The Thinking Man

One of my good friends just graduated from Columbia University, and she changed her profile picture to that of the statue of The Thinker. From our previous conversations, I recalled that it is one of the authentic pieces from Auguste Rodin, representing importance of philosophy.

These few days I’ve been pondering over the stark contrast between my (evolved) beliefs and that of everyone else back in Singapore. One of my friends in Germany stated I probably had reverse culture shock. Good observation, I thought.

Defiance is very apparent. In a sense, I became quick to get annoyed at the bureaucracies. The changing of IC address, for example, was a process that blew my mind in terms of the blind instructions relayed down from the top. In the month my parents moved, they quickly changed their residential address within the 2 or 3 weeks indicated, because of the threatening “you will be fined/ illegal etc.” messages. My fam questioned the authorities regarding my overseas situations, and they said to change to my college address. But she’s graduating in 2 weeks and returning to Singapore, my fam asked. Then change again, they said. Without regarding the ridiculousness of changing address twice, there was no way I could physically return to Singapore immediately, and neither did I have the ICA letter to change my address overseas. Ignorance, was bliss. After returning, I was told I couldn’t change my address because I didn’t have another letter (other than the one given by ICA) to prove I was staying in the new address. “What about my parents’ letters?” No. “Then I’m sorry, I don’t have any letters mailed to me given I had been away for four years.” Solution: write to ICA to ask them to write a letter stating I could be given an exception to not bring another letter (other than the ICA letter) to prove that I’m staying in the same residential address as my parents. Confused? Me too. It is one simple thing, and there are so many solutions to go about completing it, such as changing it online when you’ve proven your personal details. The policeman who helped me said if I was unsatisfied, I could feedback to ICA. “But you mentioned many people faced the same problem, couldn’t you guys feedback to ICA?” I questioned. He smiled, slightly irritated. “When I explained that it’s ICA’s rules, not mine, most of them understood”. With that, I reluctantly accepted the fact that my address was not getting changed that day.

Idealism vs improvement. Perhaps I’ve gotten more idealistic, and I don’t care if people judge me for it. But I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve grown more skeptical, and in my body is a defiance bone that questions, why? The very question that children are discouraged from asking. I see faults, and I want improvements, practical improvements, not something depicting Utopia. Or at least, a discussion rather than mere dismissal. Singapore is truly meritocratic, but not humane. I could expand on it, with examples from HR departments, from educators, from poor consumer protection laws. It only considers the norm because everyone conforms to the norm, and there are very few exceptions. People with disabilities, with mental illness, people who are in the poorest working bracket are still discriminated against in terms of the common working facilities, in terms of job functions, in terms of specialized education. (To dispense teachers in every school catering to students with special needs, you first need acceptance, and then resources, and then specially trained teachers. Just segregate them, you say. But tell me, are the specialized schools accepting all? – no, there is a waiting list and only well-to-do families can afford it). Consider a rational, educated, middle-class Singaporean. They have complaints, but they don’t mind little inconveniences, because the standards-of-living as we are “told”, are very high, compared to the other SEA countries. This acceptance, with the common acknowledgment that government knows the best, puts people in a position of passiveness, instead of active participation in change. Change, however, is easier said than done. I can empathize with the scholars who go overseas and come back with big ideas, try and facilitate change from the very top, like the “elimination of PSLE scores” but face with roadblocks. When your own citizens trust you so much, they are comfortable with the current state affairs, there is no drive for change because they see no need for change. Apathy, is what you get. Why revamp the tax system when the current one is working great? (What about Singapore having one of the highest income disparity?) Why care about PSLE when you’re already done with it? (Is the stratification really void of hidden ranking systems? Is it really the best way to nurture new young talents?) Why get brainwashed by caucasians about chasing your dreams, just get a job for financial stability? (East Asians that I’ve met are also chasing their dreams. It’s this drive that pushes me to learn new things, take up new challenges and not be stagnant.).

On the macro scale of things, Singapore still needs elites to come back and rule Singapore, because only they are looking to improve conditions. So Singaporeans are right, we can trust the government. But ultimately, the question is, can I fall back into this numbness? Can I stop questioning and raising awareness and offering reasonable pathways for improvement? I think the answer is very clear. Unless I go into politics, I will have to stop thinking and start accepting.


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