Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sorry I don't believe in NS

Read the article by Joel Tan on National Service. In it, he talks about being called up for in-camp training during his undergraduate study.

In truth, the government and the various ministries and statutory boards do not share information, unless you are a political dissident or deemed dangerous to the ruling party (then you will be checked rather thoroughly by the internal security department).

But Tan's suggestions are definitely useful for the parties involved. In all cases when it comes to policy, the citizen should be the winner.

By the way, I have already gone through four in-camp trainings, all during the mid-year vacation of my four years of undergraduate studies. I felt really discouraged to go for any internship like most of my peers, because of the disruptive nature of the national service obligation/liability.

I am not so lucky next year when a two-week in-camp training clashes with my semester. In fact they will enjoy the savings in renumerating an unemployed graduate student. I doubt the Ministry of Defence (MinDef) will send a representative to fill in for me, help me do my readings and research in the two weeks of my absence. It would be very interesting too if they could assign some to write to the press, on my behalf, to advocate sexual minority rights and equality. But they will not do that, because I am only valued by the NS rank I hold.

Even when I did a contractual stint at an internet business, I had a six-day downtime. All MinDef would do is provide a monetary compensation pegged to the wage I earned as stipulated in my contract. They might have forgotten that "talent" (assuming I am talented) is worth more to the company than just the wage.

My case may be a "small fry" case, but there are always examples out there in which (private) businesses and enterprises will feel shortchanged when their Singaporean-born talents have "down-times".

For example, Company A pays a talent $6000 a month. A 15-day reservist training comes aknocking. MinDef tells Company A they need not pay for the 15 days of the absence of their talent, which amounts to $3000. This is equivalent to taking no-pay leave, but MinDef will compensate the talent $3000. On paper, it seems that nobody loses. Company A does not pay for the absence of the talent. The talent does not lose a single cent of wage. MinDef has its labour.

In fact, I have a problem with "on paper"-ness. Firstly, people are not digits. But unfortunately, policy revolves around that. No problem, since policy protects the interest of these people, ensuring their rice bowl is not shaken.

But what about the companies and enterprises? The absence of a talent for a period of time may result in multiple disruptions, of communication, of projects/gigs, of creative processes. Having someone else to cover or fill in will yield different results, assuming all talents are unique.

The "down-time" may cost the company more money and opportunities, never mind wage savings. It may cost the talent his bonus, commission, career advancement and so on.

In a society and culture which oozes from the ears the rhetoric of meritocracy and the obsession with performance, a company/enterprise has the right to discriminate against Singaporean-born talents. If a talent has a down-time which costs the company some opportunities, the company has every right to refuse to offer him any bonus, commission, promotion, etc. because he is simply absent. How is the government going to protect the Singaporean talent? And of course, to be fair, how is the government going to protect the Singaporean enterprise?

In my limited experience, National Service (thankfully cut from two and a half to two years) is limiting and disruptive. I know of a friend who was a budding entrepreneur, aged 17. He has established his business for 3 years when he was called to serve. His business was obviously affected.

National Service destroys entrepreneurship, the very thing our government is encouraging us to explore. Is the state encouraging us to be entrepreneurs after National Service? The whole idea that "there is a time and place for everything" does not apply to everything. You have to develop at an early age our local talents and creative minds, not crush the remnants of their youth with low wage forced labour.

I have caught glimpses of the underground music scene for a couple of years, a few years back. There are very talented musicians out there. As a musician myself, I feel their pain. Music is all about expression. I guess I have found another avenue for expression, in the form of academia, although I consider it a lot more inferior form of expression to music.

The only reason why I am obedient to the country and serve my National Service is my fear of incarceration. I value my freedom (although ironically, my freedom is granted to me by the state, which makes me a puppet thinking it is free). My decisions, in this case, is based on an assessment on the implications of my freedom. Like I probably have mentioned before, I serve Singapore out of fear, not love.

Imagine King Xerxes (of the graphic novel and movie, 300) this way. He decapitates those who disobey or disappoint him. So everyone is always cowering in fear of him. They are scared into obedience, which is construed by King Xerxes himself as love. He will think of himself as kind because he perceives his subjects as loving him.

We Singaporean citizens are all the minions who carry the elaborate sedan on which King Xerxes sits. When he dismounts, we all use our bodies to form a flight of steps for him to descend.

There are Singaporeans who are willing and proud to be part of National Service, while there are others who, if given the choice, will choose not to serve. The whole idea of defending a concept and a bunch of symbols representative of Singapore and Singaporean identity is often polished by the government machinery to make it look noble, manly and a duty for all.

We either buy into it or are coerced into following. Either way our participation, or rather, our being "volunteered", legitimises the system. People who question the system are punished.

On a sidenote, I am interested in the concept of "manliness" (as explored in previous articles). It is quite ironic that National Service will turn Singaporean boys into men, only for Singaporean women to think that they are still pampered mamas' boys.

Moreover, in light of the rather Western idea of moving out and being independent, we have a growing culture in which it is perceived to be inferior for one (usually a male) to continue to stay with his parents even into the many years of his adulthood. Of course, in reality, one will need a lot of savings to actually live independently. Moreover, sacrificing two years for National Service puts the male back two years, although the civil service has enforced wage discrimination to ensure what they perceive as balance or gender equality.

Government policy also does not favour independence from one's parents, because such a paradigmatic shift in familial relations and arrangements will affect the larger socio-political macro-cosmos that is the relationship between citizens and the state. That is why the issue of individualism is handled with lots of care by the government, wherein individualism is only celebrated if it has economic benefits.

Times have changed now. The once dominant (and much criticised) are now marginalised - the Singaporean man. Both ego and esteem are continually bashed.

In view of our country's low birth rates, the spotlight is on our single men and women. Of course, women have the right to choose to marry or not and to have kids or not. Policy cannot do much to change their will.

It is to my concern a portion of men have been criticised for being undesirable and simply not good enough for our Singaporean women. It is not because men are evolving to becoming perceptibly weaker as eugenicists would like to have it. The socio-political and economic culture has influenced the way people make decisions, which in turn affect how we are brought up now. That is why, men today, like women, are different from their counterparts of yesteryear.

Most of us are always under the impression that toughness, aggression, decisiveness, and related traits, are desirable and superior. But we forget that these just happen to work well in certain economic systems and modes of productions, that yield the right results for economic prosperity, and therefore should be reproduced.

Toughness, aggression, decisiveness and so on, are meaningless in a vacuum, so too will be their perceived diametrically opposite counterparts in wimpy-ness, weakness, soft-spoken-ness, limp-wristed-ness and so on - all meaningless. Either way, we are all slaves to these definitions.

And speaking of slavery, I bring us back to the topic of National Service. I personally see no meaning in National Service, as the only meaning I see in it is the meanings that have been inscribed/ascribed to it by a political power which exclusively holds the right to commit murder and imprisonment.

Hypothetical question: What if all the men in Singapore resisted National Service? What will the republic do? Can it possibly incarcerate everyone? That is not possible.

But of course, given the strong internal security and intelligence organisations, any one who tries to instigate such a resistance will be imprisoned and made an example of - as in the Chinese saying goes, you kill one to scare many; or you kill the chicken to scare the monkeys.

How can one be loyal to a geographical and symbolic concept any way? Is it rational? If it is Singapore and Singaporean policies that make (some) Singaporeans unhappy, why would they want to serve to protect such a system? If the government is making (some) people unhappy, how is it rational they serve to maintain it?

We have a bad habit of individualising/atomising our problems, which is expected of a country that treats its people like numbers. We depoliticise the examples in which people leave Singapore so that they need not serve National Service, among other reasons, and we blame and criticise them without looking at the larger situation.

As said before, I always loved Singapore. It is where family is. There is nice food, although prices is rising. But the love Singapore has returned to me (not that I expect it) is one of tough love, where I have to do things against my will and principle. I do not believe in National Service, or sacrificing lives for a flag. Like closeted queer persons, this is how some of us live a lie. We have our own beliefs, but in order to fit in, we adopt the beliefs of a group/organisation more powerful than us.

I may just pretend to serve and give my labour power to the state; and that is all that they need. Nothing beyond that, because I am entitled to believing that National Service is not meaningful. Maybe if the government were to offer rewards in the area of public housing incentives, greater tax reductions, and so on, for good performances (and loyalty) in National Service, we will probably be a lot more professional. In a country where people are treated like numbers, there is always a place for mercenary-friendly policies/enticements.

A major reason why some Singaporeans are unhappy with Singapore is that they feel they do not benefit from living in Singapore, never mind the differential levels of individual expectations. If the costs (monetary, emotional, physiological,etc.) outweigh the benefits, they will want to leave. If they cannot leave, because they do not have the means to, they will have to stay (and be a lot less happy). It is as simple as that. For those who feel they have benefited greatly, although they may on occasion pride themselves in being the rare few who are capable of being grateful and do not take things for granted, they will stay and be happy. No one is in the business to make everyone happy, so exit the disbelievers, the disillusioned and the disgruntled.

The rhetoric of a compassionate government is to create the illusion that the government aims to make more people happy. After all, who doesn't like compassion? But it is the very same compassionate government that coerces its citizens to serve it, but under the banner of serving the concept that is the "nation".

The government is in the business of staying in power, not making people happy. It only makes critical segments of the people happy, so it can stay in power. For now, the unhappy National Servicemen are not of the critical numbers. We are just minorities whose voice and opinion mean little.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Square peg round hole

I haven't been posting as much as I would liked to have.

I normally write my articles/rants on Microsoft Word before pasting them on Blogger and publishing them, and I see 3 uncompleted files staring back at me.

Blog updating, and its (in)frequency, is a seasonal thing. I cannot quite find my footing and momentum doing my graduate studies and classes, and there are 5 or 6 assignments that await me during the course of this semester.

It is equally frustrating not having decided what my thesis would be, although the focus will be on sexual minority-oriented media studies, in the area of media representation.

It does not help if much of the coursework has little to do with that area of research. Of course, a student is obligated to fulfill the course requirements, but they appear to be mostly excess baggage. Having aspirations to be an expert in a particular field of research, I probably have to do a lot of self-study while going through the motions and routine of the institution. I feel like a square peg being forced into a rounded orifice that is the University.

It is society and socialisation which helps us assimilate and easily become institutionalised. We are empowered with the accepted social skills so we become slaves to them. We are socialised into internalising the institution, and into reproducing it, so that the institution will live on around us and within us.

I recently got acquainted with some guy through another friend and he is a happy member of the student union. He sees fun in joining its activities and meeting people.

As such, both of us are puzzled at each other's perceptions of fun. I asked him what's the point in joining all these extra activities. He was shocked that I have never at any point of my undergraduate life joined any group or society, nor had the interest or consideration to.

Both of us were equally curious and astounded. Of course, I sensed that he thought I was crazy for not wanting to be part of any student-related activities, confounding the kind of social behavioural logic he is accustomed to. Yet, both of us are equally satisfied with what we are doing.

So who is the square peg, or who is the round hole (ignoring the Freudian connotations of course)?

It is our individual beliefs system that has created the round hole for us, and our identity, often being a square peg, is a source of dissonance.

Some people need the help of others (and their presence) to know who they are, while others have less of a need for that. Is the identity of the latter thus more misformed and underdeveloped? Does that imply the identity and self of the former are more developed?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

SDU & SDS merger alarming!

(A parody combining the various rhetoric we have heard time and again.)

As a nation whose leadership was once based on the guiding principles of eugenics, I am appalled by the merging of the SDU (Social Development Unit) and the SDS (Social Development Service).

Inter-racial marriage was the slippery slope and now we have degenerated and devolved into inter-intellect marriages. If we allow inter-intellect marriages, how will we be able to draw the line on incest and bestiality? It is moral dilemma.

It is simply unnatural that a graduate and non-graduate get hitched. I mean, it is just wrong!

This nation was founded on the brains of graduates and post-graduates, the latter of course being a better breed than the former. It was their brains that created such a lovely place that is Singapore, never mind the sweat and blood of the non-graduates.

Such mixing of the blood of non-graduates and graduates is utterly disgusting and the thought of it makes me cringe. Have they not thought of the consequences of such inter-intellect marriage? Think about their children! What will happen if their children cannot be pure graduates? Their blood will be tainted by the blood of a non-graduate. Think about the stigma they face from their graduate peers!

I urge the government to strongly reconsider this merger of the SDU and SDS. We should keep the graduates and non-graduates separate. We should upkeep the gulf between graduates and non-graduates. This is the stratified diversity we have always been enjoying.

Heaven forbid such mixing. We will lose our graduate identity if we do not protect it. Our children are being influenced by Western ideas of “blind love” and “follow your heart”. We should exercise greater censorship to protect the graduate-non-graduate dichotomy that is integral to our society and morality.

If hybrid or pariah children are born from inter-intellect marriages, what will their chances of career advancement be? The non-graduate genes in them will corrupt their morals and intellect, and they will not be top scholars, but ordinary scholars! This is blasphemy.

The reproduction of graduates is important to the advancement of the graduate community, because they know the right policies to benefit themselves. To even have a drop of non-graduate blood running through your veins will easily destroy this fragile system. We cannot be complacent and allow this to happen.

If more hybrids or pariah children are born, newer minorities are created. Our society has been kind enough to accommodate various minority groups, but the generosity of the graduate leadership and tax-paying community should not be abused.


God be willing that there are still some sensible pure graduate couples out there who will reproduce for our beloved fatherland. It is simple logic and only natural that a male graduate and female graduate will produce a graduate baby, but there are a lot of non-graduates who do not appreciate that fact, which led to the removal of the graduate wives scheme.

Non-graduates are simply not educated enough, reproducing like stray animals. This led to the “stop at two” policy, which applied to everyone, because the graduate leadership wanted to make it look fair to all, but they always needed more graduate babies.

Their shallow wit means that all policies have to made to look as though they applied across the nation. The thing is, we do not want non-graduates to mate too often or we will lose our competitive edge.

With newer pro-family schemes in place now, non-graduates should know their role in society and try not to outnumber the graduates. I urge graduates to outproduce their non-graduate counterparts, so we can establish a high culture that will never be tainted by the inferior spirit, lesser culture and dim presence of non-graduates.

Without a strong graduate culture, our economy will suffer. When our economy suffers, the non-graduates suffer first and we have to dig into our resources, so well-established by the graduate leadership, to make it look like we are helping them.

Inter-intellect marriage is like the mingling of a plus and a minus – you get zero. And zeros do not ensure economic development and progress, which are what our country prioritises over civil rights and welfare, among many other things.

Our economy and our morals will go down the drain if we allow such inter-intellect marriages. The entire foundations on which our society is built will crumble and we will never have the right leaders, pure graduates, to run the country.

---

Thoughts on SDU and SDS: I actually never really had an opinion on the bodies or the merger though.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Baby-friendly Singapore

Singapore is still not family and baby friendly, in my opinion.

But when we talk about "friendliness", we have to know towards which segment of society it has to be "friendly".

Are we talking about the middle-class English-(and fairly) educated ethnic Chinese?

Picture above taken from Channelnewsasia.com

Look at those cute (Chinese-looking) babies.

So what is the message here? Is the birthrate problem an ethnic Chinese birthrate problem? Of course, it is still taboo in Singapore to racialise issues, so I do not wish to pursue this matter, for fear of my rice bowl, *insert economic pragmatist rhetoric here*.

The fall in birth rates is just a symptom of Chinese elite ideology which prioritises economic development and sustenance over many other domains of life.

While we may cheer the increase of maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks, there has been discussion that an increase in paternity leave will not help the economy. Again, people here are reduced to numbers.

The high cost of living, high levels of stress, the humidity and climate are few of many factors that discourage the average Singaporean from starting a family.

You have to have sufficient savings to (attempt to) negate some of the factors such as living costs.

At the same time, people do not produce children because there is a monetary incentive. Women do not become mums because of financial carrots.

Although women may be attracted to financial independence/empowerment and choose a more career-oriented path, creating infrastructure (in the form of financial incentives) to entice family and baby-creation is a whole different ballgame. The government thinks everyone has a price, but this is not true in most cases.

To have positive changes in birthrates, there are a lot of changes that need to be done. Culture, mindsets and the (social) environment have to change, but the culture, mindset and environment we have now is the result of years of post-independence policy, but having our attention diverted from these policies and the responsibilities of the state depoliticises the situation of low birthrates.

Does more tax breaks and other incentives for baby-making signal an impending increase in taxes for others?

The government is an expert in numbers. They use good case studies, role models, heroes, and combines numbers to provide us with healthy and awesome figures. But these serve to cause citizens to feel cynical, distrustful and dissonant because their realities do not match what is conveyed to them by the state.

Think about it. If Singapore has a truly "Singaporeans First" culture, why aren't Singaporeans happily producing new Singaporean babies? Singaporeans must feel like second, or third, or even last, which are good enough to deter them from having kids.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How's married life?

How's married life, Sam?

Quite a common question to hear.

My "life" is of the English-educated, potentially middle income one, well-provided for with adequate meals, shelter and opportunities.

We often reduce life and "coming of age" to phases, a rites of passage, and so on. But it is just something that ages/matures/grows on a daily basis.

A phase is only a phase after we select and identify a period of time in our lives that have passed, and call it a phase.

Sometimes we would prophesy, when encountering a difficult time, that this particular point in time who be a pivotal moment, a time of change, the rite of passage.

My wife would take jibes at me when I complain (I complain a lot by the way) about a potential problem/hurdle, "This is where you'll become the man" or "You have to do this to become the man" or something along those lines (I'm sure I have explained this before).

Married life is the same as dating. The accumulation of newer and heavier responsibilities is a gradual process, so gradual it doesn't seem symbolic or too obvious to qualify as new chapter in one's life.

A new chapter involves flipping a page, but I see my life as just a one-page narrative.

The flat is under renovation. There is the gradual "handing over" of responsibilities, the transference of responsibility and power from our own parents to us, to look after aspects and domains of our lives, for which our younger selves could not have looked out.

Perhaps moving into and living in our new home will signal a new chapter in our lives, because it is a permanent logistical change.

There are tons of things to pay for, which is not very family-friendly, or dreams-friendly. You put family and dreams on hold just to be "pragmatic".

On the one hand, I would love to have kids, so I can play with them, among many other things. On the other hand, at times it does not seem worth it bring a child into a world of suffering, hypocrisy and "group think".

I think, amidst all the existing and incoming responsibilities and anxieties of married life, there can still be room for fun, enjoyment and bonding. There is often too much of a focus on the unhappiness and inadequacies of life and living that people forget the little pockets and moments in time where they felt really happy about themselves. Judging by the complaints and unhappiness of people, it seems that all people want is just freedom to have fun (although some consider making more money fun).

I still have the same likes and dislikes, before and after getting married. Being together has gradually seen some changes in both of us, so marriage is just a small addition to the "togetherness".

Being married to a good friend and lover is like having finding friendship and romance in the same person. There is the intellectual banter and a mutually identifiable sense of humour, and there are also differences in opinions and tastes which makes it more interesting than it already is.

In my opinion, you do not have to be married to prove anything so long as you feel your love and friendship is as strong as ever. Unfortunately, there is a construct called a marriage, which is seen as a normative rites of passage. Tag along with it are economic incentives. So why not?

Being married does not make one less responsible than he/she already is (which can be very generalising, but that is how I feel about ourselves at the least). What matters more is the amount and level of laughter and happiness in the days to come, for once they are continually absent, any marriage or relationship is meaningless.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Quoted: Rise of the online activists; Internet opens up avenue for many Singaporeans to champion causes

(Quoted - Straits Times. August 9, 2008)

The Internet has made activists of Singaporeans.

Many see social networking sites, forums, blogs and online videos as ways to champion their causes.

The Straits Times has found more than 30 local causes online run by greenies, geeks and everyone in between.

The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre said new causes run the gamut from groups supporting the rights of migrant workers to those focusing on specific health issues such as glaucoma.

Blessingsinabag.com, for example, was started by a student wanting to clothe poor Third World children.

And iwant2bike2work.org is run by two men who are promoting cycling.

Cyberspace's many communication tools make it 'a very efficient facilitator of what happens offline', said Mr Tan Tarn How, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, who has researched the Internet's impact on society.

Environmental groups, especially, have exploited the Internet. Of the 30 groups found by The Straits Times, more than 10 belonged to major green groups, whose updates can be found at www.WildSingapore.com, which highlights the best green news and pictures of all the blogs.

They push for everything from saving Singapore's sea shores to a more eco-friendly lifestyle, even using the social networking facilities on Facebook.

Other activists are seeing payoffs too. Dayoff.sg, a cause started by a group of Unifem (United Nations Development Fund for Women) volunteers here, has this message to push: Employers, give maids a day off.

Its online viral campaign - so named because it uses online networks to reach out to the masses - includes videos, websites, a Facebook group and e-mail lists.

'There is not much money, so we go online, which keeps costs very low,' said the president of the Unifem group in Singapore, Ms Saleemah Ismail, 39.

Other than being an economical form of marketing, the Internet is also opening up a platform for alternative groups, as Mr Tan pointed out, 'where they were not allowed to in the physical space'.

The Internet's immediacy and connectivity have a galvanising effect on people, he said. 'It allows people to be emboldened, not only to think but to act.'

The Singapore Queer-Straight alliance (SinQSA) is one such example. Formed last month by heterosexuals to bridge the social gap between gay and straight communities here, it seeks to change misconceptions through dialogue.

The group's four founders met online, and now seek to use the Internet to engage the community.

One of them, Mr Ho Chi Sam, 25, said: 'Going online beats knocking on doors, especially for our cause. Communication via the Internet is the initiation, the follow-through and the follow- up for most of our discussions.'

tanwz@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Shobana Kesava

For a cause

This is The Straits Times' new page to highlight causes which people here are passionate about, and to show others how they can get involved.

Tell us how you are making a difference at stlocal@sph.com.sg, with 'causes' in the subject heading. Have you organised activities overseas? Send in a photo and it could get published.

Friday, August 8, 2008

If and When

Wow.

I hope I am either the first or second one you've told, same goes for your mother.

It won't change a thing we think about you. And I hope it doesn't make you see us differently either.

It is good you tell us, because this is a place where we can be at home with one another.

I worry for you because other people will not accept you for who you are. Worse still, they are not obliged to do so.

I hope you will be respectful to yourself and not F around. Be an honest, gracious and loving person and we are more than proud.

I hope you will also find others to love and be loved, because we all won't be around forever to ensure that happens. But at in this home, you don't have to worry about loving or being loved.

What is more important for all of us is that you are healthy and happy.

- - - - -

I will probably say at least half of the stuff above if I found out my kid was queer.

Having attended one event at Indignation which dealt, rather poignantly, with the issue of one coming out to one's parents and the subsequent struggles to acceptance and for support.

I got the vibes from the session that sons and daughters who have come out, seem to view parents as inadequate, ill-adjusted and ill-equipped, that they do not understand and lack a sufficient level of love and empathy when their kids come out to them.

I believe while one cannot choose one's parents, one can make the right decisions, choose the rightful beliefs, and lead a happy life.

Dissecting the parent does little to help. You may diagnose the problem as a mum's want to "save face", or a dad's staunch religiosity, or parents who are generally narrow-minded and/or old-fashioned.

In the end, it is all about the development and esteem of the son/daughter concerned.

The parents we know are mostly the products of their parents' parenting and various forms of socialisation. We children were never there to socialise our mums and dads when they were young. They have learned in their own way.

Maybe I'm idealistic, but I believe the best a parent(s) can do is to create an environment where the child feels at home, feels loved and always feel free to love.

To me, a family should at least have this function, nevermind its form (although the government would encourage a certain form that would benefit the whole economic process).

I think if parents are encouraging and supportive of their child at most times, it does not really matter whether their child is of a different sexual orientation or has a different gender identity.

Any how, the past week has been an interesting one. I am quite happy to have completed the event organised by the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance (SinQSA), and there were lots to take home from the audience participation. I will have to work on the points and suggestions put forth by them and see how SinQSA can benefit and improve.

Also started my first week as a graduate student, doing nothing much other than basic administrative procedures as well as deciding on what I was going to do for my Masters Thesis. The topic of course would be sexual minority-focused media studies, but am deciding whether to go the social science way, the humanities way or the hybrid (which was used in my Honours Thesis).

I cannot wait to get into the routine of learning all over again. This time, there are some teaching duties, as part of the obligation of a research scholar.

You have to teach what you know (that's the assumption).

Some teach what they love.

For myself I never fancied teaching, because the lure of being a student, on the receiving end of an education, is too great. There is always an investment in another person when you teach. I believe we should invest in ourselves first before we can invest in others.

I have my anxieties. The results of the Diagnostic English Test is around the corner. Did not feel very confident doing it. I think it is because I have never fancied an examination setting where you have to churn out a piece of work within a specified time.

I'm very proud to say that I have generally done very well in most of my term essays, relative to that of the exams. For my thesis, I spent almost a year writing it (and researching), compared to others who have done it in less than 5 months. This strength is also a weakness, if given the same short amount of time to write an essay, I will probably be less than mediocre.

I have also finally settled my HDB flat recess area purchase, after being stalled for more than a month. There has been a gulf in communications and expectations between HDB and the Town Council. The loser is the resident. Very relieved this is over and we can move on (I sound like Wong Kan Seng).

I realised I am very lucky and privileged to have been granted the scholarship to pursue my Masters degree. Some have worked to save up for their further studies, while others have taken loans (like a large portion of undergraduates). I could never have imagined being in their position. I always worry about the future more than I care about it, but at least for now, there is one less thing to worry about.

Monday, August 4, 2008

National Day Song: We are Singapore

(I still love Singapore by the way). In the tune of "We are Singapore".

There was a time when people said
That we won't have GST, but we did.
There was a time when we didn't
Need no ERP, but we did.

We built a nation, stressed and weak,
We have to run the rat race, even if we're sick

This is my country, it's not too bad.
They have ISD, they are your dad.
This is a minister, get paid like mad.
We are Singapore, Singaporeans.

Singapore our homeland, we're all girls in sarong,
All of us united, suck money from Ang Mo
We've come so far together, to favour the FT
Singapore forever, divided, unhappy!

This is my country, it's not a rock.
To get to somewhere, you suck some cock.
To be somebody, you carry ball.
We are Singapore, Singaporeans.

*pledge*

We are Singapore, we all carry ball.
We are apathetic, yet we all want more.
We are Singapore, get watched by dai gor.
We all do things wrong and think we're right some more.

*fade out*

Goh the bagpipe player

7 to 8 years ago, hanging out with friends (when I was a little bit more sociable then), and at the age when we were more angsty and starting to grow disillusioned with Singaporean life (now I'm almost fully 'grown'), I discuss the issue of "following one's dreams in Singapore".

Can you follow and live your dreams in Singapore?

Out of triviality, I conceived of the hypothetical question, "What if (then Prime Minister) Goh Chok Tong was a talented and skilled bagpipe player?" Of course, I recall my dad, at that point in time, joking about one BBC radio programme 'Wright around the World' poking fun at some Singaporean Ensemble that played the bagpipes, so that laid the foundation for such a hypothetical question.

If Goh was talented and skilled, would he give it all up and pursue his passion? There will be so many doubters and fellow Singaporeans who will conjure the rhetoric of pragmatism and practicality, just to hinder him and make him hesitant and non-committal.

We are not compassionate, benevolent nor encouraging enough, because we still harbour the same mindset we had decades ago when we needed to survive. Survival is only viewed through the financial lens.

There are also structural rigidities, both in institutions and society, that prevent most of us from chasing our dreams. A teenage prodigy or entrepreneur, who happens to be male, will have to shelve his pursuits for compulsory National Service.

Budding musicians have been told the age old thing that "Singapore is too small". Yes, Singapore is small in size, market, population, but can we be more encouraging and look for solutions to help, rather than to hinder? Of course, most of us see it as pragmatism, rather than hindrance, because our priority centres on financial survival/stability.

A close friend (although people whom I consider "friends" are already close, which explains why I don't have many friends or people whom I'll consider friends) told me a story he heard from someone else. It goes something like:

A man worked very hard most of his life and earned all the money and decided to retire early to pursue his first love. It was fishing and he decided to do it for the rest of his life, while living off on the money he had sweat for. As he sat down by the pier to fish, he met a very old man who was also fishing. The rich man said he was going fishing because he always loved it and now he had all the time in the world to do it and that he was happy. The old man replied that he loved fishing too and had been doing it all his life and had always been happy.

Last evening, at one of the sessions organised by IndigNation'08, Otto Fong, former Raffles Institution science teacher delivered a talk. There were many takeaways from it, but one that struck a chord with my wife and I was the part when he decided to pursue his first love, which was to create comics.

My wife was quite fascinated by his passion, skills and technical know-how behind his comics. Being a web-comic artist herself, she plans to do something about her interest too.

Her passion is always in the area of creativity, with drawing of cartoons and comics being the main form of expression. I feel a bit sad that she is more distracted with work and paying the bills than spending more time (while she is young) to hone her skills and gain the experience to reach her true potential (and maybe even beyond it) in comics. She has always told me that given the choice, she would not work at all and just draw comics.

Given the choice, I would make music. I would give music the same amount, or even more, of the sweat and blood my wife would have put into drawing.

My dad had introduced most of the 1960s music, namely The Beatles, to me for the most of my childhood. There was so much musical stimuli and encouragement around me. My parents had always supported me during the 13 years in which I had Electone (electric organ) lessons. My aunt (I think) gave me a ukulele and my dad taught me how to play it. My dad bought me a guitar and taught me how to strum. My brother taught me how to pluck. My dad paid for my first harmonica. My mum forked out lots of money for one Yamaha Electone Organ (the EL-87) in the mid-90s. When I expressed great interest in it, my parents paid for the multi-track studio.

Making music - writing songs, playing the instruments, arranging them and mixing them, everything but the singing part (because I hate singing) - has always been a dream of mine. My younger self yearned for the fame and recognition, but the essence of the dream had never changed: I just wanted to create music.

Otto Fong (it is always common for most of us to use the full name of someone who is famous/popular) had worked a few jobs before reaching his current position. It just goes to show that we undergo stages of change and searching, while balancing the realities of growing up and growing older, the pressures and experiences that come along with them.

Fong said that you had to be true to yourself in order to feel complete. He was true to himself, publicly coming out on his sexual orientation, and he felt complete.

I don't know about 'coming out', but I know what it is like to suppress something that is so important to you. I have always regretted every time I meet someone, experience an eventful episode in my life (most the rejection and helplessness felt in some BGR boy-girl relationship), been randomly or serendipitously inspired, I suppressed the tune/melody that played in my head. I never acted on them by writing it down or developing it with the aid of the organ or the guitar that sit in my room. I told myself that there is no point doing all these because they are useless, there is no future, and people won't like what I do.

In actual fact, these are the little demons that society put in my mind, and I have let them won. It seems so rational the explanations and criticisms that I am just simply wasting my time on something that is so small, irrelevant and not money-making.

Fong said that to pursue your dreams, you have to make sacrifices. That is very much similar to what my mum said more than ten years ago, "If you want to do well in something, you have to sacrifice some things." (I eventually spent more time on my studies and music, and did not hang out with friends at all. I probably have not been to popular teenage hangout Orchard Road with friends until I was past 16 years of age.)

Not only queer people have their closets; the closet is not only a gay slang.

All of us pretend to be "straight" people so we can fit in. It is all out of "practical" and "pragmatic" reasons.

I guess one of my many closets is the musical one. There could be Sam the sociopathic anarchist (but there's no place in society for sociopathic anarchists, not that they would want a place in society in the first place). We have heard of gay-bashing homophobes with deep-rooted hatred for gay people who are closeted. Perhaps my being upright, too righteous, politically correct and "by-the-book", could be indicative of a closeted anarchic self.

I have had more than ample musical training to express and manifest any musical idea or tune in my head, but for most of the time, I never acted on it. I confine my music to close friends because I am afraid of criticism and discouragement. What scares me more than people is discouragement and antagonism (and maybe rejection) from people, which explains why I often reluctant to engage others.

The most creative I have ever been was when I was aged 11 to 16. And I know why. These were the years when I acted like I wanted to. I felt free and true to myself. I did what my heart felt (of course, taking into consideration I had the shelter of being a kid). I knew I was good and talented and had the potential to make better music than some of the stuff that was playing on the radio. As I got older (in teenage), I felt a greater need to fit in, to listen to others as if their opinion mattered more than my beliefs and identity.

Thereafter, I was more reserved, reclusive and full of unhappiness (although they actually served as creative inspiration for more songwriting). It did not help I was engaged in a fruitless pursuit of a girl I had a crush on. When I decided to end the chase and just be contented being single, I met the woman who would be my girlfriend and wife. I was still reserved and reclusive, but was much happier.

The woman I met said she liked my songs (prior to us dating). I always thought my wife (that woman) was always just being nice whenever she said that. She would always lampoon my songs with off-tune singing to irritate me, but I soon realised that she actually remembers the lyrics to most of them.

Years back, I was hooked up with Clement Chow, local songwriter ("Count On Me, Singapore" being penned by him), and also met Ken Lim (from Hype Records), and I felt very discouraged by these guys. Ken Lim even asked me to learn Mandarin. I sent demos to different production houses, with no goal or ambition, and duly got no response. So the dream died a slow tragic death, fading into nothingness.

One opportunity came in the form of those street busking festivals in 2003, and I formed a band with my good friend and two other guys and we played the first and last half-hour set containing a sample of my songs. It was a wonderful feeling, a small sense of accomplishment. I wanted more, but did not pursue it.

I chased material (money) for happiness. Money only helps to a certain extent, but in the end, money does not make me a happy person. I guess it is only feasible to be the man who works hard to earn all the money, so that he can retire early to pursue his true love.

There is a house to pay for. There are families (old and new) to love. Along with them come the conventional means to fulfilling them. Passions and interests just get pushed further down (and out of) the priority list. People will probably get to see a different side of my wife and I when we become debt-free, but in the mean time, we have to work to rid the debts. We are of course also prepared if we are never to be able to attain such a privileged position.

So many people have died, taking their hidden talents and secret passions with them to the grave. They have never had the chance to share what they love to do or what they could do with the rest of the world. It could have been world-changing or life-changing, but under certain circumstances (social and economic, among many), they decided not to pursue their dreams and passions.

How many Singaporeans have grown old or died, along with their passions and interests (I'm referring to the non-money related ones)?

My passion and self-belief have been shattered and disintegrated, and I am responsible. I never dared take the risk nor made the sacrifices to pursue them, and I let doubters and critics win. I am sure there are many others out there like myself.

Fong's talk was inspiring in many ways. His passions and his abilities just dovetailed and the result is a testament. Doing it and having done it are, in my opinion, what made him happy. People buying his work and praising him, are just a bonus.

Maybe it is about time I pick up the pieces one at a time and start making music again. If you have it in you, it will never leave you, and only you have the power to make it stay or go away.

7 to 8 years later, I now look at the hypothetical question. There is no point answering it, because it does not concern the self. I realised the world does not end when people do not give a shit about you, but only when you give up on yourself.

If you are interested in listening to the stuff I have done over the years, 1997-2007, go here: http://amp.channelv.com/theglamhour.