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Happy National Day, Singapore: From a Singaporean living in Melbourne

Kai Yi Wong

Fri Aug 08 2014

ON the eve of Singapore’s 49th National Day, Kai Yi Wong reflects on his three years as a Singaporean student living in Melbourne. Meld Magazine would like to wish all Singaporeans a happy National Day!

I’d like to begin this piece by quoting a few lines of lyrics from a song many Singaporeans are familiar with. If you can’t place it, try to sing it aloud and you will get it:

Whenever I am feeling low,
I look around me and I know,
There’s a place that will stay within me,
Wherever I may choose to go.

– Home, performed by Kit Chan

Over the years, Kit Chan’s rendition of Home has been the most memorable. It is a National Day tradition to write a new song every year, but the majority of them have been, shall we say, forgettable and many of them seem to exist merely because we needed a song every year to accompany the Parade. Could you tell me what song was sung in 2009? Thought so.

(For the record, 2009’s National Day song was ‘What do you see’ by local rock band Electrico. Thank you, Google.)

Three years ago I moved to Melbourne to pursue my dream of becoming a journalist. After three years of studying how electronics in aeroplanes work at Singapore Polytechnic and serving my country for two years alongside other Combat Engineers, it was time for a new phase in life.

Unlike my formative years, I was sure about my next steps for the first time. Current affairs as well as writing have always held a certain fascination for me, as well as giving the common man a voice, so becoming a journalist was a given.

After some research, I decided on RMIT’s journalism programme. Touted as the best in the country, Melbourne’s great food, multicultural background, great weather (sometimes) and great coffee meant I was sold.

Truth be told, I knew nothing of Melbourne prior to my arrival. But I had religiously studied the magical teachings of the lord of knowledge and power Google, and its disciple Street View. Having absorbed all that these mysterious beings had to offer, I was prepared for my journey here.

From a tiny island nation to a vast country, the differences took some getting used to. Train journeys to the suburbs no longer took a mere half an hour. People actually had to take 2 hour train journeys just to come into the city for classes, and I realised you could fit 330 Singapores in Victoria alone – which by the way is the 3rd smallest state in Australia.

It is here that I shall admit I am not a patriotic person. I was taken in by all the excitement and spectacle of National Day when I was a younger chap, and I let myself be enveloped by patriotic fervour, but time passed and I grew to become an embittered soul, devoid of all nationalistic sentiment. National Day became yet another holiday for me to spend time at home with a good book or computer game, or simply become one with my inner sloth. But here’s when things started to take on a bit of shine.

Throughout my time studying in Melbourne, I have learnt so much about Singapore from a Western point of view. Being someone from a foreign land, and learning about the country of your birth really helps to put things in perspective.

There’s a sense of disembodiment about the whole experience – almost surrealistic – when you see Singapore on a lecturer’s slides and her talking about its leadership, culture and people, all of which you know by heart. And every time I spot a mistake on her slides, it tempted me to no end to go up to her and say, “Excuse me, but that is NOT how you say ‘kiasu’!”. I have quietly laughed to myself at Singapore adverts screened in class (Uniquely Singapore. Never again.) and groaned in agony whenever local politics was brought up. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.

In the midst of all this, I realised: I was actually enjoying learning about Singapore and its culture! I still hadn’t become a raving, patriotic mess, but an academic interest was growing in me to learn more about this tiny city state. How did we get from third world to first? How did we manage to survive and prosper in a time when economic and political turmoil was rife, when countries a hundred times our size could not? What made us special? The hows and whys escaped me, but the seed had been planted. It was amazing to see things through a different lens, and I began to appreciate the country for what it is.

Fast forward three years, and my time in Australia will soon come to an end. I graduate at year’s end, and it’s anyone’s guess what I’ll be doing next. Go back to Singapore to find work? Stay in Melbourne? Continue with further studies? When the time comes, I’ll be heartbroken to leave this beautiful city, where many memories have been made and friendships forged.

In my mind right now, I will stay here and enjoy all that Melbourne has to offer for the rest of my life, such is my attraction to this land of plenty.

But I’ll never forget the smell of home.