On class disparity in Singapore

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I just watched Regardless of Class by Channel NewsAsia a few days ago. A few years ago, I watched Regardless of Race, also by CNA and I remember being quite impacted by it. And now, it’s the talk about class division in Singapore. As I am entering the workforce, and as I meet more people of varying backgrounds, I can start to see the class disparity in Singapore and as I am from the middle income, I am beginning to worry about my future, and whether I can survive in Singapore.

What makes me middle income then? I believe I am middle income as I live in a 4-room HDB, I scrimp and save but sometimes indulge in vacations and good food. My friends seem to also be from middle-income backgrounds as well. But actually, it’s not easy to tell if they happen to be from the low/ high-income backgrounds. So I just assume that my friends are like me – middle-income.

One interesting comparison the show raised was that the low/middle income believe that hard work, education and knowing the right people were some of the main factors attributing to one’s success. On the other hand, the high-income folks believe that ability, knowing the right people and hard work are the main factors that contribute to one’s success. Education is not one of the top three factors for them. This is an endless cycle that’s gonna make the rich richer and the poor poorer. I didn’t think it was a serious problem until now, as I realise I take on the role of a middle-income citizen, that I begin to feel the impact of this.

It is so difficult to live in Singapore. I guess it is probably challenging to live anywhere else too. I feel kind of trapped, unsure of where I should head to or do. I have discovered my interests: sport, yoga, film, travel, education, children, art, museums, curation, marketing. But can I fulfill them in Singapore? How can I be a yoga teacher if I don’t have the money to pay for the training, or to pay for a studio? And if I want to be an educator, do I have to go through a teacher training programme which I feel isn’t right for our children? There is so much I want to do but because I don’t have the financial capabilities to do so, I am stuck here, left to do what I should do for survival. As I take on projects that I am interested in but don’t pay me, I feel stuck again. Should I continue with the projects, or should I invest my time in something that pays me financially? I get that experience helps but time is ticking and I need $1m to buy a flat. How can I feel assured when the government will hold on to a large part of my salary until I retire, and the thing is, they define my retirement age…? This is not fair. Shouldn’t I choose to live my life? Why are you controlling my salary, why are you forbidding me to use my salary and why do I have to work until I die? I feel that life is full of worries, especially in Singapore. One can never feel content here. Money is a big worry here. House comes first, marriage comes second, love comes third. What is this, Singapore? What have you made us? We are just economic tools. I’m starting to feel worried about my children’s fate. I do not want them to have to face the same worries as me. I want them to be happy and free. And Singapore is not the right place. Sure, Singapore is safe, it has a rich culture, and it has everything but I feel so empty, Singapore. To quote Tan Pin Pin, the way we are being conditioned has caused Singapore to lose so many great filmmakers. I believe I could have achieved so much more. But you, Singapore, are the one who shut down my ideas, shut me up, and made me just another model Singaporean. Can my fellow middle-class folks relate to me?

I have recently interacted with some people who are obviously from the higher income. Looking at their educational background and their lifestyles, I can’t help but be envious of them. They can do what they want, with an unending supply of money at their disposal. But I also realise that they do feel a sense of emptiness as well. They do have their own problems too. And I appreciate the dialogue I share with them. I feel that it’s really important to mix around with people out of your usual circle of friends, through events or interest groups. It’s so refreshing to learn more about them. So I’m trying to appreciate what I have. Although it’s not easy being a middle-income citizen, it’s probably easier than being a low-income citizen, and being a Singaporean, I definitely have it easier than many people in the world. So I should be thankful but I should continue to reflect on what is actually best for myself, and not blindly follow what the Singapore Government tells us is best for us.

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