As part of being a Lim Boon Heng Scholarship Book Prize Recipient, I am attached to Jurong Green Malay Activity Executive Committee (MAEC) with another Book Prize recipient who is my senior, Atiqah. Under this scholarship (which isn’t really a scholarship for a book prize recipient but I’ll explain later), all recipients are being mentored by a certain committee in the social work/volunteering arena for a year – and beyond, if one really likes what he/she is doing.
Since the prize presentation, there wasn’t much communication between me and my mentors, Mr Zulkifli and his wife. Probably because this year is quite a busy year, whoops. However, he emailed us the invitation to the Founders’ Memorial Dialogue which was organised by the Founders’ Memorial Steering Committee one day. My interest was piqued, because (1) I hardly attended talks because I was either too busy with other commitments, (2) Founders’ Memorial sounded really important because I treasure my history a lot and lastly, (3) I can’t recall when was the last time I had ever attended a majority-Malay event. (Shame on me, I know)
Hence, on the 14 of November, Atiqah and I went to the Salon Room at the National Museum of Singapore (which is really far because I don’t usually go beyond Buona Vista on the Green/EW line)… That aside, I really like how the National Museum of Singapore remained so pristine and white against the cityscape. It has been a while since I explored the insides – the last time was during my secondary 2 years, keke.
We registered our attendance, got some stickers with our names on it and we were assigned to different groups for the dialogue. I was in group 1, whereas Atiqah was in group 2. For that day, the event was held mostly in the Malay language. However, it wasn’t fully in Malay because some are much more accustomed to using the English language. Overall, the language medium was more of Minglish? 😛
When I glanced around the Salon Room, the demographics of attendees truly ranged from the very young (secondary school-ish) to the very very very old. I reckon there were pioneer generation people amongst them, definitely. It felt really weird to be in that room, to be honest, because I have never been exposed to a heavily Malay environment that was so diverse in the age group/demographics. No matter how weird it was, I felt a sense of comfort that the Malay spirit was still alive and there are Malays who cared about the past, present and future of Singapore.
There were 7 questions and these questions were forwarded to us by facilitators. In the Salon Room, there were comfortably about 5 groups(?) and at least 3 facilitators guided each group through question posing and note taking.
During the sharing session aka dialogue (multilogue suits this situation, actually), the questions posed started out with anything significant that occurred to the Individual in Singapore. I was a little shy to answer during the first few questions, so I mostly let the elders talk. Oh yeah! I forgot to mention, my group consisted of 10 participants (excluding the facis) and only 1 was around my age. The other age were around my parents’ age…. Those years of experience they have had definitely beat mine in terms of history, of course!
Due to their age, most of their answers were towards the kampong life. Kampong means the country life (of some sort… no direct translated meaning there!) It was really interesting to hear their opinions and memories. I have not been born yet, but it makes me reminded of my childhood days where I used to play with my neighbours, albeit it was no longer a kampong scene but a HDB flat one.
Most of the questions are here: https://www.foundersmemorial.sg/
As the dialogue progressed, I became much more brave. One of the attendees kept hustling me to answer because I was too quiet. When the question came to talk about how we should go about remembering Singapore’s past and the important people who have built Singapore to what it is today… I felt that it was important to focus on the process on how Singapore is built.
Upon analysing how Singapore’s history has been mostly a-historical (meaning there was more or less one way to explain Singapore’s history which can mean bias or censorship). I spoke up, feeling that we have grown and feel pride towards Singapore’s achievements. I’m not saying that it is a bad thing; I am saying that we should not only focus on the good things. Also: I should point out that throughout the dialogue, several questions were made to target appreciation for the prime people who have built Singapore from “scratches” – namely Lee Kuan Yew, Wee Kim Wee, S R Nathan and so on. Due to the controversial nature of some of these people, I feel that we should also focus on their weaknesses and show our people how they are human, how their values have helped benefit the greater society and how they overcome their weaknesses to achieve success. I am not saying that they have achieved success during their lifetime; even Lee Kuan Yew did mistakes such as the Graduate Mothers’ Scheme, imprisoning people without trial with the use of the controversial Internal Security Act so as to prevent people from going against him (don’t deny it, Singapore is an authoritarian country) and more. But despite these mistakes, there are some good to it because there is a certain level of discipline that comes out of the values Lee Kuan Yew strived for.
Focusing only on the good stuff will not benefit the population as a whole, because our future generation will try to emulate the good stuff without knowing the mistakes the past have made. Who knows, the past mistakes would be the future path towards success? Things change, such as the acceptance towards homosexuals, so who says that the road to success would not change?
As I said this to the circle, I knew I was raising some red flags here and there. Focusing on mistakes… really? But there, I said it. It felt liberating, honestly. I knew I wouldn’t want to be ignorant towards the failures our founding fathers in the different fields have done. I am not one to take things for granted, as much as I sometimes do due to the ease of convenience. But eventually, my parents’ generation would be too old to fend of us or themselves and we have to take over. Our children will take over. Our descendants will take over our positions in the persisting social structures (or maybe changing, I would probably be dead to even know).
It was a fun dialogue session, even though I had to leave early to prepare myself for work. The food was great too.
If you ever have time to go for this, do go. There are two more sessions which are not yet full. If you’re shy, just go for the food and listen to the peeps talk. It’s really good – food and dialogue. Maybe it’s no longer epok-epok but… food is bae anyway.