Global City-zenship

I make no apologies for the fact that I know little about the history of Singapore and the cultural heritage of Singaporeans. However, I love Singapore – the city, not the country. Where locals complain about the ever-increasing prices of hawker fare (they say a plate of Char Kway Teow costs SGD$15), I enjoy the fine-dining options in and around my Marina Bay Area neighbourhood. Where locals lament the loss of the “Singaporean Core” (whatever that means), I enjoy the cosmopolitan company I meet at the rooftop bar 3 mins’ walk from my place (or 30 seconds by Hovercraft). Where locals complain about the high cost of living, I revel in the high life. What’s not to love about Singapore? I SG truly and that’s not just a superficial message on my T-shirt.

The snide remarks leveled at foreign residents like me – those I enjoy a little less. But I don’t let them get to me. I hardly understand those lowly words spoken in the pidgin language that is Singlish. I get what the aggressive tone suggests, but that’s okay because I seldom need to be in a social situation with “the locals”. I don’t need to take the ailing MRT with them – my Hovercraft travels 100km on an hour’s charge. Even if I’d like to be driven around privately, exclusive third-party providers like GlobalTaxi Limo allow me to book a fully customisable driverless taxi (my preset choice is always Language: German, TV Channel: Das Erste Super HD, Online News: Der Spiegel Pad, In-Taxi Beverage: Erdinger). Perhaps they consider me to be a transient foreigner (which I’m not – Singapore is my new regular home), but to me, they are just as transient in my life.

These annoying voices are just getting a little louder these days though, according to my friends who do have to work with the locals. Singapore, always a little more conservative than the progressive cities I’m accustomed to (New York, London, Tokyo), has finally decided to catch up with the times. Two years ago, they replaced the Permanent Residence scheme with the current Foreign Residence one (1-year minimum residency requirement) that I’m part of. Now, they’re offering me and my peers foreign resident voting rights. What this means is that at SGVotes 2032 in two months’ time, I will be able to cast a vote in the General Elections, together with my foreign resident friends. To top it off, we may also get a chance to vote into power one of our kind – another foreign resident who has fulfilled at least a 3-year residency. 3 years is a really long time to be in a city these days – he or she must really be committed to Singapore. Imagine this - I have voting rights in New York, London, Tokyo, and soon, Singapore! I cannot fathom why the locals would not want to support this – haven’t they always claimed to be a true multi-racial society, pledging themselves to be one united people, regardless of race, language or religion? Most countries have already accepted foreign residency status as a global trends, and Singapore risked being a political backwater if they did not do so. With my vote, I can help to make Singapore better – more democratic, more eclectic, wealthier than before, and with certainly less historical baggage on her shoulders.

If you think I’m snobbish, think again. How many people these days abide by the clichéd call to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country?” That is so last century. The number of overseas Chinese is now already a quarter of China’s population – and that’s even with strict Chinese immigration laws forbidding much official migration from China over the years. The latest poll from the Straits Times last year revealed that 77% of Singaporeans harbour the desire to migrate. If that is true, how hypocritical must the “Ang Moh Out Movement” at Hong Lim Park be! The locals need to accept the fact that all around the world, people love their countries but not many of them actually want to live in their home countries anymore. I am German but I don’t love living there. Ironically, now I can call myself a Singaporean and I love living here!

You must realise this – the ‘nation’ is an artificial concept. Ancient people were citizens of city-states - cities, not nations. Rome was not built in a day, and in our modern world, roamers like me were certainly not discovered overnight. My affinity for Singapore is like my affinity for New York, London and Tokyo. I have no affection for the United States of America, Great Britain, or Japan. I am a Global City-zen. When the USA sends troops to the Middle East, Big Apple[1] herself is not at war. When Great Britain debates about whether they should take in more Middle Eastern refugees, The Big Smoke[2] stays politically neutral. When Singapore engages in a verbal spat with Malaysia, the waters of the Lion City stay calm. Loving a city is so much easier than loving a country.

The Government of Singapore has taken a bold step but certainly the right step. The message they have sent Global City-zens like me is that they value the place of foreign residents in their country – my city. I will never feel American but I am as much a New Yorker as others are. I will never worship the Union Jack but I am Londoner through and through. I may be called a gaijin but I am a Tokyo native. For Singapore’s case, it really is just the same – I am not part of the country Singapore, but I am part of the Lion City.
I hope you see my point of view, and what millions of people feel. In any case, see you at the polls in Singapore, my city.

[1] Nickname for New York
[2] Nickname for London