Ex President Nathan says Singapore has no culture: is he from Mars?

I’m flabbergasted by former President Nathan’s assertion that Singapore needs another generation to develop its own culture.

In reply to a question he quipped, “Do we have a Singaporean culture?”, drawing laughter from the 300-strong audience of students from junior colleges and polytechnics.

He said it’d take one or two generation before a common culture emerged.

Now let’s define the meaning of the word culture. A country’s culture generally encompasses its shared values, aspirations, its way of life and so on. A few examples will exemplify this.

Singapore is known the world over for its cleanliness. Wherever I travel people will tell me “Oh, Singapore is very clean.” Keeping our environment clean is so much part of our culture that even in countries where widespread littering is a way of life, I’d instinctively look for a litter bin.

In Shanghai, sitting next to my table in a restaurant were a group of diners whom I straightaway identified as Singaporeans. How? Because they were speaking Singlish peppered with No lah, ya lah, cannot meh!

Our numerous coffee shops with hawker food from the different racial communities are extraordinary, rivaled by only those in Malaysia. This aspect of our Singapore culture, a coffee shop at every street corner, I’ve yet to see elsewhere.

I don’t wish to bore you with further examples. You know the rest particularly those born and bred here. Newly-minted citizens and PRs may not.

Or those cocooned in an ivory tower like the Istana.


4 Responses to “Ex President Nathan says Singapore has no culture: is he from Mars?”

  1. i disagree with you that not littering is part of the spore culture.
    my opinion is based on the litter left behind by sporeans. yes
    sporeans, not foreigners.

  2. Culture is our way of life. Culture evolves naturally. When a Chinese marries an Indian, what culture will evolve? This is beyond our imagination and perception. If inter marriages continue, Indian or Chinese culture will become extinct one day.
    The present Indian culture is different from their culture 5 hundred years ago.
    The present English culture is not the same as during the the Victorian era.
    We say that Singapore has a multi-culture. Which country is not multi-cultural? Even the English
    language is made up of so many languages.
    Since Singapore is a small country, globalisation takes place faster. We will be among the first to have a globalised culture – the culture of humanity beyond race and religion.
    It is egoism to say this is culture and that is not culture. We must not ignore that racial and religious egoism are as dangerous as cultural egoism.
    People who do not see the culture of another country or society have weak perception or are just blind.
    ” To see a world in a grain of sand
    And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
    And eternity in an hour.”
    Someone said William Blake was able to see “a world in a grain of sand” because he used his
    heart and soul to see. We should learn from him.

  3. Who would have thought a silent president is full of bullshit when he opens his mouth.
    If there isn’t any singapore’s culture, we shouldn’t have to bother erecting him into the Istana to begin with. Why both with a multi-cultural rotation shift for the presidency if there is a culture void? What are we afraid of ?

  4. Perhaps what he meant was culture, singular. As in, a culture shared by all Singaporeans.

    We used to have one, or at worst, be much closer to having one than we do now. Now, we have several cultures, plural — almost invariably segregated by ethnicity and language; people have become proud of _not_ being fluent in a common tongue and script.

    Thirty years ago, if you asked 20 Singaporean Chinese whether they considered themselves Singaporean first or Chinese first, I’m quite sure that at least 16-18 of them would have answered “Singaporean”. Ditto for the Singaporean Indians and Malays and lain-lain of the day. Today? The people I meet and deal with on a regular basis laugh at the question and answer without hesitation. The answer now is _rarely_ “Singaporean”.

    Fix that, and we go a long way towards fixing many of the other problems and challenges we face as a nation. Divided, we cannot strengthen each other nor present a shared strength to our challenges and our triumphs. That kind of strength cannot be found in the don’t-do-anything-until-instructed-from-Above colonial mentality we have descended into, where “you’re on your own” might as well be the national motto.

    We can find that strength, and more, if we truly come together as one nation, not just propaganda.

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