What makes Singaporeans, well, Singaporean? As we celebrate our 40th birthday, cyberpioneer meets three unique Singaporeans, each coming from diverse backgrounds and at different stages of their lives, but all bonded by the common experience of National Service (NS).
Youth with a sea of possibilities: 2LT Jeremy Beckman, naval officer
At an age when most of his peers want to fit in or be part of a group, 2LT Jeremy Beckman, 20, is very comfortable being 'different'.
Born in Singapore to an American father and a Singaporean mother, 2LT Beckman certainly looks different with his Pan-Asian appearance; and he sounds different, with a low, American-ish drawl.
He says growing up in Singapore was like being "in a bubble within a bubble", as he was not really too exposed to the typical Singaporean way of life of flats and local schools. And while he celebrates Chinese New Year, his family also commemorates Thanksgiving.
For six years, he attended an international school where he had classmates from all over the world - Koreans, Africans, and New Zealanders. His school's curriculum also devoted more time to activities like sports, drama classes and even helping out in hospitals.
Thus, there was an initial adjustment period when he enlisted for NS.
He explains: "Before, in school, I was used to everyone being different, but in NS, I discovered most people are from similar backgrounds. I was the different one!"
2LT Beckman lets on that over the year or so during his NS, whenever he meets a new group of people, they are usually curious about the same things.
"They ask me what I am doing here (in NS), or why I am doing NS. And they think my name is Beckham!" he says with a slight shrug.
He adds matter-of-factly: "It's just something I go through."
Looking ahead, 2LT Beckman says he is likely to further his education in America after NS. Does he plan to stay on there?
He answers thoughtfully: "I'm not too sure how much I'll like it in America. Right now, I've no plans yet. I've lived in Singapore all my life and I'm very comfortable here. I guess I'll find out when I get to America!"
Still, do not be too quick to dismiss him for being totally cut off from the Singaporean way of life. "I eat local food all the time, I hardly eat Western food, even at home. Language-wise, while I don't understand Malay or dialects, I've studied Chinese, so I understand Mandarin," he says.
"People are really surprised when they find out that I can speak Mandarin!" he quips.
The time in NS has also made him more comfortable with living in Singapore. 2LT Beckman explains: "Before, I hardly interacted with Singaporeans, but now that I've done a year of NS, it's a lot easier to relate to other Singaporeans than before."
"Well, when I'm talking with Singaporeans, my Singaporean accent comes in now and then. It's almost like a different language for me, but it just comes out quite naturally!" he replies with a grin.