Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dear Singtel Mio TV, you suck... again

(Written as feedback to Singtel... AGAIN. The last letter can be accessed here.)

I am writing in again to complain about the low quality product that is Mio TV.

When I tuned in to Mio TV three times over the past 10 days, I was shown the purple "Mio TV" screen for a long time, and had to restart the set-top box by pressing and holding the power button.

This has become a regular fixture in my TV-viewing experience.

Why must I do this troubleshooting when all I want is to switch on the television and the modem and set-top box, and watch the channels the Mio TV offers?

Every time I want to watch something on Mio TV, I have to switch on TV, modem and set-top box at least 5 to 10 minutes before the programme starts. With Starhub's cable television, I only need at most 2 minutes.

Singtel Mio TV has again soured my television viewing experience.

Do you have any idea what is "television viewing experience"? It is switch on and watch. Simple. No damn troubleshooting.

I subscribe to Mio TV because I want to watch the English Premier League and the Champions League Football. And on ALL the occasions I tuned in to watch football, some minutes of match time is spent troubleshooting and pressing that damn power button.

I remain convinced that Singtel is void of business ethics and moral fibre, choosing to deliver to its customers such an inferior quality product with poor technical infrastructure.

I chose Singtel Mio TV because I have no other choice.

I sincerely hope you won't retain your exclusive BPL and CL broadcast rights because you don't deserve it.


add: Seriously. This is pissing me off. Every time I tune in to Singtel Mio TV, I have to spend 3-5 minutes watching that purple screen. Nothing happens. Then I've to press and hold the reset button to reset the damn box. 3 minutes later, I get to see what I want to see. That is 6-8 minutes wasted! With Singtel Mio TV, I don't watch 90 minutes of football, I watch 85 minutes!

I hope the government finds a contractor soon to settle the multiple set-top box issue. Singtel has made a very premature move to television broadcast, because transmission via phone line is in my experience of much more inferior quality than transmission via cable.

In the near future, transmission via fibre optics will save definitely the butt of Singtel especially. In fact phone line transmission is merely a transitional technology for TV broadcast, in my opinion. But customers just "lan lan suck thumb", as how they are socialised as Singaporeans. We're screwed by this duopoly/monopoly. I really look forward to the high speed broadband internet (with no surfing speed cap for international websites like what I think SingNet and Starhub will impose).

Any way, I sincerely hope that Starhub wins the next bid for the English Premier League and Champions League broadcast rights, as well as ESPN Star Sports. I never had any complaints about Starhub cable TV customer. For Singtel Mio TV, I am incensed enough to write a long feedback and commentary on their product and service.

It is time to "kids" and make "marry" in Singapore

Singapore's birth rates (and replacement rates, or whatever index that pleases you) are probably not the best in years. Singaporeans are marrying later. You know the whole social phenomenon.

The National Family Council (yes, we Singaporeans need a council to tell us what the concept of "family" is and should be) is recently reported to be spearheading a campaign to get youths to embrace the(ir) idea of marriage. Talk about the shameless glorification of heterosexuality.

When I saw its acronym NFC and read that the National Family Council is developing this initiative, I can't help but feel that the NFC really means "Nobody Fucking Cares".

Well, here is the article, from the Channel NewsAsia (why is "NewsAsia" one word any way?) website,, reproduced for public interest and critical commentary (two defences against intellectual property rights infringement, a common excuse used by semi-IP-literate big companies to bully random netizens):

National Family Council wants to convince youths to settle down early
By Evelyn Choo. September 22, 2010.

The National Family Council (NFC) is expanding its efforts to target a new segment of society - youths.

It wants youths to embrace the idea of marrying and having children early, as part of their definition of success.

But just how easy is that?

"Getting married early? I think it may restrict you (from) things that you (want) to do," said one Singaporean.

"I want my own independence. I want to do whatever I want and not worry about having a family," said another.

Students in secondary or tertiary institutions are the new targets.

"We don't want youth to look at success purely in terms of having a great education, and getting a good job and making good money. I think the kid should also embrace the notion of having a good family as part of their definition of success. So we have to look at other ways and means of reaching out to the youth," said Lim Soon Hock, chairman of National Family Council.

The council said it will use the new media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, along with viral marketing methods to reach out to Generation Y.

Another idea is through youth forums, where they can air their views on settling down.

22-year-old Uma Devi, a student of Singapore Management University, thinks the new strategy of giving youths a voice could work.

She said: "It will be effective. At the same time, before a person wants to set up a family, they should be stable first. It'll be better to work that out instead of driving at the youths."

Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Vivian Balakrishnan said: "Family as an institution in Singapore is under stress. Many of the other things that we strive and spend so much time on in life ultimately are all very transitory and sometimes quite meaningless.

"But we want to emphasise the family. It's not because we need to produce the next generation of economic workers. And it certainly isn't just about pro-creation or fertility."

NFC will hold a strategic planning workshop next month, where more details will be brainstormed and ironed out. - CNA /ls

There are many things to discuss here, and I don't think I'll be able to organise them well, but that's fine any way, as I don't get a single grain of rice for doing this, although I wish I could have. I'll take NTUC vouchers!

First up, the concept of marriage and procreation (having kids), and not to mention, the little thing in between that nobody dares to talk about or risk being stared at and backtalked by some religious bigot, sex.

In sociology class, I learned that marriage, sex and having children have long been assumed to be one. What bind the three entities into one whole concept are human sense-making and moralisation.

In reality, you can have one without the other. You can be married but have no children. You can have sex without getting married. You can even have children (adoption) without even getting married or having (procreative heterosexual put-the-pee-pee-into-the-flower) sex.

But policy-makers make the assumption, I mean, ASSUMPTION, that if people appreciate and embrace the idea of being together and getting married, children will follow. That is not always the case.

Next, sociologically (again), the fact that our (PAP) government and the way things are run in Singapore are driven by the economic imperative of increasing and sustaining productivity, reaching certain economic growth only measurable in percentage points, have all created the severe repercussion that is the social phenomenon we experience today.

We have spent more than half the nation's young life rapidly industrialising and developing the economy. I am in the belief the the government has often treated the social ramifications of their economic imperative as secondary to achieving the targeted percentage points of economic growth. In short, they/we (because we democratically voted them in) have created a problem for ourselves.

In order to push development, progress and sustainability, in the economic sense, you need minds to think that way. You need rational, perhaps over-rational minds, impatient for efficiency and predictability, plus that little industrious spirit. Pleasure and smelling the roses can be postponed until you have reached the economic objectives set for you.

Now, we have a new objective - get married and have kids. Vivian Balakrishan did try to divorce the idea of marriage/kids from the economic imperative, e.g. marriage not as a means to producing another generation of economic workers. For all his good intentions and sociological imagination, he is still subjected to the political regime whose political legitimacy is established on its economic leadership. This is a political regime long left unchallenged and unshaken in a society whose democratic and political soul has been sucked out and replaced with an economic agenda which ultimately serves and feeds back into the regime.

But Balakrishnan's release is a prime example of illusory agency, a view or a position imagined to be counter-discursive or capable of subverting or negotiating with the dominant rational economic discourse of the state, but in actual fact is its mere constitution, subjected and functional to it. Poststructuralism treads where (most schools of) sociology does not.

Well, that might be the compassionate government's view, but the government stays where it is so long as its economic leadership remains strong. There is also no denying that everyone is technically an economic worker.

In such a rational economic environment, there are items that fall within and those that fall outside the domains of economic rationality. For example, working a certain number of hours, reaching the targets set by your superior, and getting the remuneration for your time and sweat, are all economically rational actions. Conversely, falling in love is normally (NORMALLY) not an economically rational thing. Having children in the post-industrial era is not normally an economically rational thing either.

The idea of happiness and freedom is articulated in terms of wealth and wealth accumulation, and whatever positive social externalities that come with them (e.g. having new friends when you are rich). In this rational economic (post-industrial) environment, we are born into the concept of dependence, and we are born dependent. Our idea of freedom is independence, and independence is articulated in the language of financial independence.

Well, part of the financial independence-craving phenomenon we observe in our younger generation today can also be attributed to the influence of upscale urban living in already developed cities, such as those in the United States, parts of Europe, cities in Japan and Korea. It is always very empowering to wrap yourself in material possessions, culturally deemed to represent a position of superiority and success, since success within the domains of economic rationality is thus measured in economic terms.

This brings me to the next issue - the definition of success. Like it or not, success remains defined by the 5 C's. Cash, condominium (property and investments), car, credit card and country club membership (not really, I think). They are all material in nature, with socially ascribed meanings of importance and significance.

We are socialised into believing that esteem and a sense of self are intricately tied to feeling a sense of importance and feeling significant, but these entities are articulated in terms of materialism and wealth accumulation. This is a symptom of a combination of the following phenomena: The (almost stereotypical) ethnic Chinese cultural idea of wealth accumulation and "face"; the historical fact that we have emerged from rapid industrialisation and are continuing to "progress" further; the (ancestral) immigrant mentality of working hard, accumulating wealth and postponing enjoyment; and the influential economic rationalisation of a government and its policies, affecting the way a society thinks and rationalises itself.

If we ever wanted to redefine success to include "a happy marriage and happy family", it would require even greater re-rationalisation, simply because we exist in the context of a rat-race of mostly self-serving people who probably don't really give a rat's ass (HAH!) about others. Not every Singaporean is an Ace Kindred Cheong, who is by the way a kind-hearted gentleman with genuine compassion for even people he doesn't know, although most netizens will slam him for being that perennial PAP scrotum-licking dog every hateful critic loves to loathe.

How do you break the chains of economic rationality when everything else does not change - when the government continues to measure "growth" in terms of the economy and productivity? Is it not ironic, or bordering on hypocritical, when you have, on the one hand, some public officials encouraging economically irrational things such as marriage and children, and on the other hand, there continually exists government rhetoric on productivity, and policies that make marriage appear more rational than it is?

Looking at it sociologically, marriage in Singapore is now highly rationalised with the introduction of economic incentives. Textually and discursively, these are iterated in the language of economic rationality. It plays on the growing materialism and the people's idea of independence and success, and the nature of these economically rational incentives is basically oriented towards the accessibility of other items such as HDB, lower taxes and the occasional political bribe, I mean handout.

Marriage is now part of a systematic approach to living in Singapore, continually calibrated and steered with series of incentives and disincentives, targeted at Singaporean pockets.

Even having children is a highly rationalised state affair, as it is no longer confined to just the family that are (pro)creating. Stop at two. Three or more if you can afford it. Graduate dad + graduate mum = double degree baby. Stupid mums with no qualifications to stop producing stupid babies with no qualifications. You know, those kind of policies.

The rising cost of living, always rising like the incomes of our Ministers, is another factor as a direct result of our economic growth. It is one of the many repercussions of a government hellbent on reaching the growth figures it want to. Let's get 1%, or 5%, or 10%. Got any problems because of our strategies or because of the effects of our strategies and policies, we talk later can?

When it comes to accessing the (potential) social implications of our economic policies, the PAP government is a classic case of one putting the cart before the horse. To emphasise that, the PAP government would grab the cart, dig its nails into it and bodyslam it down in front of the horse like a what a lunchtime hawker centre patron would do as she "chopes" her seat with that magical cultural symbol that is the packet of tissue.

In the rational economic environment, problems that arising from such rationalisation are often negated and divorced with further rationalisations, i.e. the internalisation of problems. The poor are rationalised as the not-so-hardworking, for instance. But when you are rich and successful, you enjoy both strategies of internalisation (you worked hard, congrats!) and externalisation (you benefited from awesome policy-making!). This is how the system protects itself, a defence mechanism of sorts that deflects challenge and blame away from it.

It does not help at all that policies such as CPF do not appear to be helpful to most lower income ageing Singaporeans. For most middle-income middle-class Singaporeans, when they retire, they have their CPF savings on top of their existing savings (accumulated wealth). For the lower income, are their CPF savings alone enough to support them independently? I don't think so.

The government ignores its own shortcomings by deflecting attention towards the "unfilial" bunch of Singaporeans. It comes up with narratives, policies and laws to ensure that Singaporeans take care of their aged/retired beloved.

I believe CPF in isolation, is a good idea. However, given the rising cost of living (because of our economic and immigration policies) and the many limitations on the liberties of Singaporeans to do what they want with their CPF savings, CPF is rendered almost ineffective for the segments of the underprivileged population.

Because of these policies and restrictions, there is a greater financial burden on these "un/filial" Singaporeans. Relying on economic rationalisation, which is the more rational choice? A: Supporting the aged who are already in existing; or B: Saving up and supporting a baby that has yet to be born into this world?

These policies affect the way some people see "family". And moreover, with the diverse yet ever stressful and competitive schooling system we have in Singapore, is it rational to bring life into this world/Singapore and subject it to the rigours and limitations of the system without having the necessary sufficient resources?

In another view, I believe what some younger Singaporeans are doing right now is negotiating with what they have and how they are being treated by the authoritarian government. Having most of their constitutional rights curtailed by statutory laws and strict enforcement to preserve the "face" of an arrogant establishment, younger Singaporeans are (counter-discursively) creating newer spaces and rules to claim autonomy, although they remain subjected to the prevailing rational economic discourse. They are claiming the right to enjoy themselves.

After all, the money they earn is their own, so they have to right to use it in ways that make them happy, and have a healthy self-esteem. Marriage and having children are items that do not entirely correspond with the idea of one enjoying himself/herself.

If only the policymakers can open their eyes and realise that the social phenomena we are experiencing now are actual symptoms of policies, law and the nature of governance. However there will always be tradeoffs, and to ever identify a new equilibrium/balance and work towards it, might bring about newer problems in the social, economic and political domain. This is especially so when the economic is very entwined with the political (given PAP's political legitimacy is largely based on its economic leadership).

Love, in its romanticised definition, is mostly irrational. It is not a business deal. It is not even a deal. However, like marriage, it is systematised, capitalised/monetised and highly rationalised, shaped by a laundry list of incentives and disincentives.

Of course, there are people who believe that love can only be given to those who are deemed capable of giving love to them. Selfish, but they probably can't help it. That is probably why some people are nicer to others when they need help, but otherwise are not. Why the world like that sia?

I believe that people do not need to have incentives to get married and to have children. The problem lies more in the disincentives created in/by capitalism and governance, that dissuade others from marrying and having children, making these decisions look all the more (economically) irrational.

The solution? I say make the conditions conducive for marriage and having children. For the moment, the government is approaching the marriage and birthrate issues like they are trying to build a library within a discotheque. They can do all they want to increase library membership and interest by allowing a higher borrowing quota, and having a larger selection of books, but it still exists in a noisy and dimly lit discotheque. The analogy applies to marriage and having children in an environment that is rationally not conducive for one to be married and to have kids.

But given the way social life is greatly affected by the economy and economic imperative, I am not sure if we can ever reach a more family-friendly equilibrium. Remember, our individual problems have a larger social and political dimension, and yes, whatever the men in white think or do, is always closely related to how you think and live your life.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

SDP's Dr Chee's rebuts Lee Kuan Yew

Interesting thing to share. Here is an SDP video broadcast, in which Dr Chee Soon Juan rebuts Lee Kuan Yew on selected issues.

Gay Singaporeans within the news frames of crime

(Unpublished - Sep 11, 2010)

I refer to the report “Gay website's founder faces drug charges” (Sep 11).

The news of a high profile person in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in court facing charges for drug possession, may cast a shadow over minority rights advocacy.

Dr Stuart Koe has long been an outspoken advocate for sexual minority rights in Singapore.

However, I believe it is important to warn against developing the misconception and generalisation that gay Singaporeans use drugs.

It is at the same time crucial to address drug use across various demographics.

Gay Singaporeans are already erroneously demonised with having a “gay lifestyle”, a homophobic morally-slanted false concoction of sexual perversion, promiscuity and drug use.

What remains the same is the selective publication of objective news which continues to present LGBT Singaporeans within the frames of crime.

Since 2001, the Straits Times has portrayed LGBT Singaporeans in the contexts of economy, disease, perversion and crime.

LGBT people have also been presented as subjects of globalisation, science and censorship.

The publication of articles and letters with suggestions and implications on LGBT rights only followed the views of prominent public officials, namely then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2003 and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in 2007.

Amidst the hard work put in by sexual minority rights advocates in Singapore for the past couple of decades, their issues get media attention only after a prominent public official says something.

This shut-out is ongoing while the newspaper continues to associate LGBT people with crime, disease, perversion and issues of moral contention, omitting the positive representation of LGBT Singaporeans and their achievements.

At the rate we are going with media representation of LGBT Singaporeans, we will never be able to fathom the idea of happy and successful LGBT people.

Moreover, the omission of positive portrayals of LGBT Singaporeans trivialises them and devalues their moral position in society, legitimising the hate and fear-mongering by homophobic and transphobic opinion leaders.

In any community, there will be those who may have committed acts of indiscretions with legal implications.

For the LGBT community, I sincerely hope their visibility in the mainstream media will not merely be articulated in terms of crime and perversion.

Ho Chi Sam

add: In terms of letters being published in the Straits Times Forum, my score so far for this year is 0.5/13. So mathematically, if I want one letter to be published, I would have to write 26 letters. This is a far worse than in 2007 when my hit rate was 1 in 5 (I had 10 letters published). So it has been a frustrating year for me, but life goes on and we can keep on trucking.

There is no blacklist or unfair treatment. The editors are merely picking the letters that are relevant to making a story meaty and live the long age of 3-5 weeks. Most issues and stories generally fade away after 1 week.

The Straits Times Forum appears very reluctant to publish letters that go against the grains of agenda-setting. But still, those 13 letters (on sex education, media representation of LGBT, more than half of them are calls for LGBT rights and recognition, one on Pastor Rony Tan).

But then again, if it is newsworthiness they are after, I am sure sex education, morality and LGBT rights are juicy items. Perhaps, the powers-that-be might have whispered some advice into the ears of the SPH executives and chief editors, to limit the exposure of certain stories, or pull the plug on others. After all, SPH is openly and unabashedly politically conservative (a.k.a. insert ruling party phallus into mainstream media oral cavity).

If the Straits Times Forum can publish letters by people making proclamations of heterosexuality, being a family man/woman and all that, just to share their homophobia, I'm sure they can publish letters by straight folks who believe in family values and are also LGBT-affirming.

It is difficult to raise awareness writing to the Straits Times, but possible. While there are many netizens that make proclamations they no longer subscribe to the Straits Times, the people in the business of change (activists and advocacies for various causes) see it as an important widely read English daily.

This is what I term the "information activist". (a little pseudo-theory for the SPP IPS folks who are currently reading this.... NAH, I'm just throwing in random alphabets to form a random acronym...) You have a cause, a message and you transmit this via existing information channels, to reach out to information consumers and hopefully change a mind or two. The "information activist" does not create new information channels, but leverages, almost guerrilla-like, on the communication platforms of organisations (newspaper forums, REACH, online forums, bulletin boards, etc.) and individuals (blog comments, etc.).

It is an approach any one can use, regardless of reputation or charisma. But the contributions are nonetheless important, and dovetails with the efforts of say, someone like Seelan Palay, who not only blogs and raises awareness on various issues. He creates (new) spaces for dialogue, and if there is no space, he makes demands for them.

To prove a point in a country that often turns a deaf ear to its citizens, he demonstrates peacefully. Mind you, demonstration is about drawing attention to your cause and message. But the government and mainstream media depict demonstration as drawing attention to yourself and your personality. They want to demonise the demonstrator as either insane or criminal, or both.

That is why activism evolves, or rather, awareness-raising and message/cause-spreading evolve. For example, there are individuals like myself, who encourage, at the social level, LGBT-affirming people to speak up or to correct those who adopt homophobic/transphobic attitudes and behaviour. It is much like the "Speak Good English Campaign" post-its they are having right now. This is no longer activism in the romantic sense, but simply awareness-raising and message/cause-spreading. They still do motivate some people to change a little bit, and that is good.

I have the privileged to talk cock with some activists and most of them, no matter how persistent and dead serious they are about spreading their messages and cause, they are surprisingly very patient and do not expect change to be immediate, or even within their lifetime. But they continue to work hard and do what they are doing, and they can laugh about it.

So the lesson I learn is to have patience beneath that persistence, have the grace and of course have the sense of humour. After all, it is about spreading the message that comes first, rather than determining how serious you should be taking yourself or want others to take yourself.

Do not frame your message as an assault on other ideologies or individuals, but rather show how your message is on its own beneficial to relevant individuals and gruops. That's the "grace" I'm talking about. If your message and cause is for a general good, why should there be an attack or an assault?

So all you potential Straits Times Forum letter-writers out there with agendas outside the frames of the paper, keep writing in! (especially those LGBT-affirming ones!)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What (trans)wo/men want

I was thinking about the movie "What women want", starring Mel Gibson. You know, the drunken Jew-bashing "sugartits" "Passion of the Christ" Mel Gibson?

Not something new, but I realise the show is deeper than it makes out to be. There are already numerous intellectual discussions of the film on the internet. Maybe one fine day, we can get a few feminists (with sense of humour), queer theorists and trans/gender theorists to sit down and talk about the show. Throw in one psychoanalyst for that little extra spice.

A month ago, in an Indignation 2010 event, we sat in a circle and discussed a little about the issues transwomen face. Unfortunately, there could have been more transpeople at the forum to share, but nevertheless, the issues talked about were no less serious and related to transgender Singaporeans.

Apparently, most of the issues are somehow interlinked. Employment seemed the most pertinent.

The anti-discrimination laws in Singapore unfortunately do not extend to cover gender identity and sexual orientation (double whammy for gay transmen and lesbian transwomen - yes they exist, but will only be more visible when the hate and ignorance subside). The known (unspoken) rule is to keep "it" hidden.

But whoever decided that the responsibility of keeping "it" hidden should be that of transpeople? Ok, no time for discourse/power analysis. Cepat cepat.

A common issue among transgender Singaporeans (particularly transwomen, because transmen are not adequately represented) is that of jobs. In a self-professed meritocratic society, whose government continually recites the mantra of "fairness and meritocracy" to lull itself into a false sense of calmness/ignorance, why a transgender Singaporeans finding it difficult to get jobs?

There are many reasons, multifactorial, overlapping. First, employer prejudice. Employers simply do not want to hire because they are not comfortable with a transgender employee. Second, workplace prejudice. This might be mythical, as the employer will normally believe that colleagues as well as clients/customers might not be comfortable in the presence of a transgender employee.

(Do this exercise now. Replace the "transgender" and insert some ethnicity, religion or other identity markers. Will the employment practice be different? If so, what does that say?)

Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or of any other sexual orientation and identity, in this context is slightly easier, because sexuality can be hidden and everyone else will assume you are straight until proven otherwise in the 'court' of society. There will be no blip on the gaydar when the behavioral queerness is conscientious toned down. Your conservative Chinese aunty colleague will see your gay man as your typical good-looking well-dressed gentle-speaking gentleman.

For transgender people, there are some who "pass" well and some who do not - these are clear visible facial/physical traits. Regardless of whichever point on the spectrum of passing transpeople are on, they still remain under threat of being harassed - with stares, with quizzes, with taunts and for some unfortunate few, ostracism and violence. Nobody deserves this.

These are the particular social baggage, derived from a less understanding society, that are tagged along to most transpeople. In multicultural Singapore, there are more languages to use to insult a transgender person.

Employers also live in the same context and because of their awareness of this (plus other prejudices), their hands are forced.

I have so far mentioned 3 stakeholders - transpeople, employers and society. The government is another key stakeholder, an important impartial one, on paper. As people on the ground can talk about change, making differences and moving slowly to making these things happen, the government has the power to implement change and coerce people to follow suit.

In this case, I believe society, with its unreflexive insistence on binarism and heterocentrism, is the most sluggish and reluctant to change. So, the wiser employers and impartial government could and should take the lead. Simple dynamics in governance. Technically, that is how change is made, different levels, strata and domains, moving at different velocities and trajectories, but roughly with a common destination in mind (plus, minus, give and take).

Unfortunately, we cannot merely review and change employment laws and employment practices alone. Societal attitudes have to change too. Changes in employment practices constitute merely one aspect of a multi-prong approach to securing (non-discriminatory) employment for transgender Singaporeans. Other aspects include education and awareness, among other things.

But change is slow, in phases, and never wholesale. While we wait and let society evolve, employers and the government can introduce practices and policies, and show others that this is the way things can be done. The government and some bits of the private sector can come out of their own closets and say, "We do not discriminate in our hiring policy. We welcome LGBTQ applicants." (repercussion: Christian boycotts?)

Still, we need another 2003 Goh Chok Tong, who will step forward and say that the government, as an employer, will not discriminate against transgender Singaporeans (plus the GLB). Can Lee Hsien Loong do that?

If the government is truly concerned about bread and butter issues Singaporeans are facing, why not introduce anti-discrimination laws extending to gender identity and sexual orientation?

While we are into the whole discourse on working hard in the capitalist system and wanting to attain, sustain or improve our middle-class-ness, we also need to address the condition and position of transgender Singaporeans with respect to attaining employment.

Education is one aspect. It is not merely about learning what they throw at you in school, but also dealing with that questioning and dissonant feelings growing up. I hate to use the term "gender dysphoric", but it happens to be the only term understandable in such an environment.

You know what I mean, right? When some person or phenomenon is different, we look to medicine, psychiatry and ideology to explain why they are "different", resulting in us believing it is a medical anomaly, a mental health issue, or something that can be dismissed as immoral.

We are too ready to turn to these items to otherise what we perceived to be "not normal", and in the process, legitimise these items, our subscription to and relationship with these items, as well as our personal moral and ideological positions.

We turn to EXTERNAL tools to explain why OTHER people are different - and there thus are at least two reasons to be distracted from evaluating ourselves and our means of judgement.

Seriously, some boys know they want to be girls, and some girls know they want to be boys. So who are we to say they are confused when they already know who they are and who they should be?

Less likely but not unreal, there are boys and girls who simply are not comfortable in their own clothes and skin, and do not necessarily identify with the opposite sex. Do we rope in experts and call these kids confused or crazy? Do we aim to help these kids with the view to make them "normal" as how we want them to be?

How are "gender dysphoric" school kids helped at the school level, by peers, counsellors, teachers and principals?

Kids are smart little people. They know that something is wrong when they see the "doctor" too often. Some might feel that they are perfectly fine, but people are telling them they are sick or wrong or immoral. Others might internalise the views of other "experts" and feel depressed and/or guilty.

Mental and emotional wellness are important areas to look at in a schoolchild's development. There is always the possibility of a scenario in which an academically talented child with "gender dysphoria" and related social(isation) problems may lose interest in school and lessons, and either drop out or discontinue further studies.

I hope MOE already has plans to empower "gender dysphoric" students (as much as I hate those words). (By the way, this hope reminds me of a reading of Amartya Sen's Capabilities Approach in the context of empowering young queer/questioning children... erm, just read it la! There is a Wikipedia entry on it)

Another factor that has impact on employment is administration (assignment of sex). There are pre- and non-operative transmen and transwomen Singaporeans whose sex are still legally stated as their birth-assigned sex.

Given medicine and psychiatry's influence on policy, it would be great it medical and psychiatric experts, along with lawyers and transgender Singaporeans, can whisper in the ears of the establishment and make concessions for the (re)assignment of sex for pre- and non-operative transmen and transwomen Singaporeans.

Concessions have to be made in such a phallocentric establishment. Penis = male = man = must be masculine = must love women. No penis = female = woman = must be feminine = must love men. It is this binary logic that is prejudicial against transsexual Singaporeans, and more so for pre- and non-operative transpeople. Even the mainstream media has continued to identify pre- and non-operative transsexual persons wrongly. Even though pre-/non-operative transmen and transwomen identify themselves as male and female respectively, the media will reassigned them as female and male, based on their biological status. Yes, Singapore Press Holdings journalists are also gender experts. This thinking is in every way, very cock.

At the societal level, there is the perception that (transition-seeking) transsexuals (with hormones + with or without surgical intervention) are transvestites, which is a medical term for fetishistic cross-dressers. And the convenient moral substitute for this would be "pervert". To coat it with a layer of demonisation syrup, let's call it "sex/sexual pervert". Lump it with the mythical child-predators that are gay men. Wrap them all together and believe that gay men are just women inside who want to love men, so they cross-dress. That is what MANY MANY Singaporeans believe, regardless of gender, race, language, religion, education, etc.

100 years ago in 1910, it has already been proven that tranvestism is different from homosexuality. In 1923, studies have suggested that transsexuals are different from transvestites and homosexuals. I think Singaporeans should play some catch up. In fact, in Secondary 3 or 4, I won a monetary bet with a classmate who kept arguing with me the definition of "transvestite" - he believed it referred to someone who changes sex but I was telling him it was with regards to cross-dressing but with eroticism. See, Ridzwan? I told you so! (And they say men can forget things. I still remember)

What problematised tranvestism is that not all who cross-dressed derived sexual and/or erotic pleasure. Furthermore, not all those who cross-dress are homogeneous in terms of sexual orientation - so there is no way we can associate transsexuals with transvestites and homosexuals. That is of course, when you have a gay (MSM) transman who derives erotic pleasure dressing up as a woman, or a lesbian transwoman who derives erotic pleasure dressing up as a man.

People derive pleasure different. Just look at Steve Chia and the pictures he took. Who are we to judge?

It is because of this general gross misunderstanding and misconception of transpeople that creates inertia at the administrative level to assign transpeople their respective sex and gender. I am not even talking about male women and female men walking the streets of Singapore (although that would be an ideal situation for gender and sexual diversity and equality).

Perverts who are likely to commit crimes (sociologists and deviance theorists will scold me for this statement) are everywhere, and not confined to any community. A male-bodied person in transition, who wears culturally feminine clothes, is not a pervert. The transpeople I have met are honest people who (want to) earn an honest living. They definitely do not prey on your children, or try to convert you to their lifestyle. I do not have gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people coming to my doorstep on weekends to get me interested in adopting a new gender identity or sexuality.

Even "allies" of transpeople hold some myths themselves. For example, there is the belief that transpeople are overcompensating, reproducing stereotypes, trying to seize the privileges associated with a particular sex. But remember this, transpeople exist in the same social context and cultural logic as we do (argued time and again by activists and theorists). None of them like to be harassed, and I believe most want assimilation and a normal life (by most people's standards).

Not only do the transpeople aim to assimilate (passing is one way), they also have to deal with the medical aspects (specifically hormonal) of it. It is not just wearing clothes and looking the part in this gender circus. That is what many people take for granted.

The government should revise the policy on sex (re)assignment at the administrative level, and come up with simpler, transparent and shorter procedures that are favourable towards pre- and non-operative transsexual Singaporeans. It is unfortunate that the existence of transsexuals is legitimised by the authority of medicine and psychiatry, but if this is going to be the terms and conditions of the gender regime for the moment, I believe these authorities should also urge the government to revise the policy.

Having that "female" or "male" on your official identification papers is something most of us take for granted, but for others, it means something to them. So if we are meritocratic and fair to all, I don't see why we shouldn't start making administrative changes and allow pre- and non-operative transsexual Singaporeans have their respective sexes/genders officialised.

These are a few factors that affect the confidence and capacity of job-seeking transgender Singaporeans. This is a rice bowl issue, and we should be discussing sexual minorities and their rights to fair employment. And to move towards fair employment practices (we are always moving, because there's a lot to improve), we need many changes at different levels of society and from different stakeholders.

Transgender Singaporeans may form a minority, but the government should look at the Constitution again, and do what is necessary to protect them. Society will always be a lot slower in changing its general attitude towards transgender Singaporeans, so it is up to employers and the government to take some control, and introduce measures, standards, practices and policies are favour a fairer employment scenario for the T's.

add: I think REACH would be a good avenue to make suggestions. For the past 3 years, I have been sending letters to the Straits Times (I've sent 13 letters so far this year, and had only 2-3 sentences published. The paper simply does not want to carry the message of respect and recognition for LGBT Singaporeans). It's time to branch out to REACH. I can imagine the civil/public servants thinking when they see my email, "Not this fucking psycho again."

If you believe some things can change, and have suggestions, do write to the press and REACH too. Your words might go further and reach more people than you think. If you have a computer, an internet connection, an idea to help Singaporeans, feel free to engage these channels.

Monday, September 13, 2010

We need LGBT role models

The LGBT community in Singapore needs role models. (edit: My friends have pointed out to me the inaccuracy of this. I apologise for the lack of clarity. I intend to mean "more prominent role models who can reach within and beyond the community" as this post will argue.)

So what if we have straight allies or queer-affirming politicians? So what if LGBT Singaporeans eventually reach a milestone in which most are free from physical, emotional, legal and moral harassment?

In light of the news of Dr Stuart Koe facing drug possession charges, homophobic Singaporeans will find it easier to devalue and trivialise the gay community, never mind how an individual like him has spent the past decade raising LGBT awareness and advocating sexual minority rights, among other things.

As minorities, sexual minorities or minorities in opinion, you/we do not have the luxury of media blackouts/gags to protect your/our already perceived poor reputations. The media, conservative politicians and homophobic/transphobic bigots have long defined what LGBT Singaporeans are and should be, without the participation of LGBT stakeholders themselves.

Worse, the conditions for LGBT Singaporean participation in defining and distinguishing the community are not favourable. They face the prospect of further harrassment, job loss, familial and social ostracism, and these repercussions are informed by the media, conservative politicians and homophobic/transphobic bigots. It is a cycle of queer oppression that must be broken.


At the same time, I argue the need for LGBT Singaporean role models. I am absolutely sure that there are many successful high profile Singaporeans who have contributed to nation, society and economy, who are also gay or lesbian. There is no denying LGBT Singaporeans are as hardworking and talented as heterosexually-identified Singaporeans.

No thanks to the mainstream media, conservative politicians, homophobic/transphobic bigots and 2004 Balaji Sadasivan types, LGBT Singaporeans are made out to be crooks, criminals, sexual predators, druggies, paedophiles, immoral and diseased. And all these are done without the participation of LGBT Singaporeans themselves.

Imagine a scenario where Christian people are making representations on behalf of Muslim people, but without the participation of Muslim people. How fair is that?

Different people need to be heard. And with regards to LGBT Singaporeans, we need LGBT role models and high profile figures, born and bred in Singapore, who have sweated and bled for Singapore, to speak up.

These are the people who have accumulated enough wealth and savings, built a strong social and familial network, enough to see them through whatever backlash should they come out. Ordinary LGBT Singaporeans already fear the professional backlash should they come out. They risk losing their jobs and livelihood for being who they are.

We cannot do with "open secrets" and people who are just "out" within the community. If Singaporean sexual minorities want rights, we need to connect with folks outside the community.

There will be straight Singaporeans who will support the "out" high profile LGBT ones. There will also be those who will express indifference at sexuality, which is indicative that they will not be readily engaging in hate and fear-mongering against LGBT folks.

And for the high profile closeted LGBT Singaporeans to come out, they need not fear the repercussions, as it will go to show how selfish, intolerant and ignorant their "new" detractors are. You might lose friends, family and jobs, but also gain some.

If you feel that most of your life has been a challenge, but through sheer hard work and perseverance, you made it to where you are, you should be sharing your story. If you genuinely feel that future generations of LGBT Singaporeans do not deserve to go through the problems you had gone through as a queer/questioning person, do something for them.

Your silence is only complicit in the vicious cycle of homophobia.

Ever so often, in the community's discussion on sexual minority rights, there will be views that LGBT Singaporeans should come out of the closet.

I personally feel that not all LGBT Singaporeans can come out, or if so, have the capacity and resources to deal with the repercussions. This is why I believe successful and high profile LGBT Singaporeans should use their privileges to do so.

A community cannot help itself if the privileged stratum within it remains silent and inactive.

Just do it.

"I'm gay/lesbian. This is my story. Other gay and lesbian Singaporeans do not deserve the treatment they are getting today. Feel free to spend your time judging me, but I ask you, what are you going to do for your respective communities? What are you going to do to help gay and lesbian Singaporeans?"

"I'm trans. This is my story. Other transgender Singaporeans share the same problems as I have, some more, some less. I worked hard to earn your respect. But what is it about you that makes you reluctant in respecting and giving credit to others?"

Successful and high profile LGBT Singaporeans (in the closet) are more likely to enjoy media attention than your average closeted air-conditioner repairman. You use your position of privilege and success to do what is right, not right for yourself, but what is right for others who have and will suffer like you do or once did, but didn't have the capacity to speak up.

In an environment where LGBT Singaporeans remain oppressed, trivialised, infantilised and demonised, the silence of successful high profile LGBT Singaporeans does not help one bit.

Within the community, we have activists, social workers, academics/researchers, opinion leaders and respected figures who contribute to the wellness and enrichment of the group. The community also needs role models, not only to inspire the community, but to engage in dialogue with people outside it - to ask for and establish a more egalitarian position in society for all LGBT Singaporeans.

My message to the privileged, the successful and the high profile (closeted) LGBT Singaporeans: Please step forward and do something right.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Charged for drug possession and repercussions

Reported in the wee hours of Friday, September 10, 2010, Dr Stuart Koe was charged in court on Wednesday for drug possession.

Here are the 2 articles:

Channel NewsAsia: (retrieved Sep 10, 1pm)
Gay portal CEO and founder charged in court with drug possession
By Ong Dai Lin and Sharon See | Posted: 10 September 2010 0024 hrs

SINGAPORE : Chief executive and founder of a gay web portal, Stuart Koe was charged in court for drug possession on Wednesday.

The 38-year-old Singaporean was charged with possessing 0.01 gramme of methamphetamine and utensils used in drug consumption.

The drug and items were found in a flat in Holland Avenue on May 27 this year.

For these charges, he faces a combined jail term of up to 13 years, or a maximum fine of $30,000, or both.

Koe could not be contacted for comments. - CNA /ls

Today online:,com-founder-charged-with-drug-possession (retrieved Sep 10, 1pm) founder charged with drug possession
by Ong Dai Lin

Chief executive and founder of lifestyle portal, Dr Stuart Koe, was charged in court on Wednesday with possessing 0.01 gram of methamphetamine.

The 38-year-old Singaporean was also charged with possessing utensils used in drug consumption like a plastic dropper and an empty straw that was stained with methamphetamine.

The drug and utensils were found in a flat in Holland Avenue on May 27 at 12.55am.

Dr Koe faces a jail term of up to 10 years or a maximum fine of $20,000 or both on the charge of drug possession.

On the other charge, he can be jailed up to three years or fined up to $10,000 or both.

Dr Koe told the court that he will claim trial and will be engaging a lawyer.

The Straits Times:
Gay website's founder faces drug charges (Sep 11, 2010)
The founder of gay website has been charged with drug possession.

Stuart Koe, 38, was charged in court on Wednesday with possessing 0.01g of Ice.

He was also accused of having utensils - an empty plastic dropper and an empty straw allegedly stained with the drug - which are commonly used to help consume Ice.

The evidence was allegedly found in Koe's possession, at a Holland Avenue flat in the early morning of May 27. It is not clear if the flat belonged to him or someone else.

Koe is currently on bail of $10,000.

He founded, an online website for the gay community, in March 2001 and is also its chief executive officer. The website features news, lifestyle recommendations and personal listings.

Koe has also been a activist for gay rights. In October 2007, he had tried to petition Parliament to make it legal for gays to have sex with each other, but failed to get the particular section of the Penal Code repealed.

Ice, which is the second most commonly abused drug here after heroin, usually comes in a crystalline form and is snorted, injected or smoked.

It is consumed as a party drug as it increases libido and gives the user a rush, among many things, even if taken in small doses.

But in high doses, it can cause strokes, heart attacks and brain damage. It is also highly addictive.

If convicted of drug possession, Koe faces a jail term of up to 10 years, a fine of not more than $20,000, or both.

For the charge of possessing drug-related utensils, he could be jailed up to three years, fined up to $10,000, or both, if found guilty.

Ted Chen

Meth (or speed) is illegal in Singapore.

This news is not going to help public perception of gay people in Singapore, with reports that Koe is the CEO of, a "gay web portal" (reported by CNA). Moreover, given his high profile status, the media has to report his background as such.

For many years, the media (in particular the Straits Times) have reported LGBT people in relation to sex, paedophelic and drug crimes, plus sexually transmitted diseases (for gay men), violence, arson and suicide (for lesbian women), diseases (for bisexual people), and medical and psychiatric norms, plus light-hearted and humorous "soft news" (for transgender people).

The layperson, fed on a diet of these particular LGBT representations will be led to believe that LGBT people are essentially insane, immoral, violent, trivial, sex-crazed, diseased, susceptible to crime, and can be laughed at.

Meth is a stimulant which has properties that, among other effects, heighten sexual pleasure. Layperson (normally homophobic and/or ignorant) understanding of gay people is more than often dominated by the discourse and imagination of sex, because that is basically the difference between self-identified heterosexuals and homosexuals - sexual preference.

These reports cannot confirm that for an act of indiscretion, that all gay people use drugs. It is a ridiculous generalisation derived from a perceived association (of gay men and drugs).

Whatever readers may want to infer, it has to be clear that drug possession and use are in no way, associated with sexual orientation.

And it is also important to note that Koe will be claiming trial, and that he remains innocent until a decision has been made by the Court.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sam cooks... for his mum

It is my third time cooking green curry chicken, and I decided to cook a little more for my mum. This is probably the first time I cooked a meal for her. A very simple meal if I may say so.

Given she eats in small portions, I have decided to boil a prawn, a sotong ball and a piece of scallop for her. And as for the curry, I got her a decent portion of chicken (4 pieces), a couple of baby carrots and lovely green curry.
Here's the food (top) and here it is packed (bottom):
Well, the green curry chicken journey has been a rocky one thus far. The first attempt was too spicy. The second one (with butter) was too creamy and the wife said she would have puked if she had a second scoop of it. This time, I used a little water to prevent it from being too creamy.

Ingredients (serving 3): 2-3 tea spoons of green curry paste (a little goes a long way), 400ml of coconut milk (it says "low fat", I say, "yeah rrrrrright!"), cinnamon sugar, oil, onions, garlic, parsley, basil, curry leaves. Don't forget the seasoned chicken.

My mum used to cook red curry chicken once in a while (she uses yoghurt), and she told me she once cooked the curry so long that the chicken wing was fucked up. Okay, she didn't say "fucked up", but rather, the meat on the chicken wing became very loose. She felt really disappointed (she's very hard on herself at times), but surprisingly the compliments came flooding in.

I guess it is alright if chicken wings disintegrate in the curry. But I would prefer the chicken thighs and drumsticks not to meet the same fate. Thanks to my social science and humanities training from the increasingly overpopulated global educational institution that is the National University of Singapore, I treat curry not as curry, but as gravy. It is quite a paradigm shift for an amateur cook, you know!

Well, I began by frying (in chronological order after adding oil) onions, garlic, curry paste, curry leaves, and then the chicken thigh bits. The chicken should be 3/4 fried/cooked. Later, the chicken got some coconut milk bukakae (200ml). Stir stir stir and recite a few lines from Macbeth.

While I continued stirring, I added in another 200ml of coconut milk. I realised I tend to stir in a clockwise manner, perhaps I was thinking about doing a backhand.

Next, evacuate the chicken! Or if you prefer another noun, withdraw! Put it one corner and let it relax. Continue to cook the curry with whatever (already) boiled potatoes and carrots you have. Remember later to use the boiled water and splash it at your pesky neighbour's front door, you know, the one who threw lots of shit on your air-conditioner compressor, including that used sanitary pad? You could mix some urine and other human waste material with the boiled water too, but be sure to wash the pot really thoroughly after that, otherwise you'll get the kind of bacteria that is infesting Pasir Ris beach.

When you are ready to serve the curry. Pour the curry over the chicken and serve it!

I have always looked forward to cooking for my mum. You know, there are only a very small number of people in this world, to whom you will never in your lifetime be able to fully reciprocate whatever they have done for you.

I mean, she has cooked soups, rice meals, fried rice, instant noodles, not-so-instant noodles, western meals, stews, also made sandwiches, plus simple desserts, etc. She has also got burnt, scalded and cut many times doing so too. But now, she doesn't cook because it's only my dad and her and both of them don't really eat that much.

And the verdict is in. My mum says the dinner was really good. Ah, warms my heart. Now that is outstanding, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A sociology (and textual anlaysis) of Singaporean complaining

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is right about one thing, that Singaporeans do complain. At least that was what he was suggesting when he reportedly said "It is important that we do not complain too much when we can’t get the house that we want, we can’t get the carpark that we want, when the MRT trains are a little crowded."

And many Singaporean netizens have over the past couple of days, jumped on him like monkeys on his back, which interestingly reflects their own monkey-on-their-back issue. Apparently, it appears that most netizens have either evolved to acquire a sociological imagination and abilities to critically analyse texts and discourses, or are probably just too cynical and anti-PAP.

Whichever the case, ordinary Singaporeans (or lesser mortals according to Charles Chong) and the People's Action Party have an interesting relationship. The use of rhetoric, whether on the part of certain citizens criticising the government, or on the part of the PAP government using vague political, social and/or moral narratives to legitimise itself, figures greatly in how both go about doing their business.

I read Goh to be suggesting that some/most Singaporeans are self-serving and selfish. Singaporeans want convenience and efficiency, plus comfort. Singaporeans want more incentives, and it appears they demand spurs and rewards so they can remain motivated.

In my limited experience, which appears to parallel Goh's views, there are Singaporean residents in HDB flats who frame the upgrading works and amenities in their residential areas in terms of who much these items will increase the value of their flats. The value of one's flat is prioritised before the view that the amenities can actually benefit children and the elderly, for instance.

That said, when people criticise the PAP government, how many of them actually care about improving Singapore? For those who don't, we can see that the use of critical rhetoric masks the reality that there exists a self-serving spirit beneath it.

With regards to Goh, he also uses rhetoric to masks the shortcomings of the government. Every government has its own set of shortcomings, because they are commonly rigid, inflexible and ill-adapted to change. The PAP government has institutionalised more dynamic communications and feedback channels (like REACH) and are constantly on the look out to solicit young men and women for tea, and sexually groom them for politics with the PAP. Hey, what is political renewal without reproduction and the insemination of political doctrine into the politically virginal minds of young Singaporeans, huh?

One rhetorical device and strategy is externalisation. The PAP government has learned to externalise its problems and shortcomings to the citizenry. Look at Wong Kan Seng's narrative on security when Mas Selamat escaped from the Internal Security Department. Wong said that we are all complacent, suggesting that ordinary Singaporeans too are complicit in the government's secret police security lapses.

Externalisation is not merely the shifting of blame, but rather, its decentralisation. It is interesting to note that a centralised authority in the form of the government has time and again engaged in the decentralisation of blame. Why? Because they have the power (and the media) to do it. DUH?!

Another rhetorical device and strategy is distraction. While externalisation of blame also serves as a distraction, this strategy is particularly useful for many governments. The problems the public identifies are reconstituted by the government as by-products of a good government. Look at the Mas Selamat escape case again, when the issue of complacency (a bad thing) is subsumed under the narrative of "an overly successful government and civil service". So these are the concessions made to distract Singaporeans and the PAP government from actually addressing the problem.

Enough of textual and discursive analysis, sociologists won't like that kind of crap. Now let us look at the sociological concept of rationalisation (Max Weber and George Ritzer).

What we are experiencing today are symptomatic of Singapore's rapid industrialisation, economic development and (single-party government) authoritarianism. Even today, we are constantly bombarded with rhetoric (I can never stray too far away from textual analysis, huh? Sorry!!!) such as "productivity", "survival", "progress", "viability" and "renewal".

Sociologically, this is how we rationalise. There are structures and institutions in place that facilitate this kind of rationalisation, particularly economic rationalisation. People, institutions and government all think the same way, for instance "how to survive, how to progress and how to sustain".

In line with the dirty dirty modernisation thesis, Singaporeans appear to be more "rational" (economically rational, that is) as we rapidly modernise (whatever that actually means). Ritzer, in studying McDonald's, identifies the four main components of McDonaldisation, which is basically a form of corporatised economic rationalisation: Efficiency, predictability, calculability and control. For the Singaporean layperson, it's just "productivity" la.

We want minimal input to derive the maximum output. We want maximum and optimal results. These are symptoms of capitalism. However, to contextualise it, capitalism is not merely the ailment of many a Singaporean; the PAP government is complicit.

Capitalism flows rather freely through authoritarian structures. For example, businesses find lesser civil resistance in authoritarian countries. At the same time, authoritarian governments can further legitimise their political power through their economic leadership, never mind if their social and moral leadership alone do not justify their political position. When the PAP government continually create jobs and help Singaporeans in the economic domain, it will remain in power.

The issue of "bread and butter", a staple in the General Elections discourse, is also symptomatic of our rapid modernisation and industrialisation. The emphasis on professional career, income, savings and survivability is continually made and ingrained in the Singaporean psyche, such that it would be a cognitive stretch to imagine any other path (just like when you are trapped in one religious doctrine).

As a result, Singaporeans think in a certain way that gives the impression they are selfish and self-serving. They appear to measure things according to economic worth, sustainability, viability and survivability. As Singaporeans do not exist in a social, political and economic vacuum, we need to consider the historical and political domains of government and governance that exert a great influence in how Singaporeans rationalise, or rather how Singaporeans prefer economic rationalisation.

If we said the PAP government is the main culprit (and facilitator) for this Singaporean economic rationalisation, it is then responsible for many social, economic and political phenomena we are experiencing today.

Low birth rates: It is not economically rational to marry and have more babies. Let us just call it the Lee Kuan Yew problem.

Materialism and (political) apathy: It is not economically rational to join politics, because there are mechanisms in place by the PAP government to bring great harm to your professional and political career. You can be a socialist and then be accused to be a Marxist or Communist and can be detained for a very long time. These are not economically viable decisions. Growing materialism, which is reflective of capitalist and consumerist culture, serves as a useful distraction from politics and the political and moral shortcomings and atrocities the PAP government has committed over the years. For example, the middle-class aunty would be thinking about what brand of handbag she would be getting at the mall rather than the limitations of Medisave, or the middle-to-upper-class man would be thinking about which sportscar bests compensates for his short penis rather than HDB policies or transparency for that matter.

Kiasu mentality: The "me first" is an economically rational attitude. Giving way is not rational, and graciousness is not rational, unless you derive sufficient karmic points to offset any "costs" (which in turn constitutes economic rationalisation).

The problems Singaporeans face have social, economic and political dimensions to them. Saying that Singaporeans complain too much, internalises and individualises the problem, absolving complicit parties (like the government) of responsibility.

In the process of internalising and individualising problems that have social and political dimensions, the PAP government effectively infantilises and trivialises Singaporeans. We are petty cry-babies whose views do not really matter.

And since we are so described (or made out to be), the PAP government believes that with symbolic gestures, the citizenry can be placated and hence controlled. For instance, the banning of 100 undesirable websites, the retention of Section 377a of the Penal Code and the occasional Yusof Ishaks they slip into our bank and CPF accounts.

Complaints are not solely borne out of self-serving purposes, but constitute reactions to the policies in the domain of governance and politics. The demand for efficiency and comfort appears on the surface to represent selfish interests, but on another level reflects the growing subscription to the PAP government's idea of economic rationalisation.

The PAP government has facilitated, moulded and created an environment in which economic rationalisation thrives and is encouraged, such that complaints in the vein of economic rationality appear to be functional to the system and agenda of political (and economic) institution that is the PAP.

However, the government and those unaffected by complaints see these complaints as isolated and probably malicious, of little social and political relevance and significance, when in fact, there are economic and political forces that coerce Singaporeans to think and feel a certain way.

Along the way, the government has given us the rhetoric of meritocracy to explain our existence and stratification, which basically draws attention away from the structural and political influences no the division and inequality of Singapore society. Meritocracy is like "you are what you eat", but more like "you are how you work and have worked".

However, meritocracy does not account for how different Singaporeans start off at different starting points, socio-economically, cognitively, physiologically, biologically, emotionally, etc. It merely fits in with the discourse of economic rationality and the good old 1970s Singaporean industrialist spirit. Perhaps only the rich and successful get to espouse the values and relevance meritocracy. But I have yet to hear what believers in meritocracy have to say about handicapped people, transgendered people, ethnic minorities and so on.

This economic rationalisation is going to cripple Singapore, because we will end up framing everything in terms of viability, survivability, progress, development and so on. There are things in life that cannot be measured by these. At the same time, our preoccupation with these will also affect us politically, as there is increasing attention on how we as units can survive and prosper, at the expense of larger and wider political and social issues, not that the PAP would mind.

However, we are continually being kept, or rather, coerced into remaining in this form of rationalisation. Well, some of us are willing prisoners in this iron cage. For others, they are so intricately entwined in the economic system the PAP government has created and allowed to fester, that they become politically docile. Perhaps they have been "brought in" and "tamed" (politically tamed).

That is why the government has time and again frowned upon complaints, and encouraged suggestions for solutions, augmenting the rules of the political game for their benefit. But even then, we wonder whether these suggestions have been taken up.

Public and civil servants, and people in the know of how bureaucracy works, have once in a while scoff at citizens, thinking that citizens do not know anything about how the government works, hinting at their ignorance and susceptibility to complain. But they are the ones who should be questioning "why are they working like that?" and the implications on the very people they pledged to serve in the first place. However, in this economic rationalisation, serving citizens is secondary, because what is more important is to "do your job and earn your pay".

It is ironic that a government that is trying to appear compassionate and promote citizen interaction/dialogue, is itself afraid of feedback. In fact, it trivialises most feedback as complaints and refers to it as a social process, rather than a social reaction to its political shortcomings.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My take on transgender theory

There are different ways by which people see and judge transgender persons. These are due to the pre-existing views they hold, which comprise myths, stereotypes, as well as the prevailing theories of sex, gender and sexuality propounded by influential institutions (medical, psychiatric, legal, anthropological, sociological, poststructualist).

Beneath each view or theorisation we have of a specific transgender person lies a set of assumptions and beliefs shaped and informed by ideological subscription and discursive subjugation, unwilling and willing.

Without citations, because this is a blog (yay! Let me be lazy for once, okay?), I shall show different views held by different scholars pertaining to transgender persons. I shall focus on the academic fascination and theorisation with the male-to-female transsexual, or transwoman (never mind pre-op, post-op or non-op).

I shall also show the assumptions and theoretical frameworks that spawn such views.

1) "Transsexual women are not real women."
Okay. One name comes to mind and you should know this... Guess who?? Janice Raymond.

But we should thank her for opening the can of worms that is transgender theory by the way. (Most worms are bisexual by the way).

Any way, the view that transwomen are not real women is premised on the assumption that to be a woman, you have to be born/"originally" female-bodied. This is the assumption that insists on the alignment of biology and physicality, with that gender status (i.e. man/woman).

In this view, you have to be born female and treated/oppressed accordingly to your biology to be recognised as a woman.

The statement says something about the assumptions one holds. And the assumptions that one hold say something about one's self and political agenda.

a) Is one trying to preserve the institution of gender binarism in the process by silently insisting on it?

b) Is one trying to forward an essentialist argument by naturalising it?

c) Is one trying to say that radical separatist lesbian feminism is and should be the best and truest point of view in feminism?

2) "Transsexual women are reproducing stereotypes of women."
At another level, there is the argument that transsexual women are just merely reproducing the stereotypes of women and femininity.

a) Some scholars have pointed out that male-bodied individuals use their "male privileges" and technology (of course), forge alliances with male doctors, to create a female body that is desirable to men, hence the reproduction of stereotypes, which is indicative of the charge that transsexual women willingly reproduce the patriarchal cultural logic of gender. They are charged to be wanting to assume the characteristics of male-constructed femininity.

b) However, the view in 2a does not take into account the social, economic and political (contextual) circumstances that coerce or compel the individual to reproduce this cultural logic of gender, which is heteronormative and insistent on dimorphism.

There are social, political and professional repercussions on the transsexual woman if she does not become recognised as a woman, or pass. Obviously, she wants to be free from harassment, which sometimes compels the need to don culturally recognised markers of femininity.

There are processes behind the process that is the embodiment of femininity that cannot be ignored.

The views 2a and 2b also reveal the conceptual frameworks different scholars use to understanding transsexual women.

i) How do we read transsexual women as subjects already constituted in power (i.e. heteronormative gender binarism)? Do we read them as willing or coerced, villains or victims? (Are these dichotomies even relevant?)

ii) To what extent do we conceive and afford transsexual women agency (in the sociological sense)? Do we conceptualise them as masters of their own lives and destinies, capable of subversion and negotiation? Or do we conceptualise any form of mastery as illusory, indicative of complicity in the very discourses that constitutes them as subjects/objects? (And what do our choices of questions about transsexual women say about us ourselves? What is it about "us" when we engage in a process of asking questions about "them"?)

iii) Are we more occupied with the project of dismantling gender binarism and patriarchy, prioritising these exercises over actually representing transpeople?

3) "Transsexual women provide the necessary discursive resistance/subversion against gender binarism"
Again, why the focus on the possibilities that transpeople bring? What does that say about your theoretical project?

And if your project is to disprove the alignment of sex, gender and sexuality, what does that say politically about your selection for transpeople for analysis?

Any way, there are two views here.

a) Transsexual women do provide narratives that can subvert and contradict heteronormative as well as homonormative discourses, plus discourses that are premised and insistent on dimorphic binarism.

With respect to this position, again, what does it say about the theoretical project of the scholar espousing this view? That the theoretical project is prioritised ahead of actually studying transgender people?

b) At the same time, with regards to drag and the Butler reading of drag as parody, indicative of the performativity of gender, there are social, political and economic processes and limitations that circumscribe it. This is where the textuality of 3a is limited by the context from which text is arisen and read. Drag might be nightclub drag for professional reasons in a professional exclusive setting (Namaste), or might be "oscillating" drag (Ekins and King), or might not even constitute drag but the primary and default identity of the individual.

c) Adopting a Foucauldian perspective on power in the context of transgender's oppression, the sites for resistance and its articulation are well within the domains of gender oppression, heteronormality and cissexism/genderism.

On the one hand, narratives of transsexual women may be read as constituents of dominant discourses on binarism. On the other, these articulations may also be read as conscious reconfigurations of the narratives of binarism, the reconfigurations themselves constituting newer (yet subversive) political and social processes. Ultimately, both views are contingent on whether transsexual women, in this case, are subjects with agency in the sociological sense, or subjects constituted in discourse/power in the poststructuralist sense.

With regards to this theoretical and disciplinary contention/tension, what would be the grounds for designing this continuum of "agency"? Would this continuum still be theoretically blinkered?

To sum things up, when we study transpeople, whether with a view to give them a voice or to interrogate sex, gender and sexuality across various contexts, we need to evaluate our disciplinary, theoretical, methodological, moral and philosophical orientations/subscriptions, especially their shortcomings. Their selection/omission constitute political and moral processes, and their shortcomings will greatly affect the way transpeople are re-presented in academic literature.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sam cooks green curry chicken

Welcome welcome. Huan ying huan ying. Sawadee krup.

A few days ago. I decided to try cooking some green curry chicken. It was a half-success/failure.
Here are the suspects: Coconut milk (fought hard with the Malay aunties to grab them, but due to my superior conditioning, I managed to grab a handful), yoghurt (get it? YOG hurt!), basil, ground pepper and cinnamon (sugar)!
From left to right: Curry leaves, carrots, plastic box of dried shrimp, chicken in plastic wrap (slim wrap la), onions, peeled potatoes, cup of rice, and garlic.
I added oil to the pot, but turns out it wasn't enough and my pot was slightly burnt! It's a Zebra brand for crying out loud!!! Schoolboy error! Seriously... Even the most insightful blogger can make such mistakes!

Well, oil, then onions, then garlic, then green curry paste (which my mum got from a recent Thailand trip), fry fry fry, stir stir stir, pepper, then chicken, fry fry fry, stir stir stir, basil. Saying it three times makes it magical, because that's what Shakespeare says.

Then I added in 2 cups of yoghurt (300ml) because I used too much curry paste. Absolutely disastrous. I later had to add a small pack of coconut milk (200ml). Then add in potatoes, which by right should have been cooked, but I was too stupid and had forgotten to do so. Sorry lah, I only got 2nd upper, not 1st class honours degree. This could serve 4 people, but there's only the wife and myself. Bad calculation, because I'm an arts student.

To deal with the bitter experience, I added a dash of cinnamon sugar into the curry. And that's the end of it. Quite disappointed, but I'll be cooking curry tomorrow again.So, it's all done. The wife isn't very fond of spicy stuff. So I cooked some sotong balls. There you have it.
Well, all I can say is that it was a good learning experience.

Normally, dinners will look like that:
Yup. There's rice, steamed egg, steam cod (awesome shit), baked chicken, and wife's favourite sotong balls.

This Saturday afternoon, I decided to cook some lunch. It took me 50 minutes to cook something that was finished in 15 minutes. But the meal tasted really good.
It is cheese baked rice with garlic and bacon. The bacon was under the rice by the way. And there is egg mayo and baked chicken (massaged with oyster sauce, thousand island and mayonnaise) with baby carrots. The chicken spent 15 minutes in the toaster oven, taken out for the boiled carrots to be added in, and spent another 8 minutes in the sauna again.

The cheese baked rice (rice cooked in chicken stock) spent 12 minutes in the toaster oven. Used mozzarella cheese. Nice stuff. See the baked bacon under the rice? Yummy shit.
While savouring the meal, we were wondering what's the part of the cheese baked rice that is so creamy and viscous. Once I find out what that is, I will probably never need to order cheese baked rice next time.

Friday, September 3, 2010

If Lee Hsien Loong sang the National Day Rally speech out...

Hello. Welcome to a rare blog post in which I am not writing 1000 to 3000 words to make a point.

Here are some songs written in past half hour, depicting life in Singapore.

Well, it is pretty obvious after watching Chestnuts at Raffles Hotel Jubilee Hall, I was kind of inspired. Jonathan, I also can write, ya? Haha, I had a good time watching Chestnuts, by the way. Excellent energy throughout the entire performance, although some intertextual and cultural jokes flew over some of the audiences' heads. Thanks, Jonathan.

You guys know the Beatles? You better do. The following song is in the tune of the Beatles' hit, "A Hard Day's Night". It captures basically what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was talking about in his National Day Rally. Sing the song if you like, because syllable for syllable, the parody kinda fit decently.

He’s a Lee and he’s right
Foreign talent is good for you
He’s a Lee and he’s right
Because he’s the son of Lee Kuan Yew

With integrated programme
Stratify our whole land
You know the PM always right

You know they work all day
They get paid millions, you have no say
And to buy votes on Election Day
They give you nine-K NS pay

Because he’s PM Hsien Loong
We lesser humans are wrong
You know the PM always right

In our home
Population seems not right
In our home
FT’s make wages so tight, tight yeah

He’s a Lee and he’s right
We’re not producing two point one
Maybe Chinese chee byes are sewn tight
Not enough money, not enough LAN

Because he’s PM Hsien Loong
We lesser humans are wrong
You know the PM always right

OWWWWW (interlude)... (take it away, Hsien Loong...)
(enter PM Lee with an audacious guitar solo)

Because he’s PM Hsien Loong
We lesser humans are wrong
You know the PM always right

In our home
MRT trains can be right
In our home
We don't have to squeeze in so tight, tight yeah

He’s a Lee and he’s right
He'll do the fixing for Singapore
He's a Lee and he's right
He'll even fix some people more

Because he’s PM Hsien Loong
We lesser humans are wrong
You know the PM always right
You know the PM always right
You know the PM always right... (fade out)

Of course, that's not the only song I shall share with you. While writing it, I was thinking about Wong Kan Seng. Who can forget the classical Mas Selamat getaway? Sung in the tune of Singapura (the one with "sunny island, set in the sea"), hit it, Kan Seng!

I am sorry
Oh I am sorry
Mas Selamat
Left ISD

I am sorry
Oh I am sorry
Out the toilet
Window did he flee

Come along we’re all wrong
It’s all our fault
It’s complacency
It’s not only me

I am sorry
Oh I am sorry
You won’t hear that
Cos my name is Kan Seng

Not a very long song. But I was just warming you up for the newer generation Singaporean's favourite National Day song, "Home", sang by Kit Chan. Such a beautiful song. I realise not many people know about the Ministers in the Cabinet, so I have decided to educate you, in the tune of "Home". I figured if Hossan Leong can summarise Singapore's history into one song, I can summarise the Cabinet in a song too.

Whenever I think of George Yeo
Foreign affairs he all know
There’s a senior in Balaji
Who talk rubbish years ago (he linked the spike in Aids to gay parties by the way)

Lim Hwee Hua is the first lady
Minister with more
Portfolios in Boon Heng’s life
Maybe they might give her more

Lee Hsien Loong, truly
He’s the son of Harry
Who’s known as MM Lee
In between they had a Goh

Gan Kim Yong, is he
Manpower ministry
He is why we work to the bone
At ten o’clock we’re still not home

When there are lessons to go through
Doctor Eng Hen will teach you
There is Tharman and his knowledge
Because finance is his stew

Yaacob has been under weather
So sick he go see Khaw
There’s Bow Tan, the one with ang mo wife
Planning for Singapore

Lee Hsien Loong, happy
Balakrishnan’s savvy
Vivan kills the aunties
But Tuck Yew censor the whole show

This home, surely
Chee Hean is for safety
This is where you’ll never be alone
Cos Kan Seng let Selamat home…

(repeat chorus)
There is trade, industry
Hng Kiang make us money
Foreign talent swarm me
We could vote them out you know?

This is home, surely
People’s Action Party
This is where I won’t be alone
For this is China’s second home…

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Taxi drivers deserve better from cab companies and LTA

It's a common practice by most taxi drivers, much to the dismay and anger of cab-riding passengers, to slow their cab down, ask for the destination, reject the passenger and drive off. Some give reasons such as advanced bookings, change of shift and also needing to have a break or a meal. This is obviously a problem for commuters.

However, the focus on cab drivers alone, or them along with angry commuters, does not paint the whole picture of the scenario. We have to consider the context.

This common practice often occurs just outside the perimeters of the Central Business District (CBD). Cab companies frown on this practice and urge commuters to report errant cab drivers who reject passengers. That said, we now come introduce another stakeholder in this equation, apart from cab drivers and passengers: Cab companies.

Unregulated and wild like the drug parties they used to hold in the Seletar airbase residences, cab companies have a large hand to play in these passenger-rejecting practices.

First and foremost, cab companies implement a surcharge for peak hours and hot spots/locations (normally in the CBD, airport or other hot tourist traps, I mean, attractions). The zonal surcharge is the more contentious one. The result of this is that cab drivers will have a greater tendency to pick up passengers at certain times and certain places to maximise their fare. After all, for most drivers, a net earning of $80-$100 would be considered decent, considering on an ordinary day, they have to pay rent of $100 thereabouts and also refuel diesel.

When cab drivers end up in the "zone", they have a tendency to stay in it and wait for passengers, because the incentive of earning that surcharge is there. This leads to a high taxi density in that area. Considering the finite supply (although there is technically an oversupply) of taxis in the country, this will affect cab-demanding passengers in other areas - not that passengers in the "zone" are complaining.

From evening to early night on some weeknights, there are some cab drivers who are reluctant to pick up passengers travelling from the perimeters of the "zone" to the peripheries of the island. The further you get away from the "zone" to a sleepy residential estate, the lesser the possibilities of the taxi driver getting a passenger. Their reluctance is all the more intensified with the geographically-related surcharge.

I am a taxi passenger myself (once a week or a fortnight) and have often met with drivers who refuse to pick me up. But for some of them, their reluctance disappeared when I offered to pay that $3 surcharge (even though we're not in the "zone"), or make other advanced offers such as "I pay you extra, can?". This will dissuade them from staying near or in the "zone". Obviously, there are reasons why they want to do so in the first place, and these reasons at beyond their control, because they don't own cab companies or run LTA.

By the way, cab companies do pocket a portion of phone bookings. I am not sure about the EZ link card, credit card and NETS payment surcharges, but doubt they go to cab drivers.

I feel that this zonal surcharge has to be abolished. This will allow taxi drivers to be more free-flowing. Cab companies have implemented something that causes their drivers to make certain professional decisions that earn the ire of certain passengers, who in turn complain to the cab companies. Drivers suffer.

There is another item that greatly affects taxi movement and density, and that is the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). I feel that cab drivers should not be charged. If the Land Transport Authority enjoys the sound of coins crashing down on its obscene shit-loads of revenue, perhaps cab drivers should only pay a small percentage of the ERP charges. By small, I mean 10%-20%. Preferably, it should be 0%.

In the CBD during ERP operational hours, it is common sense that some people with a bit of spare change will want to hail a cab. So, there is demand for taxis in the CBD. However, if there are no bookings, there will be no incentive for taxi drivers to enter the CBD and pay the ERP charges. Again, these are unquestioned policies that greatly influence taxi movement and density.

The cab companies and LTA, through their actions, are not taxi driver-friendly. Drivers are legitimate stakeholders in this transport ecosystem too, but they appear the most maligned (although some are really dangerous drivers, never mind other attitudinal deficiencies).

Not only are cab companies and LTA blind to their own policies and their effects on cab drivers, the silence and lack of support from passengers/commuters all the more exacerbate the plight of cab drivers in Singapore.

I hope these companies, as well as LTA, can come to their senses some day. But then again, the people who make the decisions and hold the power, drive their own cars (just like how top public transport policy-makers and officials do not actually use public transport). For the powerful and privileged to make policies for the powerless and underprivileged, you should either genuinely listen and act on the concerns of the latter, or you should be wearing their shoes long enough to wake up your idea.