Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why do Ah Bengs wear pink?

At a recent SinQSA (Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance) meet-up, we were discussing some stereotypes and of course having a ball of a time.

One participant was slightly (and jokingly) irritated by the observation that Ah Bengs were patronising New Urban Male, a local beach-themed apparel shop currently/formerly popular with gay men (please correct me if I am wrong, and apologies in advance).

Ah Bengs, by definition, are mostly Chinese-educated ethnic Chinese, mostly heterosexual and mostly subscribe to a certain brand of hegemonic masculine set of behaviours, which is of course centralised on the notion of what a "true" man should be/become. Moreover, the Ah Beng signifies the 'essence' of working class ethic and brotherhood.

So, technically, the traditional Ah Beng would have been averse to shopping at New Urban Male, as the shop does not supplement the heteronormality of the Ah Beng aesthetic.

Times have changed now. And we are witnessing a cultural aesthetic change, almost similar in nature to that of the Great Vowel Shift in England, not in terms of language, but the social classes involved. In short, this great shift involved the lower classes following the pronunciation of the upper classes.

The Ah Beng has evolved into a diversity of species. There are middle-class Ah Bengs who behave like they are from the working class, and more specifically, 21st Century middle-class Ah Beng acting like and embodying the perceived essence of the 1980's working-class Ah Beng.

The rough-and-tough bad boy image has acquired ideas and aesthetics of the changing expectations of the "it" man. SNAG or the sensitive new age guy become a fad for a while and some of its attributes seem to have attached to the Ah Beng facade.

The supposedly cool and (maybe/perhaps) previously English-educated exclusive fashion trend of wearing your haversack (school bag for many) low (i.e. maximising the length of its straps) has now been adopted by the Chinese-educated (or those who identify with the values of the Chinese educated).

Of course, the trend now is not to have sling bags or haversacks, but to have huge handbag-like bags to be slung under one's shoulder. This aesthetic used to belong to the domain of women and (later) gay men, but we have straight men slinging their hangbag-like bags (what are they called, by the way?).

The observation that the Ah Beng aesthetic is changing informs of their class consciousness, of which fashion can be a plausible manifestation.

The original Ah Beng existed as an anti-thesis to the English-educated middle class folk and their values, the schools, law, political leadership and status quo that privileges them, and of course the perceived inherent sissiness and inferior brand of masculinity that is the English-educated middle class people (especially the ethnic Chinese whose anglicisation are beyond the Ah Beng's threshold. Anglicisation means... just ask Dawn Yang).

It is contradictory now that the Ah Beng manifests his aspirations for upward social mobility in the form of fashion and more specifically, in the image of what the Ah Beng had traditionally detest. This is because the Ah Beng encapsulates class/status frustration.

The aesthetics of Ah Beng deviancy (from the perspective of the English-educated middle class) has now inherited some properties from the "normal" stratum of Singaporean society.

Given this, there are many Ah Bengs in body, but few in mind/spirit, and this is because of the changing times and the way our society is changing.

Still, I cannot understand the rationale for why Ah Bengs wear pink. Pink is not culturally "male", and by male, I mean heteronormal, heterosexist, heterosexual man.

For an ordinary man to wear pink, it is traditionally indicative of cultural gender subversion.

For an Ah Beng - normally a hyper-masculine manifestation - to wear pink, I have two different (though not mutually exclusive) observations.

One, since pink threatens the domain of hegemonic masculinity, a man who wears it would be considered brave. This thus supports the idea that the Ah Beng, the hyper-masculine incarnate of lower social stratum, is able to conquer all (and pink) and has the manly courage or ji/qiu/mao (testicles/balls/hair in Beng speak) to neutralise the cultural threat pink poses to most heteronormal masculinities. This is probably why we have the silently (hetero)sexist phrase "real men wear pink".

Two, I also see that the Ah Beng is being reinvented. The previous working class roots and identity is now being tainted by middle-class "blood"/values. The fact that the Ah Beng wears pink indicates an amalgamation of tastes from both classes. The Ah Beng has also attained a better social position than previous generations, and while he may have retained some values, his fashionable expressions follow that of the social class he is in, the very class previous generations may have opposed.

So what is it about (heterosexual) Ah Bengs who wear New Urban Male?

Before I attempt to make sense of that, "heterosexual Ah Beng" might be tautological while "gay Ah Beng" might seem oxymoronic, but there are gay Ah Bengs, just that they are less visible given the homogenisation of the homosexual (i.e. gay stereotypes held by both straight and queer people).

In my view, the Ah Beng (still) has status frustration, but with higher classes. There is always a desire to rise up the social strata. Previous generation Ah Bengs got their muscle from spartan nutrition, menial jobs and for some, gang fights. Modern day Ah Bengs get their muscle from going to the gym, which is a privilege characteristic of their improved social status.

I do not mean to simplify or essentialise, but it seems that (some) Ah Bengs are following gay men, given they wear pink, have or aspire towards having ripped "manly" bodies and of course, shop at New Urban Male.

The essence of the Ah Beng is threatened to extinction by our changing society. The more urbanised and cosmopolitan we become, along with changes in the school system and parenting, the more irrelevant the values of the traditional Ah Beng. I'd like to think that Ah Beng values are central to their dress-code and fashion, but now that these values are eroding, modern-day Ah Bengs can decide their fashion. And it is ironic they pursue what they disliked.

Side point, I also find it highly ironic that some working-class (as well as middle-class) ethnic Malay youths are spending loads of money just to look like working-class sub-urban African American youths/rappers, and of course, even speaking like them. Ethnic envy? Will adopting a sub-urban African American aesthetic and mannerism make one more masculine and cooler?

Meterosexuality and the -ism of SNAG have not spared the Ah Beng. The pink-wearing New Urban Male-patronising Ah Beng is his navigation through the modern day cultural landscape of new emerging masculinities. It is no longer as trendy now to physically assert one's masculinity (because of social and legal sanctions), so in its place is the suggestion of one's masculinity. The Ah Beng, culturally enveloped by all these influences, is enjoying some freedom in choosing how he would want to suggest.

Unfortunately, hyper-masculine (hetero)sexist attitudes and behaviours still exist, regardless of pink and New Urban Male apparel. These continue to perpetuate essentialist ideas of masculinity and ensure the continuity of hegemonic cultural gender identities.

More unfortunately, I still cannot understand or make sense of why Ah Bengs wear pink (or patronise New Urban Male, but that's not to say that New Urban Male is exclusive to gay customers).

Maybe we should keep our eyes peeled for Ah Bengs and do our own anthropological study on them. What is an Ah Beng now? If Ah Bengs are representative of status frustration, are bloggers who blast the government and elite classes Ah Bengs themselves?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PSLE results: One of the few times we can talk about race in Singapore

Every time the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examinations) results are out, there is the customary celebration of ethnic achievements.

The top ethnic Chinese (according to your identity card, birth certificate and the prescribed ‘race’ of your father) pupil will generally be “the top student”. Of course, the overly racially-sensitive and sensitised establishment will also want to feature the “top Malay/Indian/Other students” too.

I might be wrong, but last year’s top student is ethnic Malay. Interestingly, I have seen and heard little mention about “the top Chinese student”.

Have we become slaves of our national history and politics?

The education system, as in most countries, is a creation of the culturally and politically dominant ‘race’, a promotion and glorification of (in this case) English-speaking ethnic Chinese middle-class values. This is further entrenched by the fact that ethnic Chinese form the numerical majority in Singapore. So it should be no surprise that a Chinese student (who more importantly identifies with the values of the system) excels in such a system.

A side point, I think we are not “ethnic” Chinese/Malay/Indian/Others, but “categorical” Chinese/Malay/Indian/Others.

The stellar performance of a categorical Chinese student in a Singaporean school would win her (mainly female any way) the accolade (and media tribute) of “best/top student”.

The excellent results of categorical Malay or Indian or Eurasian students would win them not only “best/top [insert categorical race] student” but the typical otherising that most minorities receive.

We have “top student”, “top Malay student”, “top Indian student” and “top Eurasian student” in every year when we have a categorical Chinese as a top PSLE performer. The insertion of racial adjectives is an example of who the minority status of the student is played up; how the student is made an “other” because of how his/her “race” is being prescribed to him/her.

It is definitely well-meaning, given our historical condition. But if we were to make such segregations and distinctions along the lines of categorical race, why not class or religion (or if you’re cynical enough, sexual identity, but religion for a 12 year old would be a stretch)?

Can we not have a top student from a combined household income of more than $10,000? Why not have a chart of PSLE distinctions and socio-economic status?

I think that the categorical Chinese Singaporeans idea of Chinese-ness or Chinese Singaporean-ness is growingly diluted and dispersed. So where is the value or what is the point in talking about Chinese achievements when we all have different ideas of what constitute Chinese-ness?

The notion of race precedes that of nationhood and nationalist identity. Here we are today waving our racial/ethnic banners at one another. Of course, we are not waving them ourselves, but we have the culturally-sensitive press to do it for us.

A racial riot will always follow the aggressive playing-up of racial differences. Here, in the Straits Times for example, we also see the same kinds of distinctions being made, albeit more subtle and politically correct. The newspaper is not to blame as it is still answerable to the establishment, the very same authority that gave us our categorical identities.

The well-intended mentions of minority achievements still condemn minorities to a status of an “other”. We talk about having a Singapore that is together and integrated, but here we are, unknowingly or not, sowing the seeds of polarisation and fragmentation along the lines of institutionalised difference-ing.

That’s right, there are some kinds of differences that are recognised by the institutions/establishment, while others are ignored. Our differences are calibrated by those who seek to gain the most from this categorising. If the process of categorising was made by the people themselves, we will have a different style of governance and perhaps a different government (not many Singaporeans can imagine that, myself included).

Race, or categorical race, will always be an issue because the people that matter, the people who can influence policy, still consider it to be what it is. From young, we are fed the “essence” of our categorical race, so that upon institutionalisation, we continue this cycle of cultural hegemony.

I have one burning question, where do we go from here? So what if all of us knew about this “problem”? Will it serve us better to have a non-racialised Singapore? After all, we welcome foreigners/‘farangs’ (and gladly defend them using our local boys). Also, the category of CMIO and in this case, academic achievements along the lines of categorical race, will appear to be less relevant in years to come, given we are becoming more culturally diverse (or mixed/diluted/withered).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What stay-home husbands do

They make a profile on Mediacorp Channel 5's website, Live and Loaded. It's a pity they only allow a maximum of 2 songs to be uploaded.

Yes, there are media scholars and sexual minority rights advocates who can make some music too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sick

Hi, I am still alive, but have been busy being ill lately. One illness after another. And feeling quite weak. I've fallen ill for about 5-6 times this year (normally the number would be 1-2). Initially planned to do lots of work during this month, but doubt I can get anything done given my poor state of health. Will be back soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sex ed: The day I got 'suan' by Su' An 2

Straits Times Forum couldn't publish my response to Yeo Su' An. Any way, there are more important things to talk about than sex education.

I was joking with my wife that Singaporeans ARE already practising abstinence. We harbour such bad impressions, opinions and stereotypes of the opposite gender that we don't bother engaging the opposite gender romantically.

On an unrelated note, is it constitutional to proclaim one's abstinence from religion?

(Unpublished - Nov 12, 2008)

Sex education: Letter writer doesn't care if he's neutral

I thank Yeo Su' An for her letter (ST, Nov 10), her criticism and her input for our sex education.

I must state that I have never claimed any objectivity and neutrality in my suggestions, which are contested by Yeo.

Moreover, there is no where in my letter I have mentioned the inferiority of abstinence nor engaged with that topic.

My main concern is two-fold:

1) Children and youths deserve more information from various sources on sex education. Sex education, also a form of literacy, should be broad base.

2) The fair representation of groups, religious and secular, in sex education, because all who have a stake in our society deserve to be heard.

We should have sex education for our children and youth, for their sake – not for us or for the respective social groups and institutions with which we politically or spiritually align ourselves.

The rhetoric of “moral fabric”, “abstinence” and their accompanying values may resonate with most of us, some more positively than others.

However, this does not guarantee our children and youth sing along to the same tune.

At the same time, instead of spending time and resources pointing fingers and identifying possible ills, we should pool together various ideas and resources, including Yeo’s suggestions, and consolidate them for the purpose of the young.

In a diverse and growingly media literate Singaporean youth community, I have contextualised sex education, and believe that any branch of it should not be passed off as universal, absolute or superior, as this ‘silences’ other types of sex education.

As I anticipate a possible race for sex education between groups and parties contesting for their own legitimacy, a situation in which our young will ultimately be the losers, I feel again we should combine various resources for the cause.

Furthermore, I personally choose not to define the young according to the measures of the “rational” adult, because if we were to do that, we will only engage in a one-way authoritative monologue with them.

Our underestimation of youths and our overestimation of the problems at their level only point back to us and the decisions we have made.

I stand by my proposal we provide them with information and choices, rather than orders.

I also stand by my point that we should “behave like we are part of (the information age) and engage information with an open mind”.

Ho Chi Sam

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sex ed: The day I got 'suan' by Su' An

Oh no! My masculine ego and pride have been ripped apart! Nah, just kidding.

Sex education: Letter writer was not neutral

I refer to Mr Ho Chi Sam’s letter, ‘Polycentric approach to sex education’. He argues that ‘various institutions and organisations should not teach sex education and pass their brand of education as universal, but be upfront about their subjectivity’. He seems to be implicitly adopting a relativistic framework which posits that all viewpoints are subjective, and to make a claim to correctness and objectivity is undemocratic and unacceptable in a diverse society. However, this framework is arguably unsustainable as, if all viewpoints are inherently subjective, this necessarily includes the very perspective on sex education which he is putting forth. The very fact that he is arguing for polycentric sex education demonstrates that he believes that encouraging youth to have safe sex is normatively better than encouraging abstinence. It thus follows that he himself is not neutral, but instead is taking a position along the moral framework.

This point is critical as it is not merely theoretical but has real practical implications. By hiding behind the veil of plurality and neutrality, Mr Ho conveniently sidesteps the controversial nature of the polycentric sex education he advocates. Such ‘diversity’ sex education, as conducted in schools in Britain and the United States begins even at the primary school level, covering topics such as the use of contraceptives and how to engage in safe sex, diverse types of sex including heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, and alternative family structures such as cohabitation and same-sex partnerships. The controversial nature of such polycentric sex education is underscored by the heated nature of the recent debates in California, about the approach to be adopted with regard to the content of sex education concerning homosexual family structures. Strong opinions on both sides of the debate demonstrate that it is illusory to speak as if a consensus exists and polycentric sex education is a settled, widely accepted issue.

Finally, Mr Ho argues that ‘our youth should be exposed to this range of sex education, so they can make an informed decision and follow which material they deem to best suit themselves’. With respect, this argument rests on the flawed assumption that children and youth are rational, wise and ever judicious in their decision-making. As philosopher Herbert Hart pointed out in his critique of John Stuart Mill, this assumption cannot stand when viewed in the light of factual reality: Children and youth do not possess relatively stable wants and desires, and are impressionable and open to experimentation. Contrary to Mr Ho’s assertion, making children aware of the health risks of promiscuous sex is no mere ‘scare fest’ to be peremptorily dismissed: It is an objective fact that teenagers who engage in promiscuous sex are at a much higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases than teenagers who abstain from sex until marriage. It follows that it would harm, not help, children to hide such scientific realities from them.

Yeo Su’ An (Ms)


Seriously, Yeo, I “seem to be implicitly” saying this and saying that. In writing here and not writing back to the ST Forum, I will also seem to be implicitly saying something else.

My suggestion appreciates the various political positions, including yours, and I believe that moralising from such positions will be possible if groups are open about their political position.

It is nothing new to provoke and say that relativism is founded on non-neutrality (perhaps absolutism). I do not claim to be objective or neutral any way, otherwise I would not put my name down. So why address something that is not there?

It’s nice to know that you’re taking the time to do a content analysis of what I have written, but please do not say “I seem to be implicitly bla bla bla”, because it makes me want to implicit laugh at you.

I have a perspective on sex education. And since there is the view, which you share, that children are impressionable and so on, does that mean we should socialise and institutionalise them into one form of doctrine (or sex ed) so that they can be "impressed" in the "correct" way?

Perhaps polycentrism is a threat to certain structures and groups that have ambition to establish a stronger foothold in, if not dominate, society.

In exposing children and youths to various materials from different groups, they can make their own decision and we should let them make it. That is my position. Perhaps, some might develop inclinations towards the sex educational ideas of fundamental Christianity, among others. At the end of the day, they make the decision without guilt and fear.

Herbert Hart believes in the natural right that is the fundamental right to liberty. In silencing the ideas and expressions of groups that teach pluralistic sex education, I guess that upholds your idea of “liberty”. You seem to be implicitly adopting a relativistic framework which posits your idea of “liberty” is superior.

Mind you, Yeo, I also fight for your right to speak by emphasizing that all “organisations have their fair representation and stake in society”. But unfortunately, and perhaps given the word limit of the ST Forum, you could not quote that. Maybe you seem to be implicitly not wanting to give credit to that argument.

So when children/youths make the decision to follow you or the dogma of your group/association, it is more of an “informed decision” than an irrational one? What about those who make the decision to conform to another dogma? Is that decision an irrational one, a one of experimentation, rather than an “informed”?

I stress the importance of dealing with the information age, which is why I contextualised the discussion. So, can you quote more contemporary philosophers?

At the end of the day, various groups are always wanting to recruit young blood, to renew and further their cause. We are always looking for more people to carry our torches and pitchforks should there be conflict with other groups, and all the better if they were vocal and willing to die for same cause the rest of our group is willing to die for. I argue that we should at least allow the young to decide for themselves which group they would want to join, or form for themselves.

Some teens are already having sex. At least we should teach them the responsibilities and repercussions, rather than to scare them, or engage in one form of child abuse that is religion, as Richard Dawkins would call it. Sure, blame the media, blame the West, blame globalisation, blame secularism. But we ourselves are to blame too, as for the more we try to suppress, the larger the array of resistance. We should seek to engage children and youths like we care for them, not in the manner that we want them to be like us. We should be less authoritarian, and give them a buffet of information that best suit their current condition. They need all the information they deserve, “good” and “bad”, secular and fundamental, orthodox and unorthodox (in every way).

I hope Yeo does not construe this response as an attempt to implicitly flame her. I respect the grounds on which she expresses her opinion, and I am all for the expression of her opinion. This type of respect does not take into consideration whether it is absolutist or relativist, nor does it claim to be either. I fight for your right to speak, not your right to silence (plus do a content analysis and make hallucinatory assumptions about my intentions).

If you are for the uniform and singular indoctrination of children, this is not the place or time for that. Some regimes in the early-to-mid Twentieth Century would have been more receptive to these ideas.

You make your own group since you want some “values” relevant to your group to be retained. I make my own Singapore because I appreciate the existence and co-existence of various groups that constitutes it, including yours. We are not engaging each other on the same level. Sorry. But a dialogue is still important.

But if you want to meet up for tea, Yeo, I'd love to. It is important that I hear more of your views and opinions on how we can help our youths, and at the same time appreciate where you are coming from. I may seem to implicitly force my opinions onto others through the internet or on the ST Forum, but I do not do that in person, because I prefer to talk cock and have a good laugh.

So, if you have google-ed my name, or yours, or the title of the letter, and subsequently found this blog. I urge you to email me (check the left hand side of the page) and we can meet up. After all, we are doing it for the future. And to work towards that, we need some dialogue. All the best.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Times: MDIS should focus on education, not fashion

Chop Chop Chop Chop Chop Chop - not spared by The Sunday Times either.

(Published: Sunday Times, Nov 9, 2008)

MDIS should focus on education, not fashion

I read with interest last Thursday's report, 'No shorts, no dyed hair, no slippers...', on the dress code crackdown at the Management Development Institute of Singapore.

Educational institutions should focus on their main priority, which is education - not fashion policing.

The issue is not about letting students express themselves freely, but rather the idea that they can express themselves freely.

Education is not only about integration and institutionalisation, but also about empowering individuals who can uniquely contribute to the community.

The value in education lies in the cultivation and development of knowledge and of the individual's ability to make informed decisions and to question.

The institution will be doing itself and society a disservice by creating an environment where the idea of free expression is repressed.

I am against the idea of educational institutions producing buttoned-up, subservient individuals who conform only because of the threat of punishment.

Those driven by the desire to learn will not choose a school based on how well it polices the dress code.

Ultimately, educational institutions should not be moulded in the interests of their leaders or administrators, or according to their ideas of aesthetic decency.

As students are the major stakeholders in these institutions, they deserve greater say in the structure and relevance of these rules.

Ho Chi Sam

Never once have I mentioned MDIS, except when quoting the title of the article. The way the title of the article is structured, it seems like I'm directly addressing MDIS, but that is not the case. Here is the full version of the letter I wrote.

Original letter

I read with interest the report ‘Dress Code Crackdown at MDIS’ (ST, Nov 6, 2008).

I strongly feel that educational institutions should focus on their main priority and core competency, which lies in the domain of education, and not authoritative fashion policing.

I must stress the argument is not about letting students expressing themselves freely, but about the idea and value that they can express themselves freely.

We must support this idea, and the social, cultural, political and legal infrastructure (not only economic) of our country should be developed to accommodate and cultivate it.

Education is not only about integration and institutionalisation, but also about empowering individuals who can uniquely contribute to the local or global community.

The value in education lies in the cultivation and development of knowledge and the individual’s ability to make informed decisions and also to question.

The educational institution will be doing itself and society a disservice by creating an environment where the idea of free and possibly unique expression is disincentivised, repressed and amputated with such regimentation.

On the one hand, we are bombarded with the rhetoric of the economic imperative in the drive to make Singapore a global city of the arts, a creative hub, etc., and anything that is associated with the good well-adjusted sense of change, creativity and innovation. On the other hand, our educational infrastructure is rigid and filled with such rules that impede the development of the properties and conditions necessary for such change.

At the same time, I condemn the strict dress codes and rules of dyed hair mentioned in the article. I am personally against the idea of educational institutions producing buttoned-up and subservient assembly-line cultural dopes who only conform because of the disincentive of punishment.

Individuals driven by the desire to learn or upgrade will not choose educational institutions based on how well these institutions police the dress code.

Ultimately, educational institutions should not be moulded in the interests of the leaders and administrators and their comfort-zoned ideas of aesthetical decency and presentability. As students are the major stakeholders in these institutions, they deserve a greater say in the structure and relevance of these rules.

Let the young find and mould their tradition rather than yoke the ideology of people who just happen to have lived before them.

Ho Chi Sam

For more references, read the following Straits Times article.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My own musical

The most self-indulgent and unintellectual post ever.

I feel inspired by the performance by Avenue Q last night.

I believe I can write a musical too - and it can be crass and politically incorrect.

Already have a plot, an idea of a sequence of songs, and wrote half a song (with accompaniment).

Perhaps when all that is done and fine-tuned, I can write to MDA (Media Development Authority) and get some funding.

I think I am talented enough for the songs and musical plot, but will probably need my wife's help for the jokes and rhymes. Really excited about it.

End of self-indulgence.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The 'China Bride' Chronicles: The Ballad of Alvin Tan and Sherry Aw

Razor-sharp feline claws shredding into the remnants of one Singaporean man's dignity. It is becoming so fashionable to bash the (once) dominant male, that I feel the once dominant is now the underdog; it is probably something new again if we bashed the female. I guess the growingly "wimpy" Singaporean man can never find a lover in the growingly "tigerish" Singaporean woman.

I believe there is definitely a few ideal types of men that Singaporean women desire. Let me explore one of them: Tall, decently built, handsome, takes the initiative, financially independent, has a car, occasionally pays for meals, you get the picture... oh yes, and heterosexual ("abuden", says Phua Chu Kang).

Is it social mobility some women crave, rather than romance? Or is the desire of social mobility (upwards, of course) part of the construct of "romance" for some Singaporean women?

Socio-economic status seems a factor to some Singaporean women, according to some Singaporean men. Is that an accurate assessment at all? In that case, are some Singaporean women materialistic? Or do some Singaporean men just think some Singaporean women are materialistic?

Why are people bothered with materialism and allegations of materialism? Are they being distracted with these, so they will not be able to find the time and energy to mobilise a socialist uprising against the oppressive capitalist state? (ok, just kidding)

I think Singaporean men and women should just get on with their own romantic lives, whether with one another or with a foreign other. If one side feels the other side isn't very desirable, the former should just ignore the latter and move on. The latter will get the hint.

Some men like type-A tiger alpha-women (I'm terrified of them actually), while some women like domesticated men.

And it doesn't help that the media facilitates the generalisations of gender, see Channel 8 and you will understand. "All men should ...", "all women are ..." are quite common in these Chinese shows.

Then you have the Straits Times that demean Chinese women as "China brides". China is a noun, bride is a noun - doesn't sound quite right. "Chinese bride" would be more respectful, but we'll probably take for granted they are Singaporean (Chinese = Singaporean; China = China, abuden?).

I think men have a right to express themselves if they feel oppressed. No shame in that. Women have long done that.

Have a fun read.

Oct 19 - Why I chose a China bride

Many people seem to believe that Singapore men who opt for foreign brides tend to pick younger, less educated women from less developed countries. I'm a Singapore male and I just married a foreigner this year. She's from China, two years older than I am and a university graduate with a top-notch academic record. We met in Kunming, where I work, after mutual friends introduced us.

On one of our dates, we did discuss why I did not have a Singapore girlfriend. I admitted that I don't understand what Singapore women want. They have their own careers and are as skilled and capable as their male colleagues. Yet, they demand that their dates behave like 'gentlemen' and treat them as the weaker sex. This hardly seems like equality or equitable.

In February, when The Straits Times reported the results of a survey on singles, this 'contradiction' was raised. Many women still expect their dates to carry their handbags and pick up the tab. Asking to split the bill is still widely unacceptable on the local dating scene.

From my own experience and what I've heard, it seems many Singapore women tend to interpret feminism in their own way. A woman who shells prawns for her man is deemed archaic, but a man who carries a woman's handbag for her is being gentlemanly, even though it might make him look silly.

If Singapore women want to be on an equal footing with their men, then they should expect to be treated equally - the way men treat other men. Among other things, there would be no need for the man to escort the woman home.

However, if women want men to shelter, love and care for them in the gentlemanly fashion they seem to demand, then they should let their men take charge.

I would have been happy to date and marry a Singapore woman who knew which she wanted. I would have accepted whichever path she chose.

As things turned out, I found a woman who knew exactly what she wanted - in Kunming.

Alvin Tan

Oct 23 - It's an insult to S'pore women

I refer to Mr Alvin Tan's letter last Sunday, 'Why I chose a China bride'. I am astonished that a single passage could make me feel insulted, tickled and disbelieving all at once. Mr Tan is either seriously misinformed of the needs and wants of the modern Singapore woman, or is still steeped in the traditional notion of how men and women should behave.

First, I am unclear of his intention. I believe his marriage to his Chinese bride was between two people truly in love. Why then the need to defend his choice? Why the need to accuse thousands of Singapore women of being clueless of what they want, or even imply indirectly we all want to be treated as the weaker sex?

What also puzzles me is how Mr Tan manages to equate wanting a date to be gentlemanly with wanting to be the weaker sex. If wanting a man to hold the door open for a woman, an act of 'gentlemanliness', can be construed as weakness, does my ability to open my own door signify how strong and masculine I am? I pray not, or I would face a serious identity crisis.

And really, does having our own career or equal abilities to men mean we have become men ourselves? The 'equal footing' treatment we demand is recognition of our abilities to carry out our jobs. Not to be treated like men, but acknowledgement that we are as capable as men. If we 'should expect to be treated equally - the way men treat other men', then perhaps from the perspective of a woman, the equal treatment Mr Tan is looking for is to be treated like a best buddy-cum-girlfriend and not boyfriend material.

Mr Tan also insinuates that, if women want equality, they should see themselves home after a date, as 'there is no need for the man to escort' her. Men with such a mentality make bad dates, or do not have sufficient affection for the woman they are dating. Not wanting to escort your girlfriend home means you don't care about her.

Mr Tan, I am happy you found someone to love and care for. But there was no need to collectively insult the entire female population in Singapore, simply because you were unable to find someone to suit your needs here. I am certain we know what we want in a man - someone who respects us, treats us equally (not like other men) and has no reservations about being a gentleman.

Sherry Aw (Ms)

Oct 25 - 'Why I chose a China bride': It's a problem of changing gender roles and expectation

I REFER to the letters by Mr Alvin Tan last Sunday ('Why I chose a China Bride') and Ms Sherry Aw on Thursday ('It's an insult to Singapore women').

What we need to appreciate is that times are changing, socially and economically.

This results in men and women reprioritising their needs, which affects their idea of romance and the ideal partner.

Gender is always a thorny issue, but that does not mean we should ignore opinions from both sides.

The fact that there are Singapore men who have a certain opinion of Singapore women in general, and vice versa, is indicative of social reality.

Being empowered with the resources and opportunities for financial independence, among other factors, the Singapore woman has more choices and obviously has a shift in expectations.

While this may not apply to all women in Singapore, there has already been an impression, tending towards the mixed or the negative, among some Singapore men.

I do not disagree with Mr Tan on some observations as I have met and seen for myself women who are financially independent, yet still materialistic and demanding to be treated like princesses. This type of mixed signal is probably what confounds Mr Tan and some men.

I have also observed a common stereotype of Singapore men held by Singapore women, in which Singapore men are seen as timid mummy's boys who are incapable of being independent or having any initiative, something deemed to be an inferior and undesirable aspect of masculinity.

What is curious is that, in thinking this way, it shows that both men and women still hold on to traditional gender roles and expectations, and their discomfort with one another presents an inertia towards adjustment.

Media portrayals of the ideal man also exert pressure on how Singapore men 'perform' their masculinity. The route to financial independence of Singapore men is hampered by, among other things, the lengthy education system, changes in parenting, national service, servicing of study loans after graduation, the housing scheme and so on. Given these factors, it is difficult for the Singapore man to be the typical 'ideal'.

I believe the problem in our gendered conflict and differences is that both sides are a little misadjusted for the times, and at the same time, are so distracted by the opposite sex, we forget to discuss the larger political and social issues that may have caused the problem.

Ho Chi Sam

Oct 26 - What the modern S'pore woman wants

I refer to last Sunday's letter by Mr Alvin Tan, 'Why I chose a China bride', which I felt gave an inaccurate portrayal of the modern Singaporean woman.

Speaking from the perspective of a young Singapore woman, I do not see why it is so difficult for men to behave in a gracious or gentlemanly way, especially on a date.

Though some women here may appear intimidating, this is only to enable them to compete better in the workplace.

Women have to strive harder to prove their worth in the mostly male-dominated workplace. So they can't afford to appear soft, delicate or helpless at a professional level.

As for the 'contradiction' issue mentioned by Mr Tan, I believe many women, capable as they are, still regard gestures such as picking up the tab or carrying their handbags as indications of the men's devotion to them.

Singaporean women may expect the men to treat them as equals in the workplace, but if the men want their affections, the guys must show some sincerity. Carrying their dates' handbags and offering to pay the bill are just some ways of doing so.

Most women will remember and appreciate such gestures.

I would also like to remind Mr Tan that many Singapore women take on the roles of wife and mother, and yet continue to remain active in the workforce. And many women here contribute equally, or even more, to the household.

Thus, Singaporean men should let go of the old stereotype that women should be submissive to them.

If men here continue to harbour such outdated expectations, then it would indeed be difficult for them to find local partners.

Tan Wei (Ms)

Oct 27 - 'Why I chose a China bride': Women should seek to understand men better

I REFER to Ms Sherry Aw's letter last Thursday, 'It's an insult to Singapore women', in reaction to my letter, 'Why I chose a China bride' (Oct 19).

First of all, I strongly suggest Ms Aw to read the article 'Love me, spoil Me' (Feb 24). It provides a view into Singapore women's psyche.

I would also like to reproduce a remark in the same article by Ms Iben Wan, a Danish woman married to a Singaporean:

'If you expect the man to accept you as his equal, you can't also expect him to run around treating you like a porcelain doll on a pedestal. It just does not make sense in our modern world.'

Second, Ms Aw's statement, 'what also puzzles me is how Mr Tan manages to equate wanting a date to be gentlemanly with wanting to be the weaker sex', inadvertently proves my observation that Singapore women interpret feminism in their own way. Yes, it is precisely because it is a puzzling matter that women like Ms Aw should seek to understand what and how men think, preferably from men instead of relying on one-sided women's magazines. My view is that true equality means women do not need men to take care of their every need, emphasis is on 'every'.

Third, her comment that 'not wanting to escort your girlfriend home means you don't care about her' is again one sided. If the man has done 80 out of 100 things a woman expects her date to do, yet does not escort her home, does this one act invalidate his 80 others? Men generally tend to be practical. With rising car ownership and usage costs, heavy reliance on public transport is prevalent. On the other hand, salaries do not increase in tandem with costs. In such a Singapore context, I am not surprised that Singapore men may find their dating plans limited by bus and MRT schedule (regular taxi usage is excluded because it is costly). However, sadly, such a practical and real concern will likely be seen as cheapskate by Singapore women.

Ms Aw is free to keep her definition of 'boyfriend material'. However, any relationship is a two-way street: You have to give as well as take.

To dispel the notion that I am an 'old-fashioned' man from the 1950s and ignoring any cynicism on my 'honeymoon period' of marriage, I go grocery shopping with my wife and I offer to carry, without my wife asking, the groceries home because I am physically stronger than her. My wife and I have a common understanding that whoever cooks is exempted from washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Yes, I do cook and reasonably well at that. Notwithstanding this, there are times when I both cook and wash up, especially if my wife has guests over as this will free her to spend time with them. Yes, I also cut and serve fruit, with or without guests, and with no one 'keeping score' on kitchen duties.

When it comes time to clean the apartment, my wife and I clean together, with me usually mopping a bigger area as it is physically more taxing. There are many more examples but these few are enough to prove I am not old fashioned. I intend to do all this, and more, as long as my marriage lasts and I am physically able.

Alvin Tan

Oct 27 - 'Why I chose a China bride': Points in letter to undermine Singapore women not justified

I refer to the letter by Mr Alvin Tan, 'Why I chose a China bride' (Oct 19). Essentially, it has has stirred up a beehive. If Mr Tan has had unhappy encounters with Singapore women, there is no need to glamorise China brides to justify his choice.

When a couple unite in marriage, it must be based on trust and love. What has it to do with nationality? How is marrying a China bride better than a Singapore bride? But one thing I can list are the many good points about Singapore women.

It is undeniable that Singapore women are more educated than they were a decade ago. They are now more financially independent and more informed of world events and can definitely fight for their rights. But have they not done their part?

Just look around. HDB flats are usually co-paid for by husband and wife. While the typical Singapore wife has to take care of the children, she is still expected to bring home a salary. By today's standard, a single-income family is under financial strain. To be financially secure, a dual income is ideal and it cannot be achieved without the Singapore woman.

If Mr Tan still hopes for such traditional wives who are submissive, then yes, he will have to look beyond Singapore. There is no best of two worlds, asking an educated woman to submit to the whims and fancies of men, yet be financially independent. This is probably achievable in Virtual World.

To enlighten further, are household chores and taking care of children, which includes nurturing and building their capabilities to enter the working world, not managed mainly by Singapore women? I do not deny that men put in more effort than a decade ago. What about Singapore women who gladly take a break from work to spend time with their children? They sacrificed the golden years of their lives for their children when they could have used the time to soar up the career ladder. The points by Mr Tan undermining Singapore women are not justified. Is a Singapore bride a bad choice?

I would not restrict the choice of husband for my daughters, but if the men are the self-contained, self-centred type, I would encourage my daughters to look further, Singapore or not. One thing I can enlighten Mr Tan on is my husband, a Malaysian, has been happily married to me, a Singaporean, for close to 10 years and we have two happy and beautiful daughters, both Singaporean. I have never lamented about Singapore men not meeting my expectations. Love is blind to nationality, race and age. I just need someone who loves and respects me, Singaporean or not.

Cheng Wan Ying (Ms)

Complaint about TV presenter: Long hair no longer indicates gender or sexuality

(Published - ST Forum, Online Story. October 27, 2008)

I refer to Mr Ishwar Mahtani's criticism last Friday of long-haired male television personalities ('Male TV personalities should have neat haircuts and not sport long hair') and thank The Straits Times for publishing such a baiting flame-magnet of a letter.

At times, our preconceptions and perceptions are challenged by images in the media. However, that does not mean they are threatened.

Long hair, while associated by the authorities in the last millennium with gangsters and crime, is now no longer aesthetically and morally exclusive to women. Likewise, women also sport short hair. Thus, long hair is not indicative of gender or sexuality.

I urge MediaCorp to continue portraying such diverse styles, because it is the quality and content of programmes that matters.

It must also be understood that neatness of hairstyle has nothing to do with hair length. Rather, such discomfort with men sporting long hair is indicative of the set of gender norms and expectations one subscribes to, which derives from a specific time in history.

A short and 'decent' haircut for a man does not transform him into a decent-charactered and law-abiding person. The minimal form of conformity you get from a short-haired man is his abiding to a set of aesthetics deemed 'normal' by an authority that has more than often gone unquestioned and unchallenged.

While schooling in the 1990s, I always felt the relevance of hair to discipline and academic performance unreasonable, illogical and unjustified. I still believe, as I did then, that achievement, excellence and a fair sense of morality are independent of hair length.

At the same time, I believe men who sport long hair should be responsible for their hygiene.

Being male and sporting long hair does not make a man less moral, less productive - or less Singaporean.

Ho Chi Sam

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Polycentric approach to sex education

(Published - ST Forum. October 25, 2008)

I refer to the recent discussion on sex education in Singapore.

Sex education for our youth should be more than just a scare fest of disease-ravaged body parts.

As a diverse society, the challenge lies in the consolidation of materials and resources for sex education.

In view of this challenge, a polycentric sex education programme is a viable approach, rather than consolidated and blanket implementation.

Various institutions and organisations should not teach sex education and pass their brand of education as universal, but be upfront about their subjectivity.

This way, should they do so, moralising from such an openly stated position becomes more acceptable.

This approach allows a range of sex education material to be accessible to our media-savvy youth, whether from religious or secular organisations, while ensuring these organisations have their fair representation and stake in society.

Our youth should be exposed to this range of sex education, so they can make an informed decision and follow which material they deem to best suit themselves.

At the same time, the polycentric approach will not privilege any organisation or group over others in sex education.

Schools and parents should thus not rely on only one source of sex educational material to empower their children, but an array. As we are in the information age, we should behave like we are part of it and engage information with an open mind.

Ultimately, there is only a degree to which we can guide and influence the younger generation, and it will be they who have to clean up after us in the future.

Ho Chi Sam

'Why I chose a China bride': It's a problem of changing gender roles and expectation

(Published - ST Forum, Online Story. October 25, 2008)

I refer to the letters by Mr Alvin Tan last Sunday ('Why I chose a China Bride') and Ms Sherry Aw on Thursday ('It's an insult to Singapore women').

What we need to appreciate is that times are changing, socially and economically.
This results in men and women reprioritising their needs, which affects their idea of romance and the ideal partner.

Gender is always a thorny issue, but that does not mean we should ignore opinions from both sides.

The fact that there are Singapore men who have a certain opinion of Singapore women in general, and vice versa, is indicative of social reality.

Being empowered with the resources and opportunities for financial independence, among other factors, the Singapore woman has more choices and obviously has a shift in expectations.

While this may not apply to all women in Singapore, there has already been an impression, tending towards the mixed or the negative, among some Singapore men.
I do not disagree with Mr Tan on some observations as I have met and seen for myself women who are financially independent, yet still materialistic and demanding to be treated like princesses. This type of mixed signal is probably what confounds Mr Tan and some men.

I have also observed a common stereotype of Singapore men held by Singapore women, in which Singapore men are seen as timid mummy's boys who are incapable of being independent or having any initiative, something deemed to be an inferior and undesirable aspect of masculinity.

What is curious is that, in thinking this way, it shows that both men and women still hold on to traditional gender roles and expectations, and their discomfort with one another presents an inertia towards adjustment.

Media portrayals of the ideal man also exert pressure on how Singapore men 'perform' their masculinity. The route to financial independence of Singapore men is hampered by, among other things, the lengthy education system, changes in parenting, national service, servicing of study loans after graduation, the housing scheme and so on. Given these factors, it is difficult for the Singapore man to be the typical 'ideal'.

I believe the problem in our gendered conflict and differences is that both sides are a little misadjusted for the times, and at the same time, are so distracted by the opposite sex, we forget to discuss the larger political and social issues that may have caused the problem.

Ho Chi Sam

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ishwar Mahtani's Hairy Issue

Okay, I don't think this will be published in the newspapers (Oct 27 edit: It was published... WTF!). When I read the article, I was going "what the fuck". Of course, "what the" went to the letter writer, and everybody's favourite four-letter word went to the Straits Times. Of course, that hasn't stopped me from writing 3 letters to the forum in the past 3 days (which is only a matter of probability I get published).

I mean, we have a recession and a sex education problem, plus a population problem ("we need more sex education" versus "we need more sex"). Surely there must be something really engaging and newsworthy to talk about... Hmmmmmmm... LET'S TALK ABOUT LONG HAIR!!! WOO HOO!!! WORLD PEACE!!! NO MORE POVERTY!!! EVERYBODY GOT BACK THEIR INVESTMENTS!!!

Yes, hair's the way, my friend. Lim Swee Say (off-centre parting) and Tony Tan (comb-back) are probably the longest you can go.

Long hair = women? Next thing we know, we are told to give our kids manly or womanly names, so people like the letter-writer won't get confused. I wonder what Vivian Balakrishnan will say about that.

Whatever the case may be, Ishwar Mahtani fully has the right to express his opinion and deserves to be heard. This also gives us the right to criticse, but of course, I have yet to go as far as Mike Loh (very venomous and hilarious retort), who laid the cyber smackdown on everybody's favourite moral crusader George Lim.

Ishwar Mahtani's Hairy Issue

Dear Editor,

I refer to Ishwar Mahtani’s recent criticism of long-haired male television personalities (ST, Oct 24, 2008) and also thank the Straits Times for publishing such a baiting flame-magnet of a letter.

At times, our preconceptions and perceptions are challenged by images in the media. However, that does not mean that they are threatened.

Long hair, while being associated by the authorities in the last millennium with gangsters and crime, is now no longer aesthetically and morally exclusive to women. Likewise, women too also sport short hair. Thus, long hair is not indicative of gender or sexuality.

I urge Mediacorp to continue portraying such diverse styles, because it is the quality and content of the programme that ultimately matters.

It must also be understood that neatness of hairstyle has nothing to do with hair length. Rather, such discomfort with men sporting long hair is indicative of the set of gender norms and expectations one subscribes to, which derives from a specific time in history.

Short and “decent” haircut for a man does not transform him into a decent-charactered and law-abiding person. The minimal form of conformity you get from a short-haired man is his abiding to a set of aesthetics deemed ‘normal’ by an authority that has more than often gone unquestioned and unchallenged.

While schooling in the 1990s, I always felt the relevance of hair to discipline and academic performance is unreasonable, illogical and unjustified. I still believe, as I did, that achievement, excellence and a fair sense of morality are all independent of hair length.

At the same time, I believe that men who sport long hair should also be responsible for their own hygiene.

Being male and sporting long hair does not make a man less moral, less productive or less Singaporean.

Ho Chi Sam

Letter by Ishwar Mahtani (nice name actually) published in the Straits Times Online Forum, Oct 24, 2008:

Male TV personalities should have neat haircuts and not sport long hair

On Tuesday night, as I tuned in to watch a TV talk show on the recent DBS investment crisis, I could not figure out if the presenter was male or female. I soon realised he was male, with long hair.

Personalities who appear on TV should always ensure they have a neat haircut and present themselves well. Appearing on TV with such long hair does not send a good message to viewers.

It was not long ago the Government used to warn males who appeared with such long hair in public places, for often they were associated with gangs.

I find it strange that MediaCorp allows a show with such a presenter to be aired. I hope it will look into this and ensure all presenters appear with neat and decent haircuts.

Ishwar Mahtani

-after thought-

To use the environmentalist lingo, the younger generation has to clean up the mess of the previous generations. Here, meanings attached to "long hair" are changing, but we are held back by such persons, who are further aided by the mass media (which amplifies their opinions).

Unfortunately, bigotry and mindsets have to die, given they cannot change. The only way for them to continue (in spirit) is through the institutions we have created for their continuation, for example the schools, media and other ideological state apparatuses. In that sense, values don't die, but the people who hold them and want them to propagate are mortal. Sometimes I feel we can only wait, because we fight a losing battle against these guys and the institutions that support them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We the suckers: Inspired by the fag and the pad

In a moment (of madness or assholicism) (and moments like that come very often) (wow, 3 parenthesised statements in a row! Is that permissible?), I wrote in someone's blog, somewhere along the lines of , "In Singapore, we suck either one of two things: The thumb on our hand, or the appendage of the establishment."

Of course, there are many figurative forms of sucking that we do throughout our lives, but I have chosen two prominent ones that are relevant to my experiences.

And it is the two (sucking thumbs and sucking phallic appendages) that are probably the source of frustration for many of us.

For the uninitiated, to suck one's thumb refers to one's eventual state of helplessness, loss of autonomy, to have a defeated (not defeatist) attitude, a position of non-actionability, resignation to the nature/circumstance of the situation.

To "suck cock" is to pander to someone (usually the owner of the "cock"), patronise, praise, submit to, be subjected to, often times the soft-soaper, apple-polisher, so as not to cause conflicts between the sucker and the receiver.

It is not surprising the crude and androcentric terms have their roots in the Chinese dialect, as how we understand them. Of course, "suck cock" is also understood in the same way in some Western cultures.

Post-industrial capitalism has led to complex levels of alienation, resulting in a culture of figurative fellatio (please don't cite me on that).

Agrarian societies, mostly micro-economically self-subsistence, have at the most a barter trade market. Now, with higher and more specialised divisions of (skilled) labour, and the condition we are so acquainted with that is bureaucracy, there is a market for "cock"-sucking.

There are high-level and low-level "cock"-sucking. For example, a high-level grassroots representative might execute some "cock"-sucking manoeuvres on the member of parliament in some meeting, for the sake of pursuing an agenda (either for him/herself or for the community).

That is not to say that the highest level of rulers/politicians are always on the receiving end of the conceptual cock-sucking. They too, suck as hard and as many, as the lower-level people. In thanking and giving credit to the masses, they renew their mandate and leadership, as they renew their acquaintance with the phallus. In the end, we see an exchange of "cock"-sucking.

"Thumb"-sucking on the other hand, while being the metaphorical cousin of the activity most toddlers are engaged with, is more of a reaction. However, it is often a reaction that yields no returns in the end. Thus, "thumb"-sucking is waste.

As children, we derive a sense of comfort and satisfaction when we suck our thumbs. But when we suck our "thumbs" in adulthood, we do it for consolation, often out of exasperation and fatigue.

The child sucking his/her thumb is the subject in the process of socialisation, while the adult "thumb"-sucker is the socialised subject. It is more of a natural and primal reflex for child thumb-sucking, but it is a social and ritualistic process (at times in the context of an urban and bureaucratic environment) for the adult "thumb"-sucker.

In being socialised and institutionalised, the child transits from a state of sub/un-conscious thumb-sucking, to a conscious, social and reflexive state of "thumb"-sucking. Also marked is the transition from a emotional and physiological means to gratification, independent of social structure, to a rational and social means to gratification/consolation. "Thumb"-sucking is thus functional to the larger social and political structure.

"Thumb"-sucking is indicative of the loss of agency. In sucking the "thumb", one has withdrawn his/her participation in the decision/policy-making processes of the establishment, letting it continue to reproduce itself and its ideology.

Philosophically speaking, sometimes "cock"-sucking is "thumb"-sucking, although "thumb"-sucking is no necessarily "cock"-sucking. A general submission to structure informs of both processes. Sometimes, both serve the purpose of sustaining the progress of an individual whose morale and sense of self-worth are dependent on the structure.

Enough of the concepts. I have to give some spotlight to the empirics.

As I cleaned my new flat today, I realised my upstairs neighbour had hung his/her wet clothes to drip dry, making it rather inconvenient for the neighbours below to dry their clothes.

I have also suspected that it could be the same neighbour who has rained blessings of cigarettes, a styrofoam food box and a used sanitary pad (now I know the meaning of heavy flow days) onto my air-conditioning compressor and the small ledge on which its brackets are fastened.

Perhaps my neighbour is the anti-social menstruating smoker who eats take-aways and handwashes his/her clothes. Of course, there could be many people living under one roof, because there is an assortment of clothes (children, adult, male and female) hung out to dry from above my unit.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) sent a representative today to inspect the house and surroundings for mosquito-friendly breeding grounds. I asked her what I could do about neighbours who shower us with cigarettes and sanitary pads. She told me to call the NEA hotline and also inform the town council. These are good ways to use the thumb (to dial the numbers, although I only use my thumb for dialing numbers "1", "4" and "7" on my fixed-line phone; we all use our thumbs to dial on our mobiles, don't we?), rather than sucking on it.

At the same time, she told me that the upstairs neighbour had refused to let her into the house to inspect.

"Aiyah, these people are uneducated one", she remarked. I could see her putting her own thumb into her mouth, in my mind of course.

What can I do about such neighbours any way?

They will not like it if I threw cigarettes and sanitary pads down on them, although I neither smoke nor menstruate.

It is also anti-social to an extent if we went "vigilante" on them, and do the following:
1) Take pictures/videos for evidence.
2) Collect the items in a zip-lock bag or box, and go upstairs and ask them if they have dropped these items.
3) Collect the items, and leave them at the neighbour's doorstep (but it could be the wrong neighbour though).

What can we do? Learn from Everitt Road?

At the moment, we have collected pictures. Although the sanitary pad one came on the day we did not have a camera with us. We are engaged in arbitrary acts (photography) just because of destructively anti-social acts. The kind of anti-social act I appreciate is the "you leave me alone, I leave you alone" one.

On the domestic front, I'm inclined to sucking my "thumb". Outside the home, and for the sake of earning some money, I have to suck some "cock".

I long for a life where one can be free from "thumbs" and "cocks". But social relations are as such that the sucking of "thumbs" and "cocks" are important processes.

The experience of living in our new home is, to an extent, at the mercy of our neighbours. We may have upgraded our flats (although the opposition wards might find that ironic), but we have not upgraded our attitudes.

In order to make peace, I am presented with two options: Suck my "thumb", or suck my neighbour's "cock". Perhaps, due to disempowerment at various levels, my neighbour has found autonomy in the form of unchallenged anti-social activities, such that others are compelled to do the sucking.

At the level of the establishment and formal institutions, their "thumb"-sucking often times inspire people to take matters into their own hands.

"Sorry, this is a minor case." "Sorry, not our jurisdiction." "Sorry, we don't handle this." "Non-seizeable offence!"

Recipients of such responses often juggle with the thought of taking justice into their own hands, or simple take their hand and suck their "thumb". In Singapore, some random person can punch you in the face and can get away with it. A crazy auntie (not related) can hit you with various weapons, but if you floor her with a clothesline or shoved your thumb into her eye (forms of self-defence) to subdue her, you could be in greater trouble than her. I'll probably talk more about self-defence next time.

On the one hand, we are given "thumb"-sucker responses, on the other, we are told to refrain from taking the law into our hands (I think about doing that all the time any way). It ultimately leads to a society of "thumb"-suckers. And in a society of "thumb"-suckers, one increases one's chance of being socially mobile (upwards of course) by engaging in "cock"-sucking.

"Hi, I think your under-aged son is smoking today."
"Hi, your wife is still menstruating!"
"Hi, I guess you were too tired to cook today. Is the economy rice stall good?"
"Hi, how big is the basin you use to handwash your clothes?"
"I'm glad you're kicking the habit, because you've thrown the cigarette box out the window too."

And I just thought of a song in the tune of "My Name Is Luka".

Hi, my name is Sam Ho. (one half of the ang mo pai newly-weds)
I live on the "di4 san1" floor.
I live downstairs from you.
I don't think you've seen me before.

If you smoke something late at night.
Some kind of Marlboro you had to light.
Just don't throw it on my 'con. (air-con)
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.

I think it's because I'm angry.
I try not to talk too loud.
The pad is sanitary!
It fucking doesn't float like clouds!

What you have done just make me cry,
That you are an eff-ing chao chee bye! (a mean-spirited piece of female genitalia)
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.

Yes I'll call N E A. (National Environment Agency)
T C, N P P again. (Town Council & Neighbourhood Police Post)
I'll repeat what I would say.
It's bureaucracy any way.

I guess it's better you live alone.
And cluster-fuck with what you've thrown.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Transgender Engendered Agenda

After attending SGButterfly's anniversary celebration last Saturday, I thought a lot about the transgender identity.

My research topic for my Masters Thesis is (at the moment) on transgender representations.

There are so many questions to be asked and so much to be learned.

And there are so many ways of looking at the topic. Methodologically and discursively, it is a headache, nevermind the subject matter itself.

I still feel it is inadequate to use feminist or queer theory to look at the formation and negotiation of the transgender identity.

Is transgenderism a reproduction of gendered discourse, or not? How?

What is the transgendered lens of viewing? Are we able and should we be viewing it through the male, female, trans-male, trans-female lens? Is the selection of lenses a mere reconfiguration of dominant gendered discourses?

I'm not looking at nor using "third gender" discourse, and it is theoretically so difficult to understand and conceptualise the transgender identity. I guess that is the plight of a "not" studying an "is".

Not to romanticise or patronise transgender studies, but I realise it is a lot more complex (in my opinion) than queer studies. It is so difficult to categorise (if we had to) transgender identities that although it appears that most of us have put the "T" in GLBTQ, we forget that the "T" is not entirely about sexual difference, but incorporates "difference" based on gender identity. Heck, I am even hesitant now categorising them as "sexual minorities".

"Transgender" could be a category on its own, but in such an environment now, the voiceless and oppressed have to form alliances and help one another.

Any how, I look forward to getting my research in order and reading up on transgender studies. Even within the academic community, there are disagreements in this field. I guess that is part of the beauty that is learning.

On another note, having been an audience to a handful of transgendered performances, I have the following thoughts:

1) Where are the men? Why are women, womanhood and femininity being portrayed more than masculinity?

2) In my opinion, some of the shows are a celebration of (new) womanhood and the feminine identity, and sometimes a critique or satire on the performer's past. It is a happy and dramatic concoction of humour, courage and show(wo)manship. Or is there too much of a reading into them?

3) Essentially, through the performances, I feel hyperfemininity is being reproduced. Is this a satire on dominant/hegemonic femininity or a critique on the need for social assimilation?

4) An unrelated thought: Why do some gay men dress in drag (as women) and perform? Is it because while they identify as homosexual, they appreciate the aesthetics of femininity? What are other possible explanations?

5) Why is masculinity not celebrated? Or is the stage not the best place for this?

6) Traditionally, in male-dominated domains, women perform for men. Is the male-to-female transgendered performances a critique or a reproduction of this? I understand many transgendered persons have to make a living and also save up for surgery, so performance may be avenue, while some are driven to enter the sex trade because of discrimination at various levels. So, are performances the choice of the privileged (like most of us) or the choice of the transgendered? Is miming to the music symbolic of anything?

7) I've watched Kumar's stand-up comedy and dance routines, where he dresses in drag. Is he paying a tribute to transgendered performances (other than celebrating and expressing his feminine side)?

8) Ultimately, the people who perform are not representative of everyone who is transgendered. But what is the significance of these performances? How, if we can, do we situate these performances in the context of hegemonic masculinities/femininities?

There are more thoughts than the ones mentioned. In the end, we have to challenge our own pre-conceived notions of gender and the male/female dichotomy.

There are so many questions, which is the most unsettling thing especially when you want to know the answers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blocked TV: Am I a bad programme?

I was celebrating the upcoming public holiday (Hari Raya) at Botak Jones in Braddell/Toa Payoh with a friend on Tuesday night, but later went to my wife's place to watch the taped version of Channel News Asia's BlogTV "Am I gay?" episode.

Being a GLBTQ-focused media studies researcher, you have to be really sensitive/sensitised to texts, images, news and representations of sexual minorities across various media.

My wife also figured it be an interesting segment, because it is not very often a Singaporean television programme deals with such issues.

We endured the excruciating opening music and the pre-advert fillers. The quality of opening music in almost every English programme from Mediacorp is not just bad, it's painful. Maybe it's there to build some character in our viewers.

There we sat watching, hoping to hear something interesting about homosexuality and how people would deal with homosexuality. After all, the title of the segment was "Am I gay?", so it definitely had to be about gay-ness/homosexuality and its accompanying struggles. Given it is mainstream television programming, at the least they should have discussed and debunk the myths of homosexuality and provide suggestions as to how we can be more accepting of homosexuality.

Thanks to cutting-edge editing, which means they have cut out probably most of the rigorous and critical engagements with the issue of homosexuality, the programme devolved into a discussion on sex education. Sure, homosexuality is and should be a component in sex education in Singapore, but isn't the programme about homosexuality itself, rather than a (un)related topic?

I remember (later) watching American Pie: The Naked Mile on HBO after that and it was cut/censored very badly, that the transition within and between scenes was so abrupt it made the viewing unenjoyable. I suspect CNA's BlogTV has done the same. The discussion could have been way longer than the 20+ minute show that was aired. The final product is unfocused, disoriented and shallow, and made the "schoolboy error" of not keeping to the topic. Worse, they had to torture us with the bad music.

It didn't help that there was not enough discussion on debunking the myths of homosexuality, such as its association with paedaphelia, sexual transmitted infections and so on. There was only a presentation of the problem: the populist associations. But no engagement with the problem.

Perhaps the aim of BlogTV was not to discuss issues seriously, but to flex their technological savvy muscle. They did a good job demonstrating video-conferencing and all the fancy gadgets. In staging the discussion on a young and hip backdrop, they would have thought they would engage the larger youth population. Maybe if they tried doing a hip-hop dance for an intermission, wore some bling-bling and spoke like a sub-urban African American, they would have caught the attention of ALL Singaporean youth, and CNA's ratings would have skyrocketed.

When the show closed, the two hosts gave their opinions and I felt, given the editing, they should not have invited the 4 guests at all. They should have just let the two hosts talk to the camera and I do not think there would have been a difference. Who are the two girls any way? Are they BlogTV viewers who got invited on the show?

At the least, the show could have made some effort in using the proper respectful and maybe politically correct vernaculars. They could have not used "homosexual" as a noun but as an adjective, because a "homosexual" is more than just his/her sexuality. "A homosexual man/woman" is a better term. In fact, "a self-identified homosexual man/woman" would be a lot more respectful. The same goes for "gays" (as a noun) when it can be used as an adjective, e.g. "a gay man/woman".

In listing the stereotypical and misinformed associations with disease and social ills, BlogTV has reinforced the stereotypes that are associated with homosexuality, because it did not deal with them critically and talk about how these stereotypes have originated and been perpetuated.

BlogTV has been way too ambitious, thinking they could tackle or problematise homosexuality in Singapore in less than half an hour. Perhaps they might have got the "cheap pop" they wanted in ratings by airing a show that deals with a contentious topic. But the development and ending of the programme simply shows the lack of substance and direction, and myself as a viewer feeling that the four guests have wasted their time being on the show.

I remember doing a post-production interview for Channel Five's "A War Diary" in 2001. Remember that show? I was the bespectacled writer of the diary (but there was no mention of the diary until the last of the 20 episodes!). The interview lasted about half an hour, but in the "behind the scenes", I "spoke" for about 30 seconds. Of course, the gaze were on heavyweights Tan Kheng Hwa, Tay Ping Hui, Whinston Chao and the emerging Fiona Xie. No sour grapes there, but it was definitely a waste of time and saliva (used for speaking).

If I had the opportunity to run a segment on "Am I gay?", I would invited the anti's and the pro's. I would invite various religious and racial representatives to give their views and rationalities on homosexuality. There will be panels of experts from both sides to give their views too. Essentially, the show could conclude that for every perspective on homosexuality, it may have a political or religious background. Whatever the case may be, it is up to questioning/struggling individuals to decide from whom they would want to seek help/attention, and these individuals deserve to be fully aware of the resources that are available for them.

On the sex education part, I think Singaporeans need to be open about it. Rather than being authoritative and using sex education as a scare-fest of disease-ravaged genitalia, they should teach responsible sex. At the most, if they wanted to moralise, they could discuss and moralise sex with/without love/commitment, and their consequences. Responsible sex is safe sex. Responsibility is safe sex.

"We don't care what you do with your body, so long as you are responsible from the beginning to the end, and do not cause harm and distress to yourself and your loved ones. Don't be a statistic for some phenomenon." would be my message.

Other thoughts: The role of the school has changed too. Seems to me the school is the third parent, which says a lot about parenting today.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Made in China

What is wrong with China?

I'm not sure about what others think, but there is a considerable section of Singaporeans who feel "made in China" products are inferior.

Perhaps such a sentiment, even among heartlanders, might give everyone a chance to be elitist in some way. We hail technology on the one hand, and on the other, we scoff at the inferiority of mass production.

(Relatively) Cheap labour, mass production and a tablespoon of poor QC (quality control, along with safety) have facilitated the "made in China"'s world domination. It is definitely a good prospect for the less fortunate, many of whom are unable to afford the products and materials that the relatively privileged enjoy.

Of course, in global materialism and aspiration towards (upward) social mobility, we are engaging in the material world what the linguistic world (societies in England) have done in the Great Vowel Shift. There is the aspiration of social mobility, so we want to possess traits and items that are indicative of a desired way of life and being, from food to furniture to cars.

When ownership of these mass commodities reach a critical level, only will we then bother about the conditions under which they have been made (unless we are told we have melamine in our milk). In doing people a service, "made in China" has done people a disservice. However, we are more ready to grumble and diss than to celebrate the achievements of "made in China".

The colonial mentality in us reinforces the dominance of European and "white" brands, even though they may be qualitatively superior (oops, pardon my anglophilic judgement). Asia, to us, is inferior and we are happy to joke about it.

Another reason for the low cost of production is that "made in China" does not employ a well-oiled public relations machinery to sweeten their product (as in figuratively sweeten; note that lead, benzene, mercury are not sweeteners... sorry, just had to take a few more jibes!). If the same fiasco were to occur in a "made by white people" country/company, the spin machine will go into damage control and isolate the problem. So do note whenever we pay for a product, the money goes into the different domains of its production and post-production.

"Made in China" is a reality and we cannot escape it. It has made everyday life possible. But in times like that, we may turn away from it; but for every turn we make, it stares us back right in the face.

I believe that "made in China" needs more QC (not Queen's Counsel). In that way, we won't have to worry about our melamine milk and the death contraption Cherry QQs (has that car passed any safety test?).

I wonder, if something so pervasive as "made in China" is still deemed inferior, it says a lot of society itself. It's like having to make do with an ugly lover, that some jocks will rationalise "cover the face, bang the base".

Even I am one who thinks that "made in China" is inferior and will opt for "made by white people" brands. Either way, I'm colonised by both.

We're a selectively xenophobic bunch. Our phobia manifests in different ways, how we react towards "made in China" in terms of consumer habits, attitudes and so on (yet we celebrate video aggregation websites from China that play the latest Western dramas). It is kind of odd that this xenophobia informs of a certain kind of taste that is imbued into us, one that derives from specific geographical regions. Think about that.

All the discussion has rekindled my love for 'White Rabbit Brand Sweets'!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cleaning the house

I doubt there is any speck of higher-level thinking in this entry, so it betrays the snooty URL of the blog.

Just came back from cleaning my new place. It is the ritual cleansing most of us have to do. My mum used to do the cleaning when we moved. And now I know the kind of stuff she faced, and moreover, she did the cleaning when she was much older than I am now.

Nevertheless, there is a sense of achievement (after the cleaning) and also a sense of relief, because the guys who did the wardrobe/closet have finally got it right. The drawers were hitting the sliding doors on Monday. And they rectified it on Tuesday, repositioning the drawers, and they still hit the sliding doors. Today, they got it right.

Come to think of it, I enjoy cleaning. Maybe it's the domestic instinct, along with other tendencies such as cooking. Of course, that would go against the dominant gender stereotypes a major part of society is trying so hard to cling on to.

Of course, it gives me the impression that men in Singapore are getting more oppressed, and a lot so, because of the gender stereotypes their predecessors created for them.

As mentioned in previous entries, there is the constant expectation that the ideal man has to be independent (financially, emotionally, etc.) and always take the initiative and be opportunistic. In light of this, the sensitive mama's boy is seen as an inferior product.

Women on the other hand, are able to attain the attributes of the ideal man (financial independence, opportunistic), they do not get the same attention or criticism an "inferior" man gets.

Women are able to enjoy living and celebrating a diversity of identities, relative to that of men. And this is all because of stereotypes and expectations that have been normalised.

It is alright for women to stay home, while a man that stays home is undesirable. In this case, the woman can assume many "ideals", while a man is limited to a handful. Ironically, it is a male-created problem that men are facing. So strong is the stereotype and expectations that both men and women harbour them. The very same men who cheer the achievements and development of women may not be as supportive to the "diversification"/"divergence" of men.

I grow more frustrated at the expectations that align with the beliefs "boys don't cry" and all the other conventional male-oriented ego issues. The fact that there is no organisation for the welfare and esteem of men (is there one?) already shows that. On the one hand, there is the male ego that seeks not your help nor sympathy; but on the other, the male might be too afraid to seek help or sympathy.

Of course, the family, the school, the army, among others, are the institutions that thrive on this ideology. It will be rather destabilising should attitudes change.

If only there is a substantial number of men out there who will speak out about their oppression and not conform to the dominant expectations and values system. There are men out there who are proud to be "homemakers" and not "unemployed", who want to be "sensitive" and not "spineless". There is so much overwhelming negativity towards "wimps" and "mama's boys", that we do not even have conventionally positive terms to substitute them.

At least with a different (and improved) thinking, we will start questioning gender-specific expectations such as chivalry. Why are men expected to be gentlemen? There already are "gentlemanly" women, so why can't men explore and assume other identities?

What is funny is that people do not think that men are oppressed in the first place.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bridging a transgender divide, and more

The Straits Times published my letter today, and for once gave it a decent title/headline.

before I give my thoughts, here is the original letter:

Dear Editor,

I read with interest Saturday’s special feature on members of the transgender community (ST, Sep 6, 2008).

I thank senior writer Wong Kim Hoh for covering the community – a minority in Singapore.

Transgenderism has, for the past few years in mainstream newspapers, been portrayed and associated with humour, self-deprecation, entertainment and sleaze.

The feature is a humble step towards providing the transgender community with the visibility and representation they have hitherto lacked.

I hope the information and education provided in the feature will debunk the stereotypes and prejudices people have of transgender individuals or persons who are struggling with their gender identity.

(omitted section) Such individuals seek not sympathy, but support, respect, equal opportunity and equal treatment. At the same time, they should not be seen as inferior, which is probably a source of the various forms of discrimination the community faces. (omitted section)

As we come to know of their struggles and courage, we should at the same time summon the courage to fight the stigma and discrimination transgendered persons face. It is disheartening to know that even those who support their cause, such as Daniel Kaw, also face such stick.

I make an appeal to Singaporeans to refrain from hurling insults and name-calling at people of a different gender identity. Putting others down does not make one better off.

The stigma transgendered people face is still strong and this drives some into secrecy and hiding. The best the rest of us can do for the moment is to treat them fairly and stop the attacks on their esteem and self-image. This removes at least one hurdle to their integration with rest of society.

With our ignorance and prejudices, we have made such a minority invisible. But with education and some sense of responsibility, we can build bridges.

Ho Chi Sam

-add-

I have to admit that I have purposely used the term "transgender", a superset encompassing the transsexual identity. I feel a bit bad at this lapse because there are differences between the two definitions.

While there are many people trying to grasp the difference in definition of "transsexual" (a person who identifies as a member of the sex opposite to that assigned by birth) and "transvestite" (cross-dresser).

Even among the transsexual community, there are pre-op and post-op transsexual people. Essentially, they want to be recognised by the sex they identify as, but Singapore is rigidly patriarchal and has a strange obsession with penises that our classification of gender/sex and conceptualisation of gender/sex-related issues are based on the presence-and-absence-of-the-penis binary. This is explained by the reference to pre-op male-to-female transsexual individuals as male (e.g. he, him, his, etc.).

There are more invisibles, the female-to-male transsexual people. And among the invisibles, more margins, trans-men and trans-women of diverse sexualities (gay, bisexual, asexual, etc.).

There is also the blessing/curse of the medicalisation and pathologisation of transgenderism/transsexualism. On the one hand, it provides legitimacy for sexual reassignment and empathy, given the dominance of medicalisation as an ideology; on the other, it stigmatises those of diverse gender identity which departs from current societal norms.

I believe now that there are steps taken to improve the visibility of transsexualism and its issues, there should be policy to help the members of the community.

Can they use their CPF for their sexual reassignment surgery?
Can those who identify as male/female be appropriately addressed as male/female (respectively) regardless of being pre- or post-op? (after all, who has the right to tell a person who or how he/she is or should be?)

There is a lot (for me) to learn about the transsexual community, and ultimately transgendered people. As of now, I am bordering on ignorant, in the area of knowledge and lexicon/terminology pertaining to transgenderism. And the only way to go is forward with an open mind.

Sidetracking, I was thinking maybe if you wanted to get a forum article published, you could start by praising the Straits Times. Perhaps instant publication by that standards would simply involve one praising the government.

-Published Letter-

Bridging a transgender divide

I read with interest Saturday's special report about the transgender community ('When Papa became Mama'). I thank senior writer Wong Kim Hoh for covering the community - a minority in Singapore.

Transgenderism has, for the past few years in mainstream newspapers, been portrayed and associated with humour, self-deprecation, entertainment and sleaze.
The feature is a humble step towards providing the transgender community with the visibility and representation they have hitherto lacked.

I hope the information provided in the feature will debunk the stereotypes and prejudices people have of transgender individuals or persons who are struggling with their gender identity.

Such individuals seek not sympathy but support, respect, equal opportunity and equal treatment. At the same time, they should not be seen as inferior, which is probably a source of the various forms of discrimination the community faces.

As we come to know of their struggles and courage, we should at the same time summon the courage to fight the stigma and discrimination transgendered persons face. It is disheartening to know that even those who support their cause, such as Daniel Kaw, also face the backlash.

I make an appeal to Singaporeans to refrain from hurling insults at people of a different gender identity. Putting others down does not make one better off.
The stigma transgendered people face is still strong and this drives some into hiding.

The best the rest of us can do for the moment is to treat them fairly and stop the attacks on their esteem and self-image.

This removes at least one hurdle to their integration with the rest of society.
With our ignorance and prejudices, we have made such a minority invisible. But with education and some sense of responsibility, we can build bridges.

Ho Chi Sam

Reader's reaction

'Excellent.'

MS MALA KRISHNASAMY: 'The special report on Saturday 'When Papa became Mama' was very well done. I learnt quite a bit about transsexuals. I also learnt from the brave individuals who were profiled...these are lessons on life. My thanks to Mr Wong Kim Hoh for his excellent journalistic work and also to all the photographers who produced such nuanced, beautiful pictures for the stories.'

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Class is First Class

Just watched the local show "First Class" on Channel 5. I must say that it is actually a great show.

It is not outright funny due to the common plague that is bad acting, but it's humour is actually quite subversive.

Let us save the better part for the latter and see how shows like this can improve.

The opening and closing music is a huge turn-off, it makes awful sound like a classical symphony. Perhaps the songwriter had to write within the constraints of the theme of the show.

The acting of the kids is also bad, perhaps that is due to the low budget. It would have been better if they found youngsters with better comic timing. Perhaps the scouting/HR could have sweated a little more for this.

Okay, enough of the bad. Time for the good, and quite a lot of it.

The script is first class. "Achiever Secondary School" and "Pan Island Secondary School" are such hilarious names on their one, and their abbreviated forms, "ASS" and "PISS" are a cherry topping.

Stereotypes are played out well and glorified to a hilarious extent, and at two levels, one at the students' and the other at the adults'. What makes a show with many characters memorable (in the case of popular sitcom "Friends" with its cast and supporting cast) is the characterisation and character development. You have the nerd, the jealous/possessive admirer (who called another rival "vixen" if I am not wrong), the beefcake, and the sexual minority.

Speaking of sexual minority, one gay foreign student actually told me that he had watched the show last week and told me there was one gay guy on the show, which is probably why I chose to watch it today. As my research focuses on sexual minority media representation, I am intrigued to find out what's so special about this show.

Not only have I caught a glimpse of the effeminate character (perhaps the only way to represent gay men on national prime time television for the moment), I realised there is even a "tom-boy" female character. Never mind the poor acting, the script actually aims to represent more than just the staple token ethnic minorities (Indian teacher and Malay student, who happens to be playful, and not to mention one Eurasian kid too).

Watching "First Class" reminds me of a revival of humour never seen since the days of the "Ra Ra Show", "Gurmit's World", "The Donny Lee Show" and the like. Back then in the 1990s, these shows were not received well and Kumar's "Ra Ra Show" was apparently, to put it most respectfully, way too advanced for the straight-laced and buttoned-up Singaporeans.

It is a minor flourishing of local entertainment we are witnessing, and "First Class" is not alone. "Police and Thief" and "The Noose" deserve some mention. For the first time in a long time, Singaporean viewers are not fed the politically correct clean and pristine entertainment. Perhaps, there have been changes in Channel 5 and its programmes and they finally realise they are no longer competing with other local channels, but with cable channels and the internet.

"Police and Thief" looks at the stereotypical relationship between the Chinese and the Malay, and the show carefully plays that relationship and its respective stereotypes out. The script is also well-written, although the show could do with a little more money (which is perhaps a problem for every production).

"The Noose", although I have only caught 2 episodes, is quite funny, which reminds me of "Gurmit's World" and "The Donny Lee Show", which have done their part in entertaining us with parodies.

Parodies are subversive, no doubt. But they attract an audience, which are once apathetic. Parodies not only make people laugh, but make them think about themselves. And when you think about yourself and your community/environment, you might be inclined to have some sense of ownership. You know where I am heading.

There must have been some shake-up in Channel 5 that have allowed such shows to be aired. I would love to watch Kumar back on Channel 5, either headlining or starring in his own show. This will show that we have gone back to where we once belonged, rather than progress, as we have regressed since the mid-90s, never mind the success of "Under One Roof" which features the archetypal middle class family with upper-middle class aspirations. We are mature now for Siva Choy-ish Kopi humour, just like we had been in the 1990s, but due to some high-handed moral authoritative decision-making, we have imprisoned our creativity with a chastity belt.

The themes dealt with in "First Class" are current and thus relevant to viewers. What makes it a class apart from "Under One Roof" is that it has multi-layered humour, to cater to kids (in body and in mind) using slapstick and simple humour, at the same time catering to adults (in body and in mind too) with suggestiveness, nuances and parody.

Saved for a couple of jokes that are used (the child's phone prank on the eldery teacher mimicking Bart Simpson's prank on Moe the bartender) and dry (perhaps due to the poor delivery of the inexperienced child actors), "First Class" has a first class script. And we can only expect more interesting stuff from Channel 5, unless some some right-wing moral crusader decides we are regressing.