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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For the young should have the biggest imaginations, not necessarily the most realistic, but always the most beautiful."

This is a very keen observation. And if indeed 53% do not have Sg in their imaginations, whether they do emigrate or not eventually, it is still something sad.

Speaking from experience, it is never the body or the physical self that breaks first, it is the mind. When your mind gives up, the reality sorts itself according to it.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Amazing post. Nice :]

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, the only thing that limits us sometimes is our lack of imagination. i couldn't agree more.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Cobalt Paladin said...

I'm still imagining... and I'm dreaming big. I don't blame the environment, I don't blame the situation. Not only am I imagining, taking one step at a time, making it a reality. We've only ourselves to blame if we don't imagine.

Imagination is ours. Use it.

2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a limit on how we valourise these trival fantasies of these 53% kids who think the West is better, just like some time back where a survey reveals that many of our kids want to be white boys and girls. Yes. lets celebrate the imagination of the colonised minds.

Considering that there are people who would even literally swim into our small island, I think we should start using gratitude not birthright as criterion to citizenship.

Nonetheless, i guess some Singaporeans prefer washing dishes and being addressed as terrorists and gooks

Happy national Day.

2:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ditto HS an amazing post

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings Anonymous 2:13am,

"There is a limit on how we valourise these trival fantasies of these 53% kids who think the West is better"

I may have misread post, but I think it was 53% want out rather than admire the West. Some may be headed to China, some to the Iberian peninsula, some to India, some to Malaysia. The point is there are young Singaporeans who want out. And it is hardly certain they leave because of their 'colonial mentalities'. Is there any evidence that the allure of colonialism transforms thinking Singaporeans into mindless lemmings? The Singapore government would be interested to address such an issue if a Western Pied Piper exists, wouldn't they?

'Trivial minds' and 'kids'? How pejorative. How about young, well-educated brain drain instead?

The idea of using gratitude as an assessment of citizenship is interesting but hardly novel. While residents of Potong Pasir and Hougang carry Singapore passports and serve National Service, are they being punished for not being grateful enough?

"Nonetheless, i guess some Singaporeans prefer washing dishes and being addressed as terrorists and gooks"

That is an interesting stereotype of Singapore diaspora. Is there any evidence for such a claim? It is not unheard of that immigrants are treated unfairly. But terrorists and gooks? How many of the young, and well-educated go abroad to wash dishes when they can do so in Singapore? How odd.


My my. Are MSM fora apologists joining the blogosphere?

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent piece of writing:)

Anonymous 4:51 AM
Agreed with you. I've lived here in Southern California for over 20 years & know several Singaporeans (male & female) who are doing very well here in the US. They are all professionals, middle to upper middle income or in some cases very upper income.

This generalization of scary and terrible conditions outside of Singapore just goes to show the ignorance, the brainwashing, and lack of imagination of some people. Or could be the reason why some people cannot make it elsewhere unless they are in a nanny environment.

10:20 AM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

Cobalt : Yes, I too sincerely wish you will have success and outwit the GLCs ... Sometimes I just wish the State is kinder to Singaporeans like yourself because you're the one that is making the sacrifices.

Anon 2.13 : Your words disrespect yourself. Your words represent a form of colonialism of the unkind type. I have only one response to your point on those who are dying "to swim" here. It is wrong. In my work with many of the less privileged citizens of neighbouring countries, they are happy because there is an absence of Govt in their lives. Because of this absence, they paradoxically lead fuller lives. For the professionals in these countries, they are not dying to swim here, they tell me often : "Sg is too expensive". They would rather lead fuller lives where they are. No one is dying to swim here to live. Some are dying to come to Sg because it is only one step of their greater journey and objectives.

12:08 PM  
Anonymous spawniuscroakius said...

Andy Ho possess a conservative acceptable imagination. A future for our Andy Ho, but not for us, it seems. My imagination encompasses Andy Ho, but his, not me.

Your sad post reminds me of a line from Coetzee's youth. He questions,
"Is that what growing up amounts to: growing out of yearning, of passion, of all intensities of the soul?"

If Singapore is truly a state that plunders what stands for "the young" from its citizen; a citizenery that chooses to repress the voice of her minorities; and minorities that will blanket the individual in their discourse; then there shall be no more soul left, no more imagination, and the state should realise that if there is no young, no soul, no imagination, there shall be no future.

And yet they say the future is ours to make; Ours, the word, is not inclusive in Singapore - nice family pictures representing the conservative ideal becomes exclusive; young bright charming youths representing certain qualities becomes exclusive; the choosen become exclusive. Ours is the Best, the Only, and the Elites.

Is that "my" Singapore, "my" home?

7:24 PM  
Blogger expat@large said...

People "wiggle" when they are tied up.

My heart really bleeds for the independent and imaginative thinkers and the creative youth of Singapore.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lack of imagination in Spore society is partly due to the climate of fear. This undesirable situation is part self-imposed, as well as minimal effort by the establishment to correct it (the secrecy of the vote at the ballot box being one example).

I attended the Art and Life session yesterday at NLB which discussed the topic of Stayers and Quitters, in connection with Alfian Sa'at's play "Homesick", which preceded the session. A young member of the audience shared that he had some reservations and somewhat fearful whether borrying a certain controversial book (I didn't catch the book title) from the National Library might lead someone to trace the identity of the borrower. Responding to that honest admission, socialogist Kwok Kian Woon, one of the panellists, commented that it is really up to us, the citizens, to respond to these fears. If he were a politician of this country, he would have sleepless nights wondering why the citizenry are seized by such fears. Fellow panellist Alfian Sa'at noted that the fear factor exist, but we the people can seize the opportunity to overcome them. However, doing that sometimes comes with a risk.

My take on the above is that managing fear (real or imagined), and liberating our imagination, can only come within ourselves.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Nonetheless, i guess some Singaporeans prefer washing dishes and ..."

I disagree with the above statement by anonymous. My son is working happily in Australia as a IT professional. He is not keen to come back to Singapore. Besides, what's wrong with washing dishes? My son did delivery for a Chinese restaurant in Melbourne to help in his school fees. It makes him a better person today. What's the problem with you?

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Some are dying to come to Sg because it is only one step of their greater journey and objectives." xenoboysg, you are so right about that.

When I was on vacation in China last year, the Chinese tour guide (a lady) on learning I'm from Singapore, said that she hope her son (who is 15 years old) would get Singapore govt. scholarship to go to Singapore. When I asked her why would she choose Singapore, she answered that it is well known in China that by obtaining a Singapore govt. scholarship, then Singapore PR, it is their stepping stone to then migrate to the USA, their number one choice. Their next choices are Australia, UK, & Canada. And she said that with a straight face.

This belief among those Singaporeans who swallowed the govt. rhetoric/propaganda hook, line & sinker that everyone is dying to come to Singapore is such a fallacy. I worry for the future & the existence of Singapore.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the civil service, there is a scenario planning office in PMO that explores various scenarios for Singapore. One of them, which appears to be chillingly close day by day is the scenario of "Hotel Singapore" where citizens are not rooted in our country and come and stay in Singapore like business travellers, staying only when there are projects or work that ties them them.

Once the economic imperatives lapse, then it is off to Hotel Aussie/States/UK/Canada
/Indo-China/China/India etc.

I wonder if it's time to dust off the scenario and give a long hard think about how this scenario is starting to play into reality.

12:01 AM  
Blogger expat@large said...

Your email is bouncing. WTF?

8:44 AM  

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