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In Conversation

I was elated when asked to participate in the National Conversation.

It first started when I was nominated by SP to be a panelist on a Ministry of Education (MOE) dialogue session.

I attended a casual chat session at MOE with some senior directors and three other students. I expected a meeting reminiscent of ministerial dialogue sessions but ended up stepping into a room with one other student and into a conversation that was honest and fluid. Towards the end of the session, the minister asked us to join him on this committee.

 

I don’t think being singled out as ‘the youngest’ on the team or withering my whole identity down to ‘The Student’ is representative of my role on the committee. I can’t represent the thousands of students across this country. But I actually feel that having Stanley Chia (the other ‘student’ from NTU and Ngee Ann Polytechnic) and I is a sweet indication of the enthusiasm of the government in genuinely wanting to listen to what we – different Singaporeans – have to say. We serve as the bridge to the youth of Singapore.

 

That's me in black glasses on the extreme right

 

Happy faces after a Conversation session

 

I know the crafting of this Conversation has unlocked a stream of cynicism and unease. And of course, talk is cheap. Without action, it doesn’t bring any good. It doesn’t fill up our stomachs or cease wars. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss it either.

 

A lot of people I know might be cynical about this Conversation, and I have heard so many people crying out:

 

  • Singapore sucks!’
  • ‘I can’t wait to get out of here.’
  • ‘I’m suffocating!’

But when prodded to substantiate their claims, they slip into either gruff dismissals of the conversation topic or growl a general statement like:

 

• ‘It’s so boring; there’s nothing to do here.’

• 'It's too… stiff and controlled.'

 

One thing about being part of a diploma that integrates psychology and applied drama is in knowing that reflection and sharing are crucial and wonderful. The simple process of guiding yourself in between lines and through decisions and thought processes is often overlooked in the heated rush of emotions flowing to our brains. Self-reflection is a genuinely powerful tool.

 

The Conversation facilitates the sharing the products of our individual reflections with fellow Singaporeans. The people of Singapore make up the Conversation. Not the government, not the committee, not the prime minister.

 

The most beautiful thing about the Conversation is the Singaporeans who step forward with their opinions, emotions, experiences and concerns. I met a man who was away from Singapore for 15 years, uprooting his family and travelling to Europe, America, Australia, and Africa. I met a student from SMU, an elderly man who had to find a job in China at 50 years old, a private tutor concerned about the land use in Singapore, a lecturer fighting for a better education system, a young journalist, a young father of three whose love for his children shone in his eyes as he spoke. There were people who addressed Mdm Halimah Yacob as ‘VIP’ while there were others who were eyebrow-raising, squinting critics of the government. But they are all connected by a common thread of concern and love for our country. And it was fascinating.

 

Nobody can be sure if this Conversation will meet its objectives. It is easy to criticize everything the government does. It’s not wrong to be smart and critical, but I think we forget that the government is made up of Singaporeans who love Singapore as well. Regardless of income, lifestyles, backgrounds, this is not a case of Government versus Singapore. We all benefit from a Singapore that continues to glitter and prosper, but we all suffer if its crumbles as well.

 

If the people sitting on the parliament built the bridge to try and reach out to us, the least we can do is to step onto it. Suspiciously, cautiously, enthusiastically – it doesn’t matter as long as we are careful not to hack it into pieces. 

Written by Teng Zi Ying
Year 3, Diploma in Applied Drama and Psychology