Embrace Diversity, Not Despise It

I refer to your recent letter on the Forum page ('S'poreans are Sponges for All Things Western', Straits Times, 22 June) and its associated article ('Chinese, but they Prefer English Names', Straits Times, 20 June). Although the author of the article has made a forceful point, I feel that he has misrepresented several issues.

First, he asserts that Singaporeans adopt a "monkey see, money do" approach to the West. In a sense, this is true, as reflected by our adoption of certain forms of dress and cultural norms, such as a respect for privacy. However, Singaporeans continue to maintain many aspects of Asian culture, such as a respect for elders, community sharing, and an emphasis on the family. Indeed, we should pride ourselves on our ability to absorb positive aspects of Western norms, and yet preserve our Asian values. We should not be ashamed of this syncretism, but instead embrace it as an asset.

Second, he argued that our cultural makeup is "99 per cent derived from the West". Surely this is a gross exaggeration. We should not equate modernity and progress as being essentially Western preserves. Globalisation involves a diffusion of culture not just from the West to the East, but also in the opposite direction. Clear examples in recent times include the success of Eastern cuisine in the West, together with an increased appreciation of the style inherent in traditional Asian dress. For every instance where we see an absorption of Western culture, there is likely to be a counterexample where Eastern tradition has prevailed.

Finally, far from lacking cultural integrity, our unique cross-pollination of East and West defines an entirely new culture of its own. Recall, we are a nation of migrants, harking from both East and West. Our colonial heritage is as much a part of Singapore as are our various Eastern contributions. We are not singularly a Chinese, Indian, Malay, or Western society, but a blend of them all; and one, I might add, that I am particularly proud of.


'Chinese, but they Prefer English Names', The Straits Times, June 20, 2001

'S'poreans are Sponges for All Things Western', The Straits Times, June 22, 2001

This article was sent to the Straits Times, and was published on the 23rd June 2001, as East and West, Singapore's Mix is Best.