Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Coming back home

Its been over a month since I've arrived back to Singapore. I remember when I left over 20 years ago - back in 1984. I hope I've come back a bit more wiser than since I left this country.

I remember back then - I was happy to get out. I hated the place. I was failing Mandarin- and in Singapore if you fail your 1st or 2nd language (back then)- you were doomed as my mom would warn me. I imagined that if I failed my studies, my dear parents would abandon me in the streets and force me to shovel shit.

But I came from an English speaking family. My grandparents spoke to me in English, my parents spoke to me in English, my relatives all spoke to me in English. My friends spoke to me in English. I was sent to an school where virtually the entire curriculum was taught in English. And the amazing part is my (late) dad, God bless his soul, despite his amazing intellect, couldn't understand why I had major problems passing my Mandarin exam.

I failed virtually every year and got dreadfully beaten by the Mandarin teachers who, sad to say, were mostly sadistic, cruel bitches who enjoyed tormenting little boys. It was like a story out of Charles Dickens. Fagin would have fitted in well in that school. In latter years, I learnt that they were terribly underpaid and overworked and thus took out their frustrations on their pupils - a small mitigating factor... very small.

But going to Australia wasn't fun either. I had to stay in the Aussie school's boarding house which I thought would be similar to those Enid Blyton stories. It was on the whole, ok. No "real" horror stories. But I had big problems fitting in. Most of the boys were from broken homes. Several were on drugs. Wasn't helped by the fact that one of the popular students, a Eurasian student seemed to absolutely hated me for no apparent reason. Daily, he would constantly provoke me with insults, taunts etc.. This kept on going on day after day, month after month, year after year. He used to get his jollys by making fun of me. I think it had to do with the fact that his parents divorced- and he must have resented his Chinese dad for that (his mom was white).

My dad used to tell me - just ignore the bullies. Don't show your anger. Keep your cool. Pray to God. We're Christians so we're suppose to love our enemies etc.. And so I endured, build character, whatever.

But it was really intolerable. What was worse was that he was very popular. He was good at sports. He was a good student. He made friends more easily. He got on very well with the teachers. To everyone else he was a cool dude. But he seemed determined to make life absolutely miserable for me as a 16 year old teenager... for the whole time I was in that school.

Anyhow lets move on...

By and large, I think Australians and Singaporeans are fairly alike... maybe most people are. All they want is a good shake at life. Get by without getting hassled. Live a good life. Marry a good partner etc..

Nation-wise, its a bit different, their geography and political environment are vastly different.

Simply put- Singapore is minuscule compared to Australia- you could fit Singapore into Melbourne (city+inner city suburbs).

Australia has vast natural mineral resources - oil, gas, copper, gold, you name it -they have it. Over 100 years ago, 1/5 of the world's gold supply once came from Melbourne. Today, Australia is poised to supply much of the world's uranium needs.

Over here in Singapore- what do we have? A deep water harbor in a precarious strategic position. God help us one day if our neighbors cut off the Straits of Malacca. I wouldn't be surprised if the pirates, descendants of the Bugis pirates, that haunt the area aren't being patronized by higher powers.

I used to hate the PAP. But after spending 20 years overseas, I've come to respect Lee Kuan Yew and his achievements. He's provided a good stable uncorrupt government.

Look around us.

Malaysia, Burma, former French IndoChina, Thailand, Borneo, and all the Pacific Island nations. All of them have so much much more in terms of natural resources - beautiful beaches, vast quantities of wood, tin, oil, etc.. But virtually all of their governments are shonky, corrupt- and that dreadfully affects the society and the populace.

True, the PAP has made some made bad calls- and always seems to be in yesterday's business.

To me, personally, one of the crappy calls was in the area of education- notably in the area of compulsory 2nd language. Yet even looking back at it now, I can understand why they were doing it. They need to enforce a standard and they naively figured - well if the Swiss could speak two languages- Singaporeans can do the same too- ignoring the reality that mastering English+Mandarin was much different from say- German+French.

But, after a bloody long wait, the "Spore gahmun" are making amends and putting more skill, effort, and money into the education system here. Melbourne alone makes 1 billion dollars through its education system by teaching foreign students- and the standard of education can be shockingly horrible there. I hope to see Singapore taking a slice of that pie. But they need to raise the standards here a bit- get more international intellectual prizes and awards for their lecturers, administrators and teachers.

I'll talk about Australia some other time.

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