My home, My nationality
My maternal grandfather, whom I never knew, was a first generation Malaysian. He fathered 13 children in Penang. He also ran a successful business and made good there. This was on top of being a top-notch craftsman. Many carvings that you see in Hai Kee Peranakan mansion, the setting of TV8 production “The Little Nonya” were his artwork.
As a typical Chinese businessman, he invested in property. According to my mother, all the girls received education, mostly in Chinese schools. Grandfather had bought them properties and the intention was to let them return to China eventually. The boys were sent to English schools. Grandpa had the foresight to understand the importance of being educated in English.
Well, he died young. There was no successor to his business. The only properties he owned in Penang were his shophouse, which also doubled as the family home, and a piece of land. I still remember my first uncle grumbling about that piece of land. We continued to pay taxes on it, and although it was in a prime location, it could not be sold profitably. There was no infrastructure, no roads. Eventually we had to sell it for a song to the government. As for the properties in China, they were either confiscated or lost, thanks to the communist regime.
Why am I telling this story? Grandpa might have lived in Penang for a long time, he might have had a successful business in Malaysia and he even contributed to the Art History of the country. Ultimately, though, his heart was really for China.
Then there was my father, another first generation Malaysian. He came when he was in his late teens or early twenties. My grandfather was a school principal in China, so dad was pretty well educated. His life in Malaysia was one big struggle after another, and success eluded him. Still, even after he married my mother, and I came into the picture, every cent he earned, he sent home to China. He often reminisced and indicated how much he wanted to return. When I got married, and went home in a cheongsam – the first time I had ever worn a traditional Chinese dress, he was in tears for he was sooo happy. I had seemed to embrace Chinese Culture.
It was easy to tell what his heartfelt nationality was, no matter what his ic said.
Then there was me. I came to Singapore when I was in my early teens. I came because Singapore had given me a scholarship to study in the then University of Singapore. Singapore’s offer came a week earlier than Malaysia’s. Eventually, I got married to a Singaporean and started my own family here. In time, I felt way more Singaporean than Malaysian. My roots were here, my life was here. I felt nostalgia when I thought about Malaysia, but that was about it. My family was here, my friends were here. When I was good and ready, I changed citizenship. It was not impulsive, it was inevitable. Still, it was not easy to denounce my Malaysian citizenship. I felt somewhat like a traitor. I felt bad. To keep my Malaysian citizenship however was to keep a citizenship in name. I had spent way more time in Singapore than in Malaysia. Singapore is my home – Malaysia my birthplace.
This brings me to the question of the true “nationalities” of our paddlers. My answer is unless you know them well, and what they think of the two countries, you cannot have an accurate answer. My grandfather and father spent years and years in Malaysia, but were essentially Chinese at heart.
Besides, does it really matter?
Think of how they were brought in. The talent scouts went, dangled the Olympic carrot – the ultimate dream of any athlete. In exchange, they had to change citizenship. In the case of the young Feng Tianwei, she had approximately one year before she had to denounce the country of her birth. In the meantime, her life was spent in training, mingling mainly with PRC or former PRC teammates and coaches. Did she even have time to integrate?
Why do we unleash our anger at these girls? They were given an opportunity that hardly any young athlete could ever refuse. It was a business transaction that ensured them financial freedom and an opportunity that their home country could not give them. If anything, I feel that it is Singapore who has made light of nationality issues.
I like to compare this with the World Cup Soccer. Footballers, in order to make an income, played for clubs in many countries. But when it is time for the competition, all returned to their countries of origin and played with their compatriots, for their respective countries. They had a common goal – achieve excellence for their nation. What is the spirit of the Olympic Games? Is it not similar to the World Cup, a game that celebrates athleticism and healthy competition amongst the nations?
But I am not here to discuss the games, sporting excellence or policies. I really want to talk about the tell-tale signs of what your heartfelt nationality is. For this I am going to use some lyrics,
Malaysian National Anthem has this:
Tanah tumpah-nya darah ku.
My country. The land from which my blood flows.
Singapore National Anthem
Mari kita rakyat Singapura, sama sama menuju
Bahagia, cita cita kita yang mulia
Come citizens of Singapore, let us move in one accord towards happiness and our noble dreams.
Bahagia is actually much more than happiness. What these lyrics tell us is that there must be an agreement, a unity and an effort to walk together and achieve noble dreams.
Then there is the all-time favourite National Day Song –Home by Kit Chan. This song, for me at least, sums up why I regard Singapore my country.
The Chinese saying is – you guo cai you jia (only if there is a nation can you have a home). I believe this is equally real – you jia cai you guo ( a nation can only exist if it is home)
Happy National Day