NOVEMBER 15 — Just before Deepavali, I started cleaning out my room and among the assorted detritus I discovered my old Singapore restricted passport.
The blue booklet looks perfectly like the standard red Singapore passport except for its colour and the fact that the world available to the bearer is a small corner of South-east Asia — Malaysia.
I was a little young when I had the passport but flipping through its pages, I am reminded of one of my last trips using this document; it was my birthday and the long, leisurely drive in my father’s Proton Saga.
The logic was that Singaporeans travel to Malaysia so much it was necessary to have a separate document and not clutter the pages of our international passport.
The scheme ended in 1999 when it was decided that the one passport was sufficient.
But from 2013 to 2019, the Malaysia Automated Clearance System (MACS) programme also facilitated travel to Malaysia. Allowing virtually automated clearance across the border.
This initiative too was discontinued.
To me, both schemes were fundamentally important as they made clear that the relationship between the two countries is special and needs special attention.
Ultimately, Malaysia is an important part of the Singapore experience — the peninsula is the only hinterland our city has (and fortunately for us it is an excellent one).
But over the years, the two nations seem to have grown somewhat apart.
While millions of Singaproeans do cross the Malaysian border annually — economically and even culturally, many have started to look at Hong Kong, Shenzhen and even Seoul.
Holidays now tend to be a trip to Bali rather than in the back of a Proton to the backwaters of Malaysia.
And now at this present moment, with the causeway shut for the time... we’ve never been so far apart.
And while this may be a necessary step to contain a damaging virus in the short term, we have to remember this is a special relationship and Malaysia must not become just another country for us.
Really in the post-coronavirus context, a scheme along the old blue passport lines really is worth considering.
Easing travel to and from Malaysia will boost trade and encourage Singaporeans to access a nation that remains full of opportunity. A place that’s fundamental to our identity as people of South-east Asia.
If Covid-19 has taught us nothing else, it’s that global links are fragile and it’s important to focus on our immediate neiighbourhood. A Singapore-Malaysia travel document will allow movement with a degree of control.
It’s really a case of back to the future.
Years ago for many Singaporeans, Malaysia was our world and we gradually expanded our horizons. Post-Covid-19, why not start with Malaysia and then work up from there.
Blue passports, anyone?
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.