Friday 20 February 2015

When the tide of love drowns out xenophobia

By Sourav Roy, Published The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2015

LAST Saturday, on Valentine's Day, The Straits Times published an article I wrote, "Singapore respects us as few nations do", in which I summed up why my wife and I moved here six years ago from the Middle East, got married here after not succeeding in other cities due to bureaucratic issues linked to our differing nationalities (Indian and German) and started our family here.

I also expressed my gratitude for countless ordinary Singaporeans who have made us a part of their lives and vice versa, rendering our lives so much more inclusive and meaningful.

The article went viral and, in less than 72 hours, had over 39,000 shares on Facebook. I received innumerable friend requests and messages of support, solidarity and love from Singaporeans. The outpouring of love was overwhelming and deeply emotional for my family.

I had Singaporeans writing in to say that my article brought tears to the eyes of their elderly family members, who connected its essence with the "Singapore of their memories". I had young Singaporean parents asking if our Eurasian kids could play with theirs so that the love and acceptance could blossom even more in the children's hearts. It was truly touching. I also received invitations from Singaporeans to join them for Chinese New Year celebrations and future Hari Raya festivities, while strangers walked up to us in Ya Kun Kaya Clementi branch with big smiles and open arms, and offered to buy us breakfast for "loving them and their country so much".

Besides this, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a hearty hug from a man and his beautiful kids inside an MRT train while travelling from Buona Vista to Tanjong Pagar. This person had just shared my article on his smartphone when he recognised me standing in front of him. I loved the fact that he stood up and said with a boom in his voice: "Roy, my kids and I want to give you a big hug. Can?" And I went: "Can, can." Well, the "green line" is my favourite anyway.

My wife and I also felt thankful when Singaporeans working abroad wrote to say how the article made them nostalgic for their homeland, and how they wished they were also treated with magnanimity in the foreign lands they were in.

However, I believe that the biggest banner of victory unfurled was that over online haters, who may be few in number but are intense in their venom and vitriol against foreigners. There was little comeback from the haters and the cumulative acceptance of Singaporeans as a society won.

Let me recount what happened when a handful of haters sought to take me down. I must admit it was discomfiting to be the ball that a few hard shoes wanted to kick totally out of the stadium. And the haters targeted us personally. They commented on how rich my wife and I must be for the Government to just let us in, how I might be stealing a Singaporean's job and making his family suffer, how "economic immigrants" like us clog hospital wards and deprive locals of medical attention, how if we were so good, why did we leave our "own shores", and so on and so forth. These pernicious generalisms flew around as wishful fabrications.

The fact of the matter is, we are a very modest family with limited means and, like ordinary Singaporeans, we go through our own rounds of ups and downs in life. We work hard to save as just being foreign does not make us rich. That's complete wishful thinking. My wife and I often joke that we wished the financial riches that haters project on us were real. As of now, I work for a small start-up with two other like-minded people. Both my children were born in Singapore under the finest medical supervision for which I had to pay "expatriate package" rates as we are neither permanent residents nor Singaporeans.

However, thousands of ordinary expatriates like us respect what this land and its people give us, and it is only fair and equitable for us to contribute back towards its development. We pay more than locals for valuable services such as health care and treatment in a government hospital. We know that it goes towards development of Singapore's infrastructure and Singaporeans. That is a small price to pay when compared to the respect and acceptance we get here from our local friends.

Anyway, just when I thought I stood no chance to ward off the bigotry that was aimed at my article, an army of virtual Singaporean friends rose to shield me from the animosity and repugnance of online haters. I have never met Haoren Fu, Keeyan Ho, Lovey Chin, Shafique Dawood and Edward Pang. But these Straits Times readers and ordinary Singaporeans intervened when my attitude of gratitude was being questioned as boot-licking by online haters. It was as if the entire family had come together to protect its most vulnerable member. What does it tell me? It tells me that the love around is more than the hatred present.

There's an old saying: Until the lions have their own historians, the tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. Here's my heartfelt thanks to my Singaporean friends, brothers and sisters who stood up for a wounded lion against online hunters. You have proven that only love is real and nothing else matters.

Gong Xi Fa Cai to all.

The writer is a media and marketing professional.


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