Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Made in China

What is wrong with China?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cleaning the house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bridging a transgender divide, and more

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

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

Dear Editor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ho Chi Sam

-add-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Published Letter-

Bridging a transgender divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ho Chi Sam

Reader's reaction

'Excellent.'

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

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Class is First Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philosophy of Dawn Yang 101

My wife and I were talking about Dawn Yang last night. Of course most of us know who she is (roughly).

A friend told me of one Dawn Yeo (I've no idea why she's now known as Dawn Yang) about 4 years ago and she showed me what she looked like. "Quite hot", I thought to myself. I guess praise, based on individual taste, is deserved, so I said that and thought that.

Fast-forward to a few months back, Wendy Cheng of Xiaxue caused a storm (as usual) and posted somethings which made Dawn's camp irate enough to serve her some lawyer's letters.

Concurrently, there had been expose and gossip websites out there, which expose Dawn to be a lot more than meets the eye. Of course, in between, there has been a lot of mean-spirited and scathing comments hurled at Dawn.

But if the gossip and expose articles are true, it is going to be really interesting (if it already has not). There are allegations that she lies about her heritage, her cosmetic surgery and also pose as different persons under different pseudonyms, perhaps for the sake of image control.

In my conversation with my wife, we discussed if these allegations were true, our opinion of Dawn would probably contain the following terms: "gone bonkers", "mentally ill", "BDD", "mad", "crazy", "schizo", you get the psychiatric drift, but of course, we are not experts in that field.

I've come across people whose peers have labelled them as pathological liars, but to merely reduce lying to pathology is rather limiting. Perhaps they lie to maintain their morale, esteem and self-image.

After all, we are socialised into believing that lying is bad. But we could consider lying as transcending society, rather than transgressing it. Unfortunately, being imbued with deontological ethic/reasoning, we do not like lying and treat it rather seriously with punishment.

Perhaps such disgruntled persons exist in cyberspace to enact their perceived moral right(eousness) and do what they have done to Dawn, believing they could bring justice to this whole thing. We often want to see blood being drawn for people who manage to "get away with it".

The whole thing about Dawn is no longer about Dawn, but with people's obsession with Dawn and her antics. Maybe she is eccentric, or tortured, or detached from society, requiring some form of escape, yada yada psychological-reductionist schtick.

I suggested to my wife, that make she is happy to create a persona and live it, something that can be used to engage people (but of course, people are more willing to engage the creator rather than the created). I used Brian Warner and his creation of Marilyn Manson, but my wife said, "Yes, but he is in control, but I don't think Dawn is..." I cannot say much lest her camp sends me a letter.

Maybe it feels good to be part of a persona you have created for yourself, as a resistance to dominant social norms and values. Why can't we all do that? Perhaps Dawn is here to remind us that we too could have other means of expressing ourselves, but we might be too inflexible to accommodate stuff like that.

If Dawn were to claim she's natural or of mix ancestry, just play along and take it from her as it is not as if she has caused pain or harm to your person. What is the obsession with the pursuit of truth any way, when the idea of truth still remains subjective? A lot of people pursue the truth with expectations, but once you harbour expectations, you end up shaping the way you want truth to unravel.

Why can't we engage the fantasies created by others, instead of ruin it with fantasies of our own? We do not really need to be fighters of freedom or of the truth, as how we define these two terms. No one who is responsible to you is obliged to tell you what you want to hear.

I think things are compounded by the fact that Dawn appears to come from a privileged household, so that stokes the fire. The educated and lesser privileged (but still privileged enough to access the internet and argue fairly logically) are and will forever hold a grudge against those on the upper rungs of the socio-economic ladder, although the latter's position would often be a common desired destination for most.

Every time there is a witch-hunt (or something of that sort), one wonders who is the witch-hunt hunter? My gaze is usually on those who participate on the witch-hunt because they create the drama, not the "witch". I guess that is the disciplinary mechanism for society, if the government wasn't involved. That is people's way of dealing with what they think as "wrong" or "deviant".

Maybe Dawn has transcended the madness we put ourselves into, but maybe she could have transcended the sanity we are comfortable with (which explains why my wife and I think she could be of the unsound mind). In the end, drama is better than no drama for the most of us meaning-seeking creatures.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Technological dystopia

My heart just dropped.

My thumb drive, containing a couple of assignments due soon, and other readings, was just wiped out. It was as if it was formatted, but I would not have done such a thing.

I feel very disappointed and dejected. Right now, I've to rewrite a four-page dissertation analysis. Do it all over again.

The last time such a thing happened was when my mum, with the good intent of backing up computer files, used a collection of floppy disks which contained my songs, settings and compositions on the Electone organ, a culmination of 3 to 4 years of work, and 6 to 7 years of songwriting. These contained the earlier musical incarnations and blueprints of some of the earlier songs I had written. I cried bitterly that day.

I guess the latest experience with technology cannot top the previous. I did not cry this time, although I felt a bit dizzy upon the realisation. I just uttered "fuck" and immediately sent an email to the lecturer to request for an extension, but I do not expect her to grant it, so it is time to work again.

The sickening part is that the assignment is almost done and that I had taken my time to do it. Now I have to rush it, which is personally not a favourable option. I hate deadlines given to me by others because I work best with my own. It may sound like a "duh" statement but there are people who do not even follow datelines set by themselves. (I wrote "datelines" instead of "deadlines", but thanks to a reader's observation and enlightenment, I've made the change)

The thumb drive was a freebie given to us at some conference on interoperability by Novell and Microsoft. But I will still gladly take freebies, but place less reliance on them from now on.