I love this island, this country, this nation in all its imperfect vulnerability. It is the only home I have known, all my life.
And yet I cannot help but wonder what we have lost too, having chosen one future from a basket of others: the unspeakable and unspoken cruelties that must have been enacted, executed in exchange for this Vision. The passing of a thousand ways of lives. The unmarked, unremarked deaths of a million little facets that textured Singaporean realities, just decades ago. The smells along the Ellenborough riverfront, 1971. The tingling air in the stillness of a 1956 morning. The ululating cry of a hawker advertising his wares, circa 1937. Saigon Island, with its slaughterhouses and boatmakers, filled up and hosed down. The dreams that wandered along the riverside: first of a distant homesickness, and then to a determined rootedness: Swatow, Malaya, Singapura. Did they exist? Or are they just figments of a historical imagination? All the knots now untied.
Do I romanticise? Am I sentimental, too emotional; like what Kuan Yew said of David?
But of course; perhaps. It is with rationality and discipline that states are built and entrenched; but it is with dreams aspirations hopes ideals that nations grow: watered and sustained, deep and dark, strong and slowly.
I love this river, this light that falls upon the skyline. I delight in its greenery, its Gardeners so learned and still learning. It is all I have known, all my life.
And so I will keep wandering and wondering at the edges of its brightness, prying at the shadows beneath the silence. We love the nation in proportion to the sacrifices to which we consented, the harms that we suffered, Renan once remarked. And so perhaps nation is not only what we have, what we remember, it is also a sharing of loss. It is perhaps also to ask: what did we lose?
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