I am a Singaporean and I am proud to be one. Like the previous three generations of my family, I was born and raised here. I received all of my formal education in Singapore and I have done my National Service. I am also addicted to chai tow kway and I love durians.
For the past 16 years, I have worked as a doctor in the public healthcare system. During the first 10 years of my career, my identity was never in question. All of my patients assumed, rightly, that I was Singaporean.
However, in the last five years, I have sensed a distinct shift. A significant number of my patients, and I dare say most, now assume that I am from overseas, though that notion is usually dispelled once I start speaking Malay or Hokkien.
And it is not just my patients. A junior colleague once asked me if I was Singaporean. I answered in the affirmative of course, but she was not convinced. She went on to question if I was a “National Service Singaporean”. I was left speechless.
Why has this occurred? I think it may be due to the arrival of the many new “Permanent Residents” and “foreigners” on our shores. Where previously I would have been considered a Singaporean until proven otherwise, it now seems I am a “Permanent Resident” or “foreigner” until I prove myself to be a Singaporean — a “National Service Singaporean” at that.
PURPOSE OVER IDENTITY
The Singapore of today has changed significantly from the one I was used to when I was growing up, and with the many “Permanent Residents” and “foreigners” now in our midst, it is easy to feel nationalistic.
However, when I look more closely at my own workplace, I realise that many of these “Permanent Residents” and “foreigners” are, in fact, my colleagues.
We are members of the same healthcare team — doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and attendants, among others — looking after an ever-increasing number of patients, the majority of whom are elderly Singaporeans.
And if we did not have these “Permanent Residents” and “foreigners” as part of our team, we would be overwhelmed and the system would break down. Identity becomes less important than purpose.
The healthcare system is perhaps a microcosm of society at large. As with any team, some members will leave and some will stay.
There are Singaporeans who leave for greener pastures, Permanent Residents who milk the system, and foreigners who use Singapore as a stepping stone.
However, I also know Singaporeans who have stayed, Permanent Residents who have gladly sent their sons to National Service, and foreigners who have married Singaporeans, settled in Singapore and sent their children to local schools.
GIVE IT TIME
Teams also take time to develop and mature. Existing team members need to get used to new members, and new members have to decide if they want to stay with the team for the long term.
Similarly, Singaporeans need time for not only infrastructural adjustment, but also social and psychological adjustments to the significant population changes that have occurred over the last 10 years. Newcomers to Singapore, on their part, need to undergo immersion and integration into broader Singaporean society.
Given the rapid pace at which our population mix has changed, a “breather” is perhaps timely to allow these processes to take place.
I will probably need to get used to being asked if I am Singaporean or not, for some time to come. But it will not change the fact that I am Singaporean and proud to be one.
Hopefully, the “Permanent Residents” and “foreigners” I know will stay, appreciate our country, and grow to enjoy chai tow kway and durians as much as I do.
Dr Lingaraj Krishna is a consultant and assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the National University Hospital.