Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The original unedited George Lim article!

I'm sorry, and don't take me seriously (see HUMOUR tag). I can't get enough of George Lim Heng Chye's recent article. Apparently it has been the talk of the town, the town being most of my friends. Even my wife was raving about it.

Together we have decided to "feature" the "original" letter sent to the editor by champion of public morality, George Lim. I don't think I'll be able to write such a homoerotic letter on my own without the help of a couple of female friends, who have been acquainted with erotic fiction. (thanks Joyce and Pet)

We speculate a letter of this nature could have initially been sent to the Forum editor, but had to be cut. See if you can guess what parts were added! No prizes, but it's a tough one.

Here goes:

Dear Editor,

I took my preschool daughter to Bishan Sports Hall last Saturday morning for her weekly gymnastic training. There were women and children there for various activities.

In their midst was a team of seven young men and their coach using the gymnastic equipment.

From the start of the team's routine, five young men were practically semi-nude.

They were bare-chested, their pert brown nipples sinfully aching for the caress of a grown man’s tongue.

Their rippling mid-riffs majestically bulged as they went about their routine.

Their stately muscular thighs baited a casual yet sensual session of frottage.

They wore loosely fitted knee-length trunks that exposed the succulent protrusions that were their pelvic bones below the waistline.

They strutted and pranced in their scant garments that covered only the anatomy between the lower waist and the kneecaps.

Their masculine shafts waved at me teasingly, violent yet subtle, from beneath the sheer cloth. To my great distress, I noted that the head of a curved beast that was rightfully anointed with a glistening drop of man dew.

The team frolicked and tumbled in the hall, oblivious to the parents and children around them.

I grimaced as they swung vigorously on the pommel horse, and risked slipping out of their loose trunks.

The grimace was a result of my trying desperately to hold down my tumescence, as I spied the barest hint of youthful silky scrotum while they tumbled manfully around, sweat drops gleaming on their bronzed chests.

Even worse, as they gripped the rings and the parallel bars, it did not take much gravity to expose their pubic area to the children. The perky appendages wrestled and writhed with Earth’s natural forces as they cavourted heavenward.

It was an eyesore to onlookers as the young men trampled on their modesty in public.

Bishan Sports Hall has been the de facto venue of the Singapore Open Gymnastics Championships for a number of years. It is also the proposed venue for the gymnastics competition events of the Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010. It is the key gymnastic competition site for the Asian Youth Games.

I, therefore, urge the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to do something about those who bare their torsos without any regard for other users. Perhaps, the authorities should impose a minimum dress code that ensures decency.

Sports that allow male athletes to train semi-nude are swimming, water polo, windsurfing and sumo wrestling. But gymnastics is a sport that requires proper leotards for women and body-fitting singlet and shorts or tights for men.

George Lim

Chasing Dreams: Sam has a new song after 18 months!

Yes, I have finally written a new song after 1 and a half years.

Did shitloads of takes because of my rusty guitar-playing.

And after losing my green Republic Polytechnic handphone sock, which I got as a freebie from a career fair two years ago, I finally got the much needed inspiration to finish recording the song.

The arrangement sounds a bit rushed, but who cares. What's more important is to get the sucker out. I'm going for dinner now. If you can tolerate poor singing and microphone discipline, please have a listen to the song "Chasing Dreams".

http://amp.channelv.com/amp/viewArtist.html?id=8537
http://www.myspace.com/samdrowner

Lyrics:

Whatever you think, whatever you say,
You should be ready ‘cos it’s changing
You walk down the road, go straight that way.
You could have known that it was winding.

You fall short of what’s been said.
Your hopes fly way above your head.
Hey, you’ve seem to lose your way,
But guess that’s okay
When you’re chasing dreams, yeah!
You’ll come around some day,
You’ll wake up to the blame
That you’re sleeping in, yeah!

You’re turning back now, reverse is ahead.
You are forgiven for your dreaming.
You’re caught in two minds, and now you’re afraid
That ending’s a beginning.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I think I am more straight than George Lim Heng Chye

Is it me, or is the following letter rather homoerotic? I shall leave it to advocate of morality, the one, the only, the righteous, George Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim Heng Chye!

http://www.straitstimes.com/ST%2BForum/Online%2BStory/STIStory_396554.html

Frolicking gymnasts' bare antics a real eyesore

I took my preschool daughter to Bishan Sports Hall last Saturday morning for her weekly gymnastic training. There were women and children there for various activities. In their midst was a team of seven young men and their coach using the gymnastic equipment.

From the start of the team's routine, five young men were practically semi-nude. They were bare-chested and wore loosely fitted knee-length trunks that exposed their pelvic bones below the waistline. They strutted and pranced in their scant garments that covered only the anatomy between the lower waist and the kneecaps.

The team frolicked and tumbled in the hall, oblivious to the parents and children around them. I grimaced as they swung vigorously on the pommel horse, and risked slipping out of their loose trunks. Even worse, as they gripped the rings and the parallel bars, it did not take much gravity to expose their pubic area to the children. It was an eyesore to onlookers as the young men trampled on their modesty in public.

Bishan Sports Hall has been the de facto venue of the Singapore Open Gymnastics Championships for a number of years. It is also the proposed venue for the gymnastics competition events of the Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010. It is the key gymnastic competition site for the Asian Youth Games.

I, therefore, urge the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to do something about those who bare their torsos without any regard for other users. Perhaps, the authorities should impose a minimum dress code that ensures decency.

Sports that allow male athletes to train semi-nude are swimming, water polo, windsurfing and sumo wrestling. But gymnastics is a sport that requires proper leotards for women and body-fitting singlet and shorts or tights for men.

George Lim

You cannot deny he is probably a good dad, bringing his kid to lessons and stuff. If I were taking my daughter to gym class, I would not have been as fixated on the young boys doing their gym routine.

The word for today: Champion.

CMIO issues in Singapore again

Why is 21st Century Singapore so caught up with 19-20th Century issues of culture?

In every domain of our lives, we are constantly reminded of our cultural and ethnic differences. Ok, I am ethnic Chinese. I get it. Stop reminding me!

It is as if incessant reminders and re-indoctrination through the education system and the loyal lapdogs that are the local media, would make us more 'cultural', whatever that means.

The emphasis of difference under the rubric of multiculturalism is, in my eyes, especially condescending towards minority groups.

Hey! You can walk! Hey! You can finally speak and join the adult discussions! Hey! You made it, just like the _____ (insert majority group or the categorically and politically privileged/superior).

The Straits Times is no stranger to playing the race card. Every year, after the release of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results, they will highlight the top student, followed by the top Malay student and top Indian student, and maybe if you are lucky, the top Eurasian student.

It is as if the ethnic Malay, Indian and Eurasian kids are in a different league from the "top student", who is presumably and taken for granted to be ethnic Chinese. Come on! What's up with that?

I think the Chinese elite in Singapore are majorly obsessed with minority appeasement. Fair enough, that is their business and political strategy. However, I feel they are going overboard with this.

Maybe Singaporeans are the kind who cannot handle subtlely or read between the lines; they need cold hard and seemingly objective facts in font size 48 stapled to their eyeballs to see a point. However, that observation is slowly becoming a stereotype. We are, undoubtedly, growingly media savvy and literate. Hey, even less/non-educated ('uneducated' appears to have acquired a negative slant) seniors know 'propaganda' when they see one.

In two days time, we will have a Malay general in the Army. For me, this is not news at all. So what? He is just like any other Singaporean general who has paid his dues and followed his boss' orders.

Ethnicity should not be constantly emphasised. Stop reminding the Malays that they are Malays.

Our policies or "unspoken rules" signify a lack of understanding of the Malay folks and Islam in general. Some general, Lee Hsien Loong, once said that the Malay-Muslims should not be put in a difficult position in times of conflict. I believe that if a Singaporean loves his nation enough and/or is scared enough to defend it, he/she will do it. It is unfair to suggest that a person's faith (mainly religious, but there's conscience and principle too) is his/her weakness and liability.

Islam, like any faith (religious and non-religious), is a person's strength, but policies have come to suggest they are weaknesses. There is also the suggestion that a person's personal faith, beliefs and religiosity cannot coexist with the nationalist agenda. Then there are the Jehovah Witness guys who are sent to jail - talk about religious freedom.

The government should keep up to pace with our changing society, even though there will be the occasional unhappy voice (there will always be an unhappy voice because governments are popular, and minorities are created in such a system).

People will say it is politically incorrect to highlight the achievement of an ethnic Chinese, so just relabel it as a Singaporean achievement. When it comes to the achievement of an ethnic minority, race/ethnic foregrounds the story and the achievement is merely a footnote. These are tools, I say, used by the Chinese elite for minority appeasement. However, lost in the process is the achievement itself, as it has been displaced by the the emphasis on ethnicity and skin colour. We are beyond this. A Malay general is a general. A Malay commando is a commando... wait... yes.

In our school textbooks, we are constantly reminded of the dangers of race-based politics. What we are doing right now also constitutes race-based politics. You do not have to enter the formal domain of politics nor engage political institutions to do politics, by the way.

Minority appeasement is always anticipatory, because we have had truckloads of history to remind us the extent to which race-based conflicts may escalate. This form of appeasement is important especially when political stability and economic progress matter most. Relevant stakeholders in society have to be identified and accomodated. Some minorities become recognised in the process and other minorities continue to be, well, lesser minorities.

Minority appeasement comes with a leash and it tightens each time there is appeasement. It creates role models in specific domains and industries, expectations and limitations. It carves out the boundaries and renarrates history to the specific minority segment of society. It creates the milestones and benchmarks for the minority. It tells the minority what its future should be and will be.

I say, leave culture to the people who practise it. Allow different people and different minorities to play an active role in defining and redefining 'multiculturalism'. Don't hog and dominate this political rhetoric for yourselves. Multicultralism should not be preached by the monoculturalist, all the more by one with an economic imperative.

I do not recall the media gloating about race in the two Singapore Idol contests. I do no remember seeing "Hey! A Malay beat a Chinese in the final! Malays can do it too! Singapore Idol is a Malay! Woooooot!!!"

Or maybe, just maybe, in the latest instalment of Singapore Idol, we might have a showdown between an ethnic Malay and an ethnic Chinese contestant, and the Chinese contestant might come out tops. Will we have the headline, "CHINESE SINGAPORE IDOL, FINALLY: Singapore's First Chinese Singapore Idol. Pride and achievement for the Chinese community".

We will interview a Chinese representative, say, Lee Hsien Loong, who may provide the statement, "As a Chinese, I am very proud that our Singapore Idol is Chinese, and with him/her winning the competition, it shows that our Chinese Singaporeans can do as well as the Malays in Singapore Idol and even win it. This is a step forward for the community." I really look forward to this, so let us hope we have a truly talented winner like the previous winners, and if he/she happens to be ethnic Chinese, things will get interesting.

We should not use minorities to substantiate and justify nationalistic rhetoric. We have children and seniors of different skin colour pasted all over our lampposts commemorating the upcoming 44th National Day (a number the ethnic Chinese will cringe at, but they believe they cannot talk about it, because it would be politically incorrect and they believe they would be seen as being bigoted and culturally ignorant and relativist).

Our National Day Parade songs too are an orgy of cultural instruments symbolic of their respective ethnic groups. What is new?

There is a growing segment of our population, the foreign talents. They are minorities too. They are stakeholders in our society. Will we have top foreign talent PSLE kid in the near future? Will we have our first foreign talent general in the army? Oh wait, only Singaporeans defend Singapore and foreign talents in Singapore. Foreign talents do not defend Singapore, dumb dumb. Chey!

In short, I envisage the whole scenario as a big burly yellow-skinned Chinese man pointing his finger at an ethnic Malay and saying, "Hey you! You are a Malay! Remember that!" (interpellation haha!)

What is interesting is that the local ethnic Chinese are themselves rather fragmented, culturally and class-wise. But of course, the Chinese elite are more bothered about doing things that they deem will "not piss off the ethnic minorities". Mind you, most minorities are more media and information savvy and literate than you think. They know B.S. when they see it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Snob Snob! Who's There?

Ooo, a friend told me about this. http://forums.asiaone.com/showthread.php?t=20903

In it, some blogger by the monicker "Intellectual Snob", whose blog is at http://theintellectualsnob.blogspot.com/, wrote what is considered inflammatory and politically incorrect. So, the moral police and owners of the evergreen 10-CD compilation entitled "Politically Correct Greatest Hits Ever", wielded their righteous pointy cyber pitchforks and do their best to address this post.

Any way, the post is pretty old, and it concerns the inferior intellect, and ah well, general inferiority of local graduates. I see terms such as "intellectual shortfall" and "buffoons", which is quite amusing actually. But of course, we live in Singapore, where we can't stand criticism, and where we believe criticism from privilege positions are less favourable and less credible and relevant than criticisms from the "ground", or in this blogger's terms, from the "intellectual underground"! (I just cracked an elitist joke!)

Yes, the criticism (that local graduates, a community of which I am part) is valid. But I believe we have to assess the socio-political and economic conditions that led to the proliferation of inferior brain cells.

Nothing beats having an education outside your homeland, and more so if that education is at well-established and renowned colleges and universities around the world. You are firstly in a different cultural environment, and if you were not still sitting comfortably in your cultural relativist bubble, you will definitely be able to reflect on your previous and current social and cultural condition. For instance, being an ethnic Chinese Singaporean studying in a place that is either predominantly Caucasian American, or a healthy heterogeneous mix of nationalities.

Secondly, with better funds and a stronger alumni, a powerful stakeholder our local universities cannot seem to attract and reasons for which will be later discussed, these established universities are able to attract top teaching talent. The creation of a stimulating intellectual culture is self-perpetuating, just like how self-perpetuating stupidity (c.f. Singapore Armed Forces).

Next, the local universities' main role is to create employable minions. On occasion, they attempt to empower undergraduates with life skills such as project work (a.k.a. skiving, leeching, butt-covering, ass-kissing, ball-carrying, scrotum-licking kind of activities) and critical thinking (a.k.a. knowing what is within your job scope and what isn't).

Graduates that come out of the assembly line obviously will have little sense of belonging to the factory.

To be fair, the government is doing their job - i.e. make graduates employable. When people are working, they won't starve. When they don't starve, they won't have nothing to lose and start riots that mind derail the economic imperative that singularly drives and sustains our survival and not to mention, the longevity of the People's Action Party.

When it comes to earning a living, which appeals to many lower to middle-class folks, not rich enough to accumulate wealth and not privileged enough to make their money work for them, I think many of us are willing to give up critical thinking.

Because when you think, it sometimes compromises the orders your boss gave you. That is why I feel the oxymoron of the decade (and for more decades to come) is our Army's motto of a 'Thinking Soldier'. A good and effective soldier is one who follows orders, mate!

To be politically correct, I strongly believe happiness matters more than intellect.

Of course, the usual street-savvy rhetoric to deal with intellectual snobbery is best encapsulated in the forum post:

The STOMPer, in his response to the blog, said "While I do not deny that local grads have limited experiences compared to theintellectualsnob, I feel ultimately that success in the working field is more important, not which school you came from.

Actually, if a person is really smart, he/she need not be judged by his/her achievements in the working field, because he/she would not need to be in the field slogging it out with other "inferior" talents. I see a mismeasurement of the world-savvy by the street-savvy.

Stereotypically, some working class folks will associate respect with having that street smart and savvy. They will challenge theories based on their relevance and practicality. They will use "in the real world..." and "what it is out there..." rhetoric to gain a higher moral and discursive advantage over you.

The world-savvy folks have a different rhetoric. They are opportunity-seeking. They see beyond wanting to gain respect in the 'hood. They may still talk about the "real world", but theirs exist beyond geographical boundary.

I think it is slightly unfair to diss people who just want to earn an honest living. Sure, some people may appear to be uncomfortable in front of intelligent folks, and some might not have the critical thinking a top college graduate might possess, but they are just out to earn something sustainable.

I do agree that intellectual curiosity and critical thinking in Singapore are not what most academics will want them to be. They are not without an economic agenda. So long as our Singapore leaders continue to bathe in the milk of pragmatist ideology, intellectual curiosity and critical thinking in Singapore will always be geared towards economic viability and goal-oriented developments. But that is not to say we are not intelligent, or buffoon-like for that matter.

Maybe the government had expanded the universities to accommodate the 1988 offspring of superstitious frisky parents, such that we will have a fair percentage of university graduates per batch. With an absolute increase in the number of students in a school, there will be a fair increase in the number of good thinkers, and those who are buffoon-incarnate. (I like the word buffoon, and have never thought of using it until the blogger used it)

Sure, there have been many professors in the university who have often questioned their existence in such an environment, e.g. "Why am I marking/reading this piece of..."

Mind you, our universities are not to blame. Most of the undergraduates have come from 12 to more years of the formal/public education system. There are some who have the privilege (and merit) to be in schools whose syllabuses are more extensive and critical than what is planned by the Ministry of Education.

When we have a culture where we silence criticism either with a wave of the iron hand or with bullying tactics (like how political commentators/critiques are "invited" to enter the domain of the politics to do their talking), we will have a cultural lacking the necessary and critical level of critical thinking (me so very tautological).

Most intelligent people need creative spaces and freedom to explore and develop their potential. Singapore is not one good place, at the moment. Politically, culturally and economically, it is not the best place, although the island-state is considered by The Monocle as one of the most liveable cities in the world. Maybe if I had at least a million Sing dollars, I will find Singapore liveable too!

There is no market for intellectualism except in the domain of education and research with economic agenda. There will never be a place for critical thinking so long as most of us continue to measure ideas and jobs based on how much rice they put on the table - which is a very legitimate measurement by the way.

When people complain about the lack of critical thinking in Singapore, I feel that graduates and teachers/professors are not to blame. We have to assess the culture from which we live and thrive, and from which spawns the self-perpetuating cycle of discourses that prioritises economic survivability, sustenance, development, growth and other characteristics of a Chinese elite wet dream.

That said, we cannot be labelled as "soulless", because our soul is in the discourse of 'pragmatism', no matter how misguided and single-minded. We also cannot be labelled as "stupid" because our goals are simple - we want lots of money!

Most of us do not fancy prioritising self-actualisation above leading a comfortable and sustainable material lifestyle. Once in a while, we feel happy we are helping others, but most of the time, we are part of the bandwagon of selfish and highly rational folk (you do not need critical thinking to be rational, I believe).

And when there is a specific work ethic that discursively dominates, some stuff done by the relatively privilege (intellectually, socio-economically, etc.) may more likely be taken with offense. For example, parody, humour, sarcasm, and honest opinions are seen as snobbish, snooty, insensitive and so on. On the other hand, it is okay and harmless for the hawker stall aunty to snort and roll her eyes when a "potato-eating" "street-dumb" English-educated Eurasian-looking kid like myself politely tries to order some food by speaking Mandarin. (There's no credit for being nice or trying to speak Mandarin, by the way)

I think the experiences and opinions of the blogger Intellectual Snob are valid and legitimate. But it is our culture of political correctness, injected with the a couple of vials of Christian-Confucian puritanism, that continually silences this. If the working class can wear their bling and strut their respectable street-smart swagger, why can't the upper and privileged classes run their mouths? (By the way, I wished I had the bling, the swagger and the know-how to run my mouth.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The late Anthony Yeo's letters to the press

Counsellor Anthony Yeo passed away yesterday.

I only know his name from a content analysis I did while researching for my Honours Thesis on sexual minority representation.

When it came to queer issues, he wrote fairly and had always appealed for greater understanding and some degree of sensibility, a very simple and humble position most of us can learn about, learn from and perhaps emulate.

Here are the various letters he had written over the years. The first two are queer related. The rest cover other social topics.

July 18, 2003: Keep an open mind and respect differing views

Mr George Lim Heng Chye's comment on hiring of gays raises some issues that warrant further dialogue.

While one would not dispute the need to uphold moral values, to regard the hiring of gays on the part of the Government as a signal of possible moral decadence is being rather simplistic.

The assertion that the gay lifestyle will erode moral values and expose the next generation to corrupting influences seems to suggest that the world we live in, that is predominantly heterosexual in orientation, is a perfect world, vulnerable to deadly influence if we permit the gay lifestyle to prevail.

If we were to survey the kind of problems we experience daily, we would be familiar with physically and sexually abused children, females being raped and molested, people growing up emotionally and mentally disturbed, as well as a variety of deviant behaviours.

Those in the mental-health profession would easily testify that the large majority of them come from homes where parents are heterosexual in orientation.

Mr Lim also seemed rather certain as to how homosexuals become the way they are. Views have always been divided on this issue.

However, there has been an increasing dominant observation that homosexuals do not necessarily come from a sexually abused background, homes without father figures, or being nurtured by dominant mothers, nor were they addicted to pornography. It has also been observed that many who had been sexually abused as children do not end up being homosexuals.

It is still rather unclear as to whether children raised by same-sex parents are necessarily more disturbed than children with heterosexual parents. There is evidence from longitudinal studies that children with same-sex parents may not necessarily exhibit psychological disturbances.

We cannot contend that should homosexuals ever be in key positions in government, there will be a definite corrupting influence filtering through society.

One needs merely to observe those countries that have permitted homosexual marriages to acknowledge that those countries are not falling apart.

Perhaps it might be wiser to adopt an open mind for dialogue and be respectful of differing views.

Anthony Yeo

July 13, 2007: Let's debate without prejudice, judgment or condemnation

Mr Janadas Devan made a very bold attempt in exploring the issues pertaining to same-sex parents forming a family, 'Can mum, mum and kids make a family?' (ST, July 7).

His article serves a useful challenge to the majority view that homosexuals, if permitted to carry on their lifestyle, and/or become parents, will only bring disorder and disaster to family and society.

Of particular challenge are the questions: 'Are the children of divorced heterosexual couples better off than the children of my lesbian friends?' and 'How about the children of single mothers or of constantly bickering heterosexual couples locked in loveless marriages?'

I believe there is a need for further consideration and discussion regarding these questions.

In my 35 years of professional practice of psychological counselling and work with families, this is what I have observed.

Of all the thousands of people who sought counselling for psychological disturbance, relationship problems and effects of stress of life, I observed that all of them had parents from heterosexual marriages.

Those children who have suffered from physical, emotional/psychological and sexual abuse did not have parents from same sex relationship.

In fact, practically every case of sexual abuse involved a parent, usually the father or step-father, uncle, brother and someone known to the family. They were mostly heterosexual encounters.

Of all those who sought counselling with marital problems involving one spouse having extra-marital affairs, practically all of them involved the spouse having a heterosexual relationship.

I have had experiences with men afflicted with sexual addiction, such as pornography and those who engage in paid sex. Most of these men were married heterosexuals.

As I ponder over Janadas' questions, I am also wondering about the tendency to ascribe social and family problems to the threat of a homosexual lifestyle and relationship.

It is so easy to make proclamations that if homosexuals were to be accepted and homosexual acts decriminalised, then society and family life will inevitably deteriorate.

My observations, experiences coupled with research done do not bear this out in any way.

In fact, if my 35 years of professional experience were to be credited with any validity, I am more inclined to ask the following questions:

1. Is there an ideal form of family life?

2. Are parents from heterosexual marriages any safer for children?

3. Could it be possible that such parents are more likely to cause harm to children, leading to long-term psychological problems?

4. What evidence do we have that children of same-sex parents might not be better adjusted people?

5. How do we reckon with the fact that almost all known homosexuals have parents from heterosexual marriages?

In sharing my observations and questions, my intention is to appeal for a reasoned dialogue over this matter without prejudice, judgment or condemnation.

It serves no purpose to persecute any human being, most of all people with different sexual orientation from the majority in society.

Homosexuals are human beings deserving of dignity, respect and acceptance even if we have difficulties understanding them and/or accepting their sexual orientation and lifestyles.

Anthony Yeo

Anthony Yeo had also written other letters that turn our attention to things we do not normally bother about. He also draws his experience as a counsellor to provide some good advice for the public.

April 4, 2000: Explore other forum channels

The editorial, "A corner to shine in?" (ST, March 30), offers useful ideas supporting the proposal for a Speakers' Corner.

Although it is suggested we should give this proposal a try, there are reasons for reservations and cynicism.

In all my visits to the Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, London, since 1973, I had come away with an impression about the Speakers' Corner: Nobody needs to take anything said there seriously.

This impression is influenced by my observation of the people who visit Hyde Park, the subject matter expounded and entertainment value of the Speakers' Corner.

I wonder if Singapore's proposed Speakers' Corner will be any different.

I agree that "a forum for public discourse without undue hindrance" is necessary.

But I wonder if this needs to be realised by having a Speakers' Corner?

Surely, there must be other channels for such discourses.

Civil society is not necessarily enhanced by having a Speakers' Corner.

The forum may also not be a reflection of civil society.

I agree that people's views of the authorities and the Government as being rather ntolerant of opposing views are too deeply entrenched to be changed overnight.

The memory of Ms Catherine Lim's experience still lingers.

We need to nurture a spirit of openness and spontaneity.

This takes time in a society where people are still accustomed to government initiative in many areas of life.

It would be nice for more interaction between the Government and citizens in public forums and the media.

This would assure people that Singapore is maturing as a democratic society capable of adopting an open and tolerant posture.

The idea of a Speakers' Corner for such a purpose is only one avenue.

Other channels could also be explored.

If Singapore wants a platform for people to let off steam and engage in public bantering of ideas that may have no particular consequence, a Speakers' Corner may serve a good purpose.

However, to suggest that it be a platform for any serious discussion and exposition of social or political ideas may be stretching the idea a little too far.

Anthony Yeo

March 6, 2001: Promote marriage in a realistic way

MRS Yu-Foo Yee Shoon's expression of concern over the rising divorce rate in Singapore ('More S'pore children seeing psychiatrists'; ST, March 2) in relation to the increase in the number of children seeing psychiatrists should alert us to the need for some careful thinking about how marriage and family life should be promoted.

It is commendable that various committees have been formed to map out ways to encourage people to marry and have children. Unfortunately, the Government's enthusiastic effort may be giving people undue idealism.

Thus far, it can be observed that marriage has been idealised as the most desirable state of life for everyone, especially the young and educated. Likewise, couples are given the impression that having children brings great personal fulfilment.

Ideas have also been given on how people should get hitched and, if they should do so, how they can enhance their marriage.

For instance, the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCDS) had a full-page advertisement on Valentine's Day (ST, Feb 14) which gave six ideas for injecting spontaneity and romance into marriage.

One wonders if these ideas are appropriate to our culture, way of life and the ability to attempt any or all of the recommendations. Furthermore, the ideas seem like some middle-class, Western practices which may be alien to many in Singapore.

It would be rather surprising if there were couples who would surprise their spouses with roses on the bed, draw faces on eggs to say 'I love you', or have the time or energy to do jigsaw puzzles together.

In our enthusiasm to promote marriage, we may be giving people false expectations of marriage. In reality, married people are more familiar with the mundane, unromantic and daily routine of life.

Over-idealising and raising false expectations may result in disappointment and disillusionment when couples' needs and expectations go unmet. The obvious result is an increasing trend towards divorce. The same can be expected in our attempt to encourage couples to have more children.

Following the reported increase in the number of children seeking psychiatric help, we can see a possible further increase in the years to come.

Many parents and children already think that life is stressful. Parents are lamenting the lack of joy in parenting, despite attempts to portray it as otherwise. Children feel they are not enjoying their childhood and worry too much about their studies to think of having fun, which is a fundamental element for parent-child bonding.

While we may wish to encourage marriage and family life, we should consider: Culturally-appropriate expressions of the relationship; Realistic portrayal of marriage and family life; Avoiding the presentation of some Western, middle-class depiction of marriage; Helping people appreciate the demands of marriage, family life and parenting; Reviewing national goals to support strengthening marital and family ties.

It does not help if one government ministry is promoting family life, while another seems to be demanding time and commitment to other pursuits that could work against family togetherness.

Perhaps a comprehensive approach is needed to send a clear, consistent message that family life is paramount. This may require some rethinking about upholding the constant striving for economic excellence.

There must be a way to experience a world-class home without necessarily having a world-class economy.

Anthony Yeo

March 20, 2002: Non-medical therapy can help in depression

It is indeed timely to be reminded that there is treatment available for not only depressed women, but also anyone who is afflicted with depression ("Programmes are in place to help depressed women", ST, March 15).

In his letter, Prof Kua Ee Hock of the Institute of Mental Health indicated that depression can be treated not only with medication, but with psychotherapy as well.

The treatment of depression is not only restricted to psychiatric and medical treatment, as any one experiencing depression would find it useful to deal with personal and interpersonal issues connected with depression.

Depression can also affect family members and others related to the person.

Hence, the treatment of depression includes therapy involving other people as well.

Non-medical treatment of depression includes various forms of psychotherapy and family therapy. Such treatment has been found to combine well with the prescription of medicines.

This combination provides a useful and holistic approach to dealing with depression.

Such services are available from non-medical mental-health professionals such as psychotherapists, family therapists, counsellors and social workers.

If anyone is in doubt, information is available from the National Council of Social Service.

Anthony Yeo

May 15, 2003: Could not man have spent last moments with dying wife?

The death of Madam Hamidah Ismail, the nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital who battled Sars for 61 days, must have touched many Singaporeans' hearts ('Mum, a model nurse, dies on Mother's Day'; ST, May 12).

It pained me to learn that her husband, Mr Miswadi Roslan, could only watch in agony behind a glass panel as she breathed her last.

He would have loved to be by her side and 'to embrace her'. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to do so.

The account of his experience watching his wife leave this earth raises questions about the stringent measures taken to avoid contact with Sars patients.

One wonders if the hospital authorities and the Government could not have made concessions for someone like Mr Miswadi to be by his wife's side during her last moments.

Losing someone through death is a painful experience. Losing her through Sars is even more devastating, given the virus' mysterious and awesome nature.

Surely, there could have been a way to provide Mr Miswadi with the necessary protective garments and equipment for him to be with his wife.

If health-care workers could be protected when they administered care to Madam Hamidah, how could it not be possible to provide a similar protective outfit for Mr Miswadi?

He could be quarantined following contact with his wife. That would have made his last moments with her most memorable and helped him with his grief.

The Government must be lauded for taking very stringent steps to deal with the spread of Sars. It has also been attempting to humanise its approach as well.

Surely, it could have gone one step further in balancing stringent measures with a human touch by making it possible for Mr Miswadi to offer that intimate goodbye to his wife for closure to his ordeal in witnessing her gradual slide from life.

Anthony Yeo

March 17, 2004: Boost births but stress family life

The concern about the falling birth rate tends to be focused on increasing the fertility rate to replace the population, for economic reasons. Any attention to family life seems to be incidental.

The many ideas proposed tend towards making marriage attractive, bearing children a joy and being parents an oppor-tunity not to be missed. Hence the relentless attempts at romanticising marriage, idealis-ing life with children and glori-fying happiness in family life.

As we ponder this issue, we should also reckon with some inevitable realities of life:

Singapore is affected by the worldwide trend of delayed marriages, smaller families, delayed child-bearing and childlessness in marriage.

The more highly educated will strive for a middle-class lifestyle, with its tendency towards delayed marriages and smaller families.

The lower-income group will usually have bigger families.

The Government's goal of economic excellence and striving for a high standard of living have raised expectations for a good life, defined in terms of material well-being.

The striving for such a lifestyle tends to push people to pursue education and concentrate on career.

With longer life spans, the younger generation stays 'young' longer, resulting in their prolonged dependency on parents and their feeling that they are still kids. This was aptly highlighted by Ms Clarissa Oon ('Kids? But I'm still a kid'; ST, March 9).

The pressure of life in general tends to leave little time for forming relationships both in school and when the young are out in the world of work.

As we contend with such realities, it is imperative that our policy-makers ponder carefully before embarking on further measures to encourage people to have a family.

If our aim is to preserve and enhance family life rather than merely ensuring population growth, we may need to adopt a comprehensive approach.

As has been suggested, let us begin by pouring resources into what we already have among the lower-income, bigger families. Assistance should be given to them to nurture family well-being, including support services as well as education and employment opportunities.

Secondly, the proposal to liberalise granting of permanent-resident status to foreign workers, especially to foreign husbands, must apply to those less skilled, such as work-permit holders, as well.

Thirdly, when DPM Lee Hsien Loong and other MPs mentioned the need for a change of mindset, it requires both Government and people to expand their view of marriage and family life.

We must view men's role in the family as being as essential as the women's. A child needs both parents for care and nurture. Hence paternity leave must be accorded a place in plans to extend maternity leave.

Fourthly, we need to focus on enhancing family life. We can begin by not romanticising marriage, idealising parenting and glorifying happiness in family life without acknow-ledging the difficulties.

As a mental-health profes-sional involved in marital and family therapy for over 30 years, I observed that romance is not a regular feature of married life. If at all, it may not last more than six months into a marriage.

We must acknowledge that those who marry do experience conflicts, with many ending up divorced within 10 years of their marriage. If there were more marriages, there would be more divorces too.

Demands of parenting should not be minimised. With heightened expectations of a good life, there will be pressure on parents to provide the best in material terms for children.

Children will be pressured to perform in school and family life would inevitably be overwhelmed by attention given to school work. In this sense, there is no way to prevent children from entering the rat race and becoming an economic digit, as feared by the unborn baby in Asad Latif's column ('Would you like to be born in Singapore? Come on, you can be honest'; ST, March 13).

Fifthly, in our enthusiasm to encourage childbirth by provid-ing childcare facilities, we may need to ensure that babies are not quickly farmed out to such facilities. Young children need bonding from significant others, primarily parents.

Sixthly, we should also be paying attention to those who are single, especially single women. Single people are also members of families and have family life as well. They are also able to offer support and nurture to other family members with children.

Finally, we must acknow-ledge that no matter what we do, we may need to come to terms with a situation where population growth will not increase dramatically, where we will be faced with an increasingly ageing population and where marriage will always be a personal matter.

Why not envision a Singapore that will still be full of life? It can be a nation with respect for life, where life can be meaningful whether one is married, single, widowed, divorced or elderly. Life will be valued for what it is, regardless of its economic value.

Anthony Yeo

October 2, 2004: Discipline, don't punish

I agree with Dr Daniel Fung that reasoning alone might not be the best, and that caning should not be used, a point made by Mr Eric Ching (ST, Sept 28).

In wanting to ensure that children are brought up with minimal emotional and behavioural problems, we may need to adopt a comprehensive approach rather than be caught up in the dilemma as to whether parents should use the cane or reasoning.

I believe the issue has more to do with how we should nurture children, if possible with minimal damage to their self-esteem.

This involves appreciating the need of children to be nurtured with discipline without necessarily resorting to capital punishment like caning.

It will also necessitate making a distinction between disciplining and punishing. The two may not be similar.

Generally, disciplining refers to guidance, instruction, education and training. Obviously the goal is to nurture socially and morally acceptable behaviour.

Punishing, on the other hand, is meant to inflict suffering (on the offender) for some offence committed. The focus is to deter the offender from repeating the offence.

When we think of nurturing children, it might help to focus on disciplining rather than punishing. The former is more likely to foster well-being whereas the latter may generate resentment and rebellion.

In any case, one wonders what children could possibly do to be treated like criminals deserving of punishment.

If nurture is our concern, might it not be safer and more useful to adopt a variety of ways in enforcing discipline without administering punishment?

One way is to learn to talk to children. This involves teaching values, explaining rules and reasoning with them about appropriate behaviour.

Even when children misbehave, surely, we can talk to them rather than punish them?

Secondly, there is a place for reinforcing positive behaviour. Parents tend to highlight misbehaviour and give negative feedback.

It is easy to focus on what is wrong and unacceptable rather than focus on letting children know when they have done what is right and acceptable.

Part of reinforcing positive behaviour includes rewarding children for appropriate behaviour. This could include verbal affirmations as well as giving material rewards.

Thirdly, children do respond when they are isolated for misbehaviour. Getting them to stand in a corner, being kept in their room or being ignored until they decide to calm down may be helpful in restraining them. Parents can then talk to them and embrace them to bond with them.

Fourthly, parents may wish to impose penalties like withdrawing privileges, grounding or denying certain pleasures. These can help children learn that when rules are infringed, penalties may be imposed.

These are examples of the variety of ways parents can discipline children. There may be more but the primary concern is to free parents from the struggle as to whether to use the hard or soft method in dealing with children.

Surely, there is no need to struggle if parents appreciate that children need nurturing in a way that helps them experience bonding with the parents?

When they misbehave, they should be disciplined with love and acceptance. There may be no need to resort to punitive ways.

Anthony Yeo

November 2, 2004: Media should leave China girl's mum alone

I refer to the tragic death of eight-year-old Huang Na who went missing earlier.

In the midst of her distress, her mother, Madam Huang Shuying, had said repeatedly that she did not wish to talk to the media. In fact, she was seen on television responding angrily to reporters on the evening news on Channel NewsAsia on Monday.

When Madam Huang retorted that she did not know 'what are emotions' when asked how she felt, it was a very poignant indication that a person in such a predicament should be treated with a great deal of sensitivity.

While the media covers the incident, which has drawn the attention and sympathy of many in Singapore, it would be useful to appreciate the experience of anyone afflicted by a disastrous happening, in order to minimise the possibility of exacerbating the pain.

What Madam Huang is experiencing is not unlike that experienced by the next-of-kin of those affected by the Nicoll Highway collapse, the crash of SQ006 in Taipei in 2000 or any traumatic experience.

She would be in a state of shock, followed by intense anger and grief, with features of post-traumatic experience.

Madam Huang is also very vulnerable at this time and being showered with media attention and questions from reporters can only intensify her trauma and heighten her vulnerability.

The media must appreciate her psychological state and realise that what she needs is support by caring people, even if no words were uttered.

Her insistence on not being spoken to is a strong indication that she should be left to grieve and cope amid the confusion arising from the experience.

For the sake of the mental health of people like Madam Huang, I urge all in the media to learn to leave them alone. The last thing anyone should ask a person in such a state is how she is feeling.

Anthony Yeo

December 31, 2004: Time to mourn, and treasure relationships

Sunday's tidal waves affected many parts of the world and many lives were lost. It is time for us to pause and think.

As more lives are reported lost and those who survived experience the impact of this disaster, may we take time to mourn and extend our sympathies to those affected.

Maybe this is also a time to ponder over the meaning of life as we know it and be grateful for whatever we have.

Perhaps it is also a time to stop celebrating. This may mean taking time to feel the pain of those affected and minimise, or, if possible, avoid any celebration to usher in the New Year.

This is a time for mourning. Celebrations can come at some other time. It is also a time for giving and sharing with those who have need for clothes, food and water.

It is also a time for sharing in their grief.

Finally, it is a time for us to appreciate life and acknowledge once more that life is fragile and we can easily lose what we have, especially our relationships with people who mean something to us.

Anthony Yeo

May 31, 2005: Joint custody eases the pain for children

I fully support High Court judge Justice Lai Siu Chiu's call for a review of child- custody laws in Singapore ('Judge calls for custody laws relook'; ST, May 28).

We have assumed for too long that the mother is the most suitable parent to have custody of children.

Thankfully, with time, more and more fathers are having custody as well.

In divorce proceedings, there is a tendency to view child custody as the sole right of parents who often engage in rather-contentious conflicts, with each claiming sole custody of the child.

In the process, we seem to have overlooked the fact that in any marital dispute, we must protect the welfare of the child.

We should view child custody from the perspective of the right of a child to experience parenting from both father and mother.

Likewise, a child should always retain the right of access to either parent, whether the child is living with the mother or father.

This will ensure that when marriages break up, the child will still have a set of parents and hence begin life with a special family where father and mother do not live together.

There is still a family where the child has a father and a mother. Hopefully, this will also minimise the stigma of being a child of a single parent, as it will no longer be the case, since both parents are still alive and the child has ready access for maintaining a relationship with both.

As divorce is an inevitable feature of life, we must do everything possible to minimise the psychological distress that children go through when marriages break down.

Making joint custody mandatory, unless there are good reasons, is one positive step towards this end.

Anthony Yeo

July 19, 2006: Whether or not we agree with 'unhappy Singaporeans' study, possibility warrants our attention and self-examination

It may come as a surprise to many in Singapore to learn that Singaporeans are the least happy people in Asia (ST, July 13).

Whether we agree with the study by a British think-tank or not, the possibility that we could be warrants our attention and self-examination.

It is generally believed that economic prosperity and material well being are hallmarks of a successful and happy life.

In days gone by, we were led to extol this belief, the influence coming primarily from the so-called First World countries known to be First World due to their economic and technological advancement.

In many ways, Singapore did strive and has become First World, with Singaporeans constantly bombarded with the message that life will be less meaningful if we are left behind by other economically advancing countries.

Now we can boast many things we have developed, acquired and accumulated. To other Asian countries, Singapore seems like paradise.

Yet, are we generally happy, satisfied and contented?

The study says no.

I suppose many will dispute the results of the study.

But before we do so, let us consider what continues to challenge Singaporeans.

One, it was recently reported that someone commits suicide every day. Many more have attempted it.

Two, our mental institution has been expanded and is well occupied, with others seeking treatment from private institutions.

Three, the divorce rate continues to rise, with a high probability of many couples living in estrangement, though not legally divorced.

Four, there are more psychiatrists with more people seeking psychiatric services, with an increasing number of counselling services and the recent growth of family service centres to cater to those with problems.

In fact, despite more counselling services, the Counselling and Care Centre continues to see no decrease in demand for our services.

Finally, as we peek into the future, there will be more social problems as anticipated by the authorities when there are casinos and the probability of increasing incidence of gambling addiction resulting in more personal and family problems.

As we survey the scene, we need to ask if what we strive for really makes life more fruitful, meaningful and satisfying. Material gains do not necessarily lead to psychological, social and spiritual well being.

There must be something more to life than that little extra in terms of economic and material well being.

I learnt this some years ago when I did some work in a small town in India.

During a lecture, a member of the audience asked me if I thought Singapore was a good place to live.

I asked the reason for the question and he said: 'I hear Singapore is prosperous but why do people kill themselves and have mental problems, and divorce is increasing? Here in our part of the world, we have much less but we have time for each other, moments to savour nature around us and our children are happy.'

What was most telling was his concluding comment: 'We are not wealthy, but we are happy.'

Anthony Yeo

September 7, 2006: Upgrade salaries and perks of social service professionals

I refer to the report, '$250m package to make teaching more attractive' (ST, Sept 5). With the move to acknowledge the teaching profession through upgrading of salaries and various perks, it is time for the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) - in collaboration with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports - to seriously consider up grading the salaries and perks of social service professionals. Many of the members of the Association for Marital and Family Therapy (Singapore) are social workers,counsellors and family therapists working in voluntary welfare organisations. Generally, they are employed under terms set by the NCSS with minimal perks and salaries that are lower when compared with the teaching profession. In recent times, the salaries of heads of social organisations have come under scrutiny with the National Kidney Foundation saga and, more recently, the disclosure of the $13,000 salary of Youth Challenge founder Vincent Lam. Whatever has transpired, the need to review and upgrade the salaries and perks of social service professionals has not been addressed. The reason for such an exercise, as with the teaching profession, is obvious.

Social service professionals work under tremendous stress, having to deal with a variety of social ills, including family violence and gambling problems.

All too often such professionals have to work long hours. This was most obvious during the Sars period, when counsellors and social workers made a big difference.

These professionals generally do not have sabbaticals and have minimal prospect of further advancement in their professions.

It is indeed to their credit that many have stayed in their professions for love of what they do, but this should not give rise to possible exploitation of their passion and commitment.

Anthony Yeo

November 13, 2006: Reverse trend of marriages breaking up and family life fragmenting

I could not agree more with Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan's call to make the family top priority.

The minister should also be lauded for stating that the Government 'can try to set the tone in our policies, actions and what we say'.

It may be helpful to consider the dilemmas confronting us and explore alternative ways to deal with the inevitable trend of marriages breaking up and family life being fragmented.

For a start, the Government may wish to think about how prevailing messages can militate against family well-being such as:

- The constant reminder to be competitive, again reiterated by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew that we must continue to 'move quickly, we cannot stay still' (ST, Nov 6), so as to make Singapore a 'redder and brighter' spot on the globe.

- The message that gambling is perfectly acceptable, with plans for casinos in Singapore (even though gambling already rears its ugly destructive head without any casinos).

- The pressure of an education system that continues to place demands on families despite efforts to minimise curriculum content.

- The call to marry young and have babies among the young that contributes to the rising divorce rate.

- The call to go regional and global for economic gain, leading to a need for constant travel.

The above messages are very potent and regardless of how they are communicated, we cannot deny that whatever is communicated by the Government tends to influence people in significant ways.

If we are serious about making the family a priority, I propose that we acknowledge the following realities:

- The divorce rate will continue to rise regardless of whatever measures we take to prevent it.

- People here are exposed to global trends, fashions and lifestyles, leaving us with no way to insulate ourselves from such influences that affect marriage and family life.

- There will always be challenges to family life, especially in this cyber age.

- We may take measures to prevent marital breakdown, but there is no way to to prevent it altogether.

- Programmes such as family life education and marriage enrichment programmes may not reach those in need, and we may be 'preaching to the converted'.

- Marriage preparation programmes and premarital counselling may not prevent marital breakdowns.

- There will be more demands for services to support families with difficulties that will stretch available resources.

In view of these realities, it may be more useful for Government and people to work together to promote family well-being by observing the following:

- The Government can avoid communicating double messages, such as encouraging people to give priority to the family while urging them to put more time and effort into maintaining the pace of development and material progress.

- If we are serious about focusing on the family, we may need to consider a slower pace of growth and be less competitive economically. If the family really matters, other priorities must not compete for attention.

- The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports should be renamed Ministry of Community Development, Family and Sports. After all, youth are part of the family and there is no need to specifically focus on youth to the exclusion of family.

- It should be mandatory that all workplaces be family- friendly, starting with government offices.

- We must adhere strictly to a five-day work week and not permit any form of overtime (unless absolutely necessary), including having workers work from home via the Internet.

- We should formulate a clearly articulated family life policy (that embraces all forms of family life) at national level for implementation at all levels including all social and religious institutions.

- No effort should be spared to sustain plans and programmes for restoring, preserving and enhancing family life.

Anthony Yeo

July 27, 2007: Earlier divorces linked to earlier marriages?

I refer to the report on the increased divorce rate among those aged 20-24 ('Number of couples splitting up at new high'; ST, July 25).

Despite efforts at promoting marriage preparation and family-life programmes, there seems to be no way for us to prevent or reduce the incidence of divorce in Singapore.

What must be of greater concern is the increase in divorce among those aged 20-24.

Could earlier marriages at the urging of the Government (for the purpose of increasing the fertility rate) be correlated to earlier divorces?

With economic and social developments moving at a rapid pace, it is possible that many younger people are still adapting to adult life and responsibilities.

Hence getting married at a younger age could be a source of stress, with possible disruption to their marital relationship.

The latest statistics should prompt us to re-examine the measures that need to be taken to ensure that people do not marry young and, if married, that they are assisted in sustaining their marital relationship in the midst of life's stresses.

We may also need to expand our perspective on what makes for an ideal family, in view of the increasing divorce rate and more children being nurtured primarily by the custodial parent.

The current trend in marriage and family life requires us to promote family well-being without policies and programmes that militate against what we purport to enhance.

Anthony Yeo

For me, I think Anthony's message has always been the same. What I personally gather from what he has written is that we just need to occasionally remember that we are human.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The NLB No-Show for Ah Kua Show

Leona Lo, author of autobiography From Leonard To Leonard, recently had her request to put a poster for her upcoming play at the National Library Board (NLB), Ah Kua Show, turned down by the NLB. She has since started a petition.

She wrote, and I quote:

I wrote to the National Library Board recently to enquire about displaying the Ah Kua Show poster on their notice boards. Without enquiring about the aims of the show – namely, to guide youth who are confused about their gender identity – they turned down my request citing that “displays at our libraries should be relevant to a broad audience of all ages.”

This is weird. I recall NLB had publicity material promoting the play Asian Boys 3, and the same statutory board has previously lent its notice boards to plays and performances that would be considered niche or dark.

It is very interesting how government organisations and statutory boards often juggle the rhetoric of diversity/plurality and the rhetoric of generality. When they seek to make and pass decisions, they will either invoke the reason of diversity/plurality, to justify why such a decision has been made to accommodate differences; that, or they will invoke the reason of generality, and hide behind a smoke screen they call "the majority" or what they smugly perceive as what is good for "children".

The play by Leona obviously deals with the issues a transsexual person have and might face. NLB's rejection is merely symbolic, in my opinion, given that Leona will still continue to promote her work. However, this rejection is enough to show the lack of initiative and responsibility of the organisation, instead of supporting the raising of awareness of trans issues, they have chosen to silence it because they assume it was not relevant.

The public deserves to know more about trans issues, and for starters, those confronted by transsexual persons. There are, among others, emotional, medical, social and professional challenges faced by the gender dysphoric, the pre-operative transsexual, the transitioning and the post-operative transsexual people. The play may fulfill the function of being a play, but it also serves to raise awareness. Awareness and visibility is important, because their lack exacerbates the problems trans people face in our society.

It is odd but unsurprising that we silence the voices of the margins because we fear or dislike the people that we put there in the first place. I cannot see the harm of getting to know another person's story.

Trans people have long been part of our histories, and I fail to understand why is there a need (by some) to silence them. I fail to see the social or moral threat trans people pose to our society.

At the most, the threat is to our cissexist/cisgenderist bigotry and ignorance. The threat is to our pride, as we might feel ashamed for ourselves for consciously and unconsciously continuing the discrimination, the hate and the misinformation of trans people and sexual minorities in general.

The threat to us might be the exposing of how we are ever ready to hide behind populist rhetoric - e.g. children, general morality, gender norms, etc. - just to validate our irrational fear, hatred and discrimination of sexual minorities; all that without ever wanting to reflect on our own biases, for the reflection itself constitutes a threat to our ego and the manner in which we stubbornly subscribe to prevailing and incentivising ideologies.

As Singapore strives to be an "intelligent nation", that is "gracious" "global city", it often takes that giant leap backwards by openly not acknowledging the presence, contributions and issues of certain minorities. Silencing and the supporting the spread of misinformation are also part of this giant leap backwards. All because our leaders are driven by the economic imperative and the continual appeasement of the politically, socially and economically powerful Chinese elite, most of whom intersect with the educated elite and are opinion leaders of a mobilisable moral majority, and the appeasement of specific ethnic/religious minorities.

Harmony and progress for our country is about silence. We will not go far that way. NLB's actions are symbolic annihilation of the trans discourse.

A Fat Hope: Look Jaywalker and Death Baiter

On a road not very far away, someone is attempting to cross it.

But wait! That is without the aid of traffic light crossing, an overhead pedestrian crossing, or a pedestrian underpass!

Boom! A cruising vehicle smashes into this person and the person is immediately reincarnated as non-PAP voter (only assuming that is a lower state of being).

Ace Kindred Cheong, a true ambassador of a good and gracious Singapore, recently wrote to the Straits Times Forum about a jaywalker who got injured after being hit by a car. Poor thing, I immediately thought.

Jaywalkers contribute a significant number of pedestrian accidents on our roads, I've read somewhere. As our cultural icon, not tourism board fabricated chimera of a Merlion, but Gurmit Singh's humorous portrayal of contractor Phua Chu Kang might say, ABUDEN? (similar to the popular western lingo 'duh?!')

A pedestrian is generally safe if they are not on road (but on the footpath). Duh?!

Yes, we have had serious and fatal accidents when cars enter the domain where they should not be entering, and that is beyond the curb and onto the pedestrian footpaths, or the bus-stop.

A sensational case years back involved a driver losing control of his car and the vehicle crashed into a bus-stop, where several persons were waiting. I cannot remember the details of the injuries.

However, the carnage continued when enraged passers-by took the driver out of his car and started exacting their own brand of justice on him. Even if we look back at the situation, both ways, everyone loses.

There are several issues concerning and relating to jaywalking in Singapore, and let's keep this discussion to the tiny red dot that the Taiwanese have baptised as insignificant nose snot or booger.

Let us turn our attention to the thing, whose numbers have created a face-smacking-the-palm rationale for more Electronic Road Pricing gantries. This thing is the wonderful 4-wheeler killing machine that is the car. Of course, a car is a car. But when you put a human being behind the wheel, technological neutralist and instrumentalist perspectives will make us believe that this machine will become a killer.

A significant number of Singaporean drivers probably represent a significant portion of stressed out workers. Perhaps zooming around, flooring the accelerator, bashing the horn and perforating the windshield with that middle finger are cathartic and not uncommon in many urban environments.

I too had my fair share of hearty laughter when I read that Singapore was recently ranked the 17th most livable cities in the world (from the Monocle). How can we be livable when at least one person kills him/herself everyday? How can we be livable when we have road rage?

I guess we are livable because we have Starbucks and Zara, which were reportedly used as measures.

Some Singaporean drivers have the tendency to accelerate when they see someone is trying to cross the road. No, they are not playing a Grand Theft Auto mission. Maybe it is the good feeling of being in control and in power and seeing the pedestrian scampering scared across the road. In real-time strategy gaming scenario, we would probably liken this to a heavy siege attack on an unarmoured unit, and the unarmoured unit will take more damage from siege attacks.

Among those who accelerate upon seeing the pedestrian attempting to cross the road, there are some who are able to adopt another task: Honking the horn.

The car horn to many Singaporean drivers is like rice to a China man - it is the staple and forms the core of your cultural identity. Some Singaporean drivers have the habit of testing the volume and duration of their car horns. Perhaps, they are conducting longitudinal controlled experiments testing the correlation between the intensity at which the palm slams the horn and the volume and sound quality of the horn.

The car horn is also a singular signifier which combines all the rage accumulated from two middle fingers, a few "fuck"s and their derivatives, and a pinch of Hokkien vaginae (the plural of vagina, by the way), preferably yeast-infected because the Hokkien love their vagina to be awful to the senses.

Unfortunately, car horns do not make pedestrians or other cars disappear. The gentle braking or the downshift, while being decent and safer options, could deserve greater consideration.

Jaywalkers ultimately have to look out for themselves. However, motorists should play their part by going a little bit slower when they see them.

Sometimes, it is not safe to be a pedestrian, even on the pedestrian footpaths. You have cyclists zipping to and fro, ringing their bells, and expecting you to get out their way. If etiquette is observed, a cyclist should either dismount and push, or find a way to give way to the pedestrian on the footpath. But that never happens. I have often secretly harboured the desire to clothesline cyclists off their bicycles or shove a branch into their wheel, just to silence them, for a bit (or forever), but unfortunately, the law prevents me from doing so. But I'll continue training my body, so when the day it is legalised, I will have strong enough arms to give those bell-ringing cyclists a stiff clothesline/lariat.

Pedestrians become jaywalkers when they cross the road without using any pedestrian crossing, much to the heartbreak of the Land Transport Authority and the road safety campaign. Correct me if I am wrong, I believe it is illegal to jaywalk within a certain distance of a designated pedestrian crossing. 50 metres? 100 metres? You will be fined (if caught).

Jaywalking varies across cultures, but they are all dangerous. Jaywalkers essentially have to look out for themselves.

Do not be dumb and attempt to cross the road when your view of the traffic is hindered. Oncoming motorists will also be unable to see you. For instance, you can probably not even see beyond 5 metres if you are attempting to cross a road from the front of a bus or large vehicle.

A jaywalker has to make the right and safe decisions. Be as visible as possible. Move at two speeds, steadily fast (constant speed) or increasingly fast (constant acceleration). Do not vary your speed by randomly slowing down or quickening your paces, or dance to and fro between the road lanes, as these will only confuse the motorists.

When in doubt, do not cross. Be patient. And if you have patience, you should be walking to a nearby pedestrian crossing and actually use it.

We often rationalise jaywalkers as lazy people, who choose to get to the other side of the road with minimal effort (but in life, that often works). We need to consider the elderly and those who are relatively physically weak or without assistance. These people have every right to get to the other side of the road like any one else. A little empathy from road rage or impatience stricken motorist could help here when these folks attempt to cross the road.

At the same time, these folks should be reasonable and have a little common sense and not cross the road when the traffic is heavy.

Another breed of jaywalkers are the able-bodied ones who take their time crossing. Perhaps they are on energy conservation, which explains their two-step-per-second stroll across the road. It is the stroll that courts motorist anger, and pedestrian danger.

These strolling jaywalkers are those who believe the pedestrian is king, and to an extent also fall into the bullying mindset that the paying customer knows best and is always right. The thick sense of self-righteousness belies their ignorance. However, it is a pity that these are the people who often escape injury and death.

The jaywalker should have a sense of urgency when crossing; and the motorist, on seeing the jaywalker, should play down his/her own sense of urgency. This is how we prevent non-accidental accidents. When a motorist accelerates upon seeing a jaywalker, it is to me an intent to commit murder, other than the intent to intimidate.

Non-accidental accidents can definitely be prevented. But thanks to irresponsible, ungracious and impatient people, lives are lost.

The problem with some Singaporeans is that they hate to give way. It almost appears as if they would require (re)payment in some form should they exhibit some degree of kindness or courtesy. It is not a question of graciousness, but just simple courtesy. You give way by letting things pass. The motorist gives way by not flooring the accelerator when he/she spots a jaywalker.

Giving way does not come at the expense of one's pride. Pride has no value. But in my case for the next couple of months, it is probably worth a Phuket trip.

Some Singaporeans behave as if when they give way to somebody else, it might set off a karmic chain of events and the human race will be wiped off the face of the earth. Or worse, these guys fear they might be seen as inferior, as poorer or becoming poorer in any possible way. They do not associate such perceived character feebleness with their position in society.

They look outwards and often assess what is wrong with others, e.g. what is wrong with the jaywalker or other motorists.

Given we are stepping out of the 1960s-80s paradigm of 'economic survivability' and entering a new paradigm of 'economic sustenance and growth', we leave no room for developing our characters and self-reflection/reflexivity. Perhaps reflexivity retards the singular-mindedness of the economic imperative, the tune to which most of us Singaporeans do the jiggy. And here we have, a futile campaign to promote graciousness in the area of commuting. When you add any colour to a sea of black, it remains black. In the end, we do not address the other domains of our lives (i.e. the political and economic) when we deal with graciousness in the social domain.

To some extent, most of us as so politically, socially and/or economic disempowered we do whatever we can within our means and opportunity to seek the joys and thrill of empowerment. Thanks to SPH's Stomp! we are able to relive the carefree days of playing police and thief or cops and robbers. That is also probably why, apart from slow and unreliable policing, some people take the law into their own hands and do what they do.

I too have jaywalked, but rarely across roads spanning 3 lanes or more. And when I am physically exhausted, I will still make the effort to use pedestrian crossings because funny things can happen when you are tired and not alert (a motorist could drive by, stop, wind down the window and tell you a bad joke).

In the wise words of Phua Chu Kang, "Use your brain."

And we can be a lot safer.

-Add-

Wow. I realised this is a rare post that does not exactly politicise jaywalking. I could have talked about socio-economic factors, architectural factors and welfare policies behind jaywalking, but I'm just happy to list them rather than elaborate. If you want to know more about this, go find another blog with 2,000 word entries to entertain you.

Today is Garfield's birthday by the way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Song: We are the residents of Hougang

Below is one song I've written for a personal musical project. It is a song that will be sung by a bunch of random Hougang residents, who suddenly appear out of nowhere and for no reason at all, break into song. Of course, I could write a 4-5 part harmony too to make it sound grandiose.

(Verse - EVERYONE)
We are the residents who live in Hougang
We may be short of some ammenties
We are the residents who live in Hougang
Where there’re still traces of democracy

(Chorus)
We’ve crippled transportation
Governmental hesitation
We’re still glad our Hougang is still free
We can vote every election
PAP may want our conviction
We just want our Hougang to be free

(Verse)
We are the residents who live in Hougang
Our pavements are not sheltered you can see
We are the residents who live in Hougang
Our votes cannot be bought so easily

(Enter OLD UNCLE for solo verse)
I am a resident who lives in Hougang
I am one of those friendly teo chew nang
I spent my whole life living in this Hougang
I don’t listen to no smelly jiak kang tang

(Chorus - EVERYONE)
We may need lift upgrading
We don’t mind more staircase climbing
We just love our Hougang to be free
We don’t need your vote-buying
Your canvassing or bribing
We’ll vote for our Hougang to be free

I will probably write other tunes and songs for the musical maybe months down the road. In the mean time, please take part in Project 'Send Sam to Phuket' by voting for him everyday at the Blog Awards. My wife may have told me that shameless plugging will not be good in the long run, but deep down in her civil servant heart, she wants that Phuket trip too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Plugging it, baby. Send Sam to Phuket!

We've been told as youngsters to grab the bull by its balls and horn and every other body part, because we are Chinese and we like to eat any animal that moves, and we bestow cultural, medicinal and supernatural value onto various animal body parts.

Below is the email interview with the blog awards website:

http://blog.omy.sg/sgblogawards/archives/469

Be sure to vote Sam to Phuket. Sam is suffering from (urban) island fever and status frustration and a trip to Phuket may alleviate the pain. There is a price to shamelessness and shameless plugging, and it is definitely lower in this time of economic hardship. The government also told us - and probably the middle-class ethnic Chinese like myself - to readjust our expectations. Okay, I readjust my aspiration for upward socio-economic mobility to this Phuket trip of a prize. Yes, even in times of being shameless, I can still conjure a mixture of Marxian imaginings and authoritarian anti-welfarist rhetoric.

And while you're at it, be sure to vote Ms Chor Lor too. Votes are sacred like sperm to Catholics as decreed by Monty Python, like wealth accumulation for Chinese and Jews, like longevity for the PAP government.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Send me to Phuket, baby!

The OMY Singapore Blog Awards plug.

Vote for Uncle Sam and send him to Phuket.

http://sgblogawards.omy.sg/category/

I'm under the category "Most Insightful Blog". Every vote is appreciated.

Times are bad, we must grab whatever we can grab, such as Phuket holidays.

I'm also voluntarily plugging for another friend, who shares the same dream of Phuket.

Please visit her site at http://mschorlor.com/2009/06/15/please-vote-for-me/.

How to fill up ethics review forms?

As I am about to start my research, there is the ass-covering administrative obligation I have to see through. I have to participate in the ceremonial form-filling to ensure research ethics are observed. The organisation concerned here is the NUS Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Because of some rogue medical/science researchers, the research ethics review process involves all faculties. Unfortunately, the organisation/board has yet to incorporate a proper research ethics template/form for humanities/social science based research, and some questions in the humanities/social sciences forms are still oriented towards the hard sciences.

This is a great hindrance to research, as precious time is taken away, with emails flowing back and forth, bouncing here and there. My department has acknowledged that the email volleying is actually part of the application process. I have long believed that the Institutional Review Board should specifically state their demands, and state what are the out-of-bound markers or sensitive topics. And in true PAP government style, they describe the OB markers and sensitive topics as anything deemed to be OB or sensitive by the ordinary reasonable man on the street.

I foresee greater difficulty in getting approval this time, simply because my research has the word "transgender" in it.

Below is a template of the Participant Information Sheet, which is a series of information provided to your interview subject (if you're conducting an interview).

It is worth parodying.

1. Project title
Transgender representations (my real thesis topic).

2. Principal Investigator and co-investigator(s), if any, with the contact number and organization.
The usual. Me.

3. What is the purpose of this research?
Understand trans discourses. (a 3-word summary of everything).

4. Who can participate in the research? What is the expected duration of my participation? What is the duration of this research?
People who give their consent, DUH?????? Of course, their consent has to be informed, which means it also has to be voluntary.

5. What is the approximate number of participants involved?
The more the merrier.

6. What will be done if I take part in this research?
Your opinion will be taken. No blood spilled, although the investigator has coughed out his fair share during the form-filling processes.

7. If biological samples are taken, what will be done with my samples?
If your saliva spill onto my audio recorder, I will wipe it off. This is a bloody humanities/social science research, why on earth is this question here?

Actually, yes. On top of the interview, I will, for my amusement, since I already got the IRB approval for this research, take semen samples, blood sample, pap smear, a fist full of hair, your pet cat, and your car (with keys).

8. How will my privacy and the confidentiality of my research records be protected?
You may choose to wear a Burqa to ensure confidentiality. You may also choose to bring a voice augmenting device, which will render your true voice unrecognisable. You may choose to wear a brand of perfume you don't normally wear, so that you will not be easily identified.

The investigator will also wear a blindfold, to ensure you are visually anonymous. His hands will also be tied behind his back, in the event he tries to feel your face, which will render you identifiable. On top of that, the investigator will wear ear-plugs to ensure he does not recognise your voice during the interview. After the interview, the investigator will take out a wooden plank and hit the back of his head with it, so that all memory of the interview will be lost. This is to ensure that your privacy and confidentiality.

The interview material will be kept under the investigator's bed, but IRB has said it is not secure enough. Not many people get invited into the investigator's house any way. Even the investigator's parents or in-laws do not have his housekeys, so that should be pretty safe. But IRB prefers the material to be kept in school, which does not make sense, given he does his writing and transcribing at home. This means IRB wants the investigator to make continuous 1.25 hour bus trips from Hougang to Kent Ridge and do his work in a place where there is a higher traffic of students and lecturers.

After the end of the research, the material will be shredded, stirred in water and swallowed by the investigator. The excretion, following the digestion, will be placed into the shredder machine, and later set on fire. The ashes will be transported to a space travel facility in Russia and sent to the moon. This procedure will ensure proper disposal of confidential information, and your privacy and confidentiality.

9. What are the possible discomforts and risks for participants?
Possible discomforts may be piles or back problems arising from sitting down for too long. You may also experience locked jaw and swollen eyes as you might be amazed at the amount of ass-covering this investigator have to undergo just because the IRB wants him to do it for them.

10. What is the compensation for any injury?
I will give you a hug for any emotional injury during the interview. I may offer you a glass of water should you experience dehydration during the interview, or when you laugh excessively at the extent to which I have to fill up the IRB forms.

There may also be injury sustained from the sarcastic laughs you might express at this statement, which suggests when compensation is required, IRB's responsibility ends here, and mine begin.

In fact, I the investigator, may have a higher likelihood of suffering an injury than you. I may experience numbness in my arms during my attempts to cover the buttocks of the organisation.

11. Will there be reimbursement for participation?
You will be reimbursed with coffee or tea, and maybe a hug, depending on whether we become friendlier after this interview.

12. What are the possible benefits to me and to others?
The benefit is the amusement you will derive from knowing that I have filled up many forms just to get this interview.

13. Can I refuse to participate in this research?
Sure! You will just make me feel bad about myself for filling up all those forms just to secure the interview that you have refused.

14. Whom should I call if I have any questions or problems?
You must follow the chain of command because the IRB is also bureaucratic. Please do not cc the education minister or Lee Kuan Yew.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Misadventures of Unnatural Death

Don't you ever wonder why possible suicide cases in Singapore are often declassified as either 'misadventure' or 'unnatural death'?

Perhaps, the press wants to prevent copycat suicides. But are we Singaporeans able to discuss suicide and related issues openly?

Perhaps, with such a de/reclassification, we can officially lower our suicide rates in Singapore. If nine in ten suicides are classified as 'misadventure' or 'unnatural death', we'll probably have a rather low incidence of suicide per capita.

According to Wikipedia, Singapore (as of 2006) has 10.3 suicides per 100,000 people - 12.9 per 100,000 males, and 7.7 per 100,000 females.

According to a World Health Organisation report, there have been 372 suicides in Singapore in 2006, which means there is a least one person has has died everyday. The suicide rates from 1960 to 2006 have ranged as low as 8.6 (in 1960) to as high as 13.1 (in 1990) per 100,000 people. This translates, again, to at least one suicide everyday in sunny Singapore.

Mind you, these are the figures reported and there may be other suicide cases that could have inflated the figures, if not for the re/declassifications.

I quote from another blog, called 'Loh and Behold':

"Suicide is a significant non-medical cause of death in Singapore. Although attempted suicide is an offence punishable with jail under section 309 of the Penal Code, Singapore still sees many cases of suicide each year. Between 2000 and 2004, 1,700 people killed themselves, and in 2007 suicides amounted to about 2.2 per cent of all deaths. For every successful suicide attempt, there were seven unsuccessful ones."

It is reported in 2006 that, among those who have committed suicide:
5-14 years: Males - 1; Females - 1.
15-24 years: Males - 15; Females - 3.
25-34 years: Males - 25; Females - 24.
35-44 years: Males - 55; Females - 19.
45-54 years: Males - 63; Females - 36.
55-64 years: Males - 39; Females - 24.
65-74 years: Males - 19; Females - 15.
Over 75 Years: Males - 14; Females - 19.

Of course, there will always be the psychological reductionist rhetoric, that men get easily stressed, shorter lifespan, Singaporeans cannot cope with stress, some choose to suffer in silence, etc. - all rather localised and individualised reasons for suicide.

It does not help that there is some stigma attached to those who are depressed, or want to talk about their problems.

Moreover, when there is a suicide case, somethings are either not mentioned or played down:
1) Suicide itself. The S word is rather taboo in news reporting, apparently.
2) The possible environmental causes. The press (and the government to some extent) will prefer to locate suicide as a personal/private problem.

We should see suicide as 'feedback' to Singaporean society.

What does this say about the environment that is Singapore?

What does this say about attention towards mental health in Singapore?

What does this say about class (the PAP government does not want us to talk too much about class relations any way, otherwise something 'undesirable' will happen to the delicate social fabric or foundations of our society, you know the rhetoric), the economy, governmental policy and welfare in Singapore?

What does this say about the economic driven image management of Singapore in the global community when there are Singaporeans taking their lives almost everyday?

Suicide is a message and a reminder to us about what is wrong with society. But of course, most of us will brush it away as something that is "wrong" with the person who has taken his/her life.

So long as we continue to individualise suicide and not consider the wider societial and economic reasons and implications, we're in fact making Singapore even more 'conducive' for more lives to taken.

Psychology and psychiatry may have closer ties to many a political regime and government, because their views seldom interrupt political processes. Suicides, in this case, become depoliticised and disassociated from political processes and decisions.

The fundamental questions in these disciplines orientate towards the mind, the psyche, the individual, more so than the environment, the political/social/economic environment for instance.

In some situations, we may infer social pressure, financial problems, welfare issues, but the dominant discourses may reason it to be greed, selfishness, mental instability, passion/love and so on.

On top of the individualisation of suicides in Singapore, I feel the government and people are not doing enough to engage suicide and its surrounding issues, both psychological and social. We are not sensitised to suicides, given the certain inhibited style of local news reporting. So we do not understand it well enough.

Moreover, just like how states and armies treat their people as digits, suicides become digits - dehumanised. Saved for sensationalist tabloid reporting, not many of us have access to information/facts of various suicides. Our understanding of the circumstances leading to suicide are, as I said, mainly psychological, and rarely social and critical.

When we engage "stress", we are taught/advised through relevant campaigns on how to destress and cope with stress. These are internal strategies, coping devices, but do they address the working/social/political/economic environment?

Does a "coping with stress" campaign teach you to write to your MP (Member of Parliament) and tell him/her that things need to be changed?

Does a "tackling depression" campaign teach you tell your superiors not to bully/shout/cut your pay?

I liken our strategies to address suicide and suicide-related issues to the way the British defended Singapore. In our textbooks (endorsed by the Ministry of Education), they pointed their guns South, but the Japanese invaders came from the North.

I seek not to invalidate psychological reasons for depression and suicide, but we need to tackle other areas as vigorous too.

There are people who are dying to make a point; and there are those who die to make a point; and there are those who die making a point. And in the case of the establishment, they will probably die never knowing what the point was.

It is good that people are beginning to be a little bit more critical now, especially concerning deaths/suicides in the army. They are a little savvy enough to not only reduce the tragedy to a moment of individual weakness/folly, but ask questions about the organisation and the way things are working there.

We should treat suicides seriously and not trivialise them with stereotypes, sensationalism and simplistic forms of psychological reductionism. Questions must continually be asked, and must not be merely confined to the individual who died. Die die we must try.