[Young Sikh Association]
1. I had an interesting dialogue at the Meritus Mandarin this afternoon at a session organised by the Young Sikh Association. It started ten minutes late because traffic was heavy. Someone attributed it to the last day of the Great Singapore Sale and the impending rise of the GST by two percentage points. Orchard Road was full of people and alive with activity.
2. I spoke about the challenges faced by a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. While we place great store by national efforts to promote harmony, in reality, there are always tensions in daily life. A Tamil asked why we still needed to categorize Singaporeans by race in our Identity Card, suggesting that it encouraged discrimination. Another spoke about the stresses created by the influx of foreigners. A few raised issues faced by members of minority communities in Chinese-dominated Singapore.
3. With globalisation, human beings are travelling as never before. In Singapore, new Chinese and new Indians lack some of the instincts for racial harmoney which local-borns have but have other strengths. To a greater or lesser degree, all cities are confronting similar new challenges. When the Mayor of Dalian asked for our help to attract Indian software companies to his new IT Park, I mentioned the particular needs of Indian programmers including the need to provide Indian vegetarian food. As an illustration, I told him that Indian vegetarians generally did not like Chinese vegetarian food unless it was well spiced. He took what I said seriously. If Dalian is able to accomodate foreign communities the way we are able to, it will succeed.
4. Cities which find ways to manage the new diversity will attract more talent and become more international. They will be better able to seize new opportunities. Communities which are set in their ways and uncomfortable with foreign intrusions will be less able to. In a sense, Singapore's multi-ethnic and multi-religious character gives us an advantage because we learn from young to live with diversity. We are able to switch channels depending on whom we are dealing with, often sub-consciously.
5. A sense of humour also helps to defuse problems when they arise. Kumar loves to crack Indian jokes when he performs, which immediately relaxes the audience. I recalled how the temple official in Amritsar who showed me around was quick to crack Sikh jokes. Some of those jokes were already in my mind but I could not utter them of course.
6. In the coming years, like countries, cities and companies, some ethnic and religious communities will do better than others in a new age of globalisation. The Punjabis will do well because they are used to living among others all over the world. The ease with which they network globally will give them an advantage.
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