At work we were asked what makes us Singaporean. Well, the German philosopher Heidegger says that our identity is defined by the objects, senses and vocabulary around us. Indeed. HDB, PAP, MRT, hawker centres, Singlish, TIBS buses, GST, COE, prices rising, NS, all these are things that Singaporeans identify with and talk about, and topics by which when in a foreign land, one can identify a Singaporean from the myriads of Asians walking in the streets who come from all over the place. In Singapore, if u toked to a PR or foreigner, he would not be able to talk about these topics with the same depth and authenticity that a Singaporean can. I remember when I was in Washington and walked past a Chinese and I heard her say, "Wah...free 的 ah!" I immediately turned to my fren and said, "only a Singaporean would talk like that!" It also reminds me of a paragraph in George Eliot's Mill on the Floss, which talks about how as Tom and Maggie grew up, the landscape and ornaments of the house moulded their identity and memory, giving them that sense of attachment and nostalgia which both rooted and trapped their thoughts and actions even in adulthood.
But is our identity formed by our environment alone? Or is in innate? Is identity existential or essential? Is it inherent or chosen? Koreans borne and living in the US are American through and through. They eat sandwiches, play baseball, go drinking in pubs. Yet in 2002, when Korea played the US in the World Cup, they were divided over whether to support Korea or the US. Though they were never in Korea (no existence), they still felt an enigmatic sense of belonging to Korea because of their lineage and ethnicity. Is this invented or natural? Did their parents inculcate it to them, or do they feel this emotion simply because Koreanness is in their blood? Korea missed a penalty, the US scored 1st, but Korea equalised, & both made it to the round of 16. I suppose the Korean Americans must be the happiest.the writer is doing conscription liability in ________. He contributed this article to the blog in his personal capacity. He cannot be named to protect his identity, cos freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution. He has 339 days to go.