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the students' voice


Chinese Traditions, Cultural Roots, and A Portrait of a Reunion Dinner by Janice Heng

Since the Chinese New Year is practically upon us, this is as good a time as any for me to comment on the main topics stated in the title of this article. The reason I do not attempt to speak for the Malay and Indian communities in Singapore is because I feel that it is not my place to do so.

Thus: traditions and cultural roots, or the lack thereof, as seen amongst the younger Chinese Singaporeans. I believe this phenomenon of being 'rootless' is more prevalent in the Chinese community of Singapore rather than the Malay or Indian ones, partly because the proportion of Singaporeans in each major racial group who are not of the 'traditional' religious beliefs of that group is largest for the Chinese ( by 'traditional' I refer to Islam for the Malay community, Hinduism for the Indian community, and Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and related beliefs for the Chinese ), and much of tradition is based on belief.

Traditions, in my opinion, are fast being lost amongst my peers. Speaking as a freethinking Chinese youth myself, I can safely say that common Chinese superstitions are regarded less seriously, and cultural celebrations are taken lightly as well. I also feel that there is some decreased feeling of shared identity - we do not hold the myths Chinese culture revolves around quite so dear to our hearts as our parents or grandparents.

Besides this, there is also some sort of vague contempt at Singapore's wavering between the modern world and ancient values, Singapore's self-conscious attempt at promoting age-old festivals through fashionable trends. And, of course, there is the reason many people point fingers at for many problems, including a lack of proper Social Defence, reduced cohesiveness, and Singapore's brain drain problem - the West. More to the point, the fact that Western culture has permeated our world in a way that most of us are not completely aware of. Our younger set parties at nightclubs on Halloween but is bored to death during the Mid-Autumn Festival. From personal experience, many do not feel at all rooted to Singapore, and have said that they would get on the first plane to supposedly greener pastures once the opportunity presents itself.

But none of these are true reasons, merely observations - the actual root of our 'rootless' nature remains unexamined. There are many schools of thought, but I will not quote them. Instead I give my own opinion, and one which may not only apply to Singapore.

I feel that this feeling of being unsettled and drifting is due, in part, to the increased global interaction. ( This can be illustrated partly in the generalization that, on the whole, Singaporean youths with a large exposure to the internet and western media tend to be less traditional than their closer-to-the-heartland peers. ) With the incredible amount of information about and interaction with other cultures, we are seeing the many facets of belief and culture; and we turn to question our own. There is a lot of room for thought and reflection, as well, and mirrors do not always show us what we expect. In addition, the world is moving and changing too fast; it is hard to be rooted in endlessly shifting sand.

As for the portrait of a reunion dinner, I include it here only to provide some sort of illustration. Tonight I will go to my uncle's house for the traditional reunion steamboat dinner. But once the dinner is over, my cousins and I will gravitate to the televisions or the computer; else we will engage in some Western card games. We go through the motions because it is expected and customary; and for no other reason.

Perhaps that, too, is the extent of our Chinese New Year visiting, our eating of mooncakes when the Mid-Autumn Festival comes around. Traditions are preserved in Singapore, in a way, but they are crumbling from the inside out. And once the heart is gone, the body follows; no tradition can survive when belief finally dies.