Friday, January 21, 2011

Who would you see in year 2046?

During a dialogue session with SM Goh in NTU on 29 october 2010, 23-year-old MAE final year student Lim Zi Rui asked if the Minister was aware that many young people no longer felt a sense of ownership in Singapore.

“When I was younger, I was very proud of being a Singaporean,” said Lim as reported in The Straits Times.

“But that was about five, ten years ago. Five years later, with all the changes in policies and the influx of foreign talent, I really don’t know what I’m defending any more.”
He said this was a view that many of the men he served with during National Service also held.

While Lim's view is representative enough among the younger Singaporeans remains a question mark, foreign workers and their impact on the heart landers have triggered some debates in Singapore. It would probably be politicised and become a hot topic for another general election to be held before February 2012.

Not sure if you had seen the film '2046'. It was a Hong Kong production played by Liang Chao Wei (梁朝伟)and Maggie Zhang(张曼玉). 2046 is a year of the future, it is also a room number. For those people who went to 2046, their wishes were quite simple. They wanted to find memories. They wanted to search for eternity.

By 2046, would the city that we so used to live in today still be familiar to us again?

I grew up from a community made up of Chinese, Malay and Indian, and a small group of other origins such as Arab and Eurasian. My primary school days spanned between 1968 and 1973 which provided me a refreshing exposure to foreign talents. In P2, P5 and P6, a Hong Konger, a Vietnamese and a Cambodian joined my class, respectively.

While foreign students studying in neighbourhood schools are common nowadays, it was considered rare at that time. The Hong Konger wrote very beautiful Chinese calligraphy at the age of nine while I was still struggling to pick up this piece of traditional art. The Vietnamese was multi-talented in academic and sport, and the Cambodian was extremely hard working in his study. Within 8 months, he passed the PSLE and together, we went to the affiliated secondary school.

(Only the Vietnamese appeared in this class graduation photo. 1973.)

In that era, Malaysian made up of the majority of the 100,000 foreign workforce. They travelled across the causeway and contributed to the development of the newly industrialised nation. Many of them stayed in Singapore for years, some subscribed to PR and citizenship, some preferred to follow the traditional Chinese route, as falling leaves shall return to their own roots (落叶归根). Apart from Malaysia, India remained as a steady manpower supply source. Together with the smaller population who came from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand, they built a contemporary city called Singapore.

In the 1980s, it was estimated that the nation's ideal population should be between 4.5 and 5 million. The aggressive internet technology defined a new world economy in the early 2000s. It had transcended the traditional boundaries and generated a group of international citizens. Knowledge workers were prepared to move out from their native roots in order to reap new opportunities. This unprecedented trend had led our planners to make a bolder estimate in 2006 for a long-term population of 6.5 million. Of those 6.5 million population, easily a third or more will be people who were born and socialised elsewhere.

This demography shift has sparked more changes among the resident community. The percentage of Chinese and Malay are dropping while Indian and other groups are growing. Singapore also accepted large numbers of newcomers whose socialisation did not include national experiences such as national service and the education system.

(Change of Singapore population 1990-2009)

With each passing year, the percentage of people who are citizens continues to decline as the new residents outnumber the birth of citizens by more than 2:1. By 2009 even the Malay community had dropped below its replacement level, with the overall figure at 1.22 children per family for the entire society.

In 2009, about 40% of the population in Singapore are foreigners who work and study here. Foreign workers make up 50% of the service sector. As more and different foreigners are absorbed into the population, Singapore's present multiracial model will be affected by these new groups and their new interests. For example, the new Indian and Chinese immigrants are not quite assimilating with the respective citizen groups and the conventional clans. They are creating new social communities.

In some ways such immigrations are a return to Singapore's roots. Singapore has a long history of immigration. The immigrant work ethic, willingness to take risks and adaptability are the key attributes to inspire the economy and society.

How about rewinding the time machine by 60 years to take a look at the “traditional demography” of Singapore population in 1950:

(Singapore population 1950)

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