The chairman of Temasek Trust and wife of PM Lee, Ho Ching, has described "open mindedness" in accepting the equality of all creeds, colours and cultures as the strength of a Singaporean.
Ho was responding to an incident in which a customer at City Square Mall's FairPrice filmed herself confronting an employee about her inability to speak English after the customer received a fish that wasn't cut to her satisfaction.
In emphasising that "brash bravado" and "boastful bullying" have no place in Singapore's society, Ho described a Singaporean as a person with the following qualities:
"Being Singaporean is more than just a birthright or a passport.
Being Singaporean is to know that we must make a living through making friends all over the world.
Being Singaporean means to carry ourselves with discipline, respect and humility."
Ho: Singaporeans should not shame others over language
Ho also said that Singaporeans should not shame others for not speaking the language that they know.
"Learn instead as others learn," she added.
She also called on Singaporeans to accept that we are not a perfect people, and that we have much to learn from others around the globe.
Ho then highlighted the multilingual aspect of Singapore's society.
"Walk around Marina Bay to enjoy the breeze and hear the laughter and chatter of friends and families in all languages. And imagine that would be how Singapore sounded in the old days, with all manners of Chinese, Indian Persian, Arabic, as well as regional traders from around us, and Europeans from afar, all doing business, making a living, and some making a home here over time."
In addition, Singaporeans are not people who either throw away parts of their history because they do not like parts it, or destroy statues in a "fit of political correctedness."
Ho Ching responds to commentator who asked why native Singaporeans "should feel like outsiders"
A Facebook user subsequently commented on Ho's post by saying that the incident at FairPrice represents a "real problem" for many people who do not speak mandarin and are forced to struggle conversing with frontline staff who can’t speak English or Malay.
The user then asked, "Why should...native Singaporeans feel like outsiders?"
Ho responded by saying that the majority of Singaporeans are not "linguistically talented" and that they are "minorities in many ways."
She also described herself as "linguistically challenged".
"There remains many old Singaporeans who don’t speak Mandarin, Malay, Tamil or English - they speak their own mother tongue, whether Chinese dialect or other Indian languages.
There are also older folks who speak only Malay, Tamil, or their own mother dialect."
Ho then pointed out that the Hakka grandmother or Punjabi grandfather who are monolingual are "minorities", as they are sometimes unable to converse with their grandchildren or great-grandchildren who lost their mother tongue.
Ho also reiterated her call for Singaporeans to be kind and "give room" to others are simply attempting to earn a living, like Singaporeans.
She also related the following anecdote:
"I have seen women talk to reach other in their respective dialect - one talking in Cantonese and the other in Hokkien. And they couldn’t speak the other’s language but with help of hand gestures and similar sounding words here and there, they got by."
Here's a screenshot of the full exchange:
Singaporeans should not descend into xenophobia
Ho also highlighted that Singaporeans are "luckier" than many others around the world due to the presence of many threads of languages, cuisines, cultures, and customs in the island's society, even before independence.
Diversity and the acceptance of it is therefore one of Singapore's core strengths, as Singapore can find a good living by being connected to a wider world.
Singaporeans must therefore not lose their own self-confidence and descend into xenophobia like other parts of the world, she added.
Ho said, "I walk along Orchard Road and hear all sorts of languages as families and couples walk by, and feel like I am walking through the streets of old old Singapore."
She also encouraged Singaporeans to learn a new language.
"Learning a new language has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and other neurological degeneration.
Likewise, if we learn to play a musical instrument.
So why not pick up a new language or musical instrument to make friends?"
You can read her post and comment here in full.https://mothership.sg/2023/03/customer-upset-fairprice-fish-cutter-cannot-speak-english/
Top left photo via Ho Ching/Facebook, right photos via screenshot from Amy Tashiana/YouTube