SINGAPORE – Even as Singaporeans celebrate their respective ethnic cultures, presidential hopeful Ng Kok Song believes it is critical for them to build on their shared identity as Singaporeans.
Speaking to the media after visiting the Singapo(ren): Discovering Chinese Singaporean Culture exhibition at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre on Tuesday, the former GIC chief investment officer said that Singapore Chinese culture is distinctive, yet rooted in a multiracial, multilingual society.
The 75-year-old, who last Wednesday announced his intention to run for president, used his left hand to illustrate how the tips of one’s fingers, representing the different races in Singapore, may be far apart, but they connect at the palm, which he used to represent a shared Singaporean identity.
“(This is) something which I would like to do (as president); to unify all Singaporeans into this singular Singaporean identity,” said Mr Ng, who on Sunday visited a Sikh temple and said he hoped to visit other religious institutions in the coming days.
To refine multiracialism in Singapore, Mr Ng said that while it was good for the various communities to help their own, it would be more powerful for these efforts to be complemented by people helping those from other races.
“This is something which we can get our children to do, to educate them from a very young age what is the meaning of multiracial friendship, that we care for one another regardless of our race, our language or our religion.”
He reiterated his call for meditation in schools.
“In that silence that they share together, they are not talking, they are not arguing, they are being together,” he said.
“Just one or two minutes of that every day will be very powerful, that in our hearts and beyond our minds, we are together.”
The shared identity of being Singaporean should extend to the way Singaporean Chinese grapple with United States-China tensions, said Mr Ng.
He acknowledged that it was “natural” for Chinese people to be more sympathetic to China, but pointed out that Singaporean Chinese culture is rooted in multiracialism.
“What is most important amidst this geopolitical conflict is for the Chinese community, as well as for the other communities, to realise that the most important thing for us is that we are Singaporeans – and therefore, we have to always consider what is in our best national interest,” he said.
Asked whether the recent political turmoil in Singapore – including the resignation of Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin – would affect his own popularity as an independent candidate, Mr Ng said what mattered to him most was that Singaporeans have a chance to choose their president.
“Whether the present circumstances favour me is not terribly important to me, because I’m happy as long as the people in Singapore get a chance to choose. I’ll be happier should the people of Singapore choose me to be their president.”
Mr Ng revealed that one of his deepest regrets is that he is not fluent in Mandarin and written Chinese. He is fluent in English and Teochew.
“I’m an example to the younger Singaporeans who are reluctant to become fluent in Chinese. It’s not too late for me, I want to learn to be fluent. My heart is Chinese in the way I think, but I cannot express it fluently,” he said.
“I’m starting to (take Chinese lessons) and I’m trying to learn Chinese by singing Mandarin songs,” he said, rounding up his visit by singing a line from the popular Mandarin song Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart).