19 September 2018

Thoughtful essays about living in Singapore in annual book

Cover, The Roads We Take.
Cover, The Roads We Take.
The Birthday Collective has released a book every year since 2016 timed for Singapore's National Day, with each book featuring the same number of essays as Singapore's years of independence.

In this year's edition, 53 contributors reflect on The Roads We Take – the paths they have chosen to take in their lives. According to the Birthday Collective, the essays highlight the importance of resilience and the evolution of the political and social landscape in Singapore.

"The book compels readers to think of the complexity of the future roads we must take, as individuals, as a nation – because in sunny Singapore, no one road stays forever," the organisation said on its website.

At the launch ceremony for the book co-editor Cheryl Chung, head of the strategic planning department at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, noted that contributors had brought up multiple roads in Singapore, "not the official road, not the road we are pressured to go on". "All the roads shape us," she said.

The theme of the inaugural edition in 2016 was What is Singapore’s Next Big Thing? whereas 2017 was about What Should We Never Forget?, Chung noted, while the 2018 theme is very much in the present tense. The book is also subdivided into four categories, why, how, who and what.

"(The why section is not about) why are we on these roads but why do we do what we do, why do we go where we go," she said.

The who section features essays writing about people the authors have journeyed with, as well as the people they were before and the people they have become.

Chung also said the book is about wayfinding, of sharing with each other the milestones of lives and creating a map "to show others where we have been".

From left: Maniam, Rufaihah, Chambers, Lim-Tsung.
From left: Maniam, Rufaihah, Chambers, Lim-Tsung.

In a panel featuring several contributors Rufaihah Abdul Jalil, who works at the National University of Singapore, shared that she wrote a letter to her daughters that focused on the beauty of lifelong learning, because "there are always going to be challenges whatever you do".

"You don't have to learn something very specific. You should be open to learning about other things... You will learn that everything is somehow connected to one another," she said.

Joshua Chambers, founder of Govinsider, commented on how easy it had been for him to start his own business in Singapore, to find "all the ingredients which make success a little easier". "It's very easy to meet people, to find connections and contacts," he said. "I feel very privileged to start something...that I would not have been able to start anywhere else in the world."

Cherie Lim-Tseng, COO, Secur Solutions Group, wrote about her volunteer work in Myanmar. "Sometimes it is what you don't see that is building all the things that you forget to see," she said. "What binds us is the stories. What makes the nation different from the city is when you stop looking at the key performance indicators (KPIs) and look at the things that you value."

Rufaihah hoped that Singapore will continue to take a greater role in world affairs, to allow other smaller nations to learn from the city state.

"A manmade system is never perfect," she observed. "It could work for us right now but it may change. Trying to be No. 1 in everything, you lose.. There's nothing to compete for when you are No. 1."

Lim-Tseng said being KPI-driven could be Singapore's demise. "We're so afraid of losing the check box that we don't take enough risks. We feel like we cannot drop any ball. Sometimes you have to make a stand and be clear about what it is about," she said, adding that we should be proud about "every crack and blemish" rather than "worrying about how we are No. 1 or No. 2 or 3".

"Our true body of work needs to stand out for what it is," she said.

"Singapore needs to take a step back and see what they can learn from others too," she added.

"We are a very pragmatic society. I want a Singapore with spiritual values, more 'give, care and share'."

Lim-Tseng also announced a children's version of the Birthday Book as well as a video competition to be launched with ITE in October. 


Buy the books

View pictures of the launch on Facebook