Thursday, March 26, 2009

White Posterkid for Cheena-pore: WTF

Pardon my language. Please read with a parent or a mature member of parliament if you are under 21 years of age. Please also note the label of this post: "HUMOUR" and "society". You know, there have been some kids who thought that I really meant what I said. For example, when I wrote a long article which discussed that "Mas Selamat does not exist" in 2008, some kid from the group Loyang Social Studies club (alias JoanaLJ from class 3E3), maybe from Loyang Secondary School, took it literally and said I denied his existence (see link, refer to post #4).

Damn. I am just a bit pissed off that the students did not take their assignment seriously, never mind actually reading what I wrote or implied about the Mas Selamat issue (link). Do check out what they have said about news reliability. Three of them have cited my blog for review, but unfortunately, I do not provide many facts, but rather opinion (and ideas). Check out their assignment website and look at entries #4, #6 and #22. Mind you, blogs are not obliged to provide facts nor report issues; they are a source of opinion. Perhaps the assignment given to them by the teacher could have been better articulated. Facts can be checked for reliability, but when it comes to opinion, it's a whole different ball game.

Urgh, so angry. Back to the topic. I have watched one "Promote Mandarin Council" advertisement. I find it hilarious that our ethic Chinese Singaporean raging anglophilia has manifested itself in a television commercial that utilises Caucasian/white children to teach people to speak Mandarin.

I think there are other advertisements out there to show that the Mandarin dialect is a global language. But I shall focus on the one with the white kids.

Of course, such a campaign is sparked off by the wise words of political demi-god Lee Kuan Yew. That old man can see the future. He believes in renewal and all that. It is a pity that the "Promote Mandarin Council", the bastard child of the "Speak Mandarin Campaign", had to deliver his message using the texts and images they have used.

To be fair to the sinophiles (we can't call them "rice queens", can we?), the use of non-ethnic Chinese actors to promote the use of the Chinese dialect, called Mandarin, tells all of us that the Mandarin dialect is not merely confined to the domain of the yellow-skinned people they call the Chinese.

That's a brilliant idea! (sarcasm added in the exclamation mark too)!!! Why not, get a race/skin-colour that most Chinese people would look up to. Perhaps we are still cowering in the shadows/glory days of colonialism. The "whities" will provide the much needed authority voice, the much needed instruction that us Asian/ethnic Chinese savages would heed to.

I was wondering, why not get an ethnic Malay or Indian child to star in the advertisement? Is an ethnic Malay/Indian child less useful/relevant in getting the message across than a Caucasian child? I want my token Malay/Indian child!

Must the white race be the posterchild of a Mandarin-speaking population? I am not insinuating that Mandarin is indigenous to ethnic Chinese, nor is it indigenous to Asians (but they are, any way), I am concerned with the invisibility of the usual politically correct set-up. You know what I mean. I am wondering what happened to beaten dead horse of a usage of the 4 kids - the Chinese kid and the 3 other tokens they call the ethnic minorities.

Of course, this cultural campaign and initiative is a mere subset of the Singaporean economic imperative. The idea of renewing the country, reinventing, being relevant and all that, all boils down to economic sustenance, survivability and the wet dream of every middle-class Chinese folk, prosperity!

We may be peons in a nanny state, but you cannot deny that no matter how much our government treats us like dehumanised digits, they are always preparing us for changes ahead. Maybe, perhaps they need slaves to row the ship they are steering. The peasants willingly share the PAP government's dream of a skills-based industry, something so relevant and logical, it warms the heart of each and every technocrat in the land. Being proficient in Mandarin is one such relevant skill, they say.

Sorry my non-Mandarin speaking Malay, Indian and Chinese friends. You are excluded. The advertisement shows that even the non-Asian Caucasians are ahead of you. Of course, coming from better established civilisations, the Whites are better than all of us, so their expertise and Mandarin demonstration are required to teach us inferior races the correct cultural ways.

I can't help, in viewing this advertisement in isolation, but think this strategy is not as innocent as it seems. The whole thing reminds me of how Singaporeans enjoy 69-ing with Colonialism.

We got our constitution and education from the British, and we used it against the British. We try to promote an idea (rather, PAP's, or rather Lee Kuan Yew's) of an Asian culture, and we use a white-skinned kid to teach us.

Sure, Mandarin should not only be taught by and taught to yellow-skinned "chinkies". But I have yet to see Malay and Indian and Chinese kids in the advertisements. Maybe there are, I am not sure. But for the sake of being consistent with the cultural rhetoric, I would love to see them.

Historically, us Asians have an inferiority complex. When meeting a whitie, or a pseudo-whitie, we change up our accents, so they can understand us better. We adjust for their comfort. I get the feeling that some of us are proud to be inferior. What the caucasians say is closer to the truth than say, what an ethic Malay or Indian will say to an ethnic Chinese dude, isn't it?

What we don't see also implies what we think about the invisibilised race/class of folk. Some might throw up in their mouths at the thought that a Singapore could be possibly run by a bunch of Chinese elites. And these Chinese elites have played the multiracialist card very well, such that it fits hand-in-glove with the grand economic scheme of things. Even ethnic minorities have caught on the disease that is the middle-class ethnic Chinese aspiration, well disguised as the Singaporean dream. The Chinese elite have created a system, the rewards of which are akin to this Singaporean dream. To cover the cold and uncompromising capitalist schemes and intentions, we load heaps of warm and fuzzy nationalist and multiculturalist rhetoric on it, not knowing they serve as fertilizer for larger insidious and divisive atrocities that may/will arise from it.

The campaign to promote Mandarin is a proxy for the Singaporean economic imperative. It is a function of our Chinese elite leadership and ideology. Nevertheless, it is what works in such an age of global capitalism and trans-national economic integration.

By writing this, I seek not to drive a wedge between Singaporeans of various ethnicities, whether assigned to them by the state, their families or themselves, but I want to point out the wedge that is driven by the campaign in the community.

Having gone post-colonial on the aforementioned advertisement, I believe that the advertisement marginalises the non-Mandarin-speaking. The campaigners may have progressed from thinking of Mandarin as a domain of the Chinese, to Mandarin as a global language. But they stop short at reassuring the non-Mandarin speakers that they will not be left out, nor be not treated as inferior.

Why is the government/leadership, so obsessed with retaining local talent, giving every Singaporean a passport to the world? All the more when your (favoured) ethnic Chinese population are not procreating enough for your machinery (yes, this is the PAP Matrix, where our butts are plugged into the system, so that it can screw us any time it likes!). I am sure most of us would have thought that the "3, 4 or more if you could afford it" rhetoric applied to ethnic Chinese Singaporeans, right?

Is there a future then, for the English-speaking monolingual ethnic Chinese Singaporean? Won't you feel lonely when in a population of 4 million and one Singaporeans, that 4 million of them have jumped on the Chinese bandwagon, or as our press will call "China" bandwagon, and you are the only one left on the island, along with the better-appreciated foreign talents?

Are our ethnic Chinese children going to be marginalised in schools? Are we going to perpetuate a system and a mentality where ethnic Chinese children who speak poor Mandarin are mocked and disadvantaged. Sure, they are the Chinese B's who would get F's any way. What other opportunities are there?

The state machinery needs the slaves to row the boat. With such a broadbased cultural campaign, they can achieve the critical mass they need. Who cares about minorities such as the Malay and Indian folk, or the under-the-borderline Mandarin-manglers of the Chinese? The success of the campaign obviously does not rest on the Mandarin proficiency of every ethnic Malay and Indian child, and I feel, that no matter how many white posterchildren you put in your television advertisements, you can never bridge that cultural divide. Speaking of divide, this campaign creates a larger one, and in many dimensions, race/ethnicity, age/generational, class/socio-economic status, linguistic diversity/minority dialects and so on.

If there should be a cultural-linguistic campaign, it should be a "be yourself campaign" and each one of us will say "fuck you" in our respective mother tongues to this divisive Speak Mandarin Campaign. On a serious note, I feel that we should not drive minorities into their own spaces and lock them up where they are. They become less accessible as a result.

Take for example, some of my ethnic Chinese friends. Some think that all Indians speak Tamil. Yes, what... the... fuck. There was one who thought Tamil was a religion. Some think that "Hindu" (should be Hinduism) is a religion, partly correct, and that there's no such thing as Hindi. And of course, the usual Indian jokes come a dime a dozen. Heck, Sri Lankans and Sikhs are Indians too, according to some Chinese friends. And cue the obligatory thick Indian-accented English. Who cares about Singaporean Indians? Most Chinese/Malay kids think that they are no different from the South Asian migrant workers that roam that part of town Little India. Bah, just less than 10%, this numerical minority is a political minority. They are also not very capable in stoking religious tension, so there need not be much pluralistic policies to accommodate them. But mind you, South Asian and Indian cultures are as diverse, if not more diverse, than your Chinese culture. But it is sad most of us do not know it to be so. There is no effort on our part to want to know about other cultures (myself included), and this effort/responsibility is rationally externalised/outsourced to the education system.

And there is also the myth of the lazy Malay (interesting piece by the way if you have read it). It is severe injustice to the ethnic Malays when one naturalises/reduces their "laziness" to their genes or ethnicity. Ouch. They just happen to live in a colonial economic system "'roid up" by the Jew-rivaling money-minded Chinese (another stereotype by the way). Nevermind the void-deck-roaming cheap-glue-sniffing guitar-strumming 'relak'-one-corner Malay subcultures, we see our Malay friends through the middle-class ethnic Chinese lens and judge them that way. It is through the very same lens the middle-class ethnic Chinese see themselves - they see no fault, apparently. It is sad that some of us ethnic Chinese, English or Chinese educated, have so isolated ourselves that we see the other 30% of Singapore as consisting of "mats" and "ah nehs", sometimes too unidimensionally. Our "ethnic Chinese" cultural campaigns get to permeate/desecrate/rape their cultural spheres, but their cultural campaigns are relatively invisible in our privileged cultural sphere. And sometimes, we can tell if a cultural campaign is truly for culture, or used as political or economic strategies. At the same time, ethnic minorities should not be heard for the saking of being heard, just like they should not be visible for the sake of being visible.

Why not have an advertisement of non-Mandarin-speaking kids of all ethnicities speaking their minds on the Promote Mandarin Campaign? We can create a montage of sorts! I would love to hear the sweet childlike voices saying stuff like, "I think you are full of shit", "You are destroying my culture", "Now I feel like a minority (weeping)", "I feel left out!", etc.

Remember, my dear PAP leaders, the people who vote for you are diverse. Some follow the Singaporean dream you have woven, others do not. This democracy is not only a "majority wins" kind of game, but one that needs to take into consideration the voices of, in this case, the non-Chinese-speaking. And with that in mind, don't abuse pluralist politics so that only your security and economic goals are met. There are other goals that society has, but the leadership has only chosen to take up the few that would benefit it the most. Extend your pluralism beyond these areas too, for cultural diversity, sexual diversity, religious diversity and so on. Must I get a white kid to tell you these things?

Mandarin is only one way to go. But I believe that difference and diversity is THE way and THE future. So corny, but it's true. It is not only about difference and all the soapy political correct tokenistic get-together hand-shaking phallus-fellating stuff, but the idea of difference being embraced. Unfortunately, this is not possible in a world with liberal democracies where lesser minorities get stifled, and "Asian democracies" where authoritarian regimes manipulate pluralism to stay in power.

We (I mean, especially our leadership) have a love-hate relationship with the West/Whites. Of course, this is where the rigorous act of 69 love-making comes into the picture. We reject the perceived liberal and morally corrupt West/Whites, ban them, sue them for defamation and so on. We even reject "foreigners" from spreading crazy ideas in our shores; they are never welcomed because of their crazy Asia-insensitive ideology, unless they fly thousands of miles and come here to praise our PAP government and do other political hand-jobbing they call diplomacy. There's also this strange thing that the Singaporean can never be a "white"; it can be the colour of the Chinese, Malay and Indian, but it is unfathomable to most laypersons that a Caucasian can be a Singaporean! So, for the time being, the dominant discourse is that all whites are foreign/external to Singapore. But hey, amidst all the "white rage" our government has, the Promote Mandarin Campaign says it is okay we get a white kid to teach us Mandarin!

(endnote: I've already checked this article for any potentially seditious statement, because I've caught the "chills" of the government's "kill one scare hundred" tactics. If you feel offended at any race or religion-related statements I have been interpreted to make, please let me know. If you laughed or cursed under your breath, please let me know too. If you manage to read the entire article and get to this last paragraph, you're a minority, so please let me know that too!)


Brian Barker said...

Apparently President Obama wants everyone to learn a foreign language, but which one should it be?

The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish. Yet this leaves Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Arabic, out of the equation.

It's time to move forward adopt a neutral non-national language,like Esperanto, be taught universally in schools worldwide,in all nations.

An interesting video can be seen at

Detail can be seen at

Malcolm said...

In the quest for the perceived economic benefits of learning and speaking Mandarin, the powers that be have been slamming its Mandarin-for-all plans as if other ethnic groups don't exist, or their culture and languages are irrelevant.

It's funny how the PAP wants to institute change from within and seem confident in it. Not me though.

Nisha said...

My my my. How is it that i've never read your blog before? This entry is very close to my heart for two reasons: the emphasis on learning mandarin at the expense of exclusion and the anglophile angle. However, i have just one tiny bone to pick. The Sikhs are ethnic Indian, are they not? They have their roots in Punjab, India.

Sam Ho said...

nisha, i'm a bit wary of saying "ethnic indian" actually.

the notion of "india", historically a european terminology, now connotes a nationality, rather than an ethnicity, which implies a certain degree of cultural like-ness.

to me, personally, sikhs are sikhs. but then again, some sikhs are not practicing sikhism.

hmm.. i'm not sure, but want to ask, is there such thing as an ethnic sikh?

it gets pretty confusing because ethnicity becomes enmeshed with nationality and sometimes religion. so in the case of the sikh, is the sikh community a community of ethnicity, religion, and/or culture?