Thursday, August 31, 2006


Perhaps in response to my earlier call for more subsistence Rallies, PM Lee is following up very quickly with a Teacher's Day Rally tonight. More emotional food for survival. Lets look into the crystal ball again and see just what might be broached tonight. Two related phrases :

National Education.

Connecting/Rooting the Young.

A week ago, the Education Ministry unveiled plans to revamp Singapore's National Education Program. In Singapore, when such revamps happen, it means the previous policy has been ineffective. It is just the media and Government's lexical habits to use words like "revamp" or "rethink" to signal this.

National Education is really a syllabus designed to tell Singaporean students about the Singapore Story.

The Great Story of Singapore's Construction. The success story. A paragon of Third World development. Intrinsically tied to the vision of one man, LKY and his political party, the PAP. The Singapore Story is one that broaches little dispute factually. Small country, no hinterland, no natural resources. Socially divided along ethnic religious lines. Politically located in a region of instability. From this template of desperation, the Singapore Story begins with all the massive programmes geared to lift us from doom. Industrialisation. Education. Socialisation. De-politicisation. In National Education, the necessary conclusion is that all these programmes were Successes. Indefatigable Logic based on facts, figures, numbers. Indefatigable Logic based on what you see around you today. The problems associated with these programmes, namely displacement, both spatially (think HDB re-location) and emotionally (think Nantah), are but little blips in the Singapore Story narrative, if you are lucky; more often than not, they do not even exist as blips. They are erased, forgotten. Because they are deemed inconsequential in the grand scheme to things.

Why revamp National Education then? To answer this question, we must understand the raison d'etre of NE. It creates the Singapore Story to instil in young Singaporeans respect for Singapore, respect for their citizenship and hopefully instils in them pride to be Singaporeans. If these conditions are met, than NE succeeds. If these conditions are met, then NE roots Singaporeans to Singapore. NE establishes you and me into the Singapore Story, we are part of the Narrative. Part of Singapore, part of Government, part of the PAP. We belong.

Except that we are seeing more Singaporeans leaving, less Singaporeans procreating and a younger set of Singaporeans who are Singapore Dreaming but dreaming in locations out of Singapore. So NE is not working out. We are supposed to belong. We belong, we belong together.

Hence, the revamp of NE. To make it stronger. To make you and me belong. To make me me again. Me in Singapore to be exact.

As Bhavani commanded, let me suggest something. Since we are revamping NE. Its time to approach the Singapore Story from another way, another angle. Rather than teach NE as an uninterrupted narrative of the Singapore Success, why don't we interrupt the narrative instead. Interruptions in the form of issues. Challenging issues. Excavate the silences of the forced displacement of Singaporeans to create the Housing Miracle. Excavate the silenced Chinese- educated generation who lost relevancy in one fell swoop when the Go English programme was launched. Excavate the stories of the lost kampungs in the seven lost islands which constitute Jurong Island today, sacrificed for our industrial edevelopment. Go listen to these excavations of our forgotten past. Listen to the alternative voices. David Marshall for example. Excavate the victory of JBJ in Anson. Excavate the story of Potong Pasir, the story of Hougang. Than confront these as issues in the Grand Singapore Narrative. Confront it head-on. Let the young Singaporeans decide. Allow them their empathies. Encourage them their queries. Let them excavate. Let them unearth truths, facts which have been forgotten or put on the wayside when the policy-makers scripted the Singapore Story.

But to do this we have to unravel NE itself. Because at the end of each NE lesson, each NE curriculum, there is a moral. There is a take-away. It is the determinism of NE in Singapore. That the Singapore Story is about perpetuating economic success through an emphasis on pragmatism, as defined by government. The institution that leads us all. The moral of NE is this. Place our trust in Government, its style of governance and it will lead us to the Promised Land as it has led us to here and today. Entangled somewhere in that lexical moral compass is the PAP. Pointing us to the future. Determined Futures. We belong.

If NE continues with that moral compass, it will always self defeat itself. And we will witness another revamp in 5 years. Because that Determined Future is increasingly blurred by how the world is connected today as it is always deferred by the NE curriculum.

But without that moral compass than it is no longer National Education isn't it? So do we want to truly unravel the NE syllabus? Or is this revamp but another jazzing up of the syllabus, to make it more hip and happening; a Singapore Story blog? So ask yourselves, script-writers of Singapore Story II, when you pen the story ... do you stay as Althuserrian state apparati or do you wish to really solve the problem? So ask yourself, PM Lee, do you dare trust young Singaporeans to really think and develop that potential for rootedness? Yuo cannot root anyone to a piece of land, but you can only develop that potential, leaving that choice ultimately to the individual. Can you do that? Can you take that political risk and give that choice to the individual? We long.

Or do you trod the well trodden path of choosing for us? Even when the world as it is is today tells you that your continued hold on that mandate of choice is illusory. Because youths are dreaming disconnected, Singaporeans have left, are leaving, will leave? And you are left with only those Singaporeans who depend utterly on you, because you have taken away every choice they have. They are left only with You :

"They will turn to you, because you're all they have. They will love you even while they despise you. They will trust you even though they know you well. They will vote for you even as you squeeze the very breathe from their bodies. They will drink what you give them to drink. They will breathe what you give them to breathe. They will live where you dump their belongings. They have to. What else can they do? There's no higher court of redress. You are their mother and their father. You are the judge and the jury. You are the World. You are God."

Is this really what you want? Because this is what your system of governance has engineered us towards. Strip to its bare naked truth, this is where the road of your governance leads to.

If this is not what you want, than lets revamp the NE syllabus indeed. Lift the crushing weight of the state-snactioned narrative from the shoulders of the teachers. Only then, maybe, maybe we can belong.

Quotes of the Day --

"To educate for the future, one must educate for the moment. Classes should sprawl beyond particular subjects. In digressions lie lessons. Expose students to possibilities. Let them know about your fondness for china, birds, tag sales, and gardening. Talk to them about economics and sociology, to be sure, but also about places you have been and things you have seen and thought. Instill the awareness that for the interested person days and nights glitter." -- Samuel Pickering, Letters to a Teacher

"In other words, the school (but also other State institutions like the Church, or other apparatuses like the Army) teaches know-how? but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its practice?... [and] those teachers who, in dreadful conditions, attempt to turn the few weapons they can find in the history and learning they 'teach' against the ideology, the system and the practices in which they are trapped... are a kind of hero" -- Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Monday, August 28, 2006

Smile for Them Too

Its coming soon. The IMF/WB meetings in Singapore. The event has galvanised the country's PR machine, road paving work, tree pruning activities and a massive phased campaign to bring out 4 million smiles for them rich folks coming into town.

The corresponding part of the travelling entourage, civil society groups and NGOs who protest against the IMF/WB have been warned off with the dreaded cane, well drilled riot troops, pepper spray and the gamut of enforcement activities which signal clearly that the protesters are not part of the 4-million smiles welcome package. Instead, these folks will be shunted off to Batam for their trouble-making activities.

Smile for the 16,000 folks who will step foot on our sun-spilled paradise to solve world problems and make the world a better place to live. Smile for these saviours and crusaders against world poverty.

"Today, India is in a situation where it pays back more money to the Bank in interest and repayments of principal than it receives from it. We are forced to incur new debts in order to be able to repay our old ones. According to the World Bank Annual Report, last year (1998), after the arithmetic, India paid the Bank 478 million dollars more than it received. Over the last five years ('93 to '98) India paid the Bank 1.475 billion dollars more than it received." -- The Greater Common Good, Arundhati Roy

Go read the article by Booker-winning writer Roy. Its long but there's an amazing story there. Of Government and a global financial institution, working hand-in-hand to bring progress and development to a Third World Country. There are some eye-opening mentions of Governmental deals, multi-billion industry projects wrapped in the politics of the World Development Aid industry. Building Big Dams. Bringing water to the people.

Not only smile, you will end up laughing like Roy when you finish reading the story.

So while our hallowed media institutions in Singapore will tell you all the benefits that hosting this event will bring to Singapore, telling you all the reasons why you have to put on the smile, teaching Singaporeans proper etiquette to play gracious hosts to our esteemed guests, they will omit to tell you some simple facts. Like what is the IMF/WB all about and what it has done so far :

"The bank and the fund gained reputations for uncompromising and often unsuccessful policies in the 1980's and early 90's, when they encouraged countries to pursue development plans that were based on rigorous economic logic but failed to consider local circumstances. Like an emergency room doctor who gives every patient an appendectomy regardless of the symptoms, the institutions treated almost every developing nation the same – with a package often referred to as "structural adjustment." Usually, in return for aid, they imposed strict budgetary discipline, the ending of subsidies for food and other basics, increases in the cost of public services like health care and the elimination of trade barriers." -- As Global Lenders Refocus, a Needy World Waits, March 17, 2002, New York Times by Daniel Altman

There is enough literature on the problems of the WB/IMF to flood this entire blog many times over. Instead, this entry is an explanation of sorts to the question why activists and groups from other countries are willing to spend their money, their time and their effort to campaign against the IMF/WB meeting. They do it because there are real people suffering in their countries due to the lending policies of WB/IMF. They do this because millions of people have had their lives displaced by the projects sanctioned by the WB/IMF.

But the local press and authorities do not see that. Instead they have demonised the CSOs and the NGOs, something not even the WB/IMF has done, and portrayed them as a potentially violent rabble who will cause all kinds of trouble in Singapore. Why?

Because in Singapore, there is this very fragile threshold towards people who believe in causes, who believe in something worthwhile. Because in Singapore there is this inherent suspicion that people who believe in something are necessarily communists or extremists. Because in Singapore belief in a cause does not feed the stomach, hence, it is un-pragmatic and further hence, something suspicious. Because in Singapore, if you believe in something which is not what the Government wants you to believe in, than you are trouble.

There are some obvious corollaries to be drawn to the state of Singaporeans. But lets not draw them. Instead, when we smile for the 16,000 delegates of the IMF/WB, lets also spare a smile for the untold hundreds or unseen thousands who will be making their way to Batam or to that yellow box in Suntec City. Because some of them are fighting for people who have been made homeless, people who have perished, people who need hope in their lives. Smile for them who are fighting for something they believe in. They are fighting for something real. As real as you and me.

Smile for them too. Smile for their beliefs, their hopes, their struggles.


Quotes of the Day --

"Bhaiji Bhai and his people, forced to smile for photographs on government calendars. Bhaiji Bhai and his people, denied the grace of rage. Bhaiji Bhai and his people, squashed like bugs by this country they're supposed to call their own ... Bhaiji Bhai, Bhaiji Bhai, when will you get angry? When will you stop waiting? When will you say `That's enough!' and reach for your weapons, whatever they may be? When will you show us the whole of your resonant, terrifying, invincible strength? When will you break the faith? Will you break the faith? Or will you let it break you?"

"To slow a beast, you break its limbs. To slow a nation, you break its people. You rob them of volition. You demonstrate your absolute command over their destiny. You make it clear that ultimately it falls to you to decide who lives, who dies, who prospers who doesn't. To exhibit your capability you show off all that you can do, and how easily you can do it ... You use caprice to fracture a people's faith in ancient things - earth, forest, water, air. Once that's done, what do they have left? Only you. They will turn to you, because you're all they have. They will love you even while they despise you. They will trust you even though they know you well. They will vote for you even as you squeeze the very breathe from their bodies. They will drink what you give them to drink. They will breathe what you give them to breathe. They will live where you dump their belongings. They have to. What else can they do? There's no higher court of redress. You are their mother and their father. You are the judge and the jury. You are the World. You are God."

Arundhati Roy, The Greater Common Good

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mr Wang is Right

Mr Wang is right. They will lose.

When PM Lee in his Rally Speech delivers the ultimate punchline to lay the bak chor mee to rest, to signal Government's engagement with the Digital Age Singaporean, those dreaming of somewhere else, he utters the phrase "Mee Siam Mai Hum".

This becomes an instant classic of dis-connect.

For my foreign readers, Mee Siam is a humble malay dish usually taken for breakfast in Singapore. "Mai Hum" is a a Hokkien dialect way of saying "no cockles please". The literal translation is, in the context of ordering the dish, to request the cook not to put cockles in the dish. This was mentioned in the Rally speech in the context of how the Government will employ its own brand of humour, to connect with Singaporeans. Digital Age.

In another subtext of the Rally Speech, this un-connected phrase was coined as a direct riposte to Mr Brown's hugely successful and popular bak chor mee podcast in GE 2006 which essentially laid bare PAP's ridiculous attempts to assassinate the character of a politician with the Workers' Party.

In a further subtext, its part of the continued Governmental displeasure against local blogger, Mr Brown who was removed as a columnist in a local broadsheet, TODAY, for writing about rising costs of living.

So many subtexts resting on this crucial phrase "Mee Siam Mai Hum".

Except that in this case, Mee Siam has never had cockles as an ingredient. Two other distinctly Singapore dishes use cockles. Laksa and Fried Kway Teow Noodles. Most Singaporeans know this. Its a fact of life.

To put it simply, most Singaporeans will NOT make this mistake. Its like ordering bak kut teh, another classic Singapore dish, without the soup. Ordering pizza and telling the chef to hold the dough. No, actually its worse. Its like ordering pizza and telling the chef to hold the spaghetti. In short, the phrase "Mee Siam Mai Hum" is an oxymoron. Its like one of those chain e-mail wordplay jokes "military intelligence".

From what I understand, our esteemed national newspaper, the Straits Times, "heard" and interpreted the crucial phrase as "Mee Siam Mai Hiam"; which means hold the chilli. If this "hearing" is correct, than the phrase is meaningless as a direct riposte against the bak chor mee podcast. I guess the ST is not being honest again. Its "hearing" certainly connects with PM Lee but it means all the rest of Singaporeans "heard" wrongly, very dis-connected. Lets STOMP this topic shall we?

CNA is more honest. They attribute this as a mistake. PM Lee meant Laksa not Mee Siam.

Except that most Singaporeans will not make this mistake.

So much resting on this punchline "Mee Siam Mai Hum". I wonder whether the audience at the Rally laughed. When they laughed was it because it was funny? Perhaps the Ministers in the front row laughed heartily, thinking that it was an ingenious punchline. PErhaps they were "blind" to the illogic of the phrase. I wonder how the rest of the audience laughed? Those handpicked heartlanders, trade unionists, grassroots leaders. How did they laugh? Its an honest mistake, but also an indicative mistake.

Its a mistake which highlights dis-connect. Which probably made Call Connect Singapore National Day Rally 2006 so important. So very important the need to connect.

Except that perhaps the audience is wrong. Who needs to connect more, I wonder? Mr Wang is right, they'll lose.

Its time to laugh. What goes around comes around.


Quote of the Day :

"I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I'm getting older y'all people get colder
Most of us only care about money makin
Selfishness got us followin the wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria ...
Whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality
Instead of spreading love, we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity ...
Father Father Father help us
Send some guidance from above
Cause people got me got me questioning
Where is the love? -- Black Eyed Peas

Monday, August 21, 2006

Call Connect to Singapore

If we could subsist on words, perhaps we should have a National Day Rally every month. To rally us into the brave new world. To know that the powerful seeks to connect with us. That the powerful encourages us to connect amongst ourselves. That the powerful, pleads that we connect with the land. Connection Singapore.

The verdicts from the Singaporean stream in. Accolades galore according to our national press. Inspiring speech. Enervating. A feeling of goodwill. A Progress Package of words, progressive connectivities, progressive promises.

Minute changes in the lexical landscape. No more foreign talent. Just immigrants like us, not better than us, like us so like them. Like us all Singaporeans of immigrant heritage, diaspora connections. They are latter day Singaporeans, kinship forged with our grandparents, our great grandparents. Modern day settlers. Making that connection with Singapore, in Singapore.
With a scarlet-garbed magician, Singapore Central is defined strategically in Rally 2006. The Common Hero(es) are pedestalled and installed as the paragons of Success, justifying past policies, mandating future policies. Fallen Hero(es) are felled further, their shadows smirched onto mud to stay there. As reminders. The brainless scarecrow crucified in a lush prairie of verdant grass rippling to the breath of the gentle wind.

If we could subsist on words, we should have a Rally Speech every week. Suddenly, the chilling effect is suspended as jokes spill through, warmth is generated, elderly anecdotes which tug the heart-strings, seemingly genuine laughter, wearing down the hard-wired fear, coaxing heartware out of Singaporeans. Humour is fine. Innovative and hip/happenin ways to bring the powerful to you. To message to you. To massage a connection. Join up the dots and make a big heart in Singapore Central, for Singapore central.

Subductive. To subdue seductively.

The only dream worth having, is to dream that you will live while you're alive and die only when you're dead.

This line has been haunting me, subsisting me for a few weeks. I saw the words come alive in Eleanor Wong's play on the JBJ Campaign when the dead was not allowed to die and the living played dead. A paradox resolved only when the dead danced with the living to coax life back into the living so that the dead could die. And so too, its shadows in Alfian's play Homesick. Both plays end with "dead" voices. Recorded messages, dead and alive confused, entangled.

I am trying to connect all three National Rally Speeches made by PM Lee. And the shape is still Singapore unchanged. Its still safe and secure. Institutions like the media, labour, judiciary remain strong. Facing the same direction as the institution of Government.

Except that there is social change. There is a movement. There is a flow. That Singapore citizens are dreaming every night about somewhere else. And nowadays they ride their dreams on that cable out of Singapore and into the world. Out-wired bound to read news, watch videos, make friends, join communities, experience life, to make connections. And they are doing this without the need for Government, of Government.

So the first two Rally Speeches were about change; change really to address this movement. Opening up Singapore. So that there is no need to go somewhere else when all you seek is already here. But the truth proved otherwise. When Singapore opened up, those who came out were quickly cut down. Because, whenever they opened up, devils would pop out. And their right of response carried an axe which severs you from a job, from a life. Bhavani responded to mr brown. And he lost his job with Today. Thats the right of response reserved by the Government. So who dares come out of the box left opened by the Government?

So those who remain in the box continue to dream of somewhere else, surfing out of Singapore on that precious wire. Without Government.

And so in the third Rally Speech, the Government will come after you in your wired dreams. Pushing their vodcasts, podcasts, STOMPS, Minister blogs into your wired dreams. Skype-ing you. It will be more subductive than my choice of verbs but it will be done. Call Connect. Connection Singapore. To connect you to them. To bring you home from cyberspace, from imagined Hougangs, imagined Potong Pasirs, imagined worlds.

Will they succeeed? Will they fail? I do not know. You cannot really subsist on the Rally Speech for long before you turn to other sources of nourishment.

The only dream worth having, is to dream that you will live while you're alive and die only when you're dead.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Cost of 21 Grams

There is a popular scientific theory that our soul weighs 21 grams. That which determines us as human beings weighs only a slight 21 grams. It is a fragile thing. But encompassed within this 21 grams is infinite potential, if the potential is allowed to develop.

Have read and re-read the unedited interview Yadav had with David Marshall. And one theme he touches on is the lack of soul in the lives of Singaporeans. The refrain of empty lives repeats itself throughout the interview. The co-optation of our soul, and its infinite potential, to a blind worship of the Golden Calf.

Make no mistake. David Marshall has tremendous respect for the achievements of the Singapore Government in delivering us to where we are today. But his only question is at what cost this delivery? 15 grams of our soul? Or maybe 20 grams? There is no doubt that Singaporeans are armed to the teeth with pragmatic abilities due to our education system. And thus armed, they are supposed to enter Singapore society and fight. Earn money. Be successful. Climb and climb away from the abyss of failure. From the threat that threatens them always. But no matter how they high climb, they still hang by a thread. And when you live too long on the precipice of disaster, your sanity frays.

There is a point to be made for deferring the individual to the society. When the survival of society is hanging by a thread. But how long can we be hanging on a thread? There is a space between complacent mediocrity and being perpetually located at the precipice of disaster. Can we even name this space in Singapore? When you tread politically into this space. You are hit with defamation. Hit with OB markers. Hit with regulations. When you tread into this space artistically, you are hit with censorship. You are hit by the Conservative bogey. And so what is left? You can have this space only at a personal level. This is the freedom that the Singapore Government accords Singaporeans. Without which we will all be insane. At a personal level only. No politics, no expression which impacts society at large. A personal voice only. No community of voices. It is a personal space, and it is empty because I cannot share this meaningfully with anybody. Because 20 grams of me is still hanging by a fucking thread. And many still go insane in this personal space of alienation.

This is what they mean by democracy in Singapore. The young in Singapore have futures but lost lives. The red in our flag is bleeding. Soon only white will be left.

There is a discussion in Singapore Angle about the costs of protests. If we read David Marshall, than we understand why it is Singaporean to even argue about costs of protests. If we are pragmatic and practical, street protests make no sense. But street protests are not about being pragmatic and practical. You need a failure of reason to understand a protest action. You need empathy, you need compassion. You need to know about human relations and how capitalism impoverishes substantial segments of the world population to make people come out from their cocooned lives and protest. Protesters are not bums without jobs. They sacrifice their time too. Time they can use to make money.

But they suspend their worship of the Golden Calf.

Nay, they refuse this worship. Because they believe in something. People who see the importance of having all 21 grams of their soul. And not defer 20 grams to be redeemed with interest later. Especially when redemption is a perpetually deferred condition. Or when you are allowed to redeem only at a point in time when all 21 grams is due for expiry anyway.

Use the cost-benefit analysis, employ Reason to dismiss all my words. And it will be dismissed. Continue eating out of our overflowing jade rice bowls, with golden chopsticks. Because sometimes Reason leads us there. Leads us into this State where 20 grams are held as collateral for Singapore. Because we, Singapore, society, population are always hanging by a fucking thread. So be practical. Be pragmatic. You are schooled like this anyway. You have a personal space. Everything is reasonable.

21 grams of soul is all we have. How much for this 21 grams?

Quote of the Day --

The only dream worth having, is to dream that you will live while you're alive and die only when you're dead ... "Which means exactly what?" ... To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget. -- Arundhati Roy, The Algebra of Infinite Justice

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

David Marshall -- 1994

Below are some choice excerpts of a previously unpublished-in-full interview that Dharmendra Yadav had with David Marshall, Singapore's first Chief Minister, in 1994. The full article is here. Passion, fire, imagination, humanism, compassion, empathy. This is what Singapore needs and not just dismiss everything in a pragmatic and practical manner.

We have become good bourgeois seeking comfort, security. It’s like seeking a crystal coffin and being fed by intravenous injections through pipes in the crystal coffin; crystal coffins stuck with certificates of your pragmatic abilities ... I take off my hat to the pragmatic ability of our government but there is no soul in our conduct. It is a difficult thing to speak of because it is difficult to put in a computer, and the youth of Singapore is accustomed to computer fault. There is no longer the intellectual ferment, the passionate argument for a better civilisation. The emphasis on the rice bowl!

So are youths not content? They are not anti. Our youths frankly, very honestly respect the pragmatic achievements of the government, and I’m grateful, but they feel empty.There isn’t this joy of living which youth expects and youth needs – to learn the joy of living. How do you teach it?I think you teach it through respect for the individual. That’s our tragedy. If you want to put it in a nutshell, our tragedy is that we emphasise the primacy of society as against respect for the individual. Mind you, both are right.
And I’m according to Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament when he sought the abolition of the jury, “David Marshall is responsible for 200 murderers walking freely the streets of Singapore.”I’m proud of that. I told him to put it on my tomb. If there are 200 people walking freely the streets of Singapore, it means they are contributing to Singapore. Singapore would have been poorer by hanging them. I have no compulsion.
What matters most in life is the right of human beings to live fully in the context of their own genius. In one word, perhaps, to fight for human justice. I once said humanity’s cry for human justice reverberates down the corridors of the centuries, and it is still crying for human justice.
I was coming. That was the old building and I was coming along the corridor carrying a set of books. It must have been morning and, outside my classroom, there was a Chinese boy much slimmer than you [Dharmendra] with his back to the wall – absolutely pale, full of fear.And in front of him was my friend, an American boy – same student, same class – and dancing an Indian jig saying, “Ching! Ching! Chakama!”Without the slightest warning, I dropped my books and lunged at him [the American boy].

Wake Up Mother

Wake up wake up my child. Its your birthday today. Make a wish any wish for they say wishes will come true on your birthday.

I wish, I wish that all my friends are not going to leave this country because they feel disenchanted.

"Some of my friends who have decided that their futures don't rest in Singapore have told me plainly they feel no reason to stay and fight for people who don't see the value of democracy or increased accountability." -- Gayle

Hush now my child, they leave because they are just spoilt brats who are stupid and immature. Who do not know what they want. Its a phase, they will learn. Grow up and out of this rebelliousness.

Wake up wake up my love. Its your birthday today. Make a wish any wish for they say wishes come true on your birthday.

I wish, I wish we can stop hiding my sexuality. That a prize-winning poem on lesbianism is recognised as such in the country I live in. That I can write, live here without the stigma of the unnatural, the criminal on me.

"I live in a country where the national paper will announce that a poem has won a foreign prize, but they will not willingly add (until much later) that it is written from a lesbian perspective. What the paper’s employees think of homosexuality and its criminalisation has nothing to do with this" -- Sayoni

Hush now my love, the country is not ready for this. People still fear you and what you represent. What is a little hiding so that people are soothed? People are just not ready.

Wake up, wake up my dear. Its your birthday today. Make a wish any wish for they say wishes can come true on your birthday.

I wish, I wish, I can just stop for a while and rest. If I do not keep up, I will be retrenched. If I do not upgrade myself, I will lose relevance and be lost. I have to be successful, there is no other way in Singapore, but I am tired when will this struggle end?

"I’m always
almost very nearly
but never quite
there yet.
It seems that the
same goes for
nearly everyone else
in this peculiar,
little nation
of ours." -- Social Ambitions,
Gilbert Koh

Hush now my dear, you know Singapore is small, our economy is dependent on the world. the only way for the country and for you to have a future is to keep working hard. trust the Government. Listen to them. Don't stop for a moment or the chance will pass you by. And you cannot afford that. The country cannot afford that.

Wake up, wake up my friend. Its your birthday today. Make a wish any wish for they say wishes may come true on your birthday.

I wish, I wish, that I do not feel so alone in Singapore. Is it wrong for me to want more expression? To want to write a play without censorship? To make a film without censorship? To write without the fear of an invisible OB marker or an invitation to an interview by the authorities?

"This is my future; where is my life?" -- Molly Meek

Hush now my friend, you are no alone. No one stops you from expressing your views in Singapore. The regulations on the Arts, on performance are there because Singapore is a multi-racial country. We need some responsibility to ensure Singapore's stability. For with stability, than the economy is safeguarded. All these Western ideas of street protests are just a waste of your money, taxpayer's money. You can afford to worry like this only because of the economic stability we have.

Wake up, wake up my readers. Its our birthday today. Guess we are grown up. Guess we will stop the wishes. The first steps are always th hardest. But at least we're less alone than before.

Happy Birthday.

Quote of the Day --

"Mother, should I build the wall?
Mother, should I run for president?
Mother, should I trust the government?
Mother, will they put me in the firing line?
Or is it just a waste of time?

Hush now baby, baby, don't you cry.

Mamma's gonna make all of your nightmares come true,
Mamma's gonna put all of her fears into you,
Mamma's gonna keep you right here, under her wing.
She won't let you fly, but she might let you sing,
Mamma's gonna keep baby cosy and warm.
Of course Mamma's gonna help build the wall" -- Pink Floyd

Friday, August 04, 2006


There is an obscure quote by Nadine Gordimer, a South African Nobel Literature writer which mentions that the State has no imagination because it puts imagination into its service. For the writer however, he/she is put into service by imagination.

And so today, prompted by another one of those illuminating comments left by an anonymous in my previous entry, I would like to consider imagination in Singapore. Many have dissected and rightly thrashed Andy Ho's column on why blogging should be State-managed just like the mainstream media because it is beneficial in developing individuals' political consciousness and building social bonds. I would like to steal two words in his commentary which represents freedom. Wiggle room. It is a curious choice of words to denote freedom for both mainstream and alternative media. Wiggle room freedom. Why only wiggle room when what you want to do is roll down the windows and scream on a deserted street at 3 am in the morning?

The imagined freedom of a wiggle room is modest. Just a little wiggle. Nothing substantial. Wiggle. Small freedom, a little shake, a little twist. Why this limit of imagination? Granted that there are of course barriers, both legal and assumed, to self expression, institutional expression in Singapore, why then when we do imagine freedom, we imagine only a wiggle. A wiggle in a room. It is as if the re-iterations of small Singapore, small space, small island, red dot, transcends the physical into our minds. That even when we imagine, we imagine small as well.

In conversations I have had with some of my friends whom grew old with me, they come across now as tired; tired of thinking. Tired to imagine big. To imagine beyond their capabilities. They dismiss this as the process of growing-up. Being all the wiser. Humble of their own limited capabilities. In their fatigue, they appreciate small mercies. All they want is indeed just wiggle room.

Are they tired or is it because the State has somehow claimed their imaginations into service? This is a question which I cannot truly answer even though I think it is the latter :

Imagination like all living things lives now, and it lives with, from, on true change. Like we all do and have, it can be co-opted and degraded; but it survives commercial and didactic exploitation.

If we take the above line at its value, which I am inclined to do so, than imagination in Singapore is truly in danger. It explains the little imaginations we have left in Singapore. It reasons why we imagine less and imagine small. If imagination in Singapore tires and shrinks into ever diminishing amounts for lack of true change, and it is left only to a select few in political power to imagine for Singapore, than the infinite opportunities which unfettered imagination brings about dwindles as well. And there will less possibilities because there is little to imagine beyond. And the possible paths of Singapore's future grows narrower.

The signals are there. 53% of Singapore's young wants out. There must be something more than just consumerism, materialism or commodification which create signals as such. For the young should have the biggest imaginations, not necessarily the most realistic, but always the most beautiful. And if slightly more than half of these imaginations do not have Singapore in them, then is it not a case that imagination in Singapore is diminishing. Two steps into the twilight?

And so when there is an event like the Singapore Theatre Festival, it is a gem to be treasured. Yes, it may not be cheap. Yes, it may be raw. But when you view it from the perspective of endangered imagination in Singapore, its value is deep. The Festival is a gathering of imaginations which are given Form. Imaginations enlivened with human voices. It is powerful to hear some of the messages transmitted by the performers' voice, a human voice. At certain moments in these articulations, art and reality fused. And then, further imaginings are born to lead us away from living fraudulent lives. Lead us away from the fear of stealing screen-time with a political blog in a school library.

All this just from the phrase "wiggle room". But still we cannot let imagination diminish further in Singapore.

And it begins by letting imagination put us into service.

PS : In line with this entry which stole the words of Andy Ho, the word thief that is me, have also stolen situations, lines, words, names and quotes from various nice blogs which have helped imagine this into existence. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Absent Lives

The illusion of choice in Singapore is nicely summed up by the proposed public transport fare hikes. Would you prefer small increases every year or would you prefer sudden large increases every few years.

This is choice? I would prefer no fare increase unless it is absolutely necessary. And this means that a monopoly corporation in Singapore providing sole public service, puts its public service imperatives before its private sector profitability needs. Raise fare prices if diesel costs rise, fair. What about as quickly dropping fare prices if diesel costs fall?

But I am no economist. There are others who can slice this apart with more finesse and more accuracy. Those who unmask greed better than I.

The illusion of choice in Singapore. The Straits Times and other mainstream media has social responsibility to ensure the stability of Singapore. It must be factual. It must be status quo. It cannot engage in prejudicial reporting. Thats why it comes across as boring. Un-interesting for those, especially the young, seeking an alternative spin. So choice is created. STOMP. Packaged nicely. Nice fonts. Beautiful and mysterious bloggers thrown in the mix. Discussing edgy and raw issues. Choice?

You do not need Opposition in Parliament. The ruling party creates its own diversity for you. Young MPs in jeans and t-shirts. High fives and V-signs. More colorful, greater choice. For you to seek them out, talk to them. They will listen all right. Thats their role. Listen, listen and listen.

Choice? What choice in Singapore? Especially the majority and the minority caught at the wrong end of the income spectrum? What choice is there? Change or die. Accept re-training or die. Stay relevant or die. Accept lower wages or die. These are not choices. These are directives to walk a certain way, trod a certain path. Because there is no other path as dictated in the choice.

So the only choice is to make the individual sacrifice. Wake up earlier to avoid the ERP. Walk to the interchange. Go home later to get more qualifications. Go to night school. Juggle taxi driving at night, during the week-ends. Or that most sacred choice : leave and not come back. The only choices we have are self sacrifice. And this cannot be right in a country which prides itself as a modern enlightened progressive Asian democracy.

And so too every four years when a group of Singaporeans make their choice at the ballot box, they are punished. Vindictively punished by supposed non-partisan institutions of the State of Singapore. Consigned to languish at the tail-end of any Government initiative to improve Singapore infrastructure. This is the reality of choice in Singapore.

In 1979, Edwin Thumboo, Singapore's poet laureate, wrote the following lines :

Despite unequal ways,
Together they mutate,
Explore the edges of harmony,
Search for a centre;
Have changed their gods,
Kept some memory of their race
In prayer, laughter, the way
Their women dress and greet.
They hold the bright, the beautiful,
Good ancestral dreams
Within new visions,
So shining, urgent,
Full of what is now.

In 1979 we can still buy these lines. But in 2006, to borrow the words of a South African poet, when I turn the pages of the Merlion's face, and I read the look in its eyes, I see only absent lives. An absence of life.

The consultative Government lays down all these choices to us. They lead to emptiness and then the choices lead to a unique form of dissent that finds expression in emigration. That finds happiness away from home. A Ulysses or a Odysseus that leaves Ithaca eventually.

An absence of life that is co-inspired with a mainstream media that remains in a stupor. Other than a front headline of fare hikes, there is a remarkable column by senior writer Andy Ho today, an ideational portmanteau which is staggering for what it represents :

For the blogosphere continues to expand. The significance of the fact that publishing on the web has become so easy is that the barriers of professionalism and specialisation have been removed such that 'ordinary' people come to see media production as something they can do and as part of the everyday, according to Dr Chris Atton, a reader in journalism at the Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

As Dr Atton told The Straits Times, participating in this alternative media can 'shape one's political awareness by raising one's consciousness'. How? Liken the activity to glue, he suggested, but one that is subject to refinement to make it a more effective social glue.

The activity itself provides an opportunity to research, write and reflect on issues that impact upon our status as citizens. It also encourages a more thorough going relationship with one's community.

Finally, that communication also works outwardly to government bodies, city councils, business corporations and nonprofits, Dr Atton added.

Essentially then, blogging provides an opportunity for citizens to reflect on their place in the world and develop solidarity with and communicate their needs, demands or desires to others, he said.

At the heart of this activity is creativity. It is not about joining a protest group or going to a demonstration. It is, Dr Atton said, about developing a personal voice through which to make sense of the world, both for oneself and for one's community.

So while blogging may not impact government institutions in radical ways for now, it has the capacity to change the polity in small, indiscernible ways that may accumulate to make a difference - even at the polls - some day down the road.

With Technorati, the blog search engine, showing more than 940,000 blogs that are associated with the search word 'Singapore', it may be high time the Government began to take this more seriously than just chatter.

As seriously as the mainstream media, perhaps.

So the responsible non partisan senior writer is saying that all the effects of blogging in raising political awareness, encouraging creativity and community bonding, a more effective social glue, of changing the polity in small indiscernible ways is not good and requires control?

That government should nip this rising consciousness in the bud by giving as little wiggle room to blogos as mainstream media?

This is a newspaper column of the national newspaper. But it reads like a policy paper for the Government. A journalist is advising the State to exercise greater control of blogos because of the future implications of blogging.

Choice? what choice? when the yellow box is drawn as blatant as this? When a senior writer of the Straits Times can pen this? What kind of Singaporeans do we have?

Flip the pages of the Merlion's face and tell me what you see if not absence. Absent lives.

This National Day, ask not for choice but for change. Simply to lead fuller lives.

Quotes of the Day :

But this lion of the sea
Salt-maned, scaly, wondrous of tail,
Touched with power, insistent
On this brief promontory...
Puzzles. -- Edwin Thumboo, Ulysses by the Merlion

Rough beast, you are neither idol nor ideal.
Your heart is hollow, cold, and open
for admission, but we have nowhere else
to hide our dreams. -- Alvin Pang, Merlign

"And why does it keep spewing that way?
I mean, you know, I mean..." -- Alfian Sa'at, The Merlion