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Consequences of reading the Straits Times

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. I'm a Singaporean but having spent the past 13 years in the US with only yearly visits back home I'm in a unique position to see the drastic differences that have occurred to my homeland in the past decade as compared to someone who lives there daily.

People spout the usual rhetoric about a lack of civil liberties, something that just about every Singaporean agrees on but upon further observation, that's not quite true. Compared to 10 years ago Singaporeans do enjoy a growing (although slow) increase in civil liberties. For example, the open debate about gay rights that occurred several months ago, having local reporters openly question Mr. Lee Kuan Yew about our lack of civil liberties (See Jan 11 2008 Straits Times Video News, "Retirement Means Death") . Perhaps I'm wrong but 10 years ago I don't think such things would have occurred. Granted that compared to countries like Britain and America, Singapore's advancement in this arena seems a snail's pace, but every country is unique and despite its slow pace, Singapore has advanced.

A major part of this advancement is the education and attitudes of the younger generation. When I was growing up in Singapore almost everyone on TV was over the age of 25 and had passed "censorship". What I mean is that they had been screened to project a certain image, this applied to TV broadcasters to contest applicants to actors. But with the advent of live shows like Singapore Idol, we're seeing "real" Singaporeans, people who are just as flawed as we are. The internet has also opened a flood gate for the younger generation, they have access to global news (be it politics or gossip or entertainment). When you can see what others around the world are experiencing, its only human nature to compare what you have against what you're seeing. And if the results don't measure up to your expectations, feelings of dissatisfaction will arise.

This is important because I feel the result is a younger generation who feels more confident in their own skins, and a better understanding of what they want. Confidence leads to people being more vocal, which eventually leads to a change in the general population's perception and hence an increase in civil liberties. An excellent example would be the caning of children. In my youth, it was an accepted form of punishment, but from all reports, this is no longer the case in Singapore. Heck, teachers can't even use rulers to whack children's knuckles anymore without the wrath of the parents and MOE. (Not that it was all that common even in my time)

Truth be told, I think the majority of young Singaporeans are still sheep just like I was... am. The difference is this generation are less sheep like and have a growing number of role models who are not afraid to speak up.

I'm an introvert and a self professed sheep. Never wanting to make waves, more or less content with his lot. But in my middle age (oh GOD!!!) I sometimes wonder if I had stayed in Singapore if I would/could have become more. Would I have joined the gay rights activists in Singapore? Would I have followed my passion and joined the growing video game development community in Singapore? Would I have been more than just a sheep?

Sadly, a nagging part of me realizes that without the independence that I enjoy in America, learning to depend on myself and experiencing the freedoms that I do here, I think I would still be a mere sheep content with his lot but worse off because I wouldn't even have the mental capacity of questioning my sheepishness, and making a blog post on my thoughts about Singapore's social evolution.

As I said at the start, nostalgia is a dangerous thing.


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