The Promised Land

Jan 28, 2011
*Special to asia!

A university student from China leaves his homeland in search of freedom, only to find himself in yet "another dictatorship". This is the second of a series of posts that shares this young man's journey to a "Free Country".

No one told Alvin what to expect. He imagined it. He read a few articles, saw a few videos, and arrived at the notion of a land that’s clean and free, though small.

“I’m lucky my working group [at the university] is mixed. There are some groups that comprise only Chinese students, so they don’t get to mix. You know, speak to people from here.” He told me that through mixing with other Singaporeans in school, he got to learn more about the country from a local perspective. He learned about the concept of National Service through speaking with other male students - that most male, Singaporean men, are also soldiers. He could also gather from his colleagues at the university, some thoughts that Singaporeans had fostered with regard to the exponential increase in Chinese Nationals in schools and in the work force over the past five years.

The 1990s and early 21st century saw Singapore experience a third “tidal” wave of new Chinese migration from different parts of China. In 2007, Singapore relaxed its rules to allow more immigration to staff its service industries, part of the Republic’s measures to address an acute labor shortage resulting from a boom in the construction, marine, manufacturing and services sectors. In the past two decades, more than 700,000 new Chinese immigrants had obtained citizenship or permanent residence in Singapore. This sudden influx of workers from China, unsurprisingly, took ordinary Singaporeans by surprise, as the low-skilled and the elderly found, and continue to find, themselves losing jobs to the newcomers.

The look on Alvin’s face quietened as he began to comment perceptively, “My colleagues tell me some things [about how they feel], but I think they don’t tell me everything.” He looked dispirited.


367 For a generation born into an information age, the whole concept of that epoch becomes moot when you take the access to information out of it.


“It’s so funny,” Alvin expounds, “I came to Singapore because I felt I needed to escape! But I just left one dictatorship and ended up in another!”

“I thought it was a free country! I mean... you have YouTube and Facebook!”

I told him I found it funny how he equated “freedom” with the access to certain media and social networking platforms. For a generation born into an information age, I suppose the whole concept of that epoch becomes moot when you take the access to information out of it.

The value that Alvin had anointed free media with might also be appropriated to the fact that he was "liberated" by that underground footage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. Evidently, that video redirected his life course. For now, at least.

Alvin paused for awhile to think, then continued, “I like how things are so organised here. You can get things done easily. Things work! If I had a business, I would set it up in Singapore!”

I asked him what his peers and family thought about his views. “My family, they don’t understand. They just dismiss everything I say as... “Western”. They call me a Westerner. But I don’t think so. I love my country. China is my home.”

There’s a saying, “The people you love the most hurt you.” It stems from the verity that we want the most from those we love. We are attached to them, and expect them to agree with us. When that doesn’t happen, or worse, when the opposite happens, we feel betrayed, disappointed, and disoriented. Perhaps the same can be said of one’s home country. That is, “The country you love the most hurts you.”

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

Contact Debby