As a 80s kid growing up in Singapore, I have experienced many touching moments which connects me to the country. There are many quirky and memorable things that brings back good memories.
Since this is the jubilee year for Singapore, I felt that this is the best time to chronicle them.
*P.S.: This are just from my personal experiences and may differ from person to person.
1) Multi-Racial Society
We are same but at the same time we are different. My close friends are all from different races. Brothers from different Mothers.
Not only me, i am sure many fellow Singaporeans either at school, work or in national service, will have close friends from different races. In the first 50 years we sometimes identify ourselves based on our races bounded by our common identity of Singaporeans (E.g. I am a Singaporean Chinese etc) but this is changing. Interrace marriages are on the rise in recent times. Hopefully by the next 50 years our nationality and race will merge to become one, that is Singaporean.
2) Chewing Gum ban
Sometimes, just crossing the causeway gives me happiness as now I am able to buy and chew on flavoured gum as much as I want. Guess forbidden fruits tastes the sweetest! But this is one quirky little fact of Singapore that doesn’t fails to amuse foreigners. Well you can always chew on a banana instead.
3) National Service
A ritual all Singaporean boys go through to become a man. Something dreaded by every Singaporean son. But even how much we complain about it we will still serve with pride and dedication. A great social equalizer where I was exposed to many different people from the different strata of society.
Only reason, I force myself to exercise sometimes. Most of us have issues clearing this (Must be the food). But one topic that unites all males is in complaining about it or boasting about it (E.g. I didn’t run for a year and today i managed to get sub 10 timing for my 2.4km !!) Hopefully with the new format, no more RT for me.
Somehow the famous Milo truck is a common sight at primary school and sports meets. It just tastes delicious and until now I still don’t know why the trucks are always there but even now it transports me to my childhood. Well there is always Milo Dinosaur available to quench the craving.
The first major examinations for every kid and an important one. One that can determine your future. Sleepless nights especially for parents, rather than the kids.
O-Level, A-Level, Polytechnics, University. PSLE is the first one so it has a special place. But examinations follow us everywhere, most of us just can’t wait for it to be over.
Strangely, after starting to work, I miss the mugging and examinations. It creates a unifying bond with your friends.
Every kid dreads it but somehow we have to do it or least our parents and teachers will ensure we have done it. An integral portion to every Singaporean kid’s growing up process.
9) World Wrestling Federation (WWF) now known as WWE.
My friends and me will often mimic the wrestlers, spouting their punch lines and even try their finishing moves on each other. It bonds us all when we were kids. The trash talking helps too!! If you smellllllllll, what The Rock is cookin…….
Recess time play, after school play, under void deck play. This was the most common past time for me and most kids from my era (PC/Mobile games were not common then). All kids wants the coveted Number 17 jersey so that we can all emulate the great Fandi Ahmad.
11) Manchester United vs Liverpool
There are only 2 types of football supporters in Singapore. You are either the Red Devil or the Red Scouser. All the other pretenders please move aside. Form is temporary but Class is permanent.
12) Chicken Rice
An unifying dish for all of us. Not sure what to eat? Somehow will always end up eating Chicken Rice. The safest choice. Something that I misses most when going overseas for an extended period.
13) Chili Crab
Big and juicy Sri Lankan crab in red hot gravy with hot freshly baked buns on the sides. Just take my money and give me one plate now pls.
There is even a term coined for it based on how it is made. “He flip prata liao!” (To signify that he has changes his stand significantly).
An stable breakfast diet for me and many Singaporeans during my growing up days and even now.
15) Uniquely Singapore Drinks
Having a copious amount of Lattes, Cappuccinos or any other fancy named drinks in an Al Fresco cafe beoing Ang Mo chiobu at the same time in a cold weathered country may sound heavenly to most people. But to me, nothing even come close in giving the same pleasure as sipping a hot cup of Teh Halia along Arab street on a rainy day. It is something I missed most whenever I need to go overseas for more than 1 day.
Kopi C, Teh C, Teh Tarik, Kopi Susu, Milo Dinosaur and many more. We even have our own range of drinks.
Satay, Briyani, Hokkien Mee, Mee Goreng, Nasi Goreng, Kway Teow, You Tiao….. Think I will need another post just for food.
In short, some folks eat to live, but we Singaporeans live to eat.
17) Kopi Shop
Group of kakis drinking beer, having kopi or grabbing a quick meal. A common sight in our heartlands. Somehow this is where conspiracy theories rises and many political analysis takes place. You want to know the ground sentiments, take a trip to a kopi shop nearby. Mostly based in the midst of the heartlands.
18) Hawker Centres
A more formal settings for having cheap and good food. You can find many varieties of food at a cheap price here. It doesn’t make any sense to go to any upscale restaurants in Singapore. Why would you pay high price for tasteless food?
And a personal tip for all the bros. Any girl on a date suggests going to a hawker centre to grab some food, guys ALERT, she is a keeper!!! Go and apply HDB with her immediately!!
19) 24 hours Prata Shops
A good place to eat supper, post party meal or post football meal. 24 hours and serves piping hot good food at a cheap price throughout the day. Now these are things that truly makes Singapore a food paradise.
20) Void decks
Some people will be playing Chinese Chess, some will be practicing their guitar skills and some kids like me will be playing football under the No Football signs. A common meeting place for all.
A melting pot where you can see a Malay Wedding one week and a Chinese funeral the next week.
Chinese New Year means long break, 2 days of light traffic and most shops will be closed. Hari Raya Puasa means chance to eat different types of kuehs from my Malay neighbours and a colurful Geylang Serai Market to visit. Deepavali means Muruku and hope that my ever friendly Indian friend will invite me over for lunch.Who can resist a good briyani anyways? Christmas means year end sales and Christmas lighting at Orchard road.
22) Pasar Malam
Our version of night markets like those famous ones in Taiwan but instead of Taiwan MeiMeis you will find mostly uncles mending the shops here. Other than that you can also find unique and endangered food like Prawn Vadais and Ramly Burgers. Only time you can find them in Singapore.
A very simple game which I played in between classes mostly in primary school to kill time.
24) Mama shop
A small shop selling necessities located under the block. A convenient place for snacks and drinks whenever I feel like munching on something.
Most Singaporean kid’s favourite food in our growing up process. Most neighbourhoods will have a branch somewhere. A place where most kids including myself patronise after school.
26) Ice Cream push cart uncle
Something that is very rare now. My favourite was chocolate ice cream sandwiched between a slice of white bread. Even better that you can get it right under your block.
We are obedient people. Thus whenever there is a campaign, we will follow it responsibly. Becoming less nowadays maybe because the novelty factor is wearing off. But nevertheless it was popular in the 80s-90s period.
28) Lee Kuan Yew
Maybe the younger generation do not have the opportunity to see him much. But for an 80s kid, you will be definitely at one point be impacted by his policies during your lifetime. In short #noyewnous.
29) Singapore Pledge
Something we recite every morning in schools, special occasions and during national day. The words have deep meaning on how Singapore portrays itself based on meritocracy.
30) National Anthem
Written in our National Language of malay, something that motivates us and reinstates the Singaporean spirit in us.
31) HDB Flats
My generation may have missed living in the kampongs, but we are the ones who made living in HDBs cool. And in uniquely Singaporean way, we propose to girls by asking, “Wanna apply for BTO?”
An opportunity to interact with our neighbours of different races living together in the same block. And who can forget block catching and other unique games we played during our free time.
Our abang. We have many similar cultures and traditions, and at the end of the day we cross over the causeway for chewing gum, cheap food and short holidays.
And most importantly our national football team can play badly against anybody but must never lose to our neighbour. Now that is forbidden!
Water’s importance is something that has been drilled into my generation. Singapore is a small country and water is scarce. We need to save water. I still remember water ration exercises where everyone need to collect water in pails for a day. Today Singapore is one of the pioneers in water related technologies especially our New Water.
34) Kallang Wave
Our own celebration in stadiums. Something that is unique to us which even some countries considered as football powerhouses doesn’t have.
35) Public Transport (MRT/Bus)
Our main mode of transportation. World class and breakdowns was unheard of in the 90s.
36) COE and ERP
2 things that burns a deep hole in drivers’ pocket. And the reason why most in my generation could not afford to buy a car. To put it bluntly, we have been priced out from owning a car.
37) Garang Guni
Recycling brought to our HDB doorsteps. You will even be paid for it!!
38) Wet market
A place where a wide range of vegetables, fresh seafood and meat available at affordable price. I still recall accompanying my grandmother to help her carry back the groceries. Of course I get youtiao and freshly brewed soya milk in return for the help.
39) Racial Harmony Day
Not sure how it is being celebrated now. But in the early 90s when I was in primary school, it was a day of great fun and frolicking. We will wear our traditional attire and play traditional games on that day. Guess anything other than studying in school is fun!
40) Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam
These places are part of my national education back in secondary school. Each place has their own significance. Like Chinatown has the oldest Indian temple in Singapore and a famous mosque just beside the temple. Little India is the place which sells authentic Indian food, fresh flowers and Indian traditional spices. Kampong Glam gets glamorous during Hari Raya Puasa with all the lighting and shops selling traditional Malay foods, items and clothings.
41) Rules and Regulations
We are made world famous because of our rules and regulations. Even though outsiders may ridicule us for our rules but at the end of the day, these are what makes us proper and efficient.
42) Orchard Road
World famous shopping belt of Singapore. In my secondary school days the go to place during weekends. We will all dress up and be motivated to attract the pretty girl you will always run into in Orchard road.
43) Mustafa Centre
Our own all in one 24 hours giant retail shop. Gold, Electronics, Vegetables, Shoes, Clothes and many more. You name it and you can find it in Mustafa.
An unique Indian procession that involves multiple body piercing and devotees carrying kavadi. Devotees will be dancing along to the music of devotional songs to prevent fatigue from setting in. A unique and intriguing festival which I look forward to in the 90s to watch and soak in the atmosphere with my Indian friends.
A massive street performance and float parade. An uniquely Singaporean festival similar to the famous Mardi Gras from Brazil.
For males we misses it most during the separation from it for 2+ years during NS. Our identity and our keepsake.
One of the few in the world that allows you to travel without the need for a visa to most countries. Something that fetches us respect overseas from the immigration officials.
48) Singapore Flag
The symbol for our homeland. The red symbolizes “universal brotherhood and equality of man”, and white, “pervading and everlasting purity and virtue”. The waxing crescent moon “represents a young nation on the ascendant”. The five stars “stand for the nation’s ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality”. ~ From Wikipedia
49) Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines
Our pride. A world class facility that doesn’t fails to impress foreigners all over the world. And of course the SIA girls are pleasant to eyes. Somehow it makes me feel emotional whenever I comes back from overseas and lands at Changi Airport. Guess that’s why this is called home.
We have a strange affection for acronyms. Anyways it further proves that we are efficient people, we shortens longs wording for effective and efficient communications. But strangely my GP teacher always penalize me for using acronyms and minus marks from my essays. Isn’t it more effective? Can keep within the word count what? Haha.
There could be other symbols of Singapore that I could have missed out. Because this list is not from my mind but from my heart (may sound cliche). Singapore is where I am born. It was part of my growing up process. No country is perfect but the imperfections and quirky characteristics are what that defines us and makes us unique. We went from third world to first world in a couple of generations. As fellow Singaporeans we must cherish the success our country have achieved so far and aim to protect it by being good citizens. May everyone have a good SG50 celebrations.