Life in the visible spectrum

The Nanyang Chronicle, 12th March 2007

We all need light to see.

Without light, red roses and yellow sunflowers are lost to us.

Although light is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, it determines what we can and cannot see.

So, in a way, our “view” of the world is limited, but this limitation establishes a common ground for us to explore and interpret our world.

Things work because most of us can identify colours — just think about traffic lights for instance.

However, have you ever seen life beyond this light?

Equipment like night vision goggles use infrared waves — another part of the electromagnetic spectrum — to let us see in the dark.

Similarly, my exchange program to the USA has broadened my vision (figuratively of course, I still have yet to acquire that mythical X-ray vision).

As some of my classmates in America have said, everyone here chases the American Dream, “a nice house, two dogs and a backyard”.

It does not sound that much different from what we dream in Singapore.

In Singapore, the sight at the end of the race is a rich and comfortable life, and to do that you get yourself a degree or a stable job. We always try to make economic sense.

However, in America, people also chase dreams and ideals, intangible things that would be invisible to most of us in Singapore.

For example, while pursuing civil liberties like freedom of speech may not exactly help the government carry out policies smoothly — hence the lingering problems in America — it gives the citizens a sense of importance, the belief in being able to change things.

One of the most vivid memories I had was when I attended the anti-war protest at the National Mall.

As I took the metro that Saturday morning, it was packed with people holding placards with personalised messages displaying their hopes for the Iraq war to end.

I do not think anyone benefited economically from that event, and it might have cost losses and inconveniences. But I could image how empowered they felt.

It seemed to me that Americans were not solely concerned with the ends, but often the means to the ends too.

Environmental issues, minority rights and historical preservation — these are just some of the things that stood in the way of America bulldozing its way to becoming a state as efficient and well-run like Singapore.

I say this because the rich and powerful nation is still steeped in social problems.

Public housing and transportation are not as efficient as they are in Singapore, and much poverty and inequality linger.

Here was a country which I thought had enough resources to give its citizens a comfortable life.

Hence, when I first compared it to Singapore, I felt luckier to be living in the latter — life was indeed more comfortable back home.

However, this initial perspective that I had of America was in the light of me being a Singaporean.

As the days went by and my vision broadened, the things I saw in America started to make more sense.

In some ways, Americans and Singaporeans really looked at life in the same light. However, while the latter was stuck on a more focused spectrum, the former saw wider.

I could see for myself why Singapore is such an economic success: we had a focused vision on what we wanted and we worked as one towards it.

If we had a wider vision of life and were thus divided in our dreams then, it would have been so much harder to achieve the way of life we have now.

However, now that we have become an economic success, I am starting to yearn for more than just a comfortable life.

I want to lead an even more meaningful life, by knowing that I have made a difference to this world.

I have seen in America how people fought for ideals, improvements and rights — this fighting spirit and purposeful outlook of life are invisible to the Singaporean vision.

Personally, I feel the economic success we have has opened more opportunities for me to pursue the intangibles in life.

As a young nation with little historical baggage and the benefits of economic stability, I feel now is the time for more of us to broaden our vision and see beyond mere economic value in our live and actions, beyond our limited spectrum.

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