagine what the next fifty will look like; and that you can actually be a part of that. Singapore is at a unique point in its history, where the values and decisions made today will still be felt in the nation long after we are gone. How amazing is that?