Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Gay Suspicion

When someone vehemently denies being gay or homosexual, the nature of his/her defence often tells a story about attitudes towards queer-ness.

A strong vocal denial shows that being gay is a bad thing. Judging by the reactions of quite a number of straight men, and to a lesser extent straight women, being queer obviously has its disadvantages.

So in order to salvage some heterosexual pride, these persons take offence to such insinuations and become defensive about these suggestions.

While there is no denying that personal homophobia plays a large role in these averse reactions, we need to recognise that society plays a part in making "being gay" an undesirable thing.

For a long time, gay-ness is seen as contrary to masculinity, although I believe there is proportionately more masculine gay men than straight men.

To (be) identified as gay confers the person stigmatism, guilt and hatred. These tag along with the gay identity. The concept of sin and immorality figure in the guilt-trappings of the "gay" label, and because of this, it becomes almost natural for heterosexual men to quickly deny and discard the "gay" suggestion.

The "hell no, I'm not gay" type of answers reveals the fact that the "gay" position occupies the lower rungs of society, and that there would follow a set of disincentives and disadvantages.

My problem is not with the vehement denials or the persons who make these denials, but about how society has made queer-ness an undesirable identity trait.

It is almost as if, given how we are socialised and how we will socialise, being queer makes people take you less seriously as a person, and subjects you to a truckload of misinformation.

This is the proof that queer is being discriminated against. We obsess ourselves with misrepresentations and degrading portrayals of queer people, just to make our (hetero)sexuality an exclusive privilege.

It does not help that there are a sizable number of people, especially the intelligent and educated, who believe that gay-ness can be transmitted and people will be converted to gay-ism. Based on this falsity of a myth, you will stand to lose support from friends and people will stay away from you just because there is the suggestion you are gay. Therefore, you are compelled to declare you are heterosexual. If not, you will probably not 'score' with the opposite sex.

In the domain of celebrity gossip, we get stuff like "he/she's gay, you know?" as if such news would be grounds for a scandal. Here, gay-ness is scandalous. Why? Because society has made it negative and difficult to accept.

Celebrities and other folks will also take issue with the gay suggestion, and see this as a threat to their reputation. Such a reaction/thinking shows that society does not generally accept queer folks.

Why is the "gay" suggestion still so potentially damaging? Why do people care so much about making and receiving these rumours/suggestions?

Even I get a bit angry at people who make the suggestion that I am gay or bisexual. And speaking from experience, my mind goes all over the place and I fear the repercussions should I not respond and declare that I am straight.

The gay suspicion is a tool for demonising, because society has long portrayed and remember queer-ness as wrong.

If all of us are open and accepting of people who identify as queer, the gay suspicion will cease to be offensive, demeaning or damaging.

Like "bitch", "asshole" and other offensive words, the gay suspicion is just made dangerous by society. If we were not socialised into thinking that "bitch" is a negative profane word, people will not grow to be (hyper)sensitive and take the label as an offensive word.

Somehow, I believe that the gay suspicion is integral to the formation of the heterosexual male identity. At least he has something to parade and defend. People will not normally emphasize their heterosexuality although some would enjoy representing themselves as hypermasuline. You need a little gay suspicion to put keep their heterosexual masculine machinery going.

Nobody likes to be (negatively) discriminated against. And for those who receive lesser doses of discrimination, they should do their part to right some wrong and unjust thoughts and attitudes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another songwriting competition

The speaker of my 13-year old Electone Organ Yamaha EL 87 blew out during the recording process of the following song. Very distraught.

There's this Youth Olympic Games songwriting contest and I've submitted an entry. Amazing, if participants are unable to perform their songs, they'll be disqualified. But I'm just a songwriter, not a performer. How am I supposed to perform? Cloning technology isn't as advanced as I would like it to be and I cannot possibly multiply myself just to perform a song I wrote. Tough.

Worse, my EL 87 control menu is blurred. The signs of old age I guess. It is an expensive bit of equipment, costing about $15,000-$17,000 in 1996. I wonder if I should be getting this organ repaired, or just get a new keyboard that allows for the programming of drum/percussion tracks.

If there's a songwriting competition every month that has a prize range of $2000-$5000, I'll be a professional songwriter! It's not about the money, but it is about the food, shelter, bills and savings.

I've been in the musical closet for 16 years. When I started writing instrumentals at aged 9 or 10, I had dreams that I'll be a songwriter some day. But frequently got easily discouraged. The environment was a paper-chasing one and music was and is always relegated to just a mere hobby. In my late teens, I had brief meetings with Ken Lim and Clement Chow, and was even more discouraged by their honesty.

I wasn't armed with the technology I have now, when Ken asked me to submit a demo. I thought of my low tech cassette tape recorder and mono sound quality, which I used to record my demos from the late 1990s till early 2003. In shame created for myself for myself, I decided not to do any demos, because I believed that I was a lousy songwriter.

My dad brought me to City Music in Selegie in 2003, and we got the Zoom Multitrak Recording Studio MRS 1266 from Mike, this guy who played keyboards for Tokyo Square. It took about another 2 years before I got more savvy with the equipment.

I've spent many years honing the craft of writing guitar-driven pop songs, with musical styles borrowed from Brit rock, emo, the local indie movement, and a bit of post-grunge. And here I am, still studying, pursuing a Masters degree, and telling myself I should be an academic. I guess there are passions that are more practical than others.

It is a great shame that none of my songs get to see the light of day in my life time, so it's great there are songwriting competitions, which are good substitutes for a full-time career in the music industry, one that is being blighted by advances and changes in media technologies.

I guess it is okay to be a part-time musician, and it is better to be that than never ever having tried to be one. So 2010 will be hopeful and potentially disappointing as I have 3 songs sent for 3 different causes.

For this particular competition, I wrote the song entitled "Steps". I have to make it mainstream and ultra-cheesy. A good pop songwriter will know how to sell out and still write a catchy tune and have stamp his/her identity on the song. I believe I have. I've also taken many years to come to terms to the fact that I will never be original, and that is okay. This song has shades of Suede's "Stay Together", American Idol's "No Boundaries", Papa Roach's "Scars", and The Tears' "Beautiful Pain", songs which I've heard and admired. So consciously and unconsciously, they show in my song.

The songwriting process took about 4 hours, the recording took about 6 hours. So that is about 10 man-hours put into a competition that has a maximum $1000 reward.

I really hate the vocals. It's very flat, but I guess since I'm not a singer, I'll just try my best to keep in tune (which I can't sometimes). Hope you enjoy the song entry. (You know what to do - i.e. vote)

Lyrics to "Steps":

Dreams are made of no regrets
They're waiting for the brave
To start the dreaming now
Dreams are reached with little steps
Everyone we take with faith
So don't give up now

Dream on, believe
We all can have it worked out
We'll stand and say,
"We always can"

We're going all the way
We'll soar, we'll fly
We'll make the steps today
Together we all may
Reach for the sky
We'll make the steps today

Dreams are not a fight or race
There are only steps to take
So start the dreaming now
Dreams are just a better place
There are little steps to make
Before we find ourselves

Dream on, believe
We all can have it worked out
We'll stand and say,
"We always can"

We're going all the way
We'll soar, we'll fly
We'll make the steps today
Together we all may
Reach for the sky
We'll make the steps today

We start with a heart
And though we\'re different faces
We're going many places
For every dream we'll stand
We all know that we can
Because we're made of dreams

We're going all the way
We'll soar, we'll fly
We'll make the steps today
Together we all may
Reach for the sky
We'll make the steps today

For more of my songs, refer to:
Songs from 1997-2003:
Songs from 2004 onwards:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Singaporeans having a ball with cocks

Maybe I am too sensitive, but I believe that many Singaporeans - mostly men - express themselves better using the metaphors of penis and testicles, or more affectionately known by their respective slangs, cock and balls.

Of course, unlike the cultural tactical warfare Malaysia is embarking on, I would believe that such phallocentric references are not unique to the Singaporean experience. Nevertheless, isn't it interesting to know that there are Singaporeans out there who better articulate their feelings using the imagery of penises, testicles and scrota (That's right, kids, the plural of scrotum is scrota, but you can use scrotums too, add a "z" instead of the "s" if you want to emphasize it a little more).

Being cosmopolitan, multicultural and basically anything that isn't culturally homogeneous, we borrow our metaphors from various cultures, Western as well as Eastern.

The most basic expressions involving the phallus are that of the possible activities you could engage with it, each rich in meaning and intent.

"You can suck my cock/dick" uttered by a male-bodied person, can mean many different things in different contexts. It may mean "not a chance", or "I want you to oblige", or "this is ridiculous", or that "I really want you to perform fellatio on me".

Perhaps it is the rightful abuse of male privilege, given the speaker is endowed with a male appendage. Still, whatever the intent of the speaker is, the message is conveyed in the articulation or suggestion of penis-centric activity.

We find many creative ways to express ourselves when we place the thing between our legs into the centre of communication.

"... until balls drop" and "die cock standing" give a vague explanation of how one might feel over an indefinite or prolong period of time or doing something or nothing. The penis and testicles are used as the measure of time in this respect.

"Break my balls", as we've heard it from the cartoon South Park, indicates as dissatisfaction with a poor bargain. For example, when the PAP government raises the GST to a higher percentage, people will say, "Hello! You're breaking my balls here!", or when Singapore is forced to have a freer press, the government will say, "You're breaking my balls, man!"

As for "balls bang/knock each other", I honest have no idea what this means. But clearly, given the ambiguity, vagueness and perhaps intended lack of clarity in the expression, the usage of penile imagery and expressions that indicate that these bodily entities have some autonomy to perform symbolic stunts, provide the Singaporean with an opportunity to equivocate.

There are other phrases that depict the testicles striking the penis. I cannot understand the symbolism of this imagery. Maybe someone can help me with this.

Sometimes the poetry of the cyclical seasons come into play when you have "balls shrink", "balls retreat into body", "grow balls", "lose balls", as if these phrases actually have an uncanny relationship with season-based agricultural practices.

"Suck cock buddies" are well, just two friends who share have some politics going on for them, resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship.

The act of sexual stimulation is invoked to represent the playing of politics, because what goes on in working relationships is seen as analogous to a private sexual experience. "Suck cock" and "carry balls" are used to explain how a subordinate strives to get on good terms with his/her superior, such that he/she will eventually be in an advantageous position.

Private parts have been used in the dictionary of swearwords, but somehow along the way, they appear to be naturalised into common and non-offensive dialogue. They are still quite effective for communication within one's culture, and definitely a good tool for those who have limited vocabulary.

What has become naturalised, we don't question. But it is interesting to find it from the speakers themselves. I assume most of them would be heterosexual males with the keen determination to maintain and defend their heterosexual maleness. What will they think if they're told about the frequent use of such imagery? Does it play a part in constructing or amplifying their heterosexual maleness? Do they not realise the autoerotic and homoerotic implications of their manner of usage of these expressions? Perhaps there are none?

I guess these forms of verbalisations involving penises is a new incarnation of penis worship. It is no longer the extravagant and explicit constructions and erections of phallic symbols and architecture, because the penis has been elevated to the level of the abstract, such that it figures subconsciously in our daily lives and dialogue. Older forms of penis worship are seen as archaic, myths and superstition. Yet, we need the penis (and balls) to fulfill our communicative needs. It apparently fills the hole in our articulation of our feelings and opinions. (Of course, you might infer a possible parallel of the penis to the ascension and appeal of monotheism.)

The use of cocks and balls is not only for the implication of sex but for the expression of nonsexual opinion and feelings. I wonder what we will think of next.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Song: We are Mistakes

Check out I've recently rearranged my songs according chronologically. This page contains songs written from 2004, latest first.

I also want badly to upload the song I wrote for the songwriting contest, the one that is supposed to promote peace and harmony among Singaporeans. I wrote a parody of it, using the same music but with different lyrics, and renaming it "The IP Thugs", but will not release it until after April 2010.

To listen to my older songs from 1997 to 2003, you can go to this link:

Stressful times in the year 2009, and that's probably why I can churn out 4 songs in 5 months.

The recording process for "We are Mistakes" was painful. My rusty and limited guitar skills can't seem to reach the standard and style I would expect. The whole thing turned out sounding mechanical and soulless, but who cares? (actually I do). If only there's a device that can extract tunes out of your head/imagination, without you having to go through the drudgery of playing and being angry with your limited instrument skills. That's what you get for being a part-time musician (great emphasis on part-time). If I'm doing music 6-9 hours a day, I think I'll be where I would like to be, creatively and in terms of skills.

We Are Mistakes lyrics:
We never give, we never take
The chance to be forgiven
We waste our time, we’ll stand in line,
We’ll wait to be forsaken

Maybe we are mistakes
Our lives are just another bloody error
If we are what we make
We’ll fall apart before we’re put together
If we are mistakes
We would get along
I’m wrong as you’re wrong

We’re without aim, we’re full of blame,
It doesn’t make a difference
We’re all the same, we cause our pain.
Mistakes don’t have a meaning

There’s a mistake in all of us
We’re just changing for the worse
Even with two wrongs we can’t get right

The Pragmatic Monkey on your non-degree-holder back

(unpublished (and they can fucking publish a letter that expresses delight in the pandas) - Nov 9, 2009)

I read with interest Ms Evelyn Tan’s letter, which addressed university education.

She believes that a university education is not the only way for one to be successful.

While I agree with her, I must point out that we Singaporeans face realities that compel us to pursue a degree.

For instance, the realities of public service employment policies compel us to view a degree as a passport to a favourable pay scheme.

Jobseekers are faced with the reality that having paper qualifications opens more doors. This is probably why a sizable number of Singaporeans are seeking to upgrade themselves.

Like Ms Tan, I feel that success is contingent on how we define it.

However, a quick glance at society today reveals that there are people with daily bread and butter struggles, giving them no luxury of time and resources to pursue their passion.

She mentioned the pursuit of passion and gave an example of successful entrepreneurship.

Governments and the media will always strive to identify non-degree holders who are successful role models, but as inspirational as they seem, these cases are far outnumbered by the struggling average joe, invisible from the public eye.

Not every passion manifests in entrepreneurship, and not every enterprise stays alive.

Some of us may prefer simpler lifestyles. Others may prefer some luxuries. And we often work according to our goals. Despite these differences, we all similarly face bills.

If we no longer need to worry about food, shelter, bills and retirement savings, most of us would definitely pursue our passions and develop our talents.

It does not help that we live in a system and culture of economic pragmatism. Hence, a degree is a rational choice, as it not only provides opportunities but is also the proverbial “safety net” every pragmatic person needs.

Pragmatism is shoved down our throats in every aspect of our lives, for example, how the government treats everyone as financially illiterate and enforces compulsory savings where citizens have limited access to their hard-earned savings. This is frustrating, but pragmatic.

We live in an increasingly competitive environment, which demands not only good grades but other employment-favourable personality traits and achievements.

In fact, most of us are still part of a system that defines our competency according to a grade.

We may speak of the pursuit of non-academic passions, but employers and people with financial difficulties may have a different idea.

Ho Chi Sam

Friday, November 13, 2009

Panda-fucked by Straits Times

I respect you a lot, Ace, but why must you do this?

Why must the Straits Times publish this?

Got Singaporeans suffering, and there are social and economic problems in various pockets of our society and guess what, pandas are more newsworthy!

After reading yesterday's report, 'China sending two pandas to Singapore', I would like to thank Chinese President Hu Jintao and the Chinese government and its people for the two wonderful gifts of VIPs (Very Important Pandas).

Singapore is indeed honoured to receive such VIPs because pandas are China's national treasures.

I am a nature and animal lover and it is a dream come true that Singapore will receive the two VIPs by 2011.

I believe many in Singapore will look forward to visiting the two VIPs at the zoo when they arrive.

I also hope the two VIPs will produce baby pandas during their stay in Singapore, so as to help increase the population of pandas.

Last but not least, I would like to welcome President Hu to Singapore for the Apec 2009 meeting and wish him and all Chinese in China the best of health.

Ace Kindred Cheong

Uniquely Singapore, Specially Sinophobic

Sinophobia. It is the fear and dislike of China, its culture and people. Given the idea of Chinese is nationalist, cultural, racial/ethnic and aesthetic in nature, a sinophobe would qualify as racist and xenophobic.

According to Wikipedia, the secret lover all of us hide away in the study, sinophobia is rooted in socio-economics. In the case of Southeast Asia, Chinese migrated to the region and established their own economic and political regime. Wikipedia probably sums up it:

A tradition of trading and clan-style self-reliance enabled the Chinese to control much of the capital in these countries. This clannish attitude among the immigrants and their descendants and the ethnic group's disproportionate control of wealth encouraged Sinophobic sentiment.

If income disparity is coloured by race and culture, it is more inevitable that sentiments will be increasingly negative, especially if you are on the wrong end of the disparity.

Sinophobia in Singapore is especially interesting, given we are predominantly ethnic Chinese, although we are not reproducing ourselves at the rate the government wants us. Perhaps the Chinese elite see this as a threat to their superiority and life-long (and beyond) ambition of wealth accumulation. So stereotypical it warms the heart. For the stereotypical Chinese elite, he/she will believe that it will take the leadership of a Malay or an Indian to screw things up, because he/she probably believes the ethnic minorities know less.

The make-up of the local Chinese elite is mostly Christian and Chinese religions (Taoism and Buddhism). Even the least religious (or non-religious) Chinese elite will somehow subject themselves to Christian-centric rhetoric and ways of thinking, given how the propagation of Christian ideology flows freely within the English language (especially in Singapore). It is the difference in religion and faith that drives a wedge deeper between the Chinese elite and ethnic minorities in Singapore.

Far too often, on the street and even in the government, we cannot deny ethnic Chinese Singaporeans reproducing racist rhetoric of lazy Malays and smelly/drunk Indians, and the occasionally glorification of Ang Mo superiority. Maybe it's Ang Mo superiority or Ang Mo lingum-worshipping. Macham colonial times sial!

And more often than not, we ethnic Chinese extend our racist love to China and Chinese nationals. I guess racism is indeed colour-blind! Since you have a 'phobia' of one race, might as well have a 'phobia' of another - 2 for the price of one, and your stereotypical ethnic Chinese will never pass up on this deal.

We are repeating history again. Chinese nationals are migrating to Southeast Asia, affecting wages, education, etc., basically causing real and perceived changes to our social and economic systems. And we, the natives as we would like to call ourselves, feel angry and repulsed by the Chinese.

And then we have the Chinese myths too. What is a witchhunt without the mythologisation of the witch? We've got the bloodsucking moneyfaced "China bride" who will cheat your Singaporean man of all his money and then disappear among the millions back home in China land. We've got the uber-hardworking Chinese international student coming to your school and spoiling the market with high workrate and top grades. We've got the Chinese labourers who always seem to talk too loud or smell too much. And how about the Chinese national who are perceived to be inferior in terms of hygiene and manners? And more.

Being an ethnic majority in Singapore probably takes away some degree of perceptiveness and introspection, and most of us yellow-skinned Singaporeans will probably never know what it is like to be a minority, and not that most of us would want to any way, because we would like to think of ourselves as economically rational.

I think the Singaporean dream is the typical ethnic Chinese dream. We want material and wealth accumulation and a healthy, happy life with loads of money to swim around in or dab our oily faces with. Unfortunately, times are bad, people stuck in dead-end jobs, can't pursue their dreams and so on. It really does not help that we have a free flow of foreign talents, seen as a cultural and economic bane to us Singaporeans.

And here you have the local ethnic Chinese, choosing the nationalistic side of their identity and "teaming" up with the other Singaporean ethnicities they used to (and probably will continue to) diss and ridicule, and expressing their disapproval of immigration and influx of foreign talent. Our colour-blind racism extends to Indian and Chinese foreign talents (in all sectors of the industry and economy), but of course being ethnic Chinese, you will probably have more jokes up your sleeves for the South Asian foreign talents. Confess!!!

Well, Singapore is having a happy hour. Free-flow of foreign talents. And when bodies move, there will be cultural clashes. And that makes for an unhappy time for local Singaporeans.

We've had our CMIO classifications, our speak Mandarin campaigns, imported teachers whose native tongue is Mandarin, been Suzhou-ed in the buttocks, and infrastructurally (not economic, but social/cultural) we are not ready for this transnational dialogue with the Chinese. Like how we Singaporeans attempted to Melayu-ify ourselves in the 1950s for a merger with big brother Malaysia, we have laid down the necessary works for a liaison with the tiger of a lover that is China - well, not in sexual way (Singapore will probably be a 'bottom' if you know what I mean), but in an abstract kind of way where you have the union of China and Singapore witnessed by the divinity that is money. Don't deny! Don't act shy, okay?

We try to prepare ourselves as a cosmopolitan country, at least the Chinese elite try to prepare Singapore as a cosmopolitan country. Despite all our efforts, we do not seem to be culturally prepared to accommodate other people. The habits and idiosyncrasies of people of different cultures never fail to hit a nerve in us, especially when the economic situation is not at its prettiest.

But what is it about China, Chinese culture and Chinese people that we dislike or fear? I think it is a combination of many things. To name a few, we are uncomfortable with "foreigners" (a function of our discomfort with globalisation, perhaps), we do not identify with their general work ethic and attitude towards money and life, and maybe we do not like the way they think about (their) culture.

We as Singaporeans are living not in a country but in world now. It is such a conflicting feeling. On the one hand, we have our government wanting us to identify as Singaporeans (and later according to our "races"), on the other hand, we are promoting our city as multicultural and cosmopolitan. So obviously, there are trade-offs and implications.

The sinophobia we have is not merely based on the fact that we probably cannot tolerate the behaviour, aesthetics, habits and idiosyncrasies of the Chinese, but also due to the fact that we are probably not a very adjusted people. Our comfort zones are packed to the brim with hearsays, stereotypes and prejudices, the kind of stuff that reduce lived experiences to mere caricatures of themselves, whether true or not so true.

Sometimes it is difficult to explain why we have a prejudice. That is why we go by elimination, and it is always good to find out why we feel a certain way about a certain person or people.

For instance, I am very irritated with local Chinese popular culture. It influences behaviours and mannerisms of speech. Subjects, I mean, people will act in an exaggerated fashion, obviously inspired by manga, as if they are living in a world where there are special effects to accentuate specific actions. They think they are living emoticons. :(~~~... ^_^" -_-"""

So the source of my irritation is probably my dislike of local Chinese Singaporeans who have their healthy dose of Chinese pop culture. But the thing is, like any other human being, I have my prejudices, because there is obviously a cultural form I subscribe to, which I believe is superior. I prefer subtlety and absurdity for humour, and not of the Chinese kind. It is just a matter of taste/preference.

But when you have like-minded people coming together, each person will find it difficult to keep his/her prejudices to himself/herself. All the more if you have impressionable children to spread your prejudices to - some say teach, some say socialise, some say rape the minds.

And sinophobia is communicated at every levels of society. The mass media does it subtly by using "China" as an adjective to refer to Chinese nationals instead of "Chinese" because 70% of Singaporeans probably already identify as Chinese themselves. The differentiation is necessary before you can sensationalise something.

People have a problem with working class, middle class and elite Chinese nationals coming to our shores, and the respective "problems" they create in their respective spheres. It is quite ironic that an aspect of globalisation that includes the movement of people across borders is causing people to want to have a stronger and defensive national consciousness.

Singapore is interesting because most of us do not have a strong sense of belonging to this little booger (the Taiwanese, I mean "Chinese renegades", called us that), yet we invoke the rhetoric of nationalist discourse in an attempt to arrest the invasion. Indeed, there is nothing else we can hold on to. In a globalised world, what's the point of nation-building and the development of an exclusive national consciousness? We are decades and centuries behind other cultures and nations, so we cannot possibly follow their good nation-building practices.

We use other means like architecture and multiculturalism to mask our shallow history and divided cultural consciousness. Nothing wrong with that. But I think we are a bunch of peoples who feel a loose sense of connection to this country and flag. Most of us may love Singapore as a home, but we find it difficult to think of something that will be uniformly recognised as Singaporean - low press freedom index, any one?

It is most unfortunate we are sucked into the discourse that countries are defined by borders, culture and economy and each nation can be identified by a fixed set of symbols, each having its own cultural and historical value.

You need to have an influx of Chinese nationals to bring the racist out in all of us, and along the way, we start creating a sense of identity for ourselves. We are pushed to locate common denominators in the Singaporean context, just so we can distance ourselves from the Chinese.

Prejudices, rational or irrational, cause us to determine where the denominators begin and how we select them. After all, a majority of us derived from transnational movements of peoples. But the actual experiences we have now have invalidated this reasoning. Maybe we do care for our fellow Singaporeans, maybe there is some instrinsic nationalistic pride and sense of belonging. And it is ironic that amidst all the efforts to cultivate love for Singapore by Singaporeans, we need foreign talents to 'teach' us that. Maybe that's the chink in our armour! (punny sial!)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Central in CPF: How about C for Choice?

For as long as I can remember, I had always been well acquainted with the acronym CPF. It stands for the Central Providence Fund. But till today, I know so little about CPF - it's confusing and difficult to justify.

My parents will just say that it is just "forced savings".

What is "forced savings" to us, is revenue for the government to spend, invest and in some cases of bad business decision-making, squander (it is interesting to note that the core competency of any democratic government is not to make money).

I spoke with my mum recently and she told me about this minimum sum policy, where people are expected, if possible, to "top up" their CPF to meet the minimum sum in their CPF accounts. (Well, from here on, I'll just make references to the CPF ordinary account)

The purpose for this is so that retiree citizens will be able to have a healthy monthly allowance/pay-out into old age. Family members could also contribute to "top up". Imagine taking the money you have in your hands and putting it in a safebox, the password of which is only known to the government, and you'll have no access to it whatsoever.

CPF for me is almost like a double-edged sword, because one side cuts deeper than the other. Citizens get the blunt side, of course.

The good thing, among a few, about CPF is that you can buy (you actually rent) public housing and do other investments with money you cannot already touch. The bad side of it is when you are in need of money and you sell your HDB home, you probably cannot get much out of it. You can struggle and starve until you reach the age when the government starts paying you with your own hard earned savings.

I see CPF in another light. CPF is "tough love" shown by the compassion-less state. A government's job is to take care of its people. However, since welfare is relegated from the Singaporean state to non-government organisations, CPF (and also the Ministry of Community Youth and Sports) is probably one of the few excuses of a government initiative that actually strives to look after Singaporeans.

To arrest what it sees as widespread Singaporean financial illiteracy (oweing to the Singaporean past-time of gambling, and poor individual financial management), CPF seems the most pragmatic approach. After all, by controlling the money of citizens, the government need not spend much of taxpayers' money on welfare. That way, the government can consolidate taxpayers' money do the traditional Chinese thing that is wealth accumulation, and paying top talented yes-men servants (Lee Hsien Loong does appreciate his men servants, i mean yes-men servants, doesn't he?)

The government has moved on with the times, and realised that the cost of living is up and people need to have more savings for old age. There is no denying this. This is thus translated into policy and a higher minimum sum in your CPF.

However, that only addresses the economic aspect of "the times". People are generally and increasingly financially savvy. With information going around like omnipresent aggressive pesky hardselling banking and investment representatives at MRT stations, people are in a better position today to make more informed financial decisions. We are generally more financially literate.

At the same time, there are those who are in need of money and are struggling on a daily basis. If you are struggling every day or month, would you bother more about the prospects of struggling after you retire? These are the ones who will need help and I think having compulsory savings might be harmful in the short term.

Financially literate people are the bigger losers when it comes to CPF. Retirees are not able to withdraw all of their money from CPF. I guess the government does not want people to squander their own money (and ironically, it is probably the state who would be in a better position to do the squandering). This measure minimises demand for social welfare in the event people do squander their money. However, the thought of this minimisation is unsettling, because I believe that the state is also responsible for "irresponsible" citizens. It is your right as a citizen to gain protection from the state. However, the protection that is welfare appears to be outsourced. For instance, look at our charities. They are private, although regulated/monitored.

It seems the central control of money is essential to social stability. But in a time when people are a little bit more financially literate, why can't the government allow them to access to their own money? The state should not in any way prevent any one from gaining full access to the full sum of their money, but the different policies in CPF are contrary to that.

The implementation of CPF is microcosmic of life in Singapore. There are certain compulsory things that you just cannot and do not question. There are no alternatives, and the only choices you have are the ones provided for you by the state. There is no reward for compliance, but there is punishment for non-compliance, unless you consider the absence of harassment and punishment as rewards.

I think we can do without the state paternalism, from which we have so much benefited. It is time to move on with the times and give people choices on how they would like to handle their own money.

On the one hand, the government promotes ideologies like meritocracy, and embark on different campaigns of social engineering, so that a social environment is created in which deviance and failures are isolated and reduced to individual laziness and character flaws. This is a system that protects the state, by creating distractions away from the flaws of policy and politicians. On the other hand, (and I am speculating) the state does not want people to squander their money and start seeking welfare, even though the said system is already in place.

The value in saving is the preparation for the future, where you are giving yourself an additional choice or two in the event you encounter financial difficulties or make certain financial decisions. I cannot understand why the government has to enforce the CPF policy across the nation, because people have different ways of preparing for their futures. Yes, people have different futures and more importantly, different "present"s and daily realities, especially those whose savings are far less than their CPF ordinary account.

There will be many perspectives on CPF. Personally, I would not mind having the government take (care of) my savings, because I still save as much as I can. But I would probably want to have access to all the CPF savings when I retire and do the "rationing" of allowances for myself.

I think there can be more tweaking and personalising that can be done, so that the different people can at least have some needs met. Of course, CPF is not the only issue, but it would be great if people are given more choices. After all, the PAP wants to stay in power, and to do so in a democratic country, you have to be in the business of making everyone happy, so why run Singapore like a bloody primary school?

I think life in Singapore is best summed up in the following sentence: You either get fucked or go fuck yourself.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ST Insight: Censorship Review Committee thoughts

The Straits Times Insight published a paragraph of my opinions on the issues surrounding the Censorship Review Committee. Here is the full email sent:

I favour liberalisation of our media with regards to the Censorship Review Committee.

First and foremost, I would like whoever is behind censorship to stop being overzealous in their jobs.

It is important too, on the backdrop of a growingly stratified and diverse Singapore, not helped by moral polarisation, that the CRC should evaluate the relevance of definitions such as "public interest". If they can humbly sort out previously vague definitions of the censorship regime, they will be able to move towards a more transparent and unambiguous set of codes.

The CRC should also be aware of the changing media landscape. They should not only preoccupy themselves with advancements in information communication technology, but also the reality that our population is growingly media literate, savvy and information-seeking. That said, our censorship regime should always diligently work towards being relevant and consistent with our society.

Censorship may not always solve everything, as the total removal of allegedly offensive material may result in the absence of related dialogue, a characteristic key in any mature society and knowledge-based economy.

The CRC can only do so much within its jurisdiction, and in a society where people are able to selectively consume content, a high-handed approach to censorship will only drive the CRC ostrich head further into its hole.

We should also welcome more content that provides social commentary. A mature society should be reflexive and be open to portrayals and reflections of various peoples in the community.

At the same time, we should not allow our censorship regime to be dominated by the opinions of the politically influential conservative elite, and that includes policy makers.

I am also intrigued by the attention surrounding content featuring homosexuality. I think it is very narrow and shallow of those who support the ban of content that portray homosexuality positively. This implies we render positive aspects and achievements of gay people invisible, and only present homosexuality in negative light. Even though I do not identify as homosexual, I find this very offensive. Imagine a segment of Singaporeans are only allowed to be portrayed as negative stereotypes.

It is also quite ironic that we Singaporeans will continue to live up to our stereotype as frogs in the well, as we continue to ignore or censor depictions of various realities and subjects.

A common argument is the preservation of our social fabric and moral values and how the media affect our children. I shall not bother addressing moral absolutists who are only concerned and defensive about their ideological domination, but would like to point out that our children will eventually live in a world that will not include us.

Regulation and censorship should not be wholesale and top-down. Alternatives such as self-regulation and co-regulation should also be in place. This at least gives content providers, the entertainment industry, artistes and puritan consumers some degree of autonomy in regulating and filtering content.

I am in the belief that the decision-making processes of the CRC would be a lot more swift if not for a vocal but polarised Singaporean society. Whatever decision made will not be a crowd pleaser, and detractors may simply see this as the payment of lip service to a specific segment of Singaporeans.

Ho Chi Sam

Quoted: Straits Times Insight - Reactions to the Censorship Review Committee

(Quoted - Straits Times, Insight. November 7, 2009)

Last week, we examined the issues confronting the new Censorship Review Committee in the age of the Internet and asked readers whether they favoured more liberalisation or more help in curbing negative content. Of those who replied, a majority wanted less censorship, arguing that children should be educated by their parents and not the authorities. A few, however, expressed concern that Singapore society was becoming too liberalised. Here are some responses:

No one should be stopped from creating and showcasing his art using a medium where others need to make a conscious decision to see it. If you object to the subject matter, don't see it!

- Derick Goh, via e-mail

As a mother of two teenagers, my view is that more censorship is needed to protect our children to prevent further moral decay. Co-regulation and self-regulation will end up as no regulation.

- Lee Eng Hwa, via e-mail

If adults are worried that kids will see adult content when R21 videos are available on the shelf, it is the responsibility of those who purchase or rent them to educate the young.

- Ding Tai Wei, via e-mail

The Chinese believe in yin-yang balance - too much control kills creativity; too much freedom leads to disaster.

- Eric Ang Teck Sin, via SMS

We can't deny the fact that homosexuality is getting more common in our daily lives. More and more movies and TV shows have characters who are gay.

- Joseph Lim, via e-mail

What is cut is soon reported in the press and on the Internet - and as with the Spy Who Shagged Me, it sends the wrong message. I remember seeing The Sum Of Us in Sydney, then the R21 version in Singapore where Russell Crowe kissed another male and the scene was cut out here. I don't think seeing it would have turned anyone homosexual!

- Peter Adam, via e-mail

To each his own interests, agenda, tastes, interpretation, you name it. Then who is going to regulate the self-regulated? Some ground rules are necessary to maintain orderliness in civil society. It is useless and vain to shout for total liberalisation that leads to degeneration and disarray. I say status quo ante.

- Winston Chin, via SMS

A common argument is for the preservation of our social fabric and moral values, and about how the media affects our children. I shall not bother addressing moral absolutists who are concerned and defensive only about their ideological domination, but would like to point out that our children will eventually live in a world that will not include us.

- Ho Chi Sam, via e-mail

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No to Rape

I would say yes to many things. If I want to say no to something, I will probably not say it. This world is too negative.

I think the law should protect consent and the current penal code does not do that. It ignores consent on the part of gay Singaporeans, but forgets to honour the consent within marriage. Marriage can be grounds for defense against rape, and that is only for the moment. I really wonder how that is ever justifiable. The government spends so much money scouting for talent, paying for scholarships, nurturing bright and capable persons, just so that we can have marital rape legal. We are not only negative, but blind. Fear not, just open your eyes and say no to marital rape.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dear MINDEF, please delete where appropriate: YES/NO*

Refer to the previous post for more details.

Dear Mr Teo,

1. I refer to XX XX XX’s letter (on behalf of Perm Sec) on XXX, 2009, in response to my letter on XXX, 2009. We earlier corresponded with XX XX XX writing to me on XXX, 2009, in response to my email and feedback sent on XXX, 2009.

2. I wish to seek clarification on two things.

A) My question has not been answered. Instead of saying 'yes' or 'no' to my question, your response in paragraphs 2 and 3 in no way answers the question. Instead, you are explaining to me existing policies, of which I am already know. To skirt my issue and concerns with policy explanations is indicative of MINDEF's lack of "understanding" and "appreciation" of an NSman like me, despite what has been claimed earlier.

In view of this, I hereby request a definite answer to my question: Will MINDEF pay for my school fees in the event my scholarship expires and I am unable to complete my course?

To facilitate your unambiguous and direct communications, and my total understanding of your position and mine, I appreciate you answer with a single word. Is it a 'YES' or a 'NO'? I appreciate you directly address me in your response and not to the general population of NSmen because the concern is expressed by me.

B) With regards to paragraph 4, I would like to point out the realities my unit Commanding Officer (CO) faces as a postgraduate student are different from mine. I am a full-time postgraduate Arts and Social Sciences student on scholarship. I have to write a 30,000-word thesis and attend classes. I also have to teach. I have no job and no income, but a stipend.

If I am not wrong, my CO on the other hand works in the civil/public service and is currently pursuing a part-time MBA. I am unsure as to whether his course is a company-sponsored one. Nevertheless, our situation are far different despite both of us being "students".

The details of our conversation are private. For MINDEF to even raise our "student" status as a comparison is indicative of the fact that MINDEF does not really understand my situation.

I had forwarded a request to my CO, asking MINDEF to answer my question directly. I would not appreciate you "addressing" it, because I am only looking forward to you "answering" it.

3. Your response has not put to rest my concerns. I appreciate a definite answer to my question. Is MINDEF going to help me or not? Yes or no?

My commitment to National Service is still strong and I will still go beyond my vocational duties and responsibilities like I always do in all my ICTs. But what about MINDEF's commitment to my concerns? I shudder to think about MINDEF's care, understanding and respect for an NSman like myself when you provide such a response that does not directly address my concerns.

Your latest letter has left me not only more aggrieved, but confused and frustrated. I look forward to your response of "yes" or "no" to my question, which has been unanswered for almost five months now.

Ho Chi Sam

MINDEF communications 101: Just say YES or NO!

After a month, MinDEF has responded to my feedback and query.

Their letter is below:

1. I refer to your email dated 29 Sep 2009, providing feedback on National Service (NS).

2. MINDEF/SAF is mindful that the majority of our National Servicement (NSmen) have varied commitments. To minimise the inconvenience to our NSmen, MINDEF provides our NSmen with up to 6 months' notice on their In-Camp Training (ICT), depending on the duration of the ICT. This is to allow our NSmen to make necessary arrangements for their personal commitments so that they can attend their NS training. Notwithstanding this, our NS Commanders are prepared to help our NSmen strike a balance between their NS and personal commitments by exercising flexiblity in granting time-off or No-Pay Leave during the ICT, subject to the training schedule.

3. While MINDEF may not be able to fully compensate every NSman for their commitment towards NS, MINDEF recognises NSmen's contribution by providing them with service pay for each day of their call-up and make-up pay if they suffer a loss of income due to the call-up. NSmen also enjoy additional allocations in growth dividend schemes such as the Progress Package.

4. Your unit Commanding Officer spoke to you on XX XX 2009 to obtain a better understanding of your circumstances and to address your concerns. He also shared his experiences as a postgraduate student himself. You had then expressed your willingness to attend all future NS activities and clarified that you had no further concerns.

5. We thank you for your feedback and look forward to your continued support of NS.

Yours sincerely,

Firstly, MINDEF still has not answered my question: "Is MINDEF willing to express its appreciation for NSmen who pursue higher studies by helping this NSman foot his tuition fees when his scholarship expires? ... Will MINDEF pay for 2 and half weeks of my semester fees in Semester One of the academic calendar year 2010/2011?"

It is a YES or a NO. They have in no way, in paragraphs 2 and 3, referred to me directly (i.e. the use of the second person "you"). Instead, MINDEF has spent 2 paragraphs explaining existing policies and saying how beneficial they are in to the general population. What about me?

It is a YES or a NO! All the Permanent Secretary has to do is say, "With regards to your question, MINDEF would like to say NO to you."

It is hypocritical to claim the organisation "understands" and "appreciates" you, when in fact their actions reflect that they don't. They talk about your head with explanations of policies that would not help your individual situation.

Speaking of understanding, I think it is a failure on their part when they attempt to compare my unit Commanding Officer's postgraduate commitments and mine. I am a full-time arts graduate student on scholarship and my scholarship expires next August. I am writing a 30,000-word thesis on top of having classes. I have teaching commitments as a result of my scholarship. My Commanding Officer, on the other hand, is pursuing a part-time MBA, but I'm not sure if its company (government) sponsored or not. The circumstances are different, but to put in writing our private conversation is to show MINDEF's lack of understanding and lack of concern for NSmen who are pursuing higher education. MINDEF is not "mindful" and just because I do not have a job since I am a full-time student, doesn't mean I do not have costs and bills staring me in the face, and am not qualified for compensation in the event I am unable to complete my course after my scholarship expires.

My Commanding Officer has nothing to do with this. I think a comparison taken up by MINDEF is unjust and unreflective of the realities each of us face. He has income, I don't. I face $1000+ to $2000 of school fees after my scholarship expires and is not renewed.

Wait, what is this progress package? You mean elections bribe? If you want to talk about progress, do something that signifies progress and that actually brings progress - progress in my respect and support for MINDEF for instance.

It is a YES or a NO! Fill in the blanks, MINDEF. "MINDEF would like to say a ___ to you, Mr Ho Chi Sam". One sentence. Government communications should be definite and not obfuscating and long-winded.

If government organisations like MINDEF can have human "spiders" crawling and checking out internet content (definitely not their core/primary responsibility, but I guess that's what happens when you have an abundance of taxpayer funds), why can't the organisation do something for an NSman pursuing higher education. By the way, isn't it a waste of government funds if you get people to crawl through a blog like this just to find some slip-ups or incriminating material that might invalidate my claims or my position as it is? You won't find any here, because I am not anti-Singapore or anti-peace. I just want MINDEF to stop talking down to me and over my head. It is just a YES or a NO.

The fact that they did not respond to my questions, which include "Is MINDEF willing to do something to make our relationship a lot fairer, and more mutually beneficial?" shows that MINDEF is not willing to do anything to establish a fairer relationship with NSmen. Yes, national defence is important, but since it comes at the expense of Singaporean sons, why not do something to minimise this impact?

Do you care? YES or NO? Start communicating properly. Be honest. Be connected.

Look me in the eye, literally and metaphorically, and tell me YES or NO. Do not bring in "NSmen" and how much you recognise everything else. Recognise this NSman and his concerns. Address them directly and answer his questions directly!

Pay me a visit, or arrange for a meet-up, and hear me out. Listen to an NSman who always go beyond his vocation and responsibilities in every In-Camp Training. Listen to someone who doesn't believe in national service, but isn't no malingerer as he sacrifices his personal convictions and beliefs just for the organisation.

I am calling for help. Is MINDEF willing to help me? YES or NO?