And so the Singapore Bicentennial is upon us as a nation – and so far without much public fanfare or excitement. Could this be due a rather unique Singaporean trait to emasculate our own past as is evident by the habit to reduce concepts and places to acronyms?
Even if the history is being told in school texts, it tends to be largely bracketed and reduced to the two Rs – Raffles and the Republic. The first is a man in white or rather a statue in marble white next to the Singapore River whom most Singaporeans don’t really know much about except that his name has been hijacked for a hotel, school, business hub and shopping mall among others. The second R would be the story of the Men in White, led by the most prominent Lee Kuan Yew or LKY for short.
More tangible endeavours are needed to awaken the Singaporean consciousness of our rich historical heritage. The forebears of modern Singapore were mostly of immigrant stock – from the surrounding Malay Archipelago, China and South Asia. What many wanted was simply make a living. Instead, they brought their cultures and customs, built communities and shaped the development of Singapore through its various phases.
From this melting pot, there emerged as rags-to-riches entrepreneurs, community leaders and also philanthropists. They founded banks that have evolved into OCBC and UOB; transport companies that are forerunners of SBS; numerous schools including SCGS & MGS (so that girls can also get an education), hospitals (Tan Tock Seng), parks (Hong Lim), theme parks (Happy, New and Great World) and more.
What a colourful and resourceful lot they were. These pioneers were the real deal: They came; they saw, they dare to dream, they built and they gave back to the community. These endeavours are veritable proof that history is living and need not be confined to dusty archives. The moniker of the Little Red Dot reminds one of a record button and the onus to preserve and keep our history alive especially for the younger generation, on where we came from and the roots of our collective identity and national soul. But to stay buoyant in a world rocked by continuous disruptions – entrepreneurs must remain resourceful but they need fresh perspectives to deal with the changed global economic and financial landscape. Our pioneers were successful as they were immigrants free from the constraints of their previous homelands and used their ingenuity to make things happen. Their pioneering spirit is however only a ballast as we have to do more than just look back into the past to achieve success in the new millennium. Like the saying goes, let’s not take a step back in history. We need to march forward.