“Haze puts Singapore on map, millions surprised to find it there”

Business Times Singapore

This article amused me, to know how some in the world view Singapore. However, it was the comments in this forum that cracked me up. As I was preparing lunch, a thought came to me.

It has been six years since I left Singapore for Canada. People have always been curious about my origin of birth, and initially, it was frustrating to meet people who were oblivious as to where my country is geographically located. Because I’m Asian, people assumed that Mandarin is my first language and I learned English upon arrival to Canada. Additionally, they were bewildered to know that “Cheryl Tan” appears in my driver’s license, birth certificate, and passport. It’s automatically assumed that I chose an English name to be recognized in an English speaking country. Back in 2009, I demanded that my university change the name on my identification card to reflect my English name because I failed to respond to my Mandarin name when it was called out in class. (P.S. Zhi Lin isn’t an easy name to pronounce for the native English speaker). Also, I grew up with my English name, with my Mandarin name used solely during those Mandarin classes. So yes, it was frustrating. However, things have changed.

Flags of the world at the UN Secretariat Building.

Flags of the world at the UN Secretariat Building.

In the years that I have lived away from home, I have realized that there’s a huge world out there with over 7 billion people, reigning from 196 countries. Every two years, during the Winter/Summer Olympics, I’m constantly amazed at the number of countries that I don’t recognize. During my last visit to the United Nations Headquarters, I asked the lady if Taiwan’s represented by herself — the answer’s no: Taiwan’s represented by China. The world is huge, and I don’t know so many things about it. Prior to coming here, I didn’t know that Canada’s the second largest country in the world, and that she’s the largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. When I worked on the cruise ship, I didn’t know half the cities that people came from, for example, Åland in Finland — they don’t speak Finnish there, and have strong Swedish roots. Last week, I met a girl from Mallorca. I wouldn’t have guessed that’s in Spain till she patiently explained to me.

Yes, Singapore is on the world map, together with 195 other countries. Yes, we have a world-class airport, airline, university (universities), etc. INSEAD, together with many top-notch MBA and Ivy-League schools have set up campuses in Singapore. But, why do we care if people know where our home country is located at?


We don’t need to be known to be seen. It doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t know our origin of birth, but what matters is our attitude towards life and others. We don’t need to know everything about the world to be a better person. But instead, the more aware we are about the world around us, in the sense that we are just 7 billion individuals trying to understand life a little more, we will be happier. Let’s try to stop letting our ego get the better of us, but instead, transform that into curiosity and patience — and the world would be a much better place.