Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Singaporean Sentiments Toward Foreigners - My (Real) Input to the Straits Times Survey

"More than eight in 10 Singaporeans feel the country needs foreigners, but mostly to do jobs that Singaporeans do not want to do. Those polled say they accept foreigners being allowed in to work - but at a slower pace."

Images Courtesy of The Straits Times

Now let's put my thoughts in perspective - and a disclaimer... I am not agreeing nor disagreeing with the report or the comprehensive exposé that covered a number of pages.

Firstly, a survey of 400 people does not provide anywhere near enough data points to draw any statistical conclusions - but that didn't stop the Straits Times in last Saturdays newspaper.

Secondly, when I took the time to respond in detail to the journalist's written interview questions and then to also allow myself to be interviewed by telephone for more than a half an hour, the least that the publication could have done is to properly portray my sentiments.

I was aghast when one of my friends approached me and said, "Wah Lau! You attacking government policies now, is it?"

Following at the bottom of this post, you can read my actual responses to the written interview - how this translates simply into the short quotation that appeared in the paper, I have absolutely no idea:

'Australian Peter Breitkreutz, 45, a senior vice-president at Citibank, thinks the pace of immigration and certain government policies have added to local unhappiness. "It could be due to the rising cost of resale flats. A lot of people say foreigners are pushing prices up when actually, there are a lot of other underlying causes," he says.'

I guess, it's similar to one of the points I was making, but it does sort of sound like I've got a problem with some Government policies when stated without any other context.

According to the Reach website, the results "were among the findings of a Straits Times survey to gauge sentiments towards foreigners. The survey of 400 Singapore citizens shows that the majority believe in the need for foreigners. The responses on why Singaporeans have problems getting along with foreigners indicate that their unhappiness stems from the negative impact on jobs and the environment, rather than discomfort with social or cultural differences."

My regular readers know that I always love to set the record straight - so here is a transcript of my responses to the written survey:

1. Do you think Singapore has become less welcoming to foreigners in the past few years?

No, I don’t think Singapore has been less welcoming. When we first arrived many years ago, we were very sensitive to ‘being different’ and felt uncomfortable if people stared or did not necessarily seem to like us. This was more our problem than anything, and can probably be attributed to ‘culture shock’. Over recent years and after sincere effort to integrate, this has changed and we very welcome here now. In my observation, the general election last year definitely saw rise to some ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiment, especially in the ‘new media’ space, but my opinion is that it was more centered around concerns on certain policies and living standards rather than specifically targeting foreigners… this was more like a ‘by-product’. (There will always be some people - everywhere in every country - who are not welcoming to foreigners)

2. Would you say that it's still one of the top destinations for foreigners?

Absolutely I have seen no slow down in the number of people emailing me or contacting me through my blog wanting information on working and living in Singapore, and processes etc. In fact, especially over recent months, I have been overwhelmed with these kind of enquiries from both people I already know as well as total strangers - I cannot answer all of these quickly enough.

3. Why have you chosen to stay/set up base here?

We have chosen Singapore for a number of reasons. Originally, we were enticed by the common-stated benefits - low-crime, safety, high quality education, efficiency (transport, process such as taxation, medical care, etc), low taxes (comparatively), friendly people and culture, great food… the list goes on. It is also ‘central’ geographically when it comes to visiting family, located in both Australia and Shanghai, China. This was our original reasoning behind making the move.

Since then, and after we became permanent residents in 2008 and moved into a local heartlands HDB estate, became involved in grassroots and community volunteer work, our network of friends has expanded exponentially. We feel very much at home and welcome in our local community and our children have become just as accepted, if not more - both boys were born here, and regardless of their citizenship status, see no differentiation between themselves and their local Singapore friends. With this, the boys extracurricular activities (one in kindergarten, learning musical instruments, doing separate mandarin lessons - in which he’s fluent, swimming classes, drawing classes… all of which he loves. Our other boy at one and a half has become a local model of sorts, appearing in print and online campaigns for baby products). I know I digress, but it is all of these things that make us feel at home - the people, our community, the activities we do… moving out of this situation or out of Singapore is not even something that enters our mind.

4. Do you have many local friends, or do you spend time mostly with other foreigners?

Outside of my work environment (which is obviously a mix of foreigners and locals), we tend to spend 100% of our time with local friends. Living in Sengkang West, there are not many other ‘ang mohs’ in our immediate area. Through my grassroots connections and interaction with countless local families and neighbours through community events, we have many, many local friends. When we head out locally, it is very rare that we can go anywhere that we don’t run into people we know and always make the time to stop for a chat or catch-up. It is even more rare that we spend any time with other foreigners (outside of work), unless we have friends visiting from overseas.

5. Do you worry that conditions - or political sentiment - will one day make it difficult for you to stay?

I sincerely hope not. It’s not something that worries me, but just as in any country (Australia included), there will always be a small pocket of people who will not accept foreigners into their every day lives and may at times even be vocal or abusive about it. I’ve been told I’ve got thick skin, but I think it’s more about just being able to ignore any serious attack on my intentions or motivations for living in Singapore. I have learned that life experiences and upbringing are what help us form our ‘ladder of inference’ and it’s not something that’s easily changed, so just as I will tolerate these few people, I hope they will in return learn to be tolerant of me. In most part, Singaporeans are warm, accepting, kind and gracious people. But it does take time to earn such acceptance and respect. I firmly believe the onus is on us, the foreigner, to integrate by remaining respectful to the cultures, behaviors and expectation of the society in which we want to be accepted. In fact, I also strongly believe that it is the inappropriate behavior of others that are not respectful of their host country, which can ‘taint’ the rest of us. When I see an Australian displaying behavior that is disrespectful or unmindful of the local Singapore culture or people and maybe even offensive, it is the one thing that makes me feel very angry and even sad.

I should also add that it is important not to confuse any concerns over government policies with ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiment. Open debate over issues facing everyday people is very healthy and should be encouraged. Unfortunately, it is the small pocket of people that will try and turn such debate into ‘foreigner blaming’. Whether it be cost of living, rising home prices, over-crowded transport, medical expenses, income gap, etc, etc - the list goes on… these are all very important issues for people to be discussing (and not just in Singapore - they are common the world over). There will always be a few (also in every country around the world), who will blame all of these debatable topics on foreigners.

I think as long as my family and I remain true to ourselves, our neighbours, our community and actively contribute in a healthy way to Singapore, show respect and gratitude for being accepted here in our new home, then I see no reason why it would become difficult for us in the future (I hope). At the end of the day, it is the way in which we raise our children - the values we instill in them and their tolerance and respect for others. I have great faith in coming generations - children who will have been brought up in a multicultural and truly global community. I think discussion around race or skin colour will become a thing of the past.


Anonymous said...

Some observations

1) White people tend to be worshipped by the Chinese.So you got it easy. Ask a black/brown man how they are treated here. So you cannot generalise even if you are trying to be politically correct.

2) As an Indian I find this place terribly racially suffocating. (and i was born nd raised here).

Anonymous said...

Go away. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Pete, a sample size of 400 for this type of study is plenty

Anonymous said...

As long as you're here to make an honest living and contributing to this society. You're more than welcome.

Anonymous said...

Thats because you are caucasian,that people treat you like a god.i am local chinese and get racist treatment from.malays.que cutting,swearing in malay,and poorer service sometimes

MiniSculpts said...

Pot calling kettle black. Aussies are not friendly towards foreigners especially those of Asian descent.
They're just polite (educated ones) but not friendly. Oh yeah, I'm in Australia right now btw.

Anonymous said...

All these comments.. In my opinion, a sample size of 400 is way to insignificant to make any sort of judgement. Think about it 400/5470000 is a measly <0.0001% of the population and definitely cannot be used to judge most singaporean's sentiments (thats why straits times need to look things into more detail if they really want to report the truth to singaporeans.) Also, i dont think singaporeans are all that nasty as what the comments have described i believe that with hard work any kind of misunderstanding or issue can be bridged (wow i should be a speaker for PAP) but truth to be told singapore has always been more of a tolerant society than a harmonious one dont you think?