Am I Patriotic?

I wish I had more of a sense of patriotism like Americans do. I envy how they so obviously love their country and how the national anthem moves them.  I have to confess that watching Americans while the national anthem plays, even moves me.  For that matter watching the national anthem of any country play on TV at the Olympics for instance and witnessing the pride of its citizens moves me tremendously.  I guess our anthem as well. It’s just that we have been forced to sing it in school since we were six and it was enforced.  We were not taught the meaning of the anthem and we just learning the sounds. Primary school in the 70’s was definitely not a pleasant memory for me, apart from recess.

Beyond just the anthem, Americans seem willing to die for their country, while most of my male friends will confess that they loathed the enforced National Service and I am so thankful I was born female from the awful stories I hear of blanket parties and such. Strangely a lot of them made their strongest friendships during national service and remain close buddies for years after. Still, in my mind, patriotism should not be enforced in any way and it should be natural.  Just like filial piety cannot be enforced. It has to come from the heart.  Loving your parents because you love them unconditionally and not because it’s the right thing to do.

I do have a sense of belonging, but I somehow don’t feel I can call it patriotism.  I don’t fly the Singapore flag on National Day because I feel like the government wants us to do it.  If we were free to do this all year round, it might change my mind.  I think we should be able to display our pride in the flag whenever we please.  Allow us to wear it on our clothing and such.  I don’t think this is disrespectful although our water polo team got quite a bit of flack for this.  I think we need to look at the intention.

The one thing I do know for sure is that if Singapore is harshly criticized and it’s not a fellow Singaporean doing the criticizing I do feel a tinge of annoyance. I’m so sorry, just trying to be honest here.  It’s sort of like, we know how it is, and we don’t like it being pointed out to us. It’s a bit like I can criticise my own family, but if anyone else does it I get so upset and protective. Would you call that patriotism? I don’t quite know.

I also recall feeling upset at a fellow Singaporean who starting going on and on about how awful Singapore is after he migrated to the UK. Everything he said was true, like the rude drivers on the road, but it sure did rile me up.  Perhaps it was a feeling that I was stuck here.  Perhaps deep down I wanted to leave things like this behind as well and escape to a nicer place? A place where I would have real freedom of speech and not feel so stifled?  On a superficial note, a place where I would not be melting in this perpetual summer and where I would not have elbows in my face during peak hour in the subway.

The strange thing is whenever I come back from a holiday and the minute I step into Changi airport, I feel like I am home.  For the next few days I love my country.  I love overhearing the Singapore accent that usually doesn’t please me even though I speak that way myself.  I am so darn proud of the efficiency and just plain gorgeousness of our airports, the clean smooth roads and canopies of trees.  Even the taxi driver feels like a friend and not a complete stranger somehow just by virtue of the fact that he is obviously Singaporean.

Apart from the harsh school environment, I love that I grew up here and I am super nostalgic about Singapore in the 70’s and 80’s. And of course nothing can beat the food we have here and I absolutely love that we are a lovely mix of cultures.

I guess we are still a very young country and have a long way to go. Singapore is only a bit older than me at 45. Perhaps when she’s a 100 she might be filled with a more patriotic bunch.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
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9 Responses to Am I Patriotic?

  1. kirsten says:

    I think that being made to sing the national anthem every morning in school has actually become counter-productive in that now we just take it for granted and it has lost its significance. It becomes this slightly annoying ritual we have to go through every morning and if we are late we’ll be punished.

    I remember with my short stint in JC that even though my first lecture of the day was at 11am I would have to go to school at 7am to sing the national anthem, then spend the next 3 – 4 hours sitting in the canteen waiting for my class to begin. I don’t think that instills a sense of goodwill to the nation, or the anthem, hehehe.

    So much of it is forced and top-down in Singapore that we just don’t really feel invested anymore, I guess. We’re so used to not really having a say in how things work here that I think it’s easy to just disconnect and not feel like we have a stake. It doesn’t really mean we love our country any less, it just means that it’s easier for us to detach ourselves.

    • bookjunkie says:

      And I so want to love my country (beyond the superficial) the way I love the people, our culture, the food etc. They just need to stop with the enforcement of everything. Using an analogy, a kid is never going to like vegetables if it’s going to be shoved down their throats.

  2. Al says:

    I can totally relate! I don’t know if there are any other ways to look at things… but I often rationalise that our rushing to defend our country/countrymen when we hear other people saying nasty things them (as true as it may be) is that as much as we ourselves criticise our own people, we do it not out of hatred, but more out of desire to see improvements 🙂 For me, our angry defense is actually a symbol of love.

    • bookjunkie says:

      That is so true. Even though I am not a Malaysian I don’t like hearing negative things about Malaysia either, especially when it comes from a fellow Singaporean – seems to come from a place of arrogance. Love my neighbours as well.

      • Al says:

        Same for Tokyo-ites over Osakans, Malaysians over Indonesians, HongKongers over Mainland Chinese. No idea what causes this superiority complex… I find that trashtalking other ethnic groups or other people for that matter reflects really badly on one’s personality.

  3. Crystal says:

    To be fair…while I do get an unmistakable happy feeling at the National Anthem, I find patriotism to be a dangerous emotion, too often leading to easy manipulation of the populance.

    To illustrate, Right Wing whackjob and former VP nominee Sarah Palin uses rhetoric like “real America” to divide urban and rural, liberal and conservative. It’s practically the business model for FOX NEWS, the conservative news channel. Using patriotism as a weapon to further divide our nation.

    After the 9/11 attacks, suddenly flags started popping up everywhere. To the point where a magazine ran a sarcastic cartoon where two people wearing stars n stripes covered clothing are asking a sales person if they have any flag socks so they can better support the US.

    As a liberal, I’m often accused of being unpatriotic, which stings. My grandfather served in the US Army for 22 years, driving an ammunition truck in the Korean War and working in satellite communications in Vietnam. I vote in EVERY election (local, state, federal) that I can, I’ve served jury duty, I pay taxes, and I am (mostly) proud to call myself an American. I regularly write my elected officials to thank them or to urge them to vote a specific way on laws that are up for votes.

    But none of that has ever stopped me from critiquing my government (particularly during the 8 year reign of terror by George W Bush from 2000-2008), or protesting or agitating for change. What many seem to remember is that our Founding Fathers were distrustful of government and think that questioning our government is the most patriotic thing we could do. Fox News, et al, would have you believe that you should unquestioningly follow your leader (as long as s/he’s a Republican).

    I grew up primarily next to an Army base in the US. My family all worked on base, and my friends and babysitters were often affiliated with the military as well (a parent or spouse was the enlisted person). The problem with an “all volunteer” army, though, is that the vast majority of those serving do so for lack of better options. Heavy recruitment is done in urban, poor, and minority neighborhoods. Some people turn there because further education is too expensive, and career prospects are non-existent. I worry about the quality of soldier we have…many of them are good at following orders, but how many of them are questioning if those orders are good?

    I think a healthy level of detachment is a good thing.

    But I do love my national anthem…I’ll give you that. Even though most Americans are a bit fuzzy on the words in the middle.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks for sharing what’s its like from an American perspective Crystal. I always love to hear your views and it’s quite an education for me.

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