We’ll be celebrating our nation’s 50th birthday next year but Deborah Tan has the nagging feeling that it will also be the year she makes the decision whether she’ll call this place home.
[Note: This article was written in May 2014. Since then, there have been new policies introduced to address the needs of Singapore's aging population - such as the Pioneer Generation Package. This article was written before these changes took place so certain aspects of the author's views may no longer be relevant.]
I remember defending Singapore when friends studying overseas criticized the country for its many faults such as, the lack of press freedom, the near absence of an opposition party in Parliament, and its high costs of living. I was 19, idealistic, hopeful, and all I saw was a clean, safe, developed country, the country my teachers had shaped in my head over years of National Education. I remember feeling baffled whenever friends told me that they had voted for the opposition.
I couldn’t, for the life of me, imagine living anywhere else in the world.
But things have certainly changed over the last 15 years. As I grow older, I’ve become less certain whether I can continue living in this country, whether this is a place I will build a family in, and whether this is a place I will die in.
Grow Old With Me
My alma mater’s motto is “Grow old with me, the best is yet to be”. Is this the case for Singapore though? In a country with so much, how is it that its people constantly feel they have so little? So little time, so little money, so little freedom.
I feel almost embarrassed to have been blinded, for so many years, by how unfriendly this country is to its old people. This place is constantly building new malls and recreational places for the young and the active but what can our old people do to keep themselves mentally and physically entertained? Whatever green places we have, we convert into malls and condominiums. Our old people find themselves wasting their days away at void decks and in homes for the aged because there’s just no place that adequately caters to their needs. I often wonder how they feel wandering in a city they had helped build but has grown to be so strange and so unfamiliar to them.
In the 50 years of nation-building, what is this “nation” doing for the people who have helped build it? Singapore is a place for the young and healthy. Once you turn old, decrepit and “useless”, you are forgotten.
The CPF Conundrum
I think the most repellant thing about Singapore right now is the way retirees are treated here. The message is clear: we are all worker ants feeding the queen, and we work for her until we are no longer able to, until we die from exhaustion. There is absolutely no way we can all enjoy our “golden years” with all the regulations surrounding our CPF money. Our government has decided that there is just one and only one way our retirees can use their hard-earned money.
It’s a pitiful existence, one that gives you enough to not die. If it’s our money, why are we not allowed to exercise autonomy over it?
The most heartbreaking thing, perhaps, is seeing our old people work so hard at foodcourt and at fast food restaurants, because whatever meager sums they have, they probably have to use it to pay their bills and loans … sums of money so huge, it was impossible to have paid them off by the time they retired.
If we have precious little to meet the minimum sum in the first place, will extending our misery by paying us a paltry amount every month help at all?
If being Singaporean means playing the CPF game, then, I can’t abide by the rules. I would have to seriously consider leaving my home of 30 over years behind.
Playground Of The Rich …
… and we are not invited. The indignity of being a Singaporean these days is how we are constantly being confronted by these gleaming condominiums and cars that are now priced way out of our reach. True, this island is simply too small for everyone to own a car. True, our HDB flats are some of the best examples of government housing in the world. However, we are just a less jarring version of a slum placed next to a majestic mansion, a sight one commonly sees in countries where the rich-poor divide has become too vast to close.
It is a beautiful country if you don’t dig too deep, don’t go too far, and don’t think too hard.
There is a small window of time in which you can make your money in this country. You’d better make it fast and you’d better make it big. Once you are past your prime, the consequences of being not rich are just too traumatic to bear.
I can’t be in a country that constantly tells me I don’t have enough. I will never have enough. Most of us will never retire with a million dollars in our CPF accounts, but we all know we want to spend our old age in dignity and in peace. If this isn’t the country to do that, perhaps we need to think about where else we can all go for that.[Site update: We note a renewed interest in this story but please be reminded that this article was written more than 5 months ago. Since then, policies such as the Pioneer Generation package have been introduced. We have stopped accepting comments (constructive or non-constructive) because the article no longer speaks for the current CPF situation. Please read our house rules on commenting here.]