Celebrated on August 9 in Singapore, the day marks Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965. It is also the culmination of month-long National Day celebrations throughout the island-state, which include fireworks, open-air concerts and a parade that is streamed live around the world to cater to the thousands of Singaporeans and their friends living and working overseas.
The Overseas Singapore Unit, which coordinates efforts to engage Singaporeans abroad, estimates that as of December 2011, there are about 195,000 living overseas. This is not a paltry sum, considering that the island is home to slightly more than 5 million.
Here in Sydney, 270 Singaporeans from all walks of life, and their friends, braved the wintry cold to attend the Singapore National Day Function Dinner 2012. Now in its fourth year running, the event was organised by the Temasek Club, a social club for residents of NSW who are originally from Singapore or who are interested in the country. Many of the attendees now call Sydney home and use these events to eat familiar Singaporean food, catch up on the latest gossip and mingle with other Singaporeans.
It is also an opportunity for members to flex their skills in speaking the local dialect, Singlish – a distinctly colloquial brand of Singaporean English, which has its roots in a zany combination of English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Tamil.
Mr William Ng has worked in Sydney for the past 16 years and is a Permanent Resident of Australia. Initially coming to Australia to complete his undergraduate studies, William found his calling in student recruitment at the University of New South Wales and has since called Australia home.
“There are a lot of reasons why I chose Sydney to live. The main one would be the opportunities this place has to offer. You know, when people migrate here they think, oh the hardship … oh, the prejudice … but I was fortunate not to have experienced that here,” he said. He also cited lifestyle factors and the freedom to pursue things he was passionate about as major draws to the country.
Others such as Singaporeans Ms Geeta Velu and Ms Rethi Govin had accompanied their husbands when they had to relocate to Sydney for work. Said Ms Velu: “What I like about Sydney is that the food here is really fresh and there are so many parks and museums.” Ms Govin added: “It is a very good time to be here because it’s very cosmopolitan now. It is a really nice time to be here and to be able to mix with people from such different cultures”.
Like Mr Ng, Ms Govin and Ms Velu, who now live in Sydney, many of attendees held fond memories of Singapore. Food and family were cited by most present as the things they missed most about Singapore. Many also highlight that they miss not being a part of Singapore’s rapid transformation and development.
“I think not giving up my Singapore citizenship means a lot. Sydney is home for me now and I am proud to be a Singaporean working in a different country and contributing to that country,” said Mr Ng. He adds: “I would like to show Australians that Singaporeans are a dedicated and hardworking people and in this way, while I am not living in Singapore, I am an ambassador [for Singapore] and people appreciate that.”
In his speech at the National Day Function dinner, Deputy High Commissioner of Singapore, Mr Chua Teng Hoe, highlighted the deep reservoir of goodwill that existed between Singapore and Australia and encouraged all present to keep in touch with the developments in Singapore.