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Jul 4, 2015

Singapore Constitution Exposition Souvenir Number 1959

Produced by the Department of Information Services and printed by The Straits Times Press Ltd.
Price: 75 cts.  (Photo courtesy of National Library Board).

This Singapore
Who are we in Singapore who celebrate the recognition and realisation of our right to govern ourselves, and what is the homeland it will be our responsibility to maintain and develop? 
We cannot claim to be great in age or large in physical stature.  Modern Singapore is 140 years old from the date when Sir Stamford Raffles first landed to establish the trading settlement which has grown to the Singapore of today.  This cannot compare with the millennia of the histories of India and China, although with their peoples, the fruits of their long-maturing cultures have come to us. 
We have no ancient monuments to match the temples of Angkor Wat or Bangkok, Mandalay or Borobodur.  Our oldest building is the Assembly House the land for which was bought by Raffles and the first part of which was completed as a merchant's house in 1827.  Yet there are in the central part of the city buildings enought to retain something of the leisurely atmosphere of the 19th century days of Singapore, and to remind us of the many, of recorded and unrecorded name, who built our inheritance. 
Geographically, we are an island of 210 square miles, 26 miles from East to West and 14 miles from North to South, an infinitesimal part of the great land mass of Asia.  Our highest hill is Bukit Timah Hill which rises humbly to 581 feet and is no Everest.  Our longest river is the Sungei Seletar which is nine miles in length, neither a Brahmaputra nor a Yang-tse-kiang.  And our population of a million and a half stands in comparison with the billion and a half of the population of Asia. 
If then so small, why so significant? 
First because of our geographical position.  The claim to a central position appears fanciful at first when Singapore is seen on the map as a little dot of land falling from Asia.  But if it is not geometrically the centre, it is the centre of Asia's system of communications.  With the high mountains of Central Asia and the deep gorges and tropical forests of the rivers which lead away from them, there has been, and still is, no land highway across Asia, except in Russian-occupied Asia, and for the traditional caravan and pilgrim routes behind the Himalayas. 
While one can drive in comfort from Madrid to Moscow (with only man-made barriers) one cannot drive from Delhi to Peking.  Even the road which the Fourteenth Army made from Assam into North Burma during the Burma campaign of 1944-45, and the railway built by the prisoners of war from Burma to Siam have collapsed, and landward communications in Asia remain unchanged.  The aeroplane is overcoming the these geographical barriers and Singapore has established herself as a major junction of international air services.  But the aeroplane cannot carry the major volume of the passenger and goods transport of a world increasingly on the move. 
There then remains the sea-route.  In early history when the land presents barriers, the sea is the channel of communication.  In times of classic history it was by sea that the riches of Malaya, the "Golden Chersonnese" found their way to Imperial Rome through the intermediary of traders from Southern India and from the Arabian coastlands.  It was by sea that the European powers broke in strength into South Asia and opened the chapter of passive Asia history is now yielding place to a new chapter of an active Asia.  It was through the Straits of Malacca that the Indian merchants came to set up their dynasties in the Malay lands, and they were followed by the Dutch and British East Indian Companies. And with the opening of the Suez Canal, these Straits became one of the greatest arterial highways of marine trade.
So Singapore stands at the southern entrance of this highway, and it stands at the gateway from the Indian Ocean to the South China Seas at a time when Asia is working out its own strategy and its own balance of power.  Singapore is therefore in the centre of the Asian stage, and its days will be of greater rather then of less significance in the Asia century ahead.
Again, Singapore is situated in the centre of one of richest areas in the world, in the centre of the Malaysian region of Malaysia and South-East Asia.  Rangoon, Bangkok, Saigon, Manila and Djakarta circle her within easy sea range.  This area contains the tropical produce which was sought by the countries of the temperate zones of Asia and of Europe.  Its gold and spices were sought by the European powers as their standard of living grew, and as the spices became essential to preserve the foodstuff of their expanding economies.  The Chinese sought its riches.  For Raffles, Singapore was the centre of South-East Asia and not a stopping-place on the route to China.  And when the new industrial age needed rubber and tin it was in these areas in which they were produced.  Most of the natural rubber and of the tin used today (in 1959) come from South-East Asia. 
These commodities were not grown or mined in Singapore, but Singapore became the centre for the marketing of rubber and the smelting of tin.  And with so much of this region still unsurveyed as well as undeveloped, new mineral resources or new tropical crops may yet bring to this area an era of prosperity even greater then was brought by tin and rubber.  And in the promotion and the enjoyment of that new prosperity a Singapore accepted as an integral part of South-East Asia can play a major part. 
The trade of the central market-place of Singapore was not only in collecting the material of South-East Asia and distributing it.  As the new wealth came to these countries, so there grew their demand for the products of other countries, particularly of the industrial countries, first of Europe and then America and then of the newly industrialised and efficient countries of Asia. 
But people have not only passed by Singapore, and it is not only goods which have met in the market-place of Singapore.  Most significant of all is the meeting of peoples and the languages and religions and cultures they have carried with them.  Men came from every continent to Singapore in search of free and peaceful trade.  This has been so from the beginning of Singapore so that no one group could claim to have consolidated the commercial position which Raffles, from the Asian knowledge and British powers and personal intuition, had established. 
Irrespective of race, each had his part to play in the closely-knit mechanism of trade.  Each group was free to follow its own way of life.  Not only did East meet West in Singapore, but East met East.  This has created the multi-lingual Singapore of today (in 1959). 
This has brought Singapore a great heritage, a heritage which will be all the more fruitful once the establishment of the new State and its new loyalty neutralises the political overtones of many languages and many cultures, and as our education system restores languages as means of communication rather than symbols of separation. 
It has kept Singapore open to the new political winds which are blowing across the world and particularly across Asia.  It has brought to Singapore in its new and settled younger generation a range of skills and aptitudes which is unique.  And finally its mirrors the problem of adjustment within the new Asia. 
If, within a Malayan territory the peoples of the three great racial groups of Asia can not only live together tolerantly and with as little friction as they have done in the past, but can co-operate together in building a microcosm of Asia not only in the racial blend, but in the creation of a welfare city-state, the future of Singapore can be symbolic of a future for Asia which because it guarantee peace and prosperity for Asia can go a long way to guarantee it for a world in which Asia plays an increasingly important part in her own right and with her own voice.  To set out this bright prospect is to imply the possibility of the opposite, which adds to the incentive to ensure that the good prevails. 
And Singapore is concerned with the long future, because the young future-looking sector of her population is larger than the older backward-looking sector of the population, and is growing in proportion.  Our population of one and a half million today (in 1959) will become two million in 1965, and while 50% of our population is now 21 years of age or under, in 1965, 46% of our population will be 14 years of age or under.  Singapore must think and act in a younger idiom to appeal to this group, but the younger idiom must be be adolescent in substance.  For the problem of providing this rising young sector with the better standard of life they, as Singapore's first predominantly local-born generation, have come to expect from their homeland, is going to require all the intelligence, initiative and inspiration which can be mustered.  But this is not a subject of regret. 
With this young population there should be an added verve and vitality, an added pool of skills and an added enthusiasm in nation-building which have as much right to be considered assets as liabilities.  When a community, or a section of the community, feels unwanted or subject for apology, it is surely beginning to doubt itself and its purposes. 
Finally, the answer to the question, "Who are we who celebrate" lies in a phrase which can now be used literally and not only metaphorially for the first time, "We of Singapore."  For the first time in its history Singapore has become the homeland of the great majority of its citizens.  Our youngest generation are almost all born in Singapore and are therefore not only citizens in law, but citizens by nature and upbringing for they know nothing at first hand beyond when they have seen in Singapore.  They have absorbed the scenes and attitudes of Singapore all their days.  [Emphasis in bold italic font by blogger himself]. 
And with the new citizenship laws, the great majority of the adults, at least 80%, have taken out Singapore citizenship renouncing all other loyalties.
Without this definition of the family and the creation of family feelings the new move forward to self-government would have lost its basic in logic and in emotion.  A new Asian community is shaping itself and must earn its place in the Asian scene.  This leads to a change of emphasis in our policy.  The member of the family inherits not only duties, but rights which would not be appropriate to a visitor no matter how long he stays and how friendly he is. 
The new social services of the welfare state must be provided as far as is economically possible.  It follows, too, though Singapore is a strategic centre, a centre of communications, a market-place and a meeting-place it is now a homeland, and the carrying out of its many functions must be made consistent with the rights and welfare of the people of Singapore. 
This does not mean that the efficient performance of our international functions is of less importance or can be ignored.  For without them, the earning power of Singapore is lost, but it demands a re-definition of the balance in reconciling the claims of international functions and internal needs in framing the policy of the future. 
This then is the situation in which the new political machinery gives new power to this new homeland to shape its course into the future.
Singapore Today (1959) and Singapore Today (2015)

This original, unedited article published 56 years ago is reproduced on this blog to share my heritage friends who have never read this before.

The meaning of the same words at different times for different generations to be read against the backgrounds and props of a same place in Singapore.

The vast changes of the socio-political, economics and a very different world in over 50 years.  Everything everywhere are moving forward in the world, some in faster ways, some slowly and some remained stagnant .....

Our founding fathers of modern Singapore have enlightened foresight to look forward in 5, 10 years forward in planning for the future of Singapore.

A popular quotation of the late Malaysia Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman, "Don't cross the bridge until you come to it ..."

Many decades later, someone with the bright ideas of building a crooked bridge to link Singapore and Johor causeway for people and vehicles to cross.

Remember the nursery rhyme "there was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile"?  Modern day version "the crooked man has a crooked mind to build a crooked bridge".

Singaporeans think differently.  What to be done in 1959 with a population of one and a half million as compared to over 5 million Singaporeans in Singapore?

As our post-war baby boomers turn 65 years old from 2012 onwards, Singapore experienced an unprecedented age shift.  Over 900,000 baby boomers, more than a quarter of the current citizen population, retired from the workforce and enter their silver years.

What happened to cater to the elder Singaporeans in wheel-chairs with access-free overhead bridges, public roads in buildings and places planned over 10 years ago.

The weak and frail elder Singaporeans cannot even cross the bridge until they come to it ..... many would need wheel-chairs to travel around.

Singapore mothers-to-be today who are concerned about the childcare and education of their children when born would have peace of mind that the amenities in the community are planned and available.

Next blog: Singapore Constitution Exposition 1959 .


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