If 2014 was any indication of where Singapore was, it is becoming increasingly clear that this little red dot just a tad north of the Equator is beginning to have some form of an awakening.
At yesterday’s Celebrate SG50 countdown televised on MediaCorp’s English free-to-air Channel 5, there were repeated calls by invited politicians such as ministers Heng Swee Keat and Teo Chee Hean to “work together to build a better Singapore”. These calls were echoed by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and president Tony Tan as well.
If we take a look at how far we have come, in various fields, there is a sense that Singapore in on the cusp of beginning to solidify its own identity amid much debate and chaos, sometimes to public detriment.
But this late-bloomer is to be expected of a country that has spent its past 50 years with only one thought: surviving among superpowers around the world to prove to others that as a nation, Singapore is not to be trifled with.
And indeed, we already have done so: tourism is booming, our military is as strong as ever, and we are becoming a hub for companies around the world to set up base in.
But especially in 2014, this sunny (and sometimes rainy) island has bore witness to a sea of change and charge. In many areas, a new generation of Singaporeans are taking matters into their own hands, largely built by a sense of settlement from the successes of those before us and fueled by the democratisation of a populace by social media.
The startup scene here has never been livelier. At the risk of heavy government support, many have latched onto initiatives such as the Block 71 scheme in Ayer Rajah where some 100 startups reside. For those that are already on the fast-track upwards, their efforts are changing the game: Singapore’s RedMart and Luxola have raised more than US$45 million in 2014 collectively.
While critics have been quick to note the hype over emerging companies here, the next step will be for entrepreneurs to think of scale outside of the government’s hands. Not an easy task for a small company to do, but if you can survive in cutthroat Singapore, you can survive anywhere.
In sociopolitics, the face of change goes to two young activists: Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui. The leaders of the Return Our CPF protests may cause polarising debate among an increasingly vocal electorate but no one can deny their agency, no matter how controversial it gets. Taking control of new media tools, their efforts are just the tip of the iceberg in a sea of new faces changing the way we talk about issues that matter in Singapore. From a no-holds-barred online vigilante to sites changing how media generates discourse, the floodgates have been opened leading to a barrage of pertinent points — sometimes in a messy and ugly fashion — being thrown out in an open space.
But such is the nature of a country finding themselves: many will question and speak truth to power. As the nation celebrates its golden jubilee, all eyes will be on the political party scene as it tries to navigate an increasingly-divided terrain and rally its people, leading to one of the most instrumental general elections Singapore will have soon enough.
This sense of agency has indeed dominated the entertainment and lifestyle scene in the past year. Singapore’s music scene has gotten a great boost from quality acts that have generated fanbases here, from the mainstream pop success of Trick to the indie explosion of Gentle Bones. Besides the turnouts at gigs and concerts by fans, much of the support for musicians here has to come from radio channel Lush 99.5FM that has rebranded itself to play indie and local tunes — a refreshing game-changer and a return back to the discovery that radio was known for in its heyday.
Behind the scenes, new promoters like Forefront Entertainment and youth-run festivals like the Verve Arts Festival and the IGNITE! Music Festival are rewriting the rules of engagement. Other local-run festivals have also shaped the scene in Singapore: one for the sneakerheads, one for the artisans and one for the stylistas. Singapore’s arts scene is also booming with talent, from writers to thespians making an indelible mark — many of them, as multi-hyphenates.
The flourishing wine and dine scene here also must not be forgotten. Proving that Singapore brands can carve a niche for themselves in the market, the country has seen an explosion of entrepreneurs setting up inventive food concepts (fusion has never been more exciting) and swanky spots to imbibe. Even our local cuisine has found a market for itself in the echelons of fine dining. The coffee culture here has gone past the initial stages of discovery and mass appeal: connoisseurs now are taking beans into their own hands.
So indeed, our people are taking charge of their passions and forwarding their ideas. This can only mean good for a country whose populace has largely relied on the government to spoon-feed knowledge and opportunities. Some say we lack a sense of national identity, but for others, they are marching on and finding out what that means to them.
As the nation celebrates 50 years of independence, we are celebrating a birth of another kind of independence: people power. Energised and vocal, today’s generation does not come with the baggage of yore. It’s said that Singapore’s only natural resource is its people. 2015 will be the test of whether Singapore’s populace can rise up the challenge and carve a better tomorrow, at work, in conversation and at the polls.
Because working together to build a better Singapore begins with one person deciding to make change happen.
All Celebrate SG50 photos from MediaCorp Channel 5