Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Drum Aged With Moss

In politics, in political science, there is often this argument about political idealism as opposed to political realism. In History, examples of realpolitik always appear to hold greater sway than idealism. The failed Wilsonian League of Nations, the appeasement policy of Chamberlain somehow get construed as instances of idealism. But yet there abound in History as well examples of visionary political movements and acts of iconic political resonance which define an era. Mahatma Gandhi's non violence movements, Netanyahu's Middle East peace overtures, Rosa Parks' simple act of defiance. Is it really about realism against idealism in politics? I do not think so. While adherence to logic, reason, practicality and interest gains and consolidates political power, it is from acts of political grace which trancends power into History.

Yesterday, the new Singapore Government was sworn in. In a ceremony of necessary sobriety, political power was officially handed to the new Government by its erstwhile caretaker, the Singapore President. In their addresses, both the President and the Prime Minister recognised that the future of Singapore lay in its youth. And both addresses had a subtext that the Government has been somewhat remiss in its engagement of this group of Singaporeans. Furthermore, in the Prime Minister's address, there was also a subtle hint or concession that perhaps, there is a growing perception of inequalities existing in Singapore society. What is perhaps more worrying for the Government is this : the perception of inequalities is tinted with unhappiness that the better-off in Singapore are getting favoured treatment. Politics of envy.

So there are really two issues identified to be key in the next five years for Singapore, for Singaporeans. Engaging the young Singaporeans. Levelling inequalities between Singaporeans. The way to solve both issues, as evidenced from the address, is to grow the "small" Singapore economy and raise income to improve the "standards of living". And to do this, the Government and the people must be united. And then, this postive progress will create that unity between Government and people.

Unity to beget further unity. So then, after this textual distillation, we arrive at unity.

The real key.


You cannot buy unity. To unite a group of people requires a little bit of legitimacy and large doses of charisma. To unite a group of peoples, you need that fable. To unite a group of human beings, you need political grace. To get this group of peoples to dream a common dream even when they are a million miles apart. Instead of dreaming of Neverwhere, of California.

The nightmare of any Government is this line from Schoppert in my earlier entry : "at night, it seems everyone is dreaming about somewhere else." It is not about the different shades of green on the grasslands on whichever side. Its not about angst-ridden navel gazing. The problem lies where people's dreams are in Neverland, when their gaze is always turned towards a faraway Mirror. Because this begins a fissuring which is perhaps irrevocable. A dis-unity, a dis-placement with little chance of mending.

The sense is that such a mood is more prevalent, "a rule rather than exception", helped perhaps by an empowering education which provides an "all access pass" out of Singapore. But why out? Because this education empowers us but ironically, cannot be expressed to its full-ness in Singapore, it cannot give us the sense that we can "uphold the ideals of a democratic society based on justice and equality". And this emptiness translates to an inability "to offer my country" anything. Nothing. Nothing is left but "an empty shell of a corporeal body". How then can we "Majullah Singapura"?

So the Prime Minister's and the President's address is correct. It is about Unity. But is it enough only to grow the economy? To buy the unity? In GE 2006, many millions of dollars were dangled in front of Hougang and Potong Pasir. But it did not buy unity. If the newly sworn-in Government believes in unity, then it must begin with acts of political grace, to win back the people's hearts and not buy them back. "We have built a society where every Singa­porean has access to good housing, education, healthcare, and much more". So yes, we look at the injustice meted out to Hougang and Potong Pasir and wait for unity.

Unity requires acts of political grace by those who hold political power.

In ancient Chinese fable history, there is a legendary sage ruler known as Yao. To ensure good governance, Yao set up a drum outside the palace walls where any subject who wished to admonish him, or who wished redress of grievances could strike the drum. But the drum grew moss and the cattails were rotted. In Singapore, there are such admonitory drums too, but they never grow moss because the guards clean them every day.


Quote of the Day --

"The punishment whips and cattails are rotted ... on the admonitory drum, the moss is deep. And the birds are not disturbed." -- an old Japanese poem, Wakan roeishu

Monday, May 29, 2006

Cost of Leaving in Singapore

The cost of leaving in Singapore must be getting lower. In the past two years alone, at least 8 of my friends and about 11 acquaintances have initiated some form of leaving. In the past, it began with the acquisition of PR papers. Nowadays, young couples give birth abroad usually when on student pass or employment permit, wait 12 years and they're ready. Others rely on work and the employment permit to take the next big step.

I believe that in the 80s, the dominant demographic that left Singapore were the retirees or the well established in career types. Those who took their CPF, sold their HDB flats and moved mostly to Australia. When they left, they usually took their families, which means their children, with them. Then, the cost of leaving was probably higher, the family unit had to move together. Then, physical distance was a reality, the costs of communication was high, to leave meant an actual leaving. A severance.

Nowadays, the demographic is slowly but surely changing. Increasingly, people leave at the prime of their lives or when they are at the cusp of their prime. when this demographic leaves, the profile is different. They usually do not move their entire family, in this case, their parents, or loved ones, at least in the initial phases. When this younger demographic leave, the context, in all senses of the word, is more dynamic. There is an underlying uncertainty, no doubt sparked by the dominant association in Singapore that leaving is bad. Why do you want to leave Heaven? But even as this younger demographic leaves, they leave with greater connections back with Singapore. Communication across distance is cheap and instantaneous, getting news is a breeze, air travel is relatively much cheaper.

In a strictly practical sense then, the cost of leaving in Singapore is lower.

"For the Singapore youth, from school to professional, there is a rite of passage. First Zouk, than Velvet. Its fairly routine lor. But I was in NYC once. I stopped at 14th St Union Square station and saw this two guys setting up a DJ deck right in the station walkway. Then they started to spin and sell their CDs. The music booming in underground, youngsters starting to groove spontaneously. It was awesome. When I came back, Velvet not so shiok anymore. Dunno why leh. Just drink."

There has to be a pre-step. A cognitive step. An emotional taking of leave before someone leaves physically; like tired love-making before the break-up. How this mental state is triggered is manifold. It could be worry for a child's future. It could be a quest for a more peaceful existence. It could be a desire for space in all the layers of the word. It could be an experiential epiphany in another country or your own country. It could be a found love. Whatever the reason, it is because there is something unfulfilled, something that Singapore cannot offer somehow.

And when the cost of leaving is low, the younger set will choose to leave. Perhaps more and more so. That is a fact and it cannot be altered in today's world. And so, what is the worry then? What is the point in this entry?

What about those who have left in their minds in some way or another, but are physically still rooted in Singapore, to Singapore? Existing in uneasy comfort with reality. Uneasy comfort with realities.

I will let you down
I will make you hurt
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

While the world is getting warmer, Singapore gets cooler. Infrastructurally, more cool, more hip. More air-conditioned places, an air-conditioned bus interchange in my housing estate, gigantic fans with mists spewing in coffee-shops, hawker centers. A soon-to-be Vegas proxy.

But still, this does not make the cost of leaving in Singapore higher.

There is an old song, in an old album by an old band. Wish You Were Here. It has an interesting history. With the type of lyrics which transcends time and experience.

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

But where is here?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Imagi-Nation -- Singapore Space

There was once seven tiny islands in the south west of Singapore. Pulaus Ayer Chawan, Ayer Merbau, Merlimau, Pesek, Pesek Kecil, Sakra and Seraya. All these islands had names, they were not anonymous, Alfian has provided an exploration into these names, what they mean and perhaps, what they represent. In so doing, these islands retain some identity, some meaning instead of being empty places. These seven tiny islands were amalgated, refilled to become one big space. One big island. Jurong Island.

In so doing, the histories of the seven little islands, with the formation of Jurong Island, have become pre-history. Preludes to the birth of Jurong Island. Jurong Island is a new space made from several small spaces. It even has a place in cyberspace. If you visit the site, it purports to tell you the history of Jurong Island. The historical narrative is indicative of Singapore's treatment of space :

On the scarcely populated islands of Pulau Ayer Chawan, Pulau Ayer Merbau, Pulau Seraya and Pulau Merlimau, the villagers continued to live a simple and sun-kissed lifestyle. As late as the 1960s, they lived in Malay-style wooden stilt houses on their palm-fringed islands.

This is the history of the seven islands. Rendered into the timeless native-savage narrative. Timeless and mythical. They lead simple and sun-kissed lives. They lived in wooden stilt houses in palm-fringed environments. The Malay archetype which is often re-affirmed in newer lexicons by the official narrative again and again. An issue which will probably require another new entry. The historical narrative proceeds to mention the arrival of three multi-national petro-chemical companies into this cluster of islands. A seamless entry into the simple space. And then :

With these pioneers of Singapore's petroleum industry in place, it became logical that when the chemical industries was identified in 1980 as an industry cluster capable of contributing significantly to the economic growth of Singapore, amalgamation of the islands in forming Jurong Island, become the natural choice for the development of a petrochemical hub.

This is the pivotal paragraph in the historical narrative. A few discursive things have happened. The MNCs are "in place", almost meaning that their claim of the space is divine, pre-ordained. And when they were in place, something "logical" happened. It becomes "logical", it becomes a "natural choice" that the seven islands be amalgated into Jurong Island. To contribute to greater Singapore. The historical narrative proceeds to list the formation of Jurong Island. The same themes you will undoubtedly find in the history textbooks of Singapore.

What has happened to the simple and sun-kissed villagers? Left to our imagi-nation.

Space in Singapore often undergoes such shifts. And when such shifts occur, it is not merely the physical space that is altered. The discursive space, which includes history, culture, the social, also undergoes changes. Very often, the alteration of the discursive space follows the narrative structure employed in the pre-history of the seven tiny islands. The creation of a Casino space is such, the creation of GRCs is such. It is "logical" and there is a "need" to change the space, alter the boundaries because it is natural in Singapore. The GRC system remains unexplored in its spatial effects. How this system has irrevocably(?) altered political space in Singapore. It re-defined Singapore space and it was logical and a natural choice given our multi-ethnic make-up.

The ghosts of the seven tiny islands whisper to us, we suffered this fate first.

There once was a space and place identified by the name of Anson. It had a colorful history. It has a definite place in Singapore's political history. But it is lost already. Physically reclaimed into a GRC. Until today, I have never really understood where is Anson physically. Discursively however, Anson still has resonances. The first constituency to break PAP preponderance of political power. The political "home" of JBJ. It is a place that is not as silent, not as silenced, as the seven little islands.

Land in Singapore is not expensive. What is priceless in Singapore is the power to name the space, to give the space its discursive character. Its identity, so to speak. This is a political power, the power of Naming. In my previous entry, I touched on this. This power fixes your identity. Gives you the reference point in the coordinates of Singapore Space. This is why places like Potong Pasir and Hougang are so "expensive" that the PAP dangled tens of millions of dollars to buy them back.

This fixation with reclaiming this two political spaces have blinded the Government. I use Government deliberately. Its blinded to the fact that people in the two places hold citizenship to Singapore. They are not the mythic political savages in an imaginary land. The Government cannot overlap this desire to achieve Naming power with the propensity to disown the citizens in the two places. It is not right. It is not ethical. It is not good governance. So I personally appeal to my kind readers, Singaporeans local or overseas, whenever you can, whatever opportunities you have, keep referring to these two places in the discursive space of Singapore, keep them alive. There is a deliberate silence on the two places now. To be forgotten until the next GE. To be "punished" until they yield. This is simply unjust.

And we move on with this rambling discourse on space in Singapore. In the past maybe ten to fifteen years, a new space was opened up in Singapore. Cyber space. Like all space in Singapore, the Government seeks to have preponderance in it. First, it was regulations, now it is management. Mr Wang, as usual, pinpoints with accuracy the subtext behind newly minted MP Denise Phua's remarks on Net discourse and the obstinate adherence to the dominating logic. It will fail as usual when the Government seeks to colonise cyber-space whether with regulatory regimes or more accurately, surveillance regimes.

The failure to understand can be summarised thus. The Government has successfully depoliticised most spaces in Singapore. Physical space and discursive space, represented by the mainstream media, has been cleansed. Has been rendered stable environments. There is a culture of mimicry, remember that story of the city of mimics? Now they seek to manage the cyber space. To render it stable, fixed and predictable. Make it logical. Make us mimics. Coming from such an angle, it will safely fail.

Until they see that cyber-space is what it is because of how they have managed physical and discursive space so far, how they have de-politicised space in Singapore, they will not succeed. The reflection in cyber space can only really change when the physical and discursive space is altered. Cyber space is not an isolated space to be managed. They fail to see Singaporeans in Singapore cyber space as same physical beings in physical Singapore. And that is truly sad.

There once were little pockets of islands in Singapore cyber space. Islands called Sintercom, Think Center, soc.culture.singapore, try as they might, Logic could not reclaim these islands into one big island. As the ocean beds shifted, more and more little islands appeared and what a pretty and vibrant place Singapore cyber space became. Imagi-Nation.

Quote of the Day --

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference." -- Edward R Murrow, RTNDA Convention Chicago, Oct 15, 1958

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Small Singapore

Sometime back, a reader in one of my earlier entries, KoP (knight of pentacles) brought this article to my attention. It is a wonderful essay on the displacement of Singapore penned by an amateur archaeologist. How the changes in the physical geography of Singapore reflect its national character and very subtly, its forgetting.
This has prompted me to re-examine some of the academic discourse on the notion of "place" and its applications to Singapore. There is a rich academic discourse on the politics of space and place. Theorists like Foucault, Lefebvre and De Certeau have put forth new and challenging ideas of utopias, heterotopias and isotopias to ruminate on these matters. Most of these theoretical work have bearing to Singapore but I will refrain from relying too much on them to write about the place and space defined as Singapore. Instead, I would like to share first, what I understand of the definition of the space that is Singapore. In a subsquent entry, I will look more closely at some of the spaces within the collective space of Singapore.

Wen we consider space in Singapore, this understanding is immediately entwined with the assertion of the lack of space in Singapore. This is one of the most fundamental understanding drummed into Singaporeans of all ages and all races. That there is a lack of space in Singapore, Singapore is a small country. With this lack of space, the dominant discourse reads, we have no natural hinterland and no strategic depth. We are dependent on "extending" our space through economic linkages, foreign policy agreements, military agreements to create an "enlarged" Singapore, more imaginary space. Lack of space in Singapore underpins another issue especially when our society comprises peoples of many races. Lack of space and hence, enforced proximity, creates a greater potential for ethnic conflict which can spread like wildfire in small Singapore, and so the dominant discourse goes.

Small Singapore. The definition of this space into a place is an exercise of political discourse. By imposing a place into this space, the basis for identity and hence, citizenship is created. We lock our definition of Singapore by the dominant trait of this space. Small. And from this locked definition, vulnerabilities are identified and accorded its place in Singapore discourse.

As Singapore is defined small, with all its attendant vulnerabilities, the power relationships in this space take on a certain vector. A certain shape. Institutions of state, institutions of society, the political arena, how society as a whole is arranged spatially, gets locked into this spatial understanding of Singapore. Locked by a historical discourse and narrative that 'explains' Singapore, its "unique-ness", its fragility. This is commonly referred as nation building. It is not an easy task. It is the process of defining a country, a territoriality from space into place.

Having defined place and hence, the nation, Singapore, this historical discourse and narrative follows on to locate and identify the Singapore citizen. The citizen is defined and given a place in Singapore. This is the reality of citizenship. The citizen enters into the spatial arrangements as dictated by the definition of Singapore. Small and lacking in space. For the different communities who existed in pe-defined Singapore, once they enter into this citizenship agreement, they take on the assumed territoriality, and discourse of Singapore, chief of which is that Singapore is small and hence, vulnerable.
The assumptions of many Government policies derive from this nervous appreciation of Singapore's lack of space. Minister Khaw's idea to create retirement villages in JB and Bintan because land is expensive. Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs blunt assertion that old Singaporeans cannot "coveniently die off" are manifestations of this definition of space of Singapore or lack thereof.

For the government, the idealised citizen is thus : the citizen performs a mental translation of himself on the map of small Singapore and the citizen has to appreciate the privileged place they are in. And the citizen has to appreciate the founding fathers who placed them into this space known as Singapore despite the limitations imposed by its small-ness. This is the "debt" we owe to the ruling party. This is the basis of MM Lee's admonishment of young Singaporeans again and again for failing to see the Singapore definition, its historical discourse, its historical narrative.

But there is an alternative perspective to this definition of Singapore and the problems that arise from it. This definition of Singapore, from a basis of lack of space, and the attendant institutional structures created to manage this limitation, is translated by citizens, especially the young, to include a lack of space in their everyday lives. Lack of space for expression. Lack of space for creativity, for choice. Stifling. circumscribed. And let me reiterate, this disaffectation is not only in the realms of politics or the arts but also in business.

So the more sensitive Singaporeans articulate this as a sense of displacement. Singaporeans displaced in Singapore. Others articulate this dissonance in the form of idle frustration. And this sense of displacement increases as we enter a globalised world, where mobility has predecedence over rooted-ness. The Singapore citizen is in a dilemma. He perceives a more global world with opportunities while at the same time, he has been schooled to understand Singapore with its lack of space and the associated vulnerabilities.

"The past continually makes way for a future that has no time to ripen into a present. And the citizens never imagine the city that awaits at the end of all that labor."

This then is the crux of the matter. We build and re-build Singapore, physically and mentally, with the urgency ingrained in us that there is a lack of space. But we simply cannot imagine the place at the end of the labor. And at the same time, in our imaginations, space is no longer merely a physical entity, not a piece of land, not a roof over our heads. Whereas, space was very much geo-politically defined in the time of Singapore's independence, and rightly so, space in this century has taken on new meanings, new expectations.

"Singapore is about routes, not roots: an intersection point of the trajectories of a thousand journeys. Singapore is the sum of a hundred diaspora: at night, it seems everyone is dreaming about somewhere else."

What if younger Singaporeans are increasingly perceiving the space of Singapore not as a root but as a route? And it is not a unilinear route as that imposed by the Progressive State. Singapore as an intersection point of countless trajectories. A perception that is undeniably linked to the new cyber-space, the new places? Where there is no lack of space? And with this sense, they grow more empowered and feel less besieged by the perennial bogeymen created by lack of space? And then, the institutional structures and dominant discourse cannot contain this perception. Because they are built on the definition of Singapore as lacking in space.

These are questions we have to ponder. And perhaps re-definitions we have to consider in the grand project of building Singapore, whether physically or discursively.

Quote of the Day :

"... it speaks. It has an affective kernel or centre: Ego, bed, bedroom, dwelling, house; or: square, church, grave-yard. It embraces the loci of passion, of action and of lived situations, and thus immediately implies time. Consequently it may be qualified in various ways: it may be directional, situational or relational, because it is essentially qualitative, fluid and dynamic ..." -- Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space

Sunday, May 14, 2006


The dust has settled. Its time for an analysis of GE 2006 from a slightly different perspective. Many agree that this elections was a watershed event. Its a watershed for many factors but I wish to highlight some which are close to my heart.

First, GE 2006 has demonstrated how the Net, how blogosphere can help in the most crucial part of any socety's progress along the road of democratisation. The awakening of the people. That critical initial spark which makes a difference in a person's life. A sense of empowerment primarily.

And this awakening has been helped by the ability of the Internet to inform, to analyse and to help spread sound, pictures and film. What the Net does is to create a platform of political learning hitherto unseen in depoliticised Singapore. For the first time in a long while, since the advent of the Newspapers and Broadcasting Acts, which sounded the death knell for competitive media in Singapore, we are seeing political events in Singapore which are not mediated only by the dominant media channels.

The mediation this time round is shared with the local Net community, despite the laws and regulations, whether or not the political masters, bureaucrats, media bigwigs like it. The monopoly on political mediation by the dominant media has been forcibly removed. By sheer numbers. Sheer momentum. Sheer will.

And what a difference that makes.

The plurality of online opinions was a breathtaking change in local political discourse. No longer do we need to rely on the Chua Mui Hoongs to dictate political discourse in Singapore. We have credible enough Singaporeans who articulate alternative viewpoints just as eloquently and probably with more feeling. Just take a look at some of the comments in my less than perfect, less than coherent entries. These are intelligent Singaporeans who have their opinions and who are willing to listen to others as well.

For the MICA or IDA officers performing the study on Internet during GE 2006. Read this well since you drop by every day. There may be wild articles, irresponsible allegations during this period but the Net community itself regulates them simply by ignoring them. Because, the audience that surfs the Net for alternative viewpoints consists of discerning and not an agglomerate of naive individuals. Only the good articles, like the Yawning Bread series, get spread with speed across cyberspace. Only pictures which are withheld from mainstream media get hungrily devoured by cyberspace. The un-credible creates a stir and is quickly debunked by a community intelligent enough and well versed in cyberspace reflexes to detect it.

And GE 2006 is a watershed because of the number of political awakenings this free-er flow of information created. I have personally read countless blogs by young Singaporeans and talked to many an apathetic and jaded Singaporean who felt the sense of possibilities that GE 2006 opened in them. This is perhaps the most priceless relic of GE 2006. This awakened sense that there are political possibilities in Singapore. That life is not a meaningless trot from cradle to grave. Beyond family, beyond materialism, the Singaporean needs to feel a sense of citizenry. And this GE 2006, I know for sure, created this sense of citizenry, for however brief a period, for supporters of both ruling and opposition parties.

Why for sure?

I see the Governmental responses in Gomez-Gate, the shift in the dominant party's discourse through the campaigning period, the concession that the Net needs to be studied, and I know that the ruling party has been taken aback by GE 2006. Shaken, but it does not mean they fear. Shaken to a degree that they have taken notice. And when they take notice, it means something fundamental in Singapore society has changed. The catalyst is GE 2006. The ruling party perhaps understood that the Singaporean citizens they were always seeking to cultivate, to nurture were being born in political rallies in the physical world and in discursive events in the cyber-world.

Take Gomez-Gate as an indication of this subtle shift in Government awareness. On 8 May, the PM does not know what happened to Gomez after Elections Department lodged the police report. A few days later, Police probably completes their investigations and refers the case to AGC. And the AGC calls off the case and issues a stern warning instead. The founding father of Singapore, who has spearheaded the failed campaign strategy of archetyping Gomez as the Opposition bogeyman, issues a statement from the PRC asserting his continued belief and his non-compromising stance. If the founding father of Singapore, the politician consumnate, issues such a statement which indicts Gomez and in so doing, contains veiled contempt at the institutional failure to prosecute Gomez, it can only mean that there was one person in the Singapore Government who declined to act on his advice and his belief.

This decision to issue Gomez a warning and not finish him off, is a sign and an indicator of the Singapore Government, under the current Prime Minister, understanding that GE 2006 was a watershed event :

That the strategy as dictated by the founding father cannot work into the long-term without severely damaging the already shaken credibility of the ruling party.

That there was a significant loss of media preponderance and perhaps even an awareness of a widening disillusionment within the dominat media's journalists as well.

That there was a disjuncture with a significant portion of the citizens of Singapore. With Singaporeans who were increasingly finding that the Opposition was making more sense as policy issues were raised again and again in rallies which were heavily attended.

All the above translates to something positive for the Singaporean.

When you really speak up, when you really step out, you make a difference. A plurality of narratives and discourse.

Keep this sense of awakening in you. Remember the white nights of freedom. And await the day when those nights of freedom dawn into a new era.

For the quotes of the day, look no further than the comments in the previous entry. Each has a point, and in their aggregation lies democracy's heart. I highlight the few lines which captured my imagination and in which a non response would be remiss.

Zyn -- Yes. Do not abandon reason and logic. Consider this : the State wields Reason and Logic backed by Law. Citizens who use reason and logic only, more often than not, fail in their challenge because of Law. NKF is a clear example. The recourse is to use reason and logic backed by passion, fuelled by emotion. As the tenor in your comment itself translates into. That sense of utter wrong-ness. Law and Ethics in Singapore is not completely symmetrical.

SgClassics -- At the core of power is a fear of its loss. Once power reaches this condition, it slips into the defensive. And when it is at the defensive, it consumes itself in fear.

Dsong -- The remnants of belief and despair, the relics of hope are like parables. Parables are the remains of stories. Stories lost, stories silenced. These parables, like anagrams, once sorted into place, continue the transmission of the message. A message bound by ethics. And for that we bear witness.

Gayle -- Yes there will be a branding and we should not help it. But consider this possibility. What if the branding and the categorisation is always be there? No matter how reasonable you are? The infamous journalist forum, the countless tertiary forums with LKY, it always results in the same "branding". A brand which is a wound and a silencing. And dignity is further lost when after the branding comes the silencing which translates to the following words : "You will grow up and all will be fine in Singapore and you will realise the folly of your youth."

Parkaboy : ahhh, you need to blog again. You strike the heart of the matter.

as you would also know , it is forgetting that we remember.

On the contrary their appeal is to the deeply irrational, the part of Singapore that holds LKY (and PAP with him) to be a sort of totem without whom we cannot prosper - to the part of Singapore that thinks SG will automatically descend into anarchy if the opposition comes into power

It is with none other than reason that we must approach Singapore politics, because Singaporeans, for all their flaws, are a down-to-earth, reasonable people. And it is only with reason, and logic, that we can fight the subjective and powerful law that the PAP has put in place.

Sweet Singapore. Where the harsh Sun shines brillantly, iradescently, where the wrinkled smile and crooked teeth of the old man drinking his black coffee warms my heart more than the most beautiful postcard of any beach in California. Even if that same old man will vote the PAP. Injustice continues, because the truth is hidden, concealed. Yes, xenoboy, reason and logic is not the way to approach matters - but only, only because their truth, their truth is not the truth of peace, it is the truth of power.

Already the government seeks to brand us as emotional, hotheaded, irrational, unpragmatic, idealistic youths who are jeopardizing our society. I don't think we should allow them too much ammunition with which they could make it seem like they are right.

But appealing to reason will not suffice to change Singapore of the minds of Singaporeans. Argumentation and pihlosophy rarely tell us things about who to be, about what ends to have, that we do not already know: it is narrative, it is experience, it is encountering the inner lives of others, that does. Vision is not a product of logic.

Yes, in the silent chasm between reason and unreason, in the remnant of belief and despair, we must not sleep and cannot but continue to bear witness.

Monday, May 08, 2006

When Reason Fails

The mandate has been returned, albeit in a weakened form. Some bloggers are feeling the insecurity as the machine cranks back into efficiency. Gomez has been detained in Singapore and his travel documents impounded.
I thought of writing an analytical piece dissecting the media strategy of the PAP in the GE. The charm offensive of the WP. The strategic failure of the SDP. The campaign analysis of Steve Chia.
But sometimes, reason fails. Instead, I dedicate this entry to all my kind readers, explaining perhaps, my motivations for this blog.

A very thoughtful comment by Gayle in the previous entry gave me some pause. In sum, she calls for a more reasoned, a more logical and analytical understanding of GE 2006, especially its aftermath. It is a slow uphill process for all Singaporeans who wish to see Singapore evolve into a model of governance worthy of democracy. She has reservations and a genuine concern that I propose a V-vendetta like underground movement.

Sometimes, I wish I could propose such a course of action. But I cannot.

When I penned my previous entry, it was with a concern that many of those who felt euphoric during the days of freedom will come crashing down. And when they crash, they succumb to disillusionment, cynicism, apathy. This is what Alfian Saat, poet-activist, means when he mentioned his encounter with the "deep eternal winter". In a meandering way, my message was simple, just do not forget and allow disillusionment, State action and the media to return Singaporeans to a "happy" state.

Why my emphasis on memory and forgetting? It is forgetting that allows injustice to continue. But it is also forgetting that dulls the pain.

Many years ago, I did a study. It was on the Rwandan genocide. If I had relied on sources of fact, media sources, hospital records, then the event would not be a genocide. Sometimes reason fails. Hence, I expanded the source finding to folk songs, rumours, stories, literature -- what can be termed ficciones of History. Fiction about true events. To cut a long story short, the Rwandan dead, silenced by official narratives, official accounts, found expression in the ficciones. And they became represented in History. They did not die in vain. The same process repeats itself in various extreme historical events. Auschwitz is one such more prominent event. The only way for the dead to be represented and for their deaths to be not in vain, to prevent such extremities from re-occurring, is to remember. Even if remembering is painful.

There is a rich theoretical background, not necessarily post-modern, on the notion that "extreme" events, concentration camps, occur in modern society in much more benign ways, supported by reason, logic and most importantly Law.
For some marginalised groups in Singapore society, they perceive the perimeter fence much more clearly. The gays are on such group. Free to move about. Free to do anything and everything except ... You fill in the blanks. I could add civil society activists, film-makers, practitioners of the Arts, academics, the list goes on.

When they try to find representation in Singapore, an identity, they encounter Reason, backed by Law. Which denies them representation. Just ask Royston Tan, possibly Singapore's best film-maker now and his failed battle for the film "15" to be passed uncut.

Sometimes Reason fails. And when Reason fails, we must find expression through other means.

Teetering on the edge, away from logic, away from reason.

If we adhere by Reason, we adhere by Logic. Than James Gomez should be arrested and should be charged in Court. And for that matter, Low Thia Khiang, and Sylvia Lim should be charged and arrested as well. For they stood by Gomez through the campaigning period. If we follow reason and we follow logic, the White Elephants at Buangkok should be charged in Court. If you follow Reason, if you follow Logic.
To uran and Rong, yes, you can decide your own paths in Singapore. It is not oppression. It is not Animal Farm. It is more subtle than that. When you step out of line, more often than not it is not the State that takes you down. It is the silent masses. The invisible Singaporean. Yes, it is in your hands to organise and "make a difference", "form a political party", "set up a website". And when you organise these, you encounter Reason, Logic and Law which stop you again and again and again.
What then?
I ask only one question : what stops Singaporeans from moving out of the linearity defined by the Government which remains tightly entwined with the PAP? A linearity clearly stated by MM Lee in his forum with the "radicals" when he said that the young Singaporeans will grow up, get wise and accept reality. A linearity repeated more obliquely by his son, PM Lee, when he mentioned his son attending the WP rally just for the spectacle and that reason and logic would claim his son back.
Some times Reason and Logic and Law fails.
Just ask Parkaboy, a wounded "quitter" who longs for but fears to claim the hope and community during the 14 days. Because he rejected the linearity and was branded a "quitter". Because it is illogical and irrational to leave Singapore, the land of the free and the happy.
So for me, it is to find the silenced Singaporeans and the silenced Singapore and give them a place in the sun. and invariably, the silenced in Singapore is linked to politics.
Love thy country. Totally. To love Singapore totally is to accept and hear those parts of Singapore which fall out of the scope of the narrative and discourse as dictated by the State authority. And the only way to un-cover, re-cover, to witness these parts of silent Singapore is to approach them without reason, without logic.
Because sometimes Reason fails.
Quotes of the Day --

"What we see and hear in Hiroshima mon amour, resonates beyond what we can know and understand; but it is in the event of this incomprehension and in our departure from sense and understanding that our own witnessing may indeed begin to take place." -- Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience : Trauma , Narrative and History

Friday, May 05, 2006


Its been a wild ride for many. This 14 days of freedom. As the last vote slips into the ballot box, each one of us returns to our conditioned existence. We've used up our leave in Singapore Inc. Back to our work lives.

There will be many emotions among us, the once free, especially in cyberspace tonight and tomorrow. The media will unleash its prepared celebrations. To gently lead us all back from the threshold, away from the precipitous edge.

For those who felt the euphoria, the joy these few days, standing at Hope's edge, what will happen once the last vote slips into the ballot box may be cruel, even painful. Freedom retreats like a receding wave, leaving behind a beach littered with fragments of hope, shells of selves, pieces of memories.

And in this condition, dislocated in space, disjunctured in time, the machine drugs you again, pulls you into its cold embrace. A machine fuelled by cynicism, powered on despair.

"I have often considered the possibility of leaving Singapore, because the more I find out about how Singapore is governed, about the incalculable losses faced by silent generations, the more I feel myself plunging into a deep, eternal winter of disillusionment and heartache. You make me want to say. I send my love as a fellow Singaporean."

But you have not left, Alfian. And even if you do leave, it makes you no less a Singaporean. And even if you do leave, it is the failure of Singapore. Not you. A failure of Singapore who can offer only a conditioned, a premised love. Not you.

But I fear for the many who may and who will enter the "deep, eternal winter" tonight. They banish love, not because of love but because of the loss of love. They deny freedom, not because of freedom but because of the loss of freedom.

The drug administered in that cold embrace is not for sleep, it is for you to forget. The memories of last night, the feel of freedom scattered like ashes across time.

Believe. As freedom receded, it left behind fragments of memories, fragments of the un-silenced. It left something for you. It did not abandon you. Fragments which call out to you before you accept the cold embrace and enter the "deep, eternal winter" of forgetting. Hold on. Hold on to these fragments. In your memories. Don't let go. Don't forget. Remember.

Standing in the rain.
The long walk home.
The muddied shoes.
The flags.
The joy.

At Hope's edge. Hold on. Don't let go. Don't forget. Remember. When the wave returns, it will recollect these fragments and bring us away from the "deep, eternal winter".

In your memories.

Don't let go.

Don't forget.


Quotes of the Day --

"Hold on to love
Love won't let you go
Hold on to love
See the sunlight in her song
See the sunlight in her soul

I love you because I need to
Not because I need you
I love you because I understand
That God has given me your hand
He holds me in a tiny fist
And still I need your kiss" - U2, Luminous Times

"Ashes of Time" - Wong Kar Wai

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tonight Tonight

Tonight, tonight.

5 May 2006.

Not the time for analysis. But the time for feeling.

In MM Lee's reply to the press on his forum with the "radical" Singaporeans, he made one mistake. One mistake. He dismissed the young Singaporeans as idealistic and who would be co-opted into the system once they grew up and once they matured. Once they have tasted life. Real life.

Time is never time at all
You can never ever leave without leaving a piece of youth
And our lives are forever changed
We will never be the same
The more you change the less you feel

But MM's observation is a mistake. Young Singaporeans may indeed change and they may never be the same as they leave their idealism behind. But it does not mean they will change into the mould as described by MM. Co-opted into the system.

Young Singaporeans will indeed change. But they can, and increasingly will, change into more holistic individuals who have a wider appreciation of what life means, what they can do and how they can achieve this. Because the world has changed, it has moved on. No longer are Singaporeans restricted to one parochial viewpoint. But when young Singaporeans experience this type of change, the PAP labels them "quitters". Because they have morphed into individuals who reject the one road offered to them in Singapore, by Singapore Inc. Thats why they are "quitters". Because the PAP sees Singaporeans as employees in Singapore Inc. This is the incumbent regime's mindset. As I have repeated again and again, young Singaporeans leave because they are left with no other choice in Singapore. They exercised their only political right. They left.

Believe, believe in me, believe
Believe that life can change
That you're not stuck in vain
We're not the same, we're different tonight
Tonight, so bright

But not all can leave. Some have roots, some have families, some do not have the means, some are trapped into Singapore Inc. And they wait every four or five years for that 14 days of freedom, to remind themselves what it feels like, what it tastes like to have politics in our lives. Despite the ankle-deep puddles, despite the muddied shoes, despite the rain, despite the barricades. Despite everything. Singaporeans have walked these few nights to Opposition rallies just for that few hours to feel politics. To feel a part of the political process. To be a Singaporean. Because these Opposition rallies are like beacons of light for us all who have been running from the darkness in the night.

And you know you're never sure
But you're sure you could be right
If you held yourself up to the light
And the embers never fade in your city by the lake
The place where you were born

For the past nine days or so, many Singaporeans have been touched by the feel of freedom. They hold on so tightly to this breath of free air with the desperate fatalism that it will be lost again. For another four or five years. They know it will be lost, but they hold on tightly. They hold on to a photograph, a photograph cruelly rejected by the media and cast out into cyberspace. A photograph which headlines a foreign newspaper. A photograph that shows I am not alone. That there are so many beside me, there are so many like me, there are so many who feel like me. And for these 14 days of freedom, the loneliness and alienation of four years dissolves, as we feel kinship with the fellow Singaporean beside. They deny you the photograph because they do not want you you to feel kinship during this brief time of freedom.

But tonight, tonight is the last night of freedom. Tonight tonight. We re-enter solitiude and alienation.
That intoxicating beacon of light standing atop the muddy field will cease tonight.
The freedom we feel will be lost. Democracy in Singapore will go back into storage tonight, tonight.

Believe, believe in me, believe
Believe in the resolute urgency of now
And if you believe there's not a chance tonight
Tonight, so bright

The drug of the dominant media is very strong. Many remain intoxicated by the TV, by the media. They sit in front of these media, not knowing freedom is outside their mirrored boxes. That they need to just step out and listen. To feel freedom. Because "here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads". The chains are unlocked. But they do not know. Only for 15 days. After this night, the chains lock themselves again.

Potong Pasir, Hougang, Aljunied, Chua Chu Kang, Ang Mo Kio, Yishun, East Coast, Tampines, voters, Singaporeans, my dear readers, its time to step out. Believe in me as I believe in you. Tonight tonight. Step out. Just to feel that freedom. Feel democracy. Feel History calling out to you. And remember this feeling. Remember until the next time freedom comes. When democracy is dusted and brought out to Singaporeans. Tonight tonight. We step out.

We'll crucify the insincere tonight
We'll make things right, we'll feel it all tonight
We'll find a way to offer up the night tonight
The indescribable moments of your life tonight
The impossible is possible tonight
Believe in me as I believe in you, tonight


And than, you vote.

"Tonight tonight" -- Smashing Pumpkins

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"莫须有" Mo Xu You

Someone in the comments asked me about my views on Gomez-Gate by both parties. I will talk more than that. I will point out where was the PAP's crucial mistake for GE 2006.

It boils down to this. Simply. The silencing of CSJ. This single factor caused all the problems besieging the PAP now.

In the past few GEs, CSJ through his Taiwanese style of confrontational politics, have dogged the media headlines. Through the campaigning periods, it was one CSJ publicity event after another. And the media? Well, they seized on these antics. They went wild with reports of shouting matches, alleged defamatory remarks. And you cannot blame the media then for not focussing on the Opposition. Because CSJ was catapulted to represent the Opposition. Media coverage was "fair" in this sense. In the people's eyes, mediated through the lenses and words of the mass media, CSJ was indeed not the type of politician they wanted. And the PAP looked so good, so saintly, while CSJ became a mad raving dog.
The PAP fears CSJ-type politics. They fear the hoopla he creates. They fear very much a CSJ in Parliament. And this fear overrode their appreciation of the larger strategic picture of politics in Singapore. So they silenced CSJ way before GE 2006. They silenced him so successfully with defamation and bankruptcy suits that he cannot contest in this GE.
And what a strategic mistake this was. A mistake at two levels.
First for the PAP. In GE 2006, there is no one left to demonise now that CSJ is gone. No one to spin into the archetype Opposition which scares Singaporeans. They need that maverick character to focus on, to translate that figure into a Representation of the Opposition. But there is no CSJ. And so Gomez-gate was born. The PAP are filling the vauum left by CSJ's silence to catapult another demon into the limelight.
They have chosen James Gomez.
But the action of Gomez over the form incident is hardly equivalent to CSJ's deliberate media provocations. But the PAP enacts the same strategy of demonisation as they have done so effectively in the past. They use the same semantic structures, the same prevailing themes to dehumanise Gomez and transform him into the Demon. This archetype is then transfigured to represent the entire Opposition.
The other problem is this. Gomez's form incident occurred on Nomination Day, so early into the hustings, so it cannot be sustained throughout the rally period. This problem of sustaining the issue is compounded by WP's responses over the issue. First silence, than apology, than moving on. They have refused to personalise this Gomez-Gate. They act as the bewildered. Huh? Everybody forgets.
And it is working for the WP.

Because it is increasingly apparent that the PAP appears to be dancing with themselves over this issue.
Because the incident is hardly something that is as spectacular as compared to what CSJ did in the past throughout the campaigning period.

And that is why many people are surprised at the vehemence arrayed by one Minister after another against Gomez, day after day after day after day.

The silencing of CSJ and this playing up of Gomez-Gate is a further mistake at another level. The silencing of CSJ creates a media vacuum. Yes they have released CCTV footage, yes they have released audio transcripts but these can hardly be shown day after day after day after day. So the media has nothing in the Opposition to zoom in to. Except the truth. But the editors cannot allow unmediated truth to move freely during such a period of intense scrutiny.
So they persist together with the obligatory demonisation themes of Gomez spewing from the PAP. But this was something that happened on Nomination Day; it is hardly breaking news especially for the duration of the campaigning period. Once Gomez-Gate is duly reported, what next? Lauding the PAP. And when thats done, what next? Er.
Truth rejected by the editors controlling mainstream media is gladly accepted by the Internet, by the blogosphere. Responsibly, I may add. In utter defiance of the MDA edict, the rejected truth is mediated into Singaporean homes. Into your eyes. Into the eyes of the world.

And so, for the first time in a long while, the propagandistic function of the media is revealed so much more starkly.
Hence, for the first time in a long while, there are more people than usual suddenly sceptical of the media.
And the people disillusionment and backlash grows.

Gomez-Gate? At the WP rally in East Coast, when Gomez was introduced, hear the roar of support. And to the WP media strategy's credit, it has refused to escalate Gomez-Gate to the personal level; they have refused to turn this into a personal war despite the baiting by the PAP. And this strategy is working. More importantly, the WP has dictated and shifted the discourse at their rallies. Despite the media blackout.

The irony is this. As day after day, the Ministers continue their tirade against Gomez, the Ministers are resembling the media's portrayal of CSJ in previous GEs.

They seem to be the mad dogs this time round.
And how apt.
As this strategic failure is ironically premised on their supposed success in silencing CSJ.
Heaven has Eyes.

Quote of the Day --

"莫须有" (ph : Mo Xu You) -- Southern Song Court Official, Qin Hui, when asked why General Yue Fei was executed.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I Bantai Saja

Announcement : On Labour Day, a new blog by an old friend is born.

A few quick hits. Many blogs with so many insightful entries have emerged. I do little justice but they are good. The following comment by a first time voter in Potong Pasir, just like dansong's entry is really heartening.

"living in potongpasir since age 1 , ive seen how CST performed his duties as a mp in PP and in the parliament despite being suppressed , now 22,im gonna be a first time voter next sat..i hope the mature voters of PP are here to stay, and not be enticed and see the bigger picture. we shall see the outcome on 6 May.." -- anonymous

Someone, probably a journalist, wanting to hear Potong Pasir voices and feel its hallucinations, left this call in the comments. If what you said does not come out well, send in a parallel copy here in this blog. I will publish it. :

Potong Pasir residents: If you get to vote on May 6 (i.e. you are a Singapore citizen above the age of 21) and you would like your voice to be heard in MSM, email me at potongpasir@gmail.com by Tuesday(May 2).

In another comment, there is a call to Singaporeans. A call to action. Those of you tired, disturbed, perturbed generally saddened by the way the media is reporting GE 2006, do the following :

"Let's give them tons of calls and emails to press for TRUTH. We can make a different. Each call can make a different. MediaCorp News Hotline 68 2222 68FeedbackChannel newsasia.comGive us your feedback on our content.Contact: mailto:newseditor@channelnews."

In this comment is another even more interesting statement.

"Many of the reporters WANT to report the TRUTH! However, they are stopped by their bosses."

Is this true? And so my entry proper begins. Today we look at media and its GE coverage. I dedicate the following letter to these reporters. I know you are reading this blog.

Dear Journalist,

I know I am anonymous. I know because of this, I am deemed not a professional journalist. I accept that. But do you know something? When the NKF saga broke out. I wanted so much to worship you. The brave journalist who stood up against the NKF. I really wanted to tell the world, my friends: hey look here, this marks the first step of maturity in the media in Singapore. This is the way into the future. The media as an institution is finding its feet after years of acceptance of its "role" in nation building as defined by the incumbent regime.

But I could not. Because while the journalist and the media institution won, I know that seven years ago, a citizen had stood up against the NKF and was silenced mercilessy. As people question where was the Government then? I too ask, where was the media then?

Dear journalist, this letter is not meant to humiliate you. It is not meant to smear your professionalism. Because I understand the situation you are in. There are editors. And there are chief editors and there is ultimately the editor-in-chief. I understand too the frustrations that a journalist would feel when his or her article is slashed and its nuances tweaked. I understand the indignity felt when your story is thrashed or when your story is turned. When your superior compromises your professionalism. And you are right. It is not only in Singapore. It happens at every single newsroom in the world. I know.

Every journalist who enters the profession harbours an aspiration. A dream. Will I get that story that changes society, will I get that photograph which moves the soul of society. Not only in Singapore, but all over the world. A scoop of sheer Humanism that touches the heart of each human being. For the better. As one semantic adjustment follows after another narrative rethink, the aspiration fades further, consigned to memories of an mythic idealistic past of a younger more innocent Self. But it will not be a myth. It will be a shadow sitting in the best left untouched recesses of your memory where all the other dissonances lie. A com-promise.

Now someone has written in my blog and said that you do want to report the truth. Especially during this period of charged emotions when people are really hungry for something. But you are stopped by your editors, chief editors, editor-in-chief. You have your livelihood to think about. You have your family. You have your future. You have a life in Singapore. All these factors suddenly loom in front of you.

I have no right to ask for your sacrifice. And I will not ask for it.

But I do want you to consider something. Your erstwhile enemy, the humble blog, the humble Internet and what pathways to some form of freedom, some form of salve for your troubled conscience, it offers. Before Steve Gan was with Malaysiakini, he was a professional journalist like you.

And I would like to leave the following words with you, its lineage is rich among journalists East or West -- "I bantai saja", "I write what I please"