An Image of a Singaporean

There is no single image of a Singaporean. Yet, the term, “an average Singaporean” conjures an image that is often idealized, romanticised, or even valourised, and rarely known in detail when thinking clearly through. This is also an opinion piece, and little in the way of facts will be given. This also alludes to the highly subjective nature of the topic. The reality is that everyone has a distinct image of what the “average Singaporean is”. I am offering mine for discussion.

When people say, “man on the street”, or “the average Singaporean”, I think of a man – it usually is an ethnically Chinese person. He has a very dark skin tone from the decades of working under the sun. His arms are buff, his hands are callused from the many years of handling metal. He has a strong physical presence.

He is not highly educated. He can speak several languages only because he is forced to in his working environment. He knows that the way of the world is through a combination of street smarts and initiative.

He is indifferent about prostitution and gambling, but cannot understand homosexuality. He is rooted in traditions.

Material appearance is important for face-work, especially around relatives. He does not want to be looked down upon by others. He is generous, even when he can scarcely avoid it.

He is not averse to taking advantage for himself, but will not do so at the expense of a deep relationship. He is intensely loyal in that sense.

He aims to raise his children in material comfort, and aims to retire comfortably too. He wants his children to continue with the traditions he was raised with, in the hopes of gaining supernatural favour for the entire family.

The point of laying out all these qualities is to be slightly clear about the rhetorical devices used when people mention the specific phrases of “man on the street” or “the average Singaporean”. Maybe the person you think about matches my description; maybe they don’t. The point is that there really is no average Singaporean, and the state bears a lot of responsibility in shaping the cultural context for citizens to live with – at least here in state-centric Singapore.


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