Sunday, February 15, 2015

'Singapore respects us as few nations do'

Feb 14, 2015
Sourav Roy, 
For The Straits Times

A few days ago, I participated in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook chat session. My wife and I had just finished arranging beautiful origami lanterns for our three-year-old toddler, given to him by "Uncle Thomas Lau" from the FairPrice supermarket at Clementi Mall.

I wanted to let Mr Lee and every Singaporean in that chat session know why my wife, a German national, and I, an Indian, had decided to make Singapore our home.

After having worked with the BBC, Al Jazeera, Glasgow Herald and the United Nations across different parts of the world, I decided to shift base here in 2009 from Doha, Qatar. There were many factors that made us move here.

The Middle East, despite its Arabian hospitality and great food, was immensely challenging. We enjoyed material comfort there but we missed the normalcy of a so-called ordinary life. We were desperately yearning for systems that would make our life easy rather than making us go around in circles and beg to appellate authorities.

The constant answer to ordinary life situations, say asking when a leaking tap would be repaired, or when you could clear an administrative bottleneck for an appointment with an official, for instance, was almost always "Yallah, Habeebi. Bukra bukra". Loosely translated from Arabic, it means "Yes, my friend, tomorrow, tomorrow".

Tomorrow never arrived. It's a beautiful part of the world that decided to turn at its own pace.

When it was time to get married to my lovely fiancee, we hit a huge roadblock as there were no provisions for free-thinkers to wed. Getting married in Europe, where my fiancee was from, was also fraught with bureaucratic hassles of epic proportions because my fiancee had left Germany when she was 16 years old to grow up in the United States.

India, my home country, with all its cultural beauty and charms, was not much of a help either. I was marrying a "white woman" who was not born into the religion that my family was born into. Let's just say not too many people were used to the thought of it. Besides, getting married to a non-Indian in India came with its own set of hassles if you wanted to get the marriage legalised in the respective countries of the marrying couple. Europe is super- strict when it comes to marriages of Indians to Europeans solemnised in India.

My fiancee and I had resigned ourselves to being in a live-in relationship forever, until we moved to Singapore. My fiancee was again not too optimistic, given the challenging start we had to our wedding plans.

One day, I went to the Registry of Marriages website, chose a marriage solemniser with a happy name, "Elize Ho Ho Ho", and voila, got married in less than a month of landing in Singapore. We couldn't believe that no one asked us our nationalities, religions or belief systems. All we got back was a confirmed wedding date and congratulatory messages. Singapore gave us a chance to start our family.

Our son, Chetan, was born in 2011 and daughter, Anasuya, arrived a few weeks ago. We knew from the get-go that life would be fun here. Singapore was a well-mannered, courteous society to begin with. People reciprocated respect and love to us, magnanimously. Neither we nor our mixed kids got queer looks or were asked funny questions. My wife and I have lived in places where people have asked us strange questions such as, "So what do you guys eat when you are together?" We fell in love with Singapore for the respect it bestowed upon us.

Over the last six years, Singapore has shown us much love. I have lost count of the small mercies of life which one takes for granted here but which I know would be a rarity elsewhere.

Episodes such as cabbies honestly returning our left-behind belongings, people offering their cabs on call to my pregnant wife standing at the end of the queue, my former students from Singapore Polytechnic honestly pointing out my calculation error when I granted them more marks, and the police successfully tracking down the miscreant who stole my laptop from a restaurant and keeping me informed of every stage of investigation.

That cops could be friendly and helpful to immigrants was a new experience for us. If you have been an immigrant in any other country, even advanced ones, you will know what I mean when I say that as an outsider, it's a challenge to get your plea considered by cops.

But I have found that here, cops treat you on a par with citizens and deal with you respectfully and justly. They are completely unbiased and fair. For an immigrant, this is a huge relief and a sign he's in a place where his voice would not go unheard.

Once in a while, I have been the target of online haters but they are not the Singaporeans that my family knows. My wife and I would trade in anything for the love that our son gets from Uncle Thomas and his origami figurines.

Singapore does not need my backhanded panderings. It also has its own share of struggles and challenges, both internal and external. I am cognisant of its growing population as well. I am sure a solution could be carved out, keeping the needs of Singapore in mind.

Numerous foreigners like my wife and I have deep gratitude for this country. We want to be a part of you, not for what we can take from you but for what we can share with you. To begin with, love and respect for your wonderful country and its beautiful people.

My son was born here and will grow up here defending his Singaporean brothers and sisters. Trust me, not just while doing his national service but also when he spots one in any other corner of the world. Meanwhile, here's an open invitation to you all to come try some German cakes and sweet jalebis at our place. We add a dash of nonya kaya to it as well. Awesome, lah!!

Sourav Roy is a media and marketing professional. He moved to Singapore in 2009 with his wife Katharina Muller Sang, a trained media producer who is on a sabbatical. They have two children, Anasuya and Chetan Julian.



Feb 19, 2015

When the tide of love drowns out xenophobia

By Sourav Roy

LAST Saturday, on Valentine's Day, The Straits Times published an article I wrote, "Singapore respects us as few nations do", in which I summed up why my wife and I moved here six years ago from the Middle East, got married here after not succeeding in other cities due to bureaucratic issues linked to our differing nationalities (Indian and German) and started our family here.

I also expressed my gratitude for countless ordinary Singaporeans who have made us a part of their lives and vice versa, rendering our lives so much more inclusive and meaningful.

The article went viral and, in less than 72 hours, had over 39,000 shares on Facebook. I received innumerable friend requests and messages of support, solidarity and love from Singaporeans. The outpouring of love was overwhelming and deeply emotional for my family.

I had Singaporeans writing in to say that my article brought tears to the eyes of their elderly family members, who connected its essence with the "Singapore of their memories". I had young Singaporean parents asking if our Eurasian kids could play with theirs so that the love and acceptance could blossom even more in the children's hearts. It was truly touching. I also received invitations from Singaporeans to join them for Chinese New Year celebrations and future Hari Raya festivities, while strangers walked up to us in Ya Kun Kaya Clementi branch with big smiles and open arms, and offered to buy us breakfast for "loving them and their country so much".

Besides this, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a hearty hug from a man and his beautiful kids inside an MRT train while travelling from Buona Vista to Tanjong Pagar. This person had just shared my article on his smartphone when he recognised me standing in front of him. I loved the fact that he stood up and said with a boom in his voice: "Roy, my kids and I want to give you a big hug. Can?" And I went: "Can, can." Well, the "green line" is my favourite anyway.

My wife and I also felt thankful when Singaporeans working abroad wrote to say how the article made them nostalgic for their homeland, and how they wished they were also treated with magnanimity in the foreign lands they were in.

However, I believe that the biggest banner of victory unfurled was that over online haters, who may be few in number but are intense in their venom and vitriol against foreigners. There was little comeback from the haters and the cumulative acceptance of Singaporeans as a society won.

Let me recount what happened when a handful of haters sought to take me down. I must admit it was discomfiting to be the ball that a few hard shoes wanted to kick totally out of the stadium. And the haters targeted us personally. They commented on how rich my wife and I must be for the Government to just let us in, how I might be stealing a Singaporean's job and making his family suffer, how "economic immigrants" like us clog hospital wards and deprive locals of medical attention, how if we were so good, why did we leave our "own shores", and so on and so forth. These pernicious generalisms flew around as wishful fabrications.

The fact of the matter is, we are a very modest family with limited means and, like ordinary Singaporeans, we go through our own rounds of ups and downs in life. We work hard to save as just being foreign does not make us rich. That's complete wishful thinking. My wife and I often joke that we wished the financial riches that haters project on us were real. As of now, I work for a small start-up with two other like-minded people. Both my children were born in Singapore under the finest medical supervision for which I had to pay "expatriate package" rates as we are neither permanent residents nor Singaporeans.

However, thousands of ordinary expatriates like us respect what this land and its people give us, and it is only fair and equitable for us to contribute back towards its development. We pay more than locals for valuable services such as health care and treatment in a government hospital. We know that it goes towards development of Singapore's infrastructure and Singaporeans. That is a small price to pay when compared to the respect and acceptance we get here from our local friends.

Anyway, just when I thought I stood no chance to ward off the bigotry that was aimed at my article, an army of virtual Singaporean friends rose to shield me from the animosity and repugnance of online haters. I have never met Haoren Fu, Keeyan Ho, Lovey Chin, Shafique Dawood and Edward Pang. But these Straits Times readers and ordinary Singaporeans intervened when my attitude of gratitude was being questioned as boot-licking by online haters. It was as if the entire family had come together to protect its most vulnerable member. What does it tell me? It tells me that the love around is more than the hatred present.

There's an old saying: Until the lions have their own historians, the tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. Here's my heartfelt thanks to my Singaporean friends, brothers and sisters who stood up for a wounded lion against online hunters. You have proven that only love is real and nothing else matters.

Gong Xi Fa Cai to all.

The writer is a media and marketing professional.

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