Wednesday, July 30, 2008

From the white to the red side of Hougang

Greetings, another plug for the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance’s Indignation event at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, August 2, 3pm. Bring your friends along for the interactive forum where we will be addressing the verbal manifestations of discomforts towards queer people (a.k.a. homophobic outbursts or verbal abuse). Ok, end of plug.

I am at the NUS computer lab right now, writing this entry.

It is such a wonderful feeling going back to school and being in a familiar place.
There have been many of my peers and contemporaries (are they the same thing?) who harbour the goal of never wanting to work in an office and be in the drudgery of the proverbial nine-to-five working hours (it is nine to six or more these days). I have never expressed interest in working, because “work” is what society wants me to do. I have an interest, an interest to learn and to know, but most unfortunately such an interest is accompanied by the requirement to study and to teach. We seldom have the opportunity to learn in the way we want to learn any way.

I have been very anxious and frustrated in the past couple of weeks regarding the renovation of my new flat. It is not the contractor, who is a wonderful person, but the various bodies I have to liaise with.

I’m buying the recess area of my flat. The rules state that the owner has to deal with HDB and Town Council to settle the administration. After a few rounds of enquiries, my wife and I felt even more confused.

The guy from HDB branch office briefed us on the process, saying we have to propose the relocation of the recess area light and the cable television unit, and send it to all three bodies (to expedite the approval processes).

The guy from the Town Council came down and verbally told my wife, contractor and I that the Town Council will be settling the relocation of the light.

After calling up the Town Council following almost a week of non-response, the same guy from the Town Council told us to follow the HDB directive, saying the Town Council is not settling the relocation of the light.

My contractor, in the mean time, told me he found out I had to purchase the recess area first, before settling the proposal.

I called up the HDB branch office and was told to make the proposal first, before paying.

Today, I called the HDB branch office again to clarify and I’m told I have to settle the relocation of the recess area light with the Town Council before proceeding with the renovation proposals of the recess area with HDB.

Now, I am waiting for the Town Council to get back to me on the relocation of the recess area light.

So, who will propose the location of the light? Who will physically relocate the light? The Town Council or the owner?

Initially, my wife, contractor and I were under the impression, following our face-to-face communication with a Town Council officer, that the Town Council will be settling the recess area light, but he had indicated that he would have to confirm this with his superior. However, there was no follow-up and I was not updated on the news. Upon calling the same person, he told me to settle it myself and follow the HDB directive in the mean time (i.e. make the proposal first).

So we followed the directive and made the proposal. My contractor feedback that HDB required the light to be relocated first.

I have been screaming a lot of expletives.

Now, let us just wait for the Town Council officer to contact me and we will settle this once and for all.

All these could have been settled a long time ago if HDB could have just gave us a simple plan (not the rock band) telling us, in chronological order, what to do, when to do, step-by-step.

For example:
Step 1: Liaise with the Town Council. Figure out who is going to do what. (also liaise with relevant bodies such as Starhub or PUB)
Step 2: Once the light is relocated, contact HDB and make the proposal and payment when they demand it.
Step 3: Propose the renovation plan for the recess area if applicable.
Step 4: Say bye bye to administrative rubbish by living happily ever after in HDB flat and start producing children.

Very simple! My wife and I are graduates for crying out loud, and we have had trouble understanding what is the simplest process to settling our flat administration. Are we stupid? Do we have Asperger’s Syndrome or something? Why can’t things be simpler? Just send out a simple letter with step-by-step instructions.

My wife has just remarked that we would probably get on our knees and kiss the recess area should we finally complete the administrative process of acquiring and renovating it.

Simply vexing.

I live in the red side of Hougang by the way.

Which brings me to the next topic.

I will be moving from the white side of Hougang to the red side of Hougang.

In the white side of Hougang, it occasionally smells like piss, with the daily random decoration of an eclectic mix of litter (rice, bread, sanitary pads, furniture and so on). This proto-wasteland ecosystem is once in a while disrupted whenever an important person (e.g. MP) arrives; it is cleaned up. Of course, we have to look at the top of the food chain – the irresponsible, ungracious and inconsiderate minority who shower the neighbourhood with more than just their love. They are just one of those minority minorities whom you’d think twice when it comes to fighting for their rights. At the same time, there is little effort done at the grassroots level to ensure that residents have that community spirit and bonding, which can translate to a decrease in the incidence of littering.

Although the red side of Hougang seems old and crippled (transport amenities for one) by some mysterious force (perhaps the hand of the government), it is relatively cleaner and does not smell like piss.

Having voted in Aljunied, I look forward to exercising my precious democratic right/obligation to vote in Hougang. Perhaps it is time MPs ‘go back’ to their constituencies. What we should understand and appreciate is the fact that PAP constituencies with their PAP MPs have the support of their fellow PAP counterparts in the government machinery. No matter how hard the opposition works to get the same upgrading for their constituencies as their PAP counterparts, they will meet a lot of difficulty.

You see, the political opposition does not exist to carry the metaphorical testicles of the ruling party, but that does not give the ruling party the right to cripple them or cast them in bad or disrespectable light in the media.
The vote is feedback, criticism and response all rolled into one. You cannot threaten to beat feedback out of one person, nor can you bribe feedback, because the feedback itself will become less sincere. The vote is an opinion and everyone is entitled to one.

In all honesty, I do not care much about the larger politics of our country. I care most about having a decent place to live in, start a family and aiming towards a debt-free life. If people or groups of people have to make decisions or actions that will affect these plans, I will be obliged to react. This is not apathy, but the romantic pursuit of self-interest (we have many of those by the way). And by “decent place to live in”, I refer to one that is clean and filled more with love than ‘assholism’. There are still people who rattle my esteem by discriminating me as poor speaker of Mandarin despite my Chinese ethnicity, dismissing me as “THAT gay guy” just because I write about sexual minority rights, or who try to think I’m a smart aleck or a prickhead just because I like to sit alone and in front of class. I can do with more love and less ‘assholism’.

Goh Chok Tong talks about winning Hougang. Well, my message to Goh is simple: Just win the hearts of people first, because Hougang is just peripheral. A government can be loved, just like leaders can be loved. But why are there people who hate the government so much? Of course, Hougang may not be “peripheral” if the ruling party has plans to gerrymander, so voters for the opposition will find themselves in the minority whichever new political boundary they find themselves in. One possible solution is to relocate all the other constituencies and group representation constituencies under Tanjong Pagar GRC. It will remove any election anxieties of the ruling party. I would do that if I were in power and am motivated to do anything to stay in power.

I wonder what will happen if PAP won Hougang but lost Aljunied (assuming there isn’t any more gerrymandering till the next elections)? Will Hougang get its mliiions of dollars of upgrading? Will bus services become mysterious infrequent or cancelled in Aljunied? In essence, we should be “Singaporeans first”, not “Aljunied or Hougang residents first”.

I have yet to meet Low Thia Kiang, but he has already sent a welcome letter. So sweet. Of course my white side of Hougang PAP MP also sent me a congratulatory letter on my registration of marriage, but then again, it just shows the nature of information flows within the ruling party and the government. I wonder if Low has that information, so he can wish well other newly-weds in the neighbourhood if he wanted.

I am out of here now. Let us hope that the recess area issue will reach a conclusion by today. I truly despise admin.

The transition into the next chapter of our lives always involves the laborious turning of the page.

Speaking of life, I learnt something interesting from my exchange with Miak Siew. Life is a winding road with many turns and junctions, but when you look back, it is a straight road. This is because of the decisions and commitments you have made and you would not be able to see other routes. So simple, yet so enlightening. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not built for society

I am not a good talker. And when I do speak, one of the following usually takes place:
1) I would speak in Singlish (an English-Malay-Hokkien creole).
2) There is a high probability of my using words which are commonly considered to be offensive.
3) Someone will eventually feel awkward because I have said something popularly deemed to be politically incorrect.

I guess I am not built for society, given my strong disinterest in meeting its expectations.

This week, I will be completing the registration of my Masters candidature with NUS. It makes me happy and excited to be back in an environment where I believe I can be and feel "normal".

I am about to finish my three-month contract with an internet company and I must say that it has galvanised my resolve to go into academia. Apparently, I have little idea what kind of future lies in academia, but so long as the desire to question and learn exists, I feel secure.

One very perplexing issue has been a thorn in my side for the past couple of weeks. There is this Diagnostic English Test, that has apparently been made mandatory for all incoming Arts and Social Sciences graduate students, regardless of nationality or university of graduation.

I have completed my 'AO' General Paper at the 'A' Level examination with an A2, and have attained an A grade for my thesis. I was never required to take the Qualifying English Test, that is required of undergraduate students either from non-English-speaking countries or locals who have attained below the grade of B3 for their General Paper.

In other faculties, incoming graduate Singaporean students or those from English-speaking countries are exempted from the Diagnostic English Test. It is utterly perplexing that I am required to take the test, having been through the Singaporean education system.

I shared the news with my brother and he said that the standard of English has declined. I agree.

I do not want to take the test. It is not because of pride wherein one thinks such a system and test insults one's ability and achievements, but rather the fact that I am one who performs erratically in tests and examination conditions. For all we know, I may "flunk" the English test and will be required to go for English language classes!

It is important to note that such a stance by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the National University of Singapore is reflective of the condition of Singaporean education. Simply put, primary and secondary education is not good enough to produce and sustain a satisfactory standard of English. As such, graduate students (we are talking Masters and Doctorate candidates here) have to sit for English language proficiency tests. Amazing and disgusting.

The test involves spotting grammatical errors, doing a comprehension passage and some writing. Sometimes I do not trust my interpretations of texts, because their intended meanings interact with my opinions, often times leading to another form of "comprehension", which may not be, as how every Singaporean would know as, 'exam standard'.

I had always wondered, from young, why should we sit for the tests that society has set for us? For every examination we sit, we are actually dignifying and justifying the legitimacy of the system, of society. We have "developed" to such an extent where society has its own set of definitions to determine success, and its own set of apparatuses to measure success and individuals; while individuals are robbed of their will and ability to define, determine and measure society.

Society has made it so that we are dependent on money and the rigid processes to attaining the necessities for survival. You need food, but you need money to buy food, so you have to work to earn that money - one legitimate means to survival. Very miserable if you are not in the capacity to work because of physiology and a lethal dose of social or political discrimination.

By following the legitimate processes, we in fact give it legitimacy and justification, allowing for its unnatural longevity, making it rigid and less inclined to change and evolution.

It is such a system in which sickening mentalities are enshrined. We are a society that can believe that poor people are lazy workers.

Problems cannot be individualised nor medicalised, which will lead to their depoliticisation. In this case surrounding my reluctance to sit for the Diagnostic English Test, people might think that NUS is a lousy school because of the poor standard of English. We must consider the system through which the students have come.

In my time, as early as in Primary School, English lessons are functional towards the attainment of good grades. Who cares about foundation? We just practised comprehension and cloze passages like they were mathematical equations. When I reached Secondary School, not many of us knew what a preposition or a conjunction or a collective noun was! Wait a minute, shouldn't all these be taught in Primary School?

Maybe the Ministry of Education has put the cart before the horse. Heck, they just probably bought only the cart because of "pragmatic reasons". Horses just grow old, while carts are immortal and have replaceable parts. So typical of a government that consistently espouses rhetoric of practicality and pragmatism.

The study of English at Primary level was mostly for examinations. I was just very lucky to have a tutor who taught (drilled into) me English grammar, although my standard now isn't as good as it was under her tutelage.

It is true, linguistic and grammatical ability and proficiency can deteriorate. They require practice, in the form of speech and writing. A good example would be my Mandarin (not the orange), which would be comparable to a Primary Three student's. Since I do not speak well nor much, the only practice of the English language comes from writing.

Philosophically speaking, I have always believed we should transcend language, because language itself is confining and limiting. How do we specifically convey instructions or feelings that cannot be communicated using language? We end up using social cues and facial expressions and other gesticulations. Speech, in communication, cannot do without its "crutches".

I hate to talk to people for a couple of reasons - they get offended because of the ideology they hold (that is a people problem); they misunderstand what I say and my intentions (that is my limitation to expressing myself and the limitation of language itself).

Weird enough, to choose not to speak is to transcend speech. Avoidance and independence is a form of transcendence. Speech is an apparatus of society. It does not belong to any one.

Unfortunately, I am entangled in society. I cannot steal or rob or kill or do anything as I please. In order to pursue a goal, which might have been put into my consciousness by society itself, I have to abide by the human-made rules of society.

It is with great reluctance and resignation that I sit for the Diagnostic English Test. I personally see no meaning in it, because it is a tactic employed by an institution that sustain itself in a larger network of other institutions.

One test may be believed to measure and determine the standard of approximately 12 years of formal education, but the extra English language courses/classes cannot easily repair everything.

Students like myself suffer the extra administrative checks and segmentisations, because of the declining standard of English. It is about time we turn the spotlight on the Ministry of Education. Will they be accountable? Or will they blame Phua Chu Kang?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The freedom to hate

Don't you hate it when there are moments in which you knew the right word/term/phrase to describe the events/episodes?

For example, over dinner today, I was wondering under which classification of "logic" the following fell:

Wife: (Dinner's) so expensive. We could use the money to buy books.
Me: But you don't buy books.
Wife: Because they're (books are) expensive.

So what do you call this conversation/logic? My mind is blank. It probably go along the lines of:

Person A: Don't waste water when you bathe. You could water the plants with the amount that you have wasted.
Person B: But you don't own any plants.
Person A: Because I save water.

Maybe it's some off-tangent cross-talk humour. The "reasoner" creates a statement with a justification, using another example, and the attention is refocused onto the item/example discussed in the justification. It's simply quite entertaining.

Onto today's topic. I have read a few books on Marilyn Manson, the persona, the act and the band, as well as his autobiography. Yes, I bought the books and they were not cheap. He sees a problem with American society, that it obsessively embraces political correctness and suppresses hate speech.

On the surface, it seems fine, because people, groups and even individuals (who have their own beliefs) have made themselves vulnerable to being offended. An offended person or group will often seek redress with various types of action and reaction. This upsets any predisposed definitions of "harmony" and "peace".

But in suppressing hate speech, seen as an expression of hatred, a feeling deemed by Manson as real and as legitimate as love, people seek other means to expressing hate. The more permissible (but still probably offensive) means of the expression of hate are destroyed and cordoned off: These include art, music, literature, speech, performance, and other metaphorical and symbolic expressions/parallels of hate. Of course, in Singapore, there is no market for or career in the arts and entertainment, which constitutes one form of "suppression".

How then do people express hate? Some bottle it up. Some express it physically and that is when lives are endangered or taken. After all, hate (to some) is an emotion.

Sometimes it is difficult to discuss an issue such as the "freedom of speech" because to whose freedom is the speech directed? Who becomes freed, more free or un-free?

Considering the rhetoric of responsible speech in the discourse of the freedom of speech, do such advocates actually seek to place restrictions on the notion of freedom and speaking? In this case, such "responsibility" in responsible speech benefits whom and threatens whom?

So why can't we hate and have the freedom to express our hate? To sanction hate is hatred itself for it restricts hatred with suppression and oppression.

If emotions are bits and pieces of our characters, which are subsets of our individual and identity, why are some emotions and expressions suppressed? Is the suppression causing us to think and act the way we are now?

The hater and the hated, or the offender and the offended, have a symbiotic relationship, an interdependent and special bond.

The hater may have been offended into hating.

The hater or offender may just hate.

The offended, on the other hand, needs hate and offence, to qualify and self-identify as offended. To be offended is a reaction. To hate is to act and/or to react.

The basis for a person being offended is his/her individual and group identity, his/her esteem, ideology and beliefs. Without strong and rigid expectations of what healthy and good and morally correct esteem and ideologies should be, how then would be the susceptibility of one being offended?

Hatred may be against a system, a morality, a reasoning, an identity, an aesthetic, so on. Hatred may be the rational or irrational antithesis to the specific thesis.

Unfortunately, there is a system in place that protects the thesis, putting in place a structure which suppresses the antithesis from interacting with the thesis, and forming a synthesis. What we get is continuity, rather than (re)invention, innovation, reflexivity, (r)evolution, change.

In continuity, the power elite retain their political and ideological dominance.

Well, how we deal with hate and hate speech is another topic altogether. What I am focusing on is the manner in which hate is suppressed by us and people around us. The domain of hate is confined to specific areas whereby the public can see how "bad" and unhealthy it is, for example villains in movies, criminals in jail, executed terrorists and so on.

When the speaker of hate gets beaten by a mob which has reacted to his/her speech, who then is wrong? Who then is right? Who has more hate? Who has expressed more hate?

Isn't it weird we are a society that regulates love (censors sex and love scenes in the media, tell scientifically untrue tales to children about the birds and the bees) but permits violence through various media (the news, television, movies, books and so on)?

So, is hate then a symptom of ideology? Is there a belief we hold that affects the balance of our worry, fear, anxiety, grief, enjoy, etc.? Does hate derive from the imbalance of such a belief?

What if we discarded such a belief? Won't the powerful, who have invested so heavily in sustaining this belief in our psyche, now be fearful of the new "non-believer"? In discarding a belief, one acquires a different kind of "knowledge", which now governs one's attitude and behaviour. Now, doesn't that threaten the powerful since the powerful cannot cope with such different episteme?

Assume we are all string puppets. Even though some strings can be severed, others remain. The puppeteer will jerk and pull harder to compensate for the severed strings, and the puppet will be in greater pain (due to greater imbalance of support).

If the puppet totally severs himself/herself from the puppeteer, cutting all strings, conventional knowledge (the fear the puppeteer put into the puppet) follows that the puppet will be lifeless, immobile and incapable.

However, being lifeless, immobile and incapable are only to the benefit and disadvantage to the puppeteer, not the puppet. What about seeing it from the puppet's point of view? Although lifeless, immobile and incapable towards the puppeteer, the puppet may not be such to himself/herself. In the end, the puppeteer needs the puppet, but the puppet may not necessarily need the puppeteer.

Back to hate, hate is a dominant discourse that has been turned into a subversive discourse, hence not seen as politically correct. If love and understanding can be counter-dominant or subversive, why can't hate be dominant?

Well, I have not, will not and can not share my personal view on hate and matters discussed above, as I am firstly not obliged to say so and secondly do not want to offend any one. I must stress that such deductions, inductions, reasonings, derivations, reductions and perhaps generalisations have their limitations and flaws. But flaws give more impetus for continual thinking.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The importance of being socially inept

I will be speaking briefly at an interactive forum on August 2, 2008, 3pm, at 72-13 in Mohd Sultan. The event addresses the gender and sexuality-oriented discomfort as verbally expressed by different people. Crudely put, it has something to do with homophobia. Do attend the event if you want to see what I look like and sound like. *End of shameless plug.

It will be the first time in a very long I will be doing "public-speaking" and facilitating a forum. Butterflies, yes.

For someone who is growingly introverted and anti-social, it feels like growing up all over again and trying to learn how to be social or sociable.

I have noticed a steady decrease in the number of words spoken a day over the years in me. Sometimes there is nothing really much to talk about, because it has become so rational to me not to talk for the sake of talking.

Like an interest, I find writing (or typing for that matter) so much easier. There is also not that great a motivation to seek a reaction from such an expression.

In acting on a belief, engaging people on a face-to-face level becomes part of the package.

Another possible reason why I am reluctant to make (new) friends and maintain contacts is the fact that I hate the idea that we will always be judging one another in our minds. "Nice guy", "mean guy", "type A", "type B", etc. Prevention is better than cure, so I forget about socialising in the first place.

Besides having common and fundamental differences, other persons/people have different stakes in different areas and domains. The decisions they make are in part influenced by the nature of which they hold these stakes.

Every person has an ideology, and along with it a set of expectations. With ideology and expectations, one has defined for oneself the boundaries of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, of love and hate, and so on.

There is thus the strain to achieve consensus. And again, to me, if there is no person, there would not be any need to reach consensus.

The bad thing about being "socially inept" is when one is socially inept in an environment that is negative towards socially inept'-ness'. What is at the same time interesting to note that "socially inept" is a labelled created by the "more sociable" folk. There would not have been any name for it if people did not really bother about it.

To disassociate with people is to divorce oneself from the dominant mode of economic production, and distance oneself from social power dynamics. Unfortunately, there can never be a full disassocation, as society is such that we have to be dependent and dependable (interdependable) to survive.

Here, even the notion of "survival" is laced with ideology of the dominant group. Why the need to "survive"? Who else will benefit from such "survival"?

Although I will be speaking for a short while in front of a small group of people, I still feel that may not be the best way for me to reach out to others. Nevertheless, it is for a cause I believe in and this is the medium (at the moment) to be used to spread the awareness.

Persons evolve, like from the worm to the social butterfly, and the other way around. Maybe I might see a point in being a little more sociable. But being sociable involves being able to perform and reproduce socially acceptable norms (of the group), and it does not help that since everyone has an ideology of their own, they will still be susceptible to being offended in some way or another.

It would be a paradox if I formed a group advocating non-discriminatory treatment for introverted and socially inept persons, as being part of a group and believing in a common idea defeats the whole purpose of one's individual identity.

It is more of a paradox from my point of view, that in order to be deemed normal, you have to be different (from who you comfortably are); while being different (as deemed by others) would be considered abnormal by others.

Yes, the takeaway point may be that Sam Ho is actually capable of writing 'emo' teenage blog entries, but this is to show that there are introverted and/or antisocial persons out there who should be understood. There are also happy introverts out there, those who have found their inner peace. Not all "socially inept" individuals are sad and miserable.

For the moment, I'm going to make sure this is a moderately successful event. So please attend it, whether you're straight, queer, questioning, or however you comfortably identify yourself.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Racial and religious harmony cannot be just a wayang

(I didn't bother sending the following to the Straits Times after drafting a reply. Must be one of those days.)

I read with interest Jeffrey Law's letter 'Mosques show our multi-religious spirit' (ST, Jul 17).

What various religious organisations and places of worship have done over the years was to engage the community with volunteer and welfare work.

They may have a strong sense of civic consciousness, compassion and responsibility, as observed from such community-oriented initiatives.

However, it cannot be taken for granted, as such initiatives are still not indicative of multi-religious spirit, nor do they entirely contribute to racial and religious harmony.

Volunteer and welfare work is should be racially and religiously blind, among many other impartialities and neutralities. It will only deepen the divisions of our society should community-based volunteerism be confined to related or selected racial or religious communities.

To invoke the rhetoric of racial and religious harmony at times reinforces our differences and awareness of these differences.

Compassion, goodwill and volunteerism may be exercised by people and organisations within and outside socio-religious spaces, but our concept of harmony should not merely be based on the observation of these acts.

I believe racial and religious harmony should be appreciated at the ideological level.

If every Singaporean truly believes in and is willing to uphold such harmony, the acts of compassion and volunteerism are just a bonus.

Ho Chi Sam

Monday, July 14, 2008

Practising a lifestyle

"So Sam, do you know any one who practises that lifestyle?"

Some time ago, that question was innocently shot to me by a friend, who is actually a very morally upright, virtuous, level-headed, grounded, (Christian) God-fearing young man.

From a certain perspective, some say that it may be out of ignorance the manner in which the question was formed. In answering it (yes or no), I would have dignified it. I would have endorsed the view that homosexuality (or sexual orientation other than heterosexuality) is a lifestyle that is practised.

By convention, a lifestyle is seen as something that is adopted. In practising something, there is an allusion to the notion of rational choice, wherein homosexuality is seen as a choice taken up by an individual. Thus, the assumptions that it can be unlearned and discarded as a practice accompany the definition.

Discourse pertaining to homosexuality in Singapore is often steered towards the origins and causes of homosexuality. The gaze and our attention are always focused on these areas.

We come from a society that prides itself in rationalising and reducing complex phenomena to specific and perceived critical variables. Psychiatry and medicine, fueled by politics, creep into the discourse and turn it into the way they want it to be.

Why can't our attention be turned towards the inequalities that are being harboured and institutionalised?

How have social forces come to influence our perception that sexual orientation other than heterosexuality, is a lifestyle?

Why do institutions of power and influence want to monopolise sex and sexual orientation?

Could it be because diversity is difficult to organise, to manage, to dictate, to abuse (unlike homogeneity)?

Although sexuality is part of one's identity and in that respect, part of one's life, it is simply too reductionist to associate that aspect of one's identity as a lifestyle.

Individuals, whether straight or queer, deserve the right to self-identify. It will not help if there exist a people to tell them that "deviant" sexual orientation is wrong, temporary, a choice, and so on. If I am not mistaken, esteem is also part of one's identity and life, and I believe sexuality is intertwined with esteem. Imagine people making fun of your "small dick" or "airport tits".

To hammer "deviants" into conformity, society hits below the belt by shaking the esteem of individuals who struggle to find or even love themselves. It thus can be very insulting if you labelled a person's sexuality as a lifestyle when he/she believes it to be an integral part of his/her identity, character or even life.

As written last year, I have questioned the definition of the "gay lifestyle". It is more of a stereotype than anything else, perhaps to steer the rest of us away from its perceived corruptive influences. What then is the "straight lifestyle"?

There are "loud" gay men. There are also "quiet" gay men. Same goes for other queer and questioning individuals in our diverse society. And the same goes for straight people too.

During my reservist training, the guys indulged too often in conversations about women and sex and all that, perhaps to reinforce their masculine dominance and libido. Macho talk and all. Would that not qualify as the "straight lifestyle"? Moreover, why can't gay men talk about men, if straight men can talk about women (and even objectify them)?

The role of taboos and rules are observed to keep our society in order. But I believe there exists an immaturity that prevents us from creating an order in diversity. The presence of taboos and rules (and OB markers) helps create conformists, such that order is built on homogeneity. This is explained by a well-disciplined press system and a harsh penal code.

As such, it appears that this society is one that does not belief in an order moulded in diversity. Hence, we dismiss difference with our own set of socialised and predefined vocabulary, i.e. "gayness is a lifestyle".

I hope one day, our society will be more open towards diversity, other than those which are defined and limited by the government. Diversity is beyond age, religion and ethnicity - beyond the Chinese boy interlocking arms with fellow token ethnic minorities, beaming from ear to ear and that kind of stuff.

Diversity exists in physical ability/appearance, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, political beliefs and so on. If we can bring ourselves to understanding and appreciating difference, we can and will be able to understand and appreciate diversity as we will be less inclined to discriminating based on differences. That quite simple in theory, but if there is a lifestyle I will encourage others to practise, it would be one of asking questions with the goal of wanting to learn.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The fellator, the irrumator and the rimmer.

It is often entertaining when the most widely distributed (I have not mentioned “widely read”) newspaper, the Straits Times, publishes outrageous letters once in a while to tickle the belly of the Singaporean population.

Syu Ying Kwok, among a handful of regular letter writers to the press, had wrote a hymn of a praise to the establishment. While there is nothing wrong with an individual expressing his or her opinion and views, it is sometimes incomprehensible the frequency at which the Straits Times publishes letters which are deemed to perform the metaphorical acts of fellating, tea-bagging and rimming (as aptly described in one Chinese dialect).

While the fellating of the metaphorical penis, the irrumating of the figurative scrotum and the rimming of the imagerial anus of the state and establishment may be self-inspired and consensual, many are often quick to point out that the fellater, irrumator and/or rimmer has bought into the dominant ideology of the establishment.

Insensitive comments (about Tan Lead Shake) aside, a person like Syu Ying Kwok is entitled to express his admiration and support for the government and its leadership. What makes some of us cry foul is the fact that letters criticising the government often do not get published, illuminating a stark imbalance of “public opinion” as presented on the famous English daily.

There is also a complex, in which exists a perception that should a person praise the establishment and those in power, he or she is seen as a willing fellator, irrumator and rimmer. The government becomes anthropomorphised into a man's appendage – penis, scrotum and anus (with buttocks) and all.

Political conservativeness here seems to be regarded as to have intimate oral relations with the lingum of the one-party government. I have glanced through a few online forums, whose entries have associated Syu as a person who metaphorically orally pleases the phantom private parts of the power elite.

Our attention should be turned to the media that so indulges in such acts of political fellatio, irrumatio and rimming, almost fetishist and exhibitionist in its support for the government. Here, the media is the lapdog, not a watchdog.

Everyone has a right to express his or her views and ideas, and should be able to do so without fear, without facing discrimination and without facing violence. Apart from his views on Tan Lead Shake (again), Syu should not be discriminated against for his support for the government and its leadership.

It is very interesting how dominant discourses and forms of soft-soaping, curry-favouring and apple-polishing are often greeted with subversive discourses – in the form of ridicule, criticisms and dismissals. What do we ultimately achieve, from the viewpoint of Hegelian synthesis between the thesis and the antithesis?

The synthesis becomes a “new” thesis – what I observe to be the continual usage of sexual metaphors in the critique of political conservativeness. But I am sure androcentrism still lingers on in the repeated usage of male-oriented sexual imagery.

Essentially, the acts of fellatio, irrumatio and rimming are commonly associated with sexual submission to the appendage and orifice of the male. In heterocentrism, the admirer and supporter of the establishment is seen as either the submissive “woman” or the genetically and psychologically inferior “male homosexual” whose role is to orally stimulate the sexual organ of the state. The supporter is then seen as a willing sexual servant or slave. The supporter is seen as a “vagina” (since the mouth would be one proxy for the female anatomy), receiving the “penis” of the government. In another subversive reading, we could say he/she is an asshole (literally and metaphorically) that is being (duly) penetrated by the political elite.

In criticising a believer, admirer and supporter of the establishment like Syu for example, those who christen him with the title of the fellator, the irrumator and the rimmer, are in fact not only reinforcing dominant gender and sexual norms, but also making suggestions of an imbalanced dichotomy in which the heterosexual male is king.

Subversive political discourses, which counter dominant political discourses, still employ and maintain dominant gender and sexuality discourses. This makes society fertile for the continued perpetuation and sustenance of homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Sucking the penis, blowjobs, handjobs, licking the scrotum, carrying the scrotum, kissing the buttocks, licking the anus – these are all literal translations from the various Chinese dialects used to describe people who express their admiration and support for the political higher-ups. However, the same language is not commonly used in other domains, such as in the immediate familial and in socio-religious domains. This is how a society comes to define the areas, boundaries and limitations for dominant and subversive discourses.

It is also suspiciously Freudian that the logo of the ruler party, the People's Action Party, is one of a reddish (with excitement) phallic lightning placed majestically over a gaping “vagina” of a circle. The phallus is the figure of power and dominance, ready to make the active decisions and conquer the submissive vagina beneath it.

Is the “vagina” the people and the “penis”/lightning the state? We are after all constantly impregnated with the rhetoric and ideology of the ruling elite, and occupy ourselves with materials that distract us from questioning the system which perpetuates this. Taxes, the rising cost of living, the fear of political expression and so on, would be the deposited “semen” that lies dormant in the people, who are not prepared to be “pregnant” and are thus for the time-being too burdened to finding the answers rather than asking the questions. You get the rest of the imagery.

Rather androcentric and bordering on misogynist (Freud, what!). But it is always entertaining to appreciate the ironies that exist in our lives and society. You cannot change how people think, but you can observe how their thinking contributes to discourse.

I will never see the PAP logo in the same light again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Syu Insensitive

(Unpublished - Jul 9, 2008)

I refer to Syu Ying Kwok's letter 'Five years? MM Lee's estimate was optimistic' (ST, Jul 8).

Syu made a comment about opposition politician Tan Lead Shake's “tragic event in his family” and referred to Tan having contested in the last three elections, in which a small percentage of voters are alleged by Syu to have “little consideration of his credentials or abilities”.

The irrelevant and utterly insensitive statement should not have made its way on a newspaper which prides itself on integrity and credibility.

Tan has been wrongfully discredited as a politician, and audaciously insulted as a human being.

We have been engulfed with the rhetoric of vigilance and complacency in light of Mas Selamat's escape. However, it is completely incomprehensible such comments are published.

While praises and soft-soaping of the establishment are tolerable in the mainstream press, the media should exercise some responsibility when conveying messages that wrongfully discredit or insult individuals.

If such decisions and actions are meant for “nation-building”, a role tagged to the press by the government on many an occasion, it is time to reconsider whether there is a justification for the publication of irrelevant, tactless and offensive material that misrepresent individuals. Nation-building should not be committed on the destruction of persons who constitute the nation.

It is tolerable for the press to be conservative and government-friendly, but it is very bewildering and disgusting such comments are published.

Ho Chi Sam

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mas Selamat was at my ROM

(Again, please do not take the title in a literal sense. There are tons of sensitive people out there, but the possibly larger number of mis-readers is what frightens me. Post is about the omnipresence of the said person's posters.)

While serving my compulsory national service reservist training, I was greeted with a decent number of Mas Selamat posters.

Such are the quantity and branding of Mas Selamat posters that they far outnumber and perhaps outdo other posters and portraits of say, the President of Singapore, S.R. Nathan.

Mas Selamat, an alleged terrorist, is a wanted fugitive. The state, with a poster campaign that would embarrass any incumbent Member of Parliament campaigning for votes for his/her constituency, has turned him into a celebrity.

Mas Selamat is portrayed as dangerous, but he is equally as mysterious because most of us do not know who he really is and what he does. Though not very well-liked since he is viewed as the “bad guy”, he is wanted (pun intended). Is that not considered ‘sexy’ for any modern day celebrity?

The message in the posters is dead serious, but I am amused by the way in which these posters find their way in every nook and cranny of our daily lives. He lies there in the background, watching all of us; watching a society that should be watching out for him.

When I went to school, Mas Selamat was there.

When I got married, Mas Selamat was there.

When I went for my reservist, Mas Selamat was there.

When I made my way to the toilet, Mas Selamat was there.

Such ubiquity of a single individual is probably only matched by the silent presence of the state in our daily lives.

Though portrayed as the villain, the machinery that has established the omnipresence of Mas Selamat has inadvertently made him into a hero and a powerful being.

Campaigners for political power and dominance have put up posters. Fans have put up posters of their idols. We have pictures of the President and the First Lady in most government places.

Pictures of individuals that are prominently positioned in public places (nice alliteration, huh?) usually mean either one of the following two things, to generalise a bit: The pictured is either in a position of power, or wants to be in a position of power.

If going by this general reasoning, where does Mas Selamat stand? Is he already in a position of power such that his imagery is so potent? Or are we wanting him to be in that position of power?

It is apparent everyday is Election Day wherein the sole candidate is Mr Mas Selamat. We do not need to go to the voting booth to vote for him because he is already in our minds and hearts.

It may seem like the straightforward nationwide campaign to engage the public to assist in finding the fugitive, but in a twisted sense, we have glorified and promoted a new hero and celebrity. It is almost fetishistic that a short man with a limp becomes the centerpiece of mass production.

Perhaps the sheer number of posters will divert the publics’ attention towards one (and I stress, one) villain. The whole purpose is to villainise and demonise the man, but if the process actually turns him into a hero, it will come to a point where the machinery that turned him into a hero, will be seen as villainous.

Mas Selamat has a greater presence than S.R. Nathan, Zoey Tay and probably Lee Kuan Yew, just simply because of his posters. Even Huang Na in her media frenzy heyday could not rival Mas Selamat. Starhub with its early aggressive marketing campaign will also take a hat off to the poster campaign that has launched Mas Selamat into superstardom. I shall refrain from talking about Jesus because John Lennon had made a point about it in the mid 1960s.

It is a nationwide effort that brings Singaporeans together for one cause – to help find the mystery man. Now we can draw comparisons between the imagery of Mas Selamat (not the person) and other important figures in history. Imagine that, a poster of a man is being used to unite people. Even if that does not take Singaporean nationalism to another level, we can be sure that individuals like Lee Kuan Yew, Otto von Bismarck, Mahatma Gandhi, William Wallace, and more, probably had to sweat and sacrifice a lot more to spread/convey even half a message.

Posters of persons are put up because of another set of two reasons: We either love them or fear them (and sometimes both). Do we fear Mas Selamat? Probably, because he is after all thought to be very dangerous. Do you love Mas Selamat? Given the fetishistic campaign and media frenzy, it seems there exists a fixation with the personality.

Will this campaign end if he is found? Or will Mas Selamat be inadvertently immortalised?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Famili-nation

Back from reservist. A lot has been invested into making national service reservist personnel feel comfortable. There is an internet room, gym, swimming pool and other recreation rooms. Still, most of us are affected by the usual Singaporean existentialist dissonance: Why are we doing this? For what?

It is funny how a construct that is the nation tries to force itself into reason and moral ethical discourse.

One commonly present sense of moral obligation, which involves the love for and willing defence of one's family, has been hijacked by the nation, resulting in the rhetoric that links family with the nation.

The state creates a conservative system wherein the family is seen as a microcosm of the nation. We are rewarded, in the form of immunity from discrimination and harassment, if we respected our elders and the people in relatively higher positions of power. There are thus similarities between the structure of the family and that of the nation, worth exploiting.

The family (blood or water) is such a powerful symbol that we become "morally vulnerable" whenever it is evoked. The sense of duty is packaged with the feelings of love, guilt and other powerful and affective emotions.

When brought up and authoritatively discussed by the state to justify national defence, which indirectly encompasses the preservation of the status quo of the state's political dominance and power, the concept of the family becomes monopolised by an entity outside the family, rather than the concerned family itself.

The form of the family, with persons in positions of power and influence and in positions of dependence, is juxtaposed with that of the nation, consisting a powerful government which has the legitimate right to commit murder (i.e. death penalty).

As such, other forms/manifestations of the notion of family are suppressed or invisibilised, making way for a dominant discourse which primes this one type of family as the "correct" one.

Like the nation, the family requires an economic structure to sustain itself. It will be very interesting if ever we could note that the state had ever imposed a particular mode of economic production/sustenance on the family, to ultimately sow the seeds for conservativeness and maintenance of existing power structures.

As such, our "love" for the nation is one that has in a way been carved out of a type of reasoning into which we have been socialised. It will thus seem rational, reasonable and logical to accept a discourse which involves the entities of the family and the nation.

Speaking of family, it appears that most of us modern-day Singaporeans seem to have a common view of the family and what it should constitute. I met one peer during my reservist training and learned that he had been married for 4 years and has a two-year old daughter. That surprised me because he was actually studying in the same university as I was.

Then we start to question, how can students have families?

I think we should start questioning the socialisation processes which have come to shape how and why we ask certain questions (of course, putting aside the perceived and legitimate practicalities of income, financial stability/independence and so on).

Why should the/this rationality for the creation/starting of a family be a monopoly? Truly intriguing.

Any how, I look forward to beginning (again) my studies as I enjoy being a student. With the world and possibly anything as a mentor and teacher, how can one not love being student?

I believe a teacher needs a student to teach; but a student doesn't need a teacher to learn.