The thought of being the first Singaporean someone has ever seen had never occurred to me before. It only hit me on hindsight, after 2 weeks cycling in Laos, that I might have had the privilege of being that Singaporean (sorry Daniel) for many people here. More importantly, I might have been their first experience with anything to do with Singapore and think that whatever I do, who I am, is Uniquely Singapore.
I never prepared myself for being an ambassador. Should I be portraying a certain kind of behavior? What kind of behavior? Maybe I should footnote my Sabai Dee with a Lah. Maybe I should wear a Merlion or the Marina Bay Sands on my shirt.
I am afraid because I cannot speak or act for my whole country, no matter how small it might be. But somehow, that is what people (not only in Laos) see you as doing. They generalise. Many have formed an image of an American tourist, a Japanese tourist (which I am often mistaken for) and a Thai tourist; no image of a Singaporean tourist, or even an image of Singapore has formed for most people here. I feel like I have a responsibility to all the people in my country – to be constantly wary of what I am portraying, a museum exhibit titled This is Singapore.
I want to take away the times I ignored a monk at a wat when I had no interest teaching them English and forgoing my sleep because you don’t deserve to be thought cold and unfriendly.
I want to take away the times when I bargained so hard that you might seem cruel.
I want to take away the times when I regret saying Pom khon Singapore (I am from Singapore).
Maybe you don’t like eating pineapples by the street everyday and I should take that away too.
Maybe you don’t like searching for cheap food outside the recommendations from tripadvisor and I should take that away.
Maybe you don’t even cycle at all.
Or maybe, just maybe, these people will never get to see you at all.
Then maybe I won’t want to take all these away. Instead, I’d rather heck it all and be what Singapore has made me, wearing it proud on my bicycle.