Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rationalising hawker food

Old news, but Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (cue the mix chorus of booing and guffawing) has suggested that hawker centres should be professionalise, on top of being “nationalised” – i.e. “next generation of hawkers in new hawker centres must also be Singaporean.”

And in a typical Post-General Elections 2011 move that is as unsurprising as the accusations of nepotism and cronyism, which are of course officially ill-informed, MEWR (RAWR!!! Purrrrr……) has conducted a consultation exercise to gather public suggestions. Nothing wrong with that, because most Singaporeans are fairly acquainted with hawker food.

Balakrishnan shared his views, “It's not as if anyone can just walk off the street and say I'm going to make the world's best char kway teow. There's an element of training, exchanging of best practices and recipes. And we need in a way to professionalise our hawker centres and our hawkers."

What strikes me most is the word “professionalise”. It invokes a systematic rationalisation of the hawker trade.

For those familiar with George Ritzer (or Max Weber), it’ll come as no surprise that as a highly urbanised (and continually modernising) cite-state, the symptomatic drive to control and standardise eventually extends to an “everyday life” domain and industry that is the hawker centre.

The PAP government also employs the very populism it condemns, and in saying the next generation of hawkers must be Singaporean, effectively spews the kind of nationalist rhetoric it believes will help win back the votes it is entitled to.

One component of the existing set of controls hawkers are subjected to is the National Environment Agency’s food hygiene grading. On the one hand, it represents the government’s leadership in ensuring continual good hygiene practices in all food and beverage outlets here.

On the other hand, the idea of control and grading is characteristic of a highly intelligent and rational(ised) state, steeped in Confucian principles as it remains subscribed to the same “meritocracy” that has driven, for example, our education system (renowned for its streaming and differentiation of students).

This is a language the establishment understands. A citizenry, that is socialised into this language, not only understands it too, but also abides by its rules and stays within its discursive parameters.

What is “good” or “passes” according to a set of prescribed standards, concocted by a select few, mostly and mostly likely to be the privileged and elite, will be accorded a certain grade or status others believe to be superior.

We understand, in isolation, that an A grade is higher than and superior to a B grade. That order seems logical, thus accepted. However, we don’t question the sets of rules and reasoning that necessitates grading and tiering. We also don’t question how the bases for grading may appear to benefit a certain group, a certain aesthetic and so on. It is deceptively reasonable, logical and rational.

I am also interested in the use of professionalisation as a front for standardisation. To employ a “purist” foodie stance, one steep in culinary nostalgia and gastronomical romanticism, the evolution of “good food” (subjective nonetheless) is premised on competition, improvisation and well-kept secrets. Standardisation curtails this.

George Ritzer conceptualised McDonaldisation, a phenomena that characterises modern society and it pursuit of efficiency, calculability, control and yes predictability. With standardisation, we have predictability (and control, of course). These are the symptoms of a highly rational society.

The respective conceptualisations of rationalisation and McDonaldisation by Weber and Ritzer, are reactions to what they perceive as the process of modernisation in the Western context. Come on, as if there is an idea of an era preceding the modern, right? Well, modernisation (and its dehumanising qualities) and the values ascribed to it are just as socially constructed as the values people ascribe to “purist” ideas of nostalgia, romanticism and irrationality, or anything associated with being “human”. Let’s call a truce until the next paradigm arrives.

Why does good food taste good? I believe in the properties of differentiation, improvisation, competition and secrecy, as these ensure the next generation continues to get “good” food.

Maybe the government’s idea of innovation and creativity does not extend to the food and beverage industry, specifically the hawker industry, and this doesn’t figure in the grand scheme of “progress”.

There is this constant obsession with finding the best practices, benchmarking and standardising, so that we can sustain something we think is good for everyone else. This is corporate Singapore, but do we understand the implications of our decisions and actions? Or are the problems created by our decisions best left for the next generation to solve?

Professionalising and nationalising the hawker trade need not be bundled together. If the PAP government wants to win votes based on invoking populist nationalist sentiment, it should articulate in isolation that hawkers be mostly Singaporean. As for “professionalising” and ensuring good “standards” and practices (which essentially point to standaridsation), it is a whole different story altogether.

George Ritzer assessed that while the process of McDonaldisation is a highly rational(ised) one, it begets irrationality, in the form of excessive red tape and resultant lower quality of work.

The professionalisation and probable standardisation of the hawker industry will result in easily replicable but nevertheless good and rational practices which ultimately can be done at a lower cost – use foreign talent!

Based on my interpretation, professionalisation and nationalisation here seem at odds with each other. Perhaps Balakrishnan will explain more in the future as to what he means by professionalisation and its parameters.

By the way, the bak chor mee stall I regularly patronise is manned by Chinese nationals, and I somehow crave the same good taste at a consistently low price.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Josephine Tay's letter not encouraged or endorsed

(unpublished - Nov 26, 2011)

I read with disgust Josephine Tay's letter "Why orchid for Elton" (Nov 26, 2011).

She insists there are "other celebrities and dignitaries more deserving" than Elton John and his partner, following the naming of an orchid after the famed performer.

She furthers this by questioning the government if homosexuality is "openly encouraged and endorsed".

I see this differently. The naming of an orchid after Elton John is an honour bestowed upon, first and foremost, a talented and successful musician and performer.

It is disgraceful that even today we have Singaporeans who openly condemn the sexuality of those who we choose to believe are different from us. Does that mean no matter how huge the contribution to society and the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people deserved to be ignored, trivialised or condemned?

As a father, I see no issue with Elton John's sexuality. It would be more important to me if he and his partner, as high profile persons, can provide a loving and nurturing family environment, and set an example for others.

It churns my stomach when prejudices rule our hearts and minds, leading human beings like Josephine Tay to associate a sexual identity other than heterosexuality with all things bad.

I also do not encourage and endorse people who, guided by such bigotry and hateful prejudice, abuse their privileged positions and make hateful remarks against sexual minorities.

What is far insidious is that she has the audacity to suggest that the government and public do things that are eventually aligned with their prejudices. If the government ever has to be involved, they should be more concerned about hindrances to peace, harmony and diversity, such as the exclusionary homophobic letters that populate our mainstream media.

I assume Josephine Tay is a heterosexual, and as a fellow heterosexual Singaporean, I wish to express my disappointment at her and her condemnable letter.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Teasing the ism from race and religion

And there's the case of Donaldson Tan, re-posting a picture on Facebook, which is obviously offensive to Muslims.

But does this act of re-posting constitute sedition?

The picture is already publicly accessible, and not created by Donaldson. And even in re-posting it, I personally feel that no assumption can be made that he has the intent to incite.

Furthermore, he has described the picture as "flame bait", which indicates his understanding of the action and its context. So, in my opinion, that's a parody.

In its entirety, to incite the anger and potential disharmony is a condemnable act. But if a comparison has to be made, put alongside Jason Neo's photo and caption, I feel Donaldson's re-post is less severe, or even relevant.

There will be segments of the community who will dismiss Donaldson's act and person as childish, frivolous and hence not worthy of any attention, as there are (already) segments who are offended and incensed, wanting criminal action to be taken against him.

But thanks to Donaldson, people are, among the anger and condemnation, talking a little bit more about race, religion, governance and censorship. The measure however, is extreme for most (myself included). But to break the silence that is essentially an ethnic Chinese elite brand of Singaporean multiculturalism, such an act (with highly insensitive content) proves a little more effective to provoke (not promote) discussion.

It will be a travesty if the case closes on the "racist" internet postings and Singaporeans remain "chilled" and quiet, and not thinking about the differential protection and governance accorded to different segments of Singaporean society, or about the mechanism of parody. Furthermore, what is behind our anger and angry reactions?

(Any way, do the nonreligious get the same degree of legal and social protection as those of faith?)

It's a generic Islamophobic opinion widely known, rather than one that is targeted at local kindergarten children and accorded the description of terriorism. Condemnable acts in Singapore.

Personally, I condemn acts and speeches which puts at a disadvantage or incites hatred against a community in Singapore. I don't condemn based on the possible repercussion if such acts go unnoticed, nor do I do it based on fear of unrest and violence reactions.

The fear of violent disruptive reactions is a stereotype we project on the offended - making us a little bit more complicit in the very hate we are fighting. e.g. I condemn the statement which says girls are over-sensitive because I fear they'll over-react at that statement and there'll be disruption because I assume girls are more capable of doing that - well, that kind of logic we may uncritically have.

Although there is one statement "No to racism", there are many motivations behind it. Some of these motivations are based on inherent racism or racist stereotypes.

Any way, again, Jason Neo's comments on the kindergarten children as "young terrorist trainees? (with a question mark)" propagates the Islamophobic atomisation and misrepresentation of Islam as violent and hence Muslims are such. It is an original photograph taken by Jason and an opinion expressed by him publicly. Come on, children? What did they ever do to you?

As for Donaldson, there is nothing new here. The comments he has shared about governance, censorship and religion are not new either. They constitute a discourse that is international and has been discussed in great detail for at least a decade.

Given its timing and "flame bait" comment, I think Donaldson's repost is a parody.

Unfortunately, not many of us appreciate parody (many men can't laugh at or see the irony of their "macho-ness" any way), and given the many decades of silence we have on race and religion, we are not ready to face parody or commentary of the racial and religious sort.

It is not that parody trivialises or misrepresents race, ethnicity or religion (and we shouldn't be spending 100% of our attention condemning its trivialising properties), but it allows us to reflect on the trivialisation and misrepresentation, and the social mechanisms and attitudes which drive the trivialisation and misrepresentation.

For me, I think playful actions sometimes pave the way for mature dialogue, but as long as we have strict social and legal policing of such matters, dialogue is heavily impeded.

---
By the way, the mainstream media has published photos of Donaldson and Christian Eliab Ratnam, but has the photo of Jason Neo been published?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Condemning Jason Neo's offensive photo caption

I got a shock when I saw a photo on Facebook of a bus with children in it. And it was captioned "Bus filled with young terrorist trainees?"

It's so outrageous I thought it was a hoax, but after following the news, I realised it was legitimate. More can be read from The Online Citizen here.

The photo may be accessed here.

The Young PAP, of which the perpetrator Jason Neo has been a member, has issued a statement here.

In any context, the caption is disgusting and disgraceful. I condemn this act, and this racist and feel he has no place in Singapore society. His act is a hindrance to peace and harmony.

He is also a disgrace to ethnic Chinese like myself, as well as among those who acknowledge and appreciate our privileged position in Singapore society, and are also active in supporting or advocating a peaceful and harmonious coexistence for all.

It will be very difficult to accept any apology from a person like Jason, who's capable of publicly making such ignorant yet hateful remarks.

Looking beyond his Young PAP membership and the fact that PAP and YPAP have distanced themselves from him (which doesn't exactly solve the problem), the act on its own is deplorable.

The caption and the fact that it is publicly accessible shows that he is a bigger extremist than the people he demonises.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Making change in Singapore

Wow it's been some time now.

Let's see. New job and fatherhood. Same old problems with the world.

I fielded questions on the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance yesterday, from final year university students writing a paper on activism.

It got me thinking a little more about not why I am in this in the first place, but rather how am I going to remain committed to what I believe in.

Essentially, belief is commitment, or at least that's what I would tell myself.

What continue to irk me the most are people going around telling others that, among many other things, homosexuality is bad, transsexuals are bad, wrong, unnatural, sinful, yada yada - I get the point.

That doesn't make the hatemonger is any better, but not that they know it any way. There will be people who think they know enough, or better, to speak for everyone else.

They'll want to lay claim to education, media, legislation, social norms and other mechanisms of control, to effect changes in our society that will eventually be ideologically aligned with what they are predisposed to, or already comfortable with.

That is destructive to the spirit of pluralism even our state is half-assedly committed too. (Well, I think our brand of pluralism essentially tilts in favour of the ethnic Chinese business elite, but that is just an opinion)

The curse of pluralism is the drawing of boundaries and battle lines, and when communities of uncompromising bigotry clash, and when the government fails to take leadership in social governance, it gets real nasty - we end up pretty polarised.

I still see myself as an ordinary anti-homophobe. I'm like "fuck your homophobia la" when I'm confronted with illogical arguments against LGB folks. It's a selfish thing, but I prefer to have a live-and-let-live approach to things, provided it doesn't impinge on the liberties of others.

A lot of "haters", -phobes, and fundies (religious fundamentalists) have an "us and them" complex. So too do most advocates and activists. So do I.

If people in the business of change (i.e. activists, advocates, etc.) adopt an "us and them" approach to advocacy, draw the bold lines and say stuff such as "you're wrong" and start prescribing to other communities what is the "right" way to think, feel and act, are they no better than the ignorant, the -phobic, the "haters" and all?

Different message, same kungfu.

I feel it is apt to leverage the (Singaporean) nationalist discourse (it is not entirely innocent any way) to focus on how different people and communities can co-exist. It requires the hard work of different stakeholders - an odd bunch of heterogeneous and/or overlapping communities able to agree to coexist and help one another; plus an active and supportive government willing to create and sustain more platforms for dialogue and all.

It doesn't work if the success of a collective is determined by the discrediting or invisibilisation of some communities.

Invoking more nationalist rhetoric - why must the Singapore story be written with omissions any way?

Coming back to the "us and them" mentality - between communities, between people and government - I feel some of the time and resources used to fortify the borders of indoctrination within a community, can be allocated to reaching out to others, or allocated to co-building platforms for stronger, constructive dialogue (NOT CONVERSION).

Speaking of conversion, if you still think homosexual people can convert your children, or that homosexuality is something you can learn and thus "unlearn" and discard, fuck you la.

Why give sexuality the same status as religious ideology? Well, I see it as the construction of an enemy or "devil" - it needs to have animalistic tendencies and a long penis, culturally recognised traits associated with all things evil.

To make people in your community recognise an "enemy", you have to 'zeng' the "enemy", like how Ah Bengs will add random accessories to their cars to make them look sporty and impressive and to show they don't have short penises, even though it is, in some cases, an extension of their masculinity.

Homosexuality, along with many other "ills", is something you have to make up as the antithesis of everything good that you believe in, every set of values you subscribe to. It doesn't cause it, but does exacerbates harmful mistruths and stereotypes of homosexuality being associated with sin, (un)nature, disease and other stuff you never want your children to be (which may include being unable to ascend the socio-economic ladder).

I personally think that good values, virtues and all the moral "rights/corrects" are not good enough to maintain ideological membership. Fear, hate and demonisation are necessary mechanisms to ensure the naturally permeable membrane that is the ideological boundary (if it even exists) is transformed into solid iron.

To use the government's globalisation rhetoric, we are living in constant change. Communities are not only characterised solely by strong bonds and fixed networks, but loose networks of mobile nodes. There is no place for "us and them". Bunkering in will only prove you are a hindrance to the collective. People with strong social prejudices will find it difficult to survive, without playing to themselves the same broken records of fear and hate (or tunes which sow such seeds).

If we are capable of friendship and be "colour-blind" at the same time - blind to physical differences, blind to religious differences, blind to racial differences - I think it is a good starting point for harmonious diversity. The same goes for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Who cares if that random girl is kissing another girl? Why can't your community address issues like 70, 80-year-old men and women scavenging our rubbish bins for recyclables? You want to create new enemies and problems? Try solve the existing ones first. Our very own prejudices and preconceived notions are existing problems to us and others who may be affected by them.

I am not an activist. I am not even half an advocate. I am just a digit, making an honest living, doing the best in different aspects of my life - familial, professional and recreational.

I somehow find myself in and out of the business of change. Got some battle scars - "freakiest gay in Singapore", "not neutral", "ignorant", "obnoxious", "not an activist", "patronising", "all brains no soul", "advocate of the cat holocaust" (that's a keeper), but that's okay.

Why in and out? I can never find a way to balance advocacy with my personal life. There are priorities and responsibilities I value more.

For me, activism, and more specifically, advocacy are embodied. When people within you circle make a needless and irrational transphobic statement, you could say "don't be a dick la" and that statement already indicates a stand for something, and against something else.

I also learned one thing along way, and that it is important to never take myself too seriously. Have a good laugh instead. I always feel that if people in the business of change take themselves too seriously, they end up, again, no different from those they try to change.

There has also emerged refreshing forms of advocacy which are characterised by the co-creation of platforms for different parties to come together to share ideas related, and even unrelated, to very issues that divide them.

Not all of us have the ability to lead, petition the government, mobilise people (illegal in Singapore), stage a march (illegal in Singapore), protest (possibly illegal in Singapore, demonstrate (illegal), picket (illegal), speak before the masses (illegal unless approved), and so on. But we have it in our own selves to embody the change we personally want to see.

We have the ability to make friends with those we disagree with. That is change too.

Personally, I was never inclined to mobilising or leading. I don't even fancy moving around, meeting strangers and all. But I do my best where I can

Balancing personal life and advocacy, I rationalised a little bit and tell myself, maybe I could commit 1-3 hours a week doing a little something - work on independent proposals to the government (they do listen, because the PAP wants to improve their vote share next election), read up or listen to talks, write to the newspapers, etc.

When people ask me about the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance or talk about it, talk about membership and all, I normally say what I always feel, that any one who stands up against the nonsense that is homophobia, in any capacity, or any one who is "colour-blind" enough to co-exist with others regardless of orientation and persuasion, is already a member of their own queer-straight alliance.

There are many groups and individuals already working very hard to push for substantive equality for all in Singapore regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, and they can do with the commitment of ordinary individuals, who live their daily lives being the change (hopefully not to abrasively or antagonistically).

If a substantial number of Singaporeans can come to terms with their prejudices, change at the collective level will probably be less difficult.

Now back to parenting.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Are Singaporeans who are easily offended more equal than others?

(unpublished - Oct 1, 2011)

I follow with concern the recent hoo-hah surrounding the Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement.

I am concerned about our private and public governance pertaining to censorship and selective interpretations of what constitutes moral, decent or vulgar.

Does this episode, along with many other similar issues we have witnessed, mean that individuals and communities that are more sensitive and easily offended exert a stronger influence over government policy and industry governance?

I also observe that when it comes to issues of allegedly contentious morality or objectionable content, many of us are quick to incite accusations against corruptive western influence. This is ironic considering the wave of puritanism that has empowered some of us as prudish self-righteous trigger-happy censors did in fact originate from the West.

I plead for a more moderate coexistence of views and ideologies, populated by diverse and well-adjusted Singaporean communities.

It is vulgar in its own right that some have taken it upon themselves to determine what is good for everyone else, thus threatening the plurality many of us fight so hard to upkeep.

Coexistence and open dialogue beats complaining and having a bunker mentality that our society is headed for damnation.

There should be spaces for creative advertising and art in Singapore, as well as education and awareness of the intangible value these bring to our society.

If we can teach the values of plurality and coexistence, we are capable of raising our children as information-literate and world-savvy citizens.

How well-adjusted we are is displayed through our reactions towards what we may believe to be provocative. There is a difference between making a swift moral judgement and appreciating how content invokes one's imagination.

So do Singaporeans who are not very well-adjusted have a bigger say in things around here? When they make suggestions or protestations, are they more equal than others?

Ho Chi Sam

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Me, myself and my Chinese-ness

Forever enshrined as an OB marker here in Singapore, race (or rather, ethnicity) is a topic that always appealed to me. It's probably because far too many people take it far too seriously, and we are all happen to share the same (lack of) understanding of it.

I mean, we should be free to talk about race and ethnicity and how interaction on various levels of society have come to mould the lived daily realities of every Singaporean.

I am particularly interested in how something that is socially ascribed with a purpose to differentiate one person from another by one's physicality and cultural practices, as if we are indeed categorisable by an agreed set of seemingly heterogeneous parameters.

While these parameters have throughout history been often arbitrarily (re)arranged and (re)assigned to create a desirable authentic group of individuals who appear to be the "same", these herds have come to believe that the parameters are what determine racial difference.

With race, or at least our common understanding of what we think it should be, we have one more reason to feel defensive, to feel offended and perhaps one more reason to band together with those who we think are the "same" as us and incite violence against those we think are "different" from us.

We believe in race's authenticity just because we currently share, thereabouts, the same physicality and practice, thereabouts, the same cultural practices. As we believe it to be authentic, we feel it is something worth protecting, something meaningful.

When there is a symbol people collectively hold dear, take very seriously and observe it to be an essential (essence is punny) part of their identity and daily life, it becomes both a means for solidarity and an instrument of control and manipulation.

When people are confronted with the reality of differences, we some how feel compelled to create boundaries, as if there is some inherent need to do so or there is some value in doing it.

As an ethnic Chinese Singaporean (my given race and nationality - 2 more reasons to feel offended or die for a collective cause), I feel, in my experiences, that race has been used as a disciplinary mechanism to regulate my behaviour. I observe the same for other ethnic Chinese Singaporeans too.

Perhaps it is the immigrant Southern Chinese roots our community and our ethnic Chinese elite government continually want to remind us of. Along with it comes the immigrant and survivalist ethos of pragmatism, which has come to underpin many of our policies.

I am constantly reminded by my Chinese-ness on a daily basis. Maybe it is not unique to ethnic Chinese Singaporeans, but I think we have a very strong "us and them" tendency towards everyone else.

We strain at drawing the line between ethnic Chinese Singaporeans and those from mainland China. As ethnic Chinese Singaporean, we have reclaimed and conveniently labelled ourselves as "Chinese" and used "China" as an adjective to describe the citizens of mainland China. Surely citizens in China are ethnic Chinese and nationally Chinese. Nope, for the sake of distinction, we know them as China men, China women, China children, China students, etc.

Skin colour and ancestry are agreed-upon fixed indicators and parameters of "race", and they are ritualised with common behaviours, which include language and a common set of cultural practices.

I've often been lectured and reminded of my Chinese-ness with the phrase "Chinese ought to speak Chinese", or "Hua ren ying gai jiang hua yu".

The government has also reinforced my Chinese-ness by bombarding social and education policies with terms such as "mother tongue" and "bilingualism". Well, "mother tongue" does not in any way refer to the tongue (speak) of your mother, but to the tongue of your race as classified by the state, which is the Mandarin language as determined by the state to be the unifying language for all ethnic Chinese in Singapore. This is also a pragmatic approach to prepare Singaporeans, ethnic Chinese in particular (of course), for a future global economy dominated by the Chinese, a.k.a. China.

"Second language" does not possess the same manipulatively emotional appeal as "mother tongue" for a culture that has been historically predisposed to Confucianism and patriarchy.

Social sanctions also continue to exist, in order to police ethnic and cultural boundaries. Those who appear to be less able or less inclined to speaking Chinese or behaving in a way that is typically Chinese (however it is defined by a majority), will be teased/judged to be "losing their roots" as if that equally mattered to the "jiak kantangs" as it does to the purists.

Social policing is often done with the belief that differences in behaviour and in mindset indicates rejection of what is believed to be inherent or authentic, and rejection is a huge taboo. But hello, being different does not in any way equate to rejection.

I guess, as an ethnic Chinese, and perhaps a member of the ethnic majority, we can abuse our privilege position and make everyone else an outsider.

The idea of "roots" and "heritage" is actually the product of a cultural imagining of the power elite. They draw the lines and boundaries, shaping and defining what roots, culture and heritage should be, and these are defined based on the whatever political advantage the elite can gain. Our roots and heritage are not myths, but the manner in which they have been adapted and manipulated is indicative of their mythologisation.

Depending on the economic, political or social situation, the "once upon time..." rhetoric will change, as it sets about recruit and regroup the "right" members to be mobilised for any political cause.

The beauty of the state's reminding me of and reinforcing my Chinese-ness lies in its invisibility. We don't sense it at all, because it appears to be seamlessly integrated into our lives.

What I understand as meritocracy and multiculturalism are through my ethnic Chinese eyes and mindset. It is a meritocracy and a multiculturalism that is defined and shaped by a Chinese elite, that somehow does not create much disruption or dissonance to me as an ethnic Chinese - this is my privilege as a majority. No dissonance means no need to think about my reality with respect to that of others. It's a system that works for me and my family, and I am in fact grateful to the PAP government and the Chinese elite, if these two could be disentangled.

I am also constantly reminded of my Chinese-ness whenever there are population reports. Chinese Singaporeans are marrying late, not having enough babies and so on. There is a sense of urgency to top up "our" numbers. "Us" and "them" again, no?

Many of us ethnic Chinese Singaporeans are also subjects of a practice when our names have to carry both the dialect name and parenthesised hanyu pinyin name. If there would ever be an overkill in reminding ethnic Chinese Singaporeans of their Chinese-ness, this would be it. For instance, Tan Boonhuat John (Chen Wen Fa) - that's the full name. There's both the dialect name and hanyu pinyin name, unless in the most unlikely scenario, your dialect happens to be Mandarin.

One important contribution our ethnic Chinese herding and boundary-policing brings is that it creates a relatively safe environment to make assumptions - a function of taken-for-grantedness. In a tightly policed ethnic Chinese community, it will be safe to assume that any one of a particular appearance and physicality will speak the same language. If not, it is natural to feel curious, surprised or even offended that there could be difference within a presumably homogeneous circle.

I encounter many individuals who seem to tell me that they know more than me what it takes to be Chinese. It is as though there are a fixed set of characteristics to possess, internalise or exhibit that determines true Chinese-ness, when these are in fact romanticised cultural imaginings selectively put together by random opinion leaders throughout time based on what they agree to be essentially Chinese, and it just happens that there is a significant number of people of people who take this whole idea pretty seriously.

The worst thing about people taking things seriously is that they expect everyone else to take the same things as seriously as they do. In order to do that, you need a healthy dose of socialisation and indoctrination. One strong mechanism is to shame and use self-esteem to discipline the errant "Chinese" into being "more Chinese", in this case, you are expected to feel ashamed if you speak sub-par Mandarin, because you are less Chinese, a situation you should thus be ashamed of but need not to question why that is the case.

You know what happens when people take things too seriously? It can cause violence.

The communication of values and morals is also often couched in race, ethnicity and "roots", what not, as if the former are unique and inherent to the latter entities. Values and morals are selectively collated and attached to race and ethnicity because race and ethnicity are in serious need of distinguishable parameters before any one can start policing them in the first place.

I wonder any way, what does it say about our country, our leaders and our policies when we have to be reminded of and divided by our racial categories?

As for racial pride, or to be proud of something (an identity), we have to assume it to be true and to be real, that the traits that make up (racial) identity are unique, distinct, unchanging, unshakable, authentic and essential when they are in fact products of mythologisation.

The concept of "race", for me, captures the aspirations of an elite, as it remains supported and celebrated by many.

As a Singaporean, I don't exactly feel proud to be ethnic Chinese, but feel very lucky (and grateful) I am categorised as such. Being in such a category in this system comes with privileges and with a general sense of comfort in my daily life. There are many policies and social norms which benefit me directly, enough for me to take many things for granted. It is a multiculturalism, pragmatism and meritocracy that benefits the group I have from birth been told and expected to be part of. And that is enough to remind me of what I am.

Friday, September 30, 2011

When Dr Menon died

I barely knew Ananda Perera and his reputation as an ex-news director when he was cast as a supporting actor on the set of "A War Diary" in 2000/01.

My parents were like, "Do you know who he is???" But of course, they end up telling me who he was. I still had no clue. Young and clueless.

He acted as a doctor in the drama, as a mentor to my character.

He was always patient and actually had a good time filming. We filmed together mostly in the studios and also on location in Seletar Camp.

It seemed to me that nobody treated him differently and he probably didn't expect to be treated differently either. He played the role of the actor well, listening to the instructions of the director and the crew. He knew his script well and spoke the most impeccable English.

He would answer when addressed by his character's name "Dr Menon", rather than "Mr Perera". And he always had a good laugh at random things, if not smiling all the time in the 3 months I got to work with him.

His character was captured and tortured by the invading Japanese (it's a WWII film), and died in the arms of his student, the character I played. I think we played that scene very well. For the very short time we've worked together, I think we worked out a good touching onscreen moment. It's a pleasure to have met him and work with him.

Bye Mr Perera.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time to make marry in Singapore!

Marriage rates are declining in Singapore. No shit, Sherlock!

Thanks to decades of result-oriented education, growing materialism, rapid industrialisation, and a heavy touch of economically driven social policies, we've become a highly rationalised society. But it's more convenient to overlook sociology and just isolate the problem to individualistic selfish ungrateful generation of Singaporeans we have today. It's after all less complicated if a generation of human beings (Gen Y, in this case) is identified as the problem, as compared to looking at policies and their social ramifications.

It's reported that global economic uncertainty is one reason for singles not wedding. That is interesting. It is even more interesting that no political leader has taken ownership and responsibility for the policies he (yes, it's a rather male-centric one) has passed that has dis/empowered a generation of Singaporeans into embracing a very rational and economically-driven approach to life.

This is a classic case of paying the price for decisions made by the previous generation of leaders. We clean up their poop, just like how the next generation will clean up ours.

Our over-rationalised kiasu nature is a product of a socialisation that is strongly steered by a series of incentive and disincentives. Love and marriage are now more logical and rational, rather than emotional and irrational (in a good, romantic, romanticised sense). Love and marriage are incentivised with perks thanks to policies.

Love and marriage are also extended and externalised as it constantly remains couched in the rhetoric of policy, politics, "national service" and so on. Marriage is now defined by its function and the ramifications if its numbers are insufficient. As such, we fuss a lot more over its form - we focus on age, race and composition (e.g. heterosexual composition) - and when we're happy with a certain form, more policies are crafted to favour it.

Speaking of "national service", isn't it very demeaning to women who make the choice to stay single or married or not to have kids, and we're telling them making babies equates to doing national service? "That's your biology, so do it." Thanks for representing women in Singapore that way. I'm sure sex-negative feminists like Thio Su Mien will be appalled by such logic, so shut up and sit down.

There's where the tyranny of youthful heterosexual procreative lawful union kicks in. You can add "educated ethnic Chinese" to that because the issues of a specific stratum of a specific ethnicity seem to matter to specific people in power, especially so in a political ecosystem historically dominated (very thoroughly) by a Chinese (business) elite. We can talk about race another time.

Back to marriage and of course, kids.

Let's put some of the pieces together first:
People are marrying later.
People want to be financially independent as early as possible.
Flats are more expensive.
Flats are smaller.
People have elderly folks to look after.
Elderly folks face limitations in medical subsidies and access to medical help.
Cost of living continues to increase.

So, what would rational Singaporeans do?

Take care of the people who are already in existence (elders). Makes sense.
Earn as much money as possible, be financially independent. Good way to feel in control in such a politically disempowered society.
Financial independence seem to be the new "sexy" in a materialistic age. Good way to hook up.
Speaking of hooking up, isn't it more rational to enjoy sex as a commodity (recreationally consumed) than having commitment which is emotional and less logical?
Since we have sex for recreational consumption, there's really no need to have marriage when polyamory empowers individuals with choice.
Well, we could have marriage to enjoy the perks provided by the state, but that may not necessarily result in procreation.
A childless marriage makes sense for those who want to enjoy their brand of independence and comfort. That's economically stable, and it's rational, right?

The point is, don't try to blame Singaporeans for being over-rational or individualistic. Let's look at the context and how we have been socialised into becoming this way, into feeling this way and into believing it is normal to feel this way.

The news report need not interview sociologists and give a watered down assessment of the situation. Our leaders just need to have a little sociological imagination, and they'll be less prone to blaming the products of their own policies. But some people think their shit doesn't stink.

So Singaporeans aren't marrying. Selfish.
Not having enough kids, prefer childless lifestyle. Materialistic.
Bring in more immigrants. Xenophobic.

Not bad, and we've a paternalistic state that some how wants its children to have low self-esteem with these labels, or at least the association with such labels. Sociologists will be giggling at this.

If the government wants to have a holistic approach to policy, it should first take greater responsibility of its policies and genuinely accept that its decisions, past and present, create the means for a society to exhibit such tendencies. Don't blame globalisation and westernisation and any other phenomena you think doesn't involve you.

A holistic approach also incorporates sociology. I'm very sure many sociologists will be very happy if a major segment of our politicians have a little sociological imagination or develop some sensitivity to the social aspects and implications of policies, rather than have impaired leadership driven by the economic imperative and a press that tokenises them (sociologists).

I think we're come to a point where our leaders have difficulty leading by example. While I personally prefer our leaders to show their personal and family man/woman side (have the press depict them as family guys), they'll probably be dismissed as socio-economically privileged folks living in comfort and have the means to have big happy families. That's political cynicism, which is on the rise, unlike our birthrates (no worries, next year's the dragon year and we'll get our ethnic Chinese babies).

I personally like to see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold his wife's hand and show he's a family guy. It's symbolic, and it shows that despite the Lee household's rather comfortable combined income, family has a place. We are far too obsessed with professional performance and buttoned-up public personae, we forget about how marriage and family can have a place in this heavily rationalised mess.

I wanted to say "If you want to connect with people, you have humanise yourself and show you are just like everyone" but I think Singaporeans are generally less forgiving and expect you to be so much better than them in order to be a good political leader, but not so damn good to the point you're despised for being disconnected. Then again, how did we come to cultivate this expectation?

When a leader speaks poor English, we feel he/she is not good enough to lead. When a leader speaks good English, we feel he/she is unable to connect with everyone else. Don't blame the fickle electorate. It's time to do an after-action review of the policies that have caused us to see the world this way and given us this appetite for perfection and of course, our characteristic impatience.

Ah well, perhaps we'll have more "throwing the baby out with the bath water" metaphors from the Prime Minister next National Day Rally when he's talking about policies.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kumar's coming out: An empowering and disempowering Ra Ra Show

Entertainer Kumar has come out.

This is something I fully support, and given his celebrity status, I find it all the more admirable.

The New Paper reported his uncertainty prior to coming out. It's rather interesting for someone I believe to be a rather private introverted man who appears to not care what others think, yet is also concerned about being accepted.

He is human after all, and serves as an example that as human beings, while we are susceptible to fear, we are capable of the courage to conquer it.

With respect to Kumar's coming out, I worry about the uninformed segment of the Singaporean population, who constantly and willingly subject themselves to fear and never have the courage to break out of it - the homophobes.

The homophobic will most likely digest the news in the way they would understand. They will judge based on their unquestionable and warped sense of binarist gender logic, which is chiefly dictated by the essentialist notion that gender, sex and sexuality are (and are to be) strictly aligned (i.e. male-manly-man and female-womanly-woman).

Kumar is a drag queen by profession. In my personal understanding, when someone cross-dresses for a living (part-time or full-time to earn a wage), it would constitute as being a drag queen or king. At the surface, it is entertainment. Scratch deeper, it parodies gender behaviour and roles, drawing laughs. At a deeper level, as a parody and/or art form, it exposes the flimsiness of gender as we know it (it isn't inherent after all, *GASP*).

For me, gender is just a coherent set of culturally intelligible/recognisable actions and traits agreed upon by a majority of people and institutions, to be associated with a certain physical and biological sex.

Shucks. It's probably easier to understand if we all can sweep this back into the closet and assume it is natural, moral, just and correct to have our male-bodied manly men and our female-bodied womanly women as heterogeneous entities.

The homophobic Singaporean typically understands and subscribes to the following myths:

1) Gays are sissy men
2) Gays are men who want to be women
3) Men who dress like women are gay
4) Men who like men see themselves as women
5) Sissy men like to dress as women.
6) Gays are just women trapped in men's bodies, or have women's brains.

In academic speak, and I hope to shake off some rust, homophobes are very prone to:

1) Gender essentialist ideas
2) Dichotomous gender binarism
3) Traditional male-dominated constructions of gender
4) Believing that sexual intercourse is essentially phallocentric and only penile-vaginal penetrative sex
5) Heterosexism/centrism

Or, simply put it, the homophobe is prone to essentialist dichotomous gender binarism, constructed and enframed by historical and cultural male-dominated phallocentric patriarchal discourses. Because that's "natural", or "virtuous", or "correct", or "normal".

So, in the eyes of a homophobe, a drag queen coming out as homosexual may leave some myths unshaken.

Given the homophobes' lack of awareness and understanding, which are in a huge way caused by their spiteful hate-mongering yet ignorant oppression of sexual minorities for the longest time, he or she will come to a conclusion that upkeeps the harmful homophobic myths.

One damning myth is that gay men secretly want to be women.

A lot of people believe in these types of myths. Believing is easy; questioning is difficult.

There is no problem with a drag queen coming out. The problem lies with a segment of society that is vicious in its denial that humanity is a collage of different identities, sometimes fluid over time, fluid over space, overlapping, heterogeneous and uncategorisable. This segment does not have the courage to recognise this and to humbly accept they are just one speck of dust in the galaxy of (gender and sexual) identities.

Kumar's coming out, for some and for others, is empowering yet disempowering at the same time.

Even if some among the essentialist dichotomous binarist apologists were to - in their own way, logic, terms and enframing - accept Kumar and his coming out, it may come at the expense of individuals of different identities who are trying to come out.

I think this is a threat we face in the longer term.

In principle, in isolation, this is a good thing and this is the right thing.

Place it before a less understanding and less informed audience, it may be disadvantageous for those who don't fit the binarist mould (e.g. Macho manly man wants to come out, or feminine girly woman wants to come out - not many people can deal with these things).

To be honest, for the longest time, I find it difficult to come to terms with self-identified homosexual men who are muscle-bound and rather butched up in their mannerisms. I've been brought up to adhere to and preserve the system, and preserve the alignment of sex, gender and sexuality, and in the process of adherence and preservation, live to embody the alignment and feel it to be natural.

(Hey, if we fell out of line, we get disciplined. For example, the use of teasing to correct one's gendered behaviour such as calling others sissy in a derogatory manner or laughing very hard when a man introduces himself as "Vivian".)

It's jarring. Then I started to ask myself, why the fuck do we care so much about it? What do we care about who they are and what they do? Is this kind of difference and diversity a threat to me? (of course, if you have leaders and bosses who are homophobic and bigoted, I guess you'll need a little grace, patience and prudence)

Another interesting narrative from Kumar is that, prior to his coming out, he felt that identity, as in sexuality, is both a combination of nature and nurture. Hot discussion.

But the crux of diversity is not only to have a harmonious co-existence of identities, but also narratives. Kumar's narrative probably does not correspond with those of many LGBT and LGBT-affirming folks, does it? Again, does that matter? Must there be a "party whip"? (I'm not trying to be punny about parties and whips)

The disagreement within and amongst LGBT and LGBT-affirming circles is to me a reflection, or rather, a function of their very oppression by heterosexist homophobic discourses. In some ways, it reflects the low tolerance for diversity.

To a practical extent, the articulation of LGBT rights is made in the language mostly understandable to heterosexist folks who hold harmful homophobic myths, with a view to empower the latter as agents of change for a more harmonious diverse society. Empowering yet disempowering, again.

I still feel that high profile, or socio-economically privileged LGBT persons should come out and show that diversity to the wider audience, and also serve as an example and perhaps a role model, to young queer/questioning folks, that you can be comfortable with who you are.

It's very easy for a cisgendered heterosexual person with the relevant privileges to express this belief and make this call, but it'll be backed with support where and however he can commit. After all, the push towards harmonious diversity has to be championed by a diverse group, characterised by their uneven rights, privileges and predispositions.

Perhaps we live in a different age, in which role model LGBT folks are not exactly and entirely necessary, as queer and questioning youths can seek empowerment through many other means. I fully acknowledge this reality, and if there are means and platforms for queer and questioning youths to seek empowerment, please, in your own time and convenience, share them with those who similarly seek the same.

I don't support Kumar by saying "Yes I support you!", but instead say to those who make homophobic jibes at him or get into everyone elses' faces to perpetuate heterosexist homophobic essentialist gender binarist nonsense "Well, fuck you!"... but of course, I often prefer more polite and persuasive renditions.


add: I'm sleepy. I wanted to write a 300-word blog entry, a quick note. But I guess I overshot by a little bit.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Grassroots of the "Neutrality" Problem

Must I place a disclaimer and say that the views I express here are solely my own and are neither reflective nor representative of that of any organisation? It’s the climate of fear I now subject myself to, but I wish to state that the views and arguments are solely and wholly my own and are neither in any way nor intended to be representative of any organisation. So in the spirit of expressing an opinion in the capacity of a citizen, and in the interest of contributing to public discourse as an independent node in the network, I hope there will be no inconvenience, prejudice or harm directed at me, my livelihood or my family. (fear fear fear)…

In this week’s episode of “Sucks to be…”, we look at the unenviable task of communications management on the part of the People’s Association. This is with regards to recent public queries on the neutrality of the statutory board. The PA has been put in a potentially embarrassing position with these queries. It has since replied to clarify, but in its clarification, I personally read it to be justifying exclusion along political lines.

Imagine switching the fan to a higher speed when faeces have already hit it. You can look up, but just don’t open your mouth.

Government ministries and agencies are on paper, and according to protocol, politically neutral. But put in a politician who wants power, recognition, more power and carries with him or her the political agenda of his/her political party, you get civil and public service tainted with the white colours of the ruling party.

If there’s a plan to serve Singaporeans, it would be the PAP’s plan. If there’s a definition of objectivity and neutrality, it would be that of the PAP’s definition. Singaporeans still being served, right?

Serving people is a thankless job. But politicians are often quick to cite the good leadership and work they have done, laying down the direction and framework for civil and public service.

For instance, a Minister with a health and ageing issues portfolio (not referring to any one in particular) may publicly claim credit for his/her leadership in the area from policy all the way down to execution.

This is a case when a service to citizens is used to score political points. It is not a wrong thing to do when you put your report card up for public scrutiny, and let people know you were and are the right guy/gal for the job.

It is not uncommon, but there are segments of the public who do not receive well the manner in which the attempts to score political points are articulated. To make things worse, the citizenry has grown familiar with a political style that threatens them into voting for them, by emotionally blackmailing and guilt-trapping Singaporeans. I cite the view that poor political leadership will cause our women to go to other countries to be maids, and in that line of reason, since that has not happened, we can safely assume, with all the intelligence we have, that the ruling party has done a good job.

Moreover, being an Asian country (to borrow the essentialist explanations of the PAP state), the electorate demands humility from all political parties. Even though the Minister of any portfolio can rightly claim credit and vocalise his/her leadership and decision-making skills for his/her respective Ministry’s work, some bits of the population are a little less forgiving.

Sucks to be a politician. You speak too crisp an English language, you are elitist. You speak like how Chan Chun Sing was depicted and immortalised in Youtube (with the Hokkien and poor English), you are not taken seriously and your leadership is questioned. If you appear to make a fool out of yourself (everyone has the right to do so once in a while actually), you’re in the Tin Pei Ling hall of fame (but is she a bad politician? It’s still to early to judge, but we prefer a little prejudging, if you know what I mean).

It sucks to be doing communications management, and I would think in this case, crisis communications management, when the lines between politics and public service are blurred. Some of us will think public service is politics. Feminists, and many theorists of the same vein, will also have us know that the personal is political.

If anything at all, and if subtlety was thrown out of the house screaming, it should have instead been a PAP spokesperson explaining the rationale of the decision, since it was stated rather clearly that opposition MPs or members of the opposition parties do not fit the bill as grassroots advisers. It is an exclusionist practise by the way, underlying the challenges posed by different political affiliations towards government-sanctioned grassroots initiatives. Since the exclusion is articulate along the lines of politics, a politician would be more suited to explaining it. That is not to be and we have a technically politically neutral organisation that is the People’s Association, justifying the exclusion of non-PAP aligned persons, by invoking the rhetoric of support for and alignment with the “elected government”, when it could have very well been the “elected and ruling party”.

The People’s Association defends its decision to appoint non-opposition party MPs as grassroots advisers (is it “advisor” or “adviser”?). This automatically implies that opposition party MPs are literally opposition, as in the antithesis of all things good, wholesome and virginal that is government, a.k.a. the ruling People’s Action Party.

“You’re either with us, or against us.”

I am very sure that there is no opposition party in Singapore that is diametrically opposed to the PAP in every syllable of its political manifesto and approach to public policy. There are some points everyone can agree on.

So, to address the issue of possible misrepresentation of elected government, or rather, the elected People’s Action Party, an empathetic sympathetic apologist would be a best fit for the position of grassroots adviser.

Since a political polarity is created in this discourse by the People’s Action Party between themselves and the opposition, it would be logical, in this sense, to hire your bosom buddies, a.k.a. you fellow political party members.

After all, if the objective is to get everyone on the same page, why not hire someone who’s from the same gang, all other things being equal? Favouritism in favour of a more favourite choice. After all, the one plan to serve, to which the ruling party subscribes, has to be followed by someone who believes in it.

And since this is Singapore, where the concept of “face” matters, there are certain things we cannot articulate clearly and definitively with language. There is still a silent recognition that trust within the ranks of one organisation can be adopted into another organisation and fully embraced. That’s probably why some PAP members hold multiple portfolios and are among the directors in different organisations across different industries – it’s either they are that damn good and can follow the same plan to serve people, or there is a serious shortage of talent.

The bottomline is that the PAP still has a plan to serve Singaporeans. Well, even if it means jailing people without trial, clamping down on freedom of speech, or probably shattering my rice bowl and harassing my family after this blog post is published.

I’d like to simplify the following persons. There is a difference between a PAP supporter and a PAP voter. A PAP supporter votes for the PAP, but it is not necessary that a person who votes for the PAP may support it. This is an issue easily taken for granted.

PAP supporters genuinely believe in the PAP leadership and the hearts of the individuals who represent or want to represent other Singaporeans in political domain. Yes, if there is a time to invoke a historical and hegemonic Christian rhetoric taken for granted to be religiously neutral by most, it’s “the calling”. Same goes for the OMG exclamations, which validates monotheism. I’m just saying. I’m just saying…

One’s sense of duty to serve becomes streamlined according to party ideology when one joins the party.

In my opinion, when you believe in the PAP and its moral and political direction, it translates to votes, unless some goondu marks the X in the wrong box of course. A PAP supporter, in my definition, believes that the PAP will be able to serve him or her, and society at large. Life will be good for “me” and things will get better for “everyone”.

At the same time, I believe it is reasonable to say that the PAP voter may not necessarily believe in its moral and political direction, but in one possibility, its economic leadership.

“I vote for the PAP because its leadership and policies keep me safe, and will benefit ME. ME ME ME. Muah hahahaha! HUAT AH!” does not equal to “I vote for the PAP because it has the people’s interest at its heart, and everyone in Singapore will benefit”.

There are people who want upgrading in their estates based because they want the value of their flats to increase, more so as a reason than actually benefiting, say, the elderly and the children.

In this argument, the mandate to rule the land is given to the PAP based on its economic leadership (a good one and most of us can generally agree on that), and probably less so in the areas of moral leadership. For example, if there is no climate of fear, but an air of respect for the PAP, I would say it would be a decent measure of its good moral leadership.

That said, the PAP is not the be-all and end-all to serve Singaporeans. The service to Singaporeans does not start and does not end with a vote.

There are people who truly serve Singaporeans in ways that the government is unable to. If one pledges political allegiance to the ruling party, society loses one who is able to serve and reach out to Singaporeans in ways the government cannot.

When it comes to building the community and connecting it with the ceremonially consultative state, bonds have to be fostered and grow organically. The state can at the very most, lay the foundations for social capital to flourish. For example, what impede the organic growth of social capital are lax immigration laws, rapid urbanisation and high population and traffic density, highly rationalised populace herded by incentivisation and any other factors you can think of doing your JC General Paper or equivalent essay (I know some JC kids have been reading this ah!)

Unfortunately, the ruling party has only one plan to serve Singaporeans. It wants party members or supporters to be grassroots advisers and help Singaporeans understand public policy better, and this implies that the non-elected party members eventually occupy a more politically advantageous position, priming them for future elections. That’s politics. The strategy works for the PAP, and it makes them believe it will work for Singaporeans.

But when politics interfere with the neutral position of civil and public servants who just want to earn an honest living, it gets messy.

My opinion is, so be it. It does not matter if the organisation is neutral or not. It has one plan to serve Singaporeans. And for whatever it does not cover, there are platforms and programmes created by Singaporeans in civil spaces that also serve the purpose of community bonding.

This arrangement is (un)fortunately biased towards the ruling People’s Action Party. Politics is like a religious turf war, people will always believe that the best way to establish a peaceful happy society is execute a few strategies ideologically approved and eventually favourable to the survival of the ideology itself.

The PAP’s plan to serve people has long been articulated in terms of paper qualifications and to simplify it, the “exam smarts”. Lee Kuan Yew enjoyed using that discourse, since you cannot really fault him for believing and telling everyone that you need the capable intelligent people to lead the country. And fast-forward to today, you get the Workers’ Party eating it all up and spitting it out, fielding the right candidates before an electorate who believes they have found the capable intelligent people.

The next chapter in the PAP focuses on youth and consultation, but that is something the opposition has long been covering. So we’ll see how that goes next time around, unless they gerrymander and rezone the entire Singapore into Tanjong Pagar GRC.

In short, there’s no one plan to follow to serve Singaporeans. There is some degree of plurality, even though it tilts in favour of the ruling party. It’s historical and the opposition parties will always find it an uphill task to be in power.

At the same time, for me, the PAP has forgotten what it is like to be an underdog. If it appreciated its rich history, instead of using it to coerce modern-day Singaporeans into supporting it, it will be a little more respected, and a little less feared.

The question of neutrality, while very valid in the area of “fair” political competition, deflects attention away from the business of serving Singaporeans and improving community bonding. We should be more concerned if the people who run the platform strive to proclaim themselves as the only legitimate platform to serve Singaporeans. We can then do without such arrogance and power-hunger.

One way to deal with suspicions of neutrality, or rather, the lack of it, is to create spaces for plurality, as in allowing and supporting non-governmental and non-PAP related efforts to serve Singaporeans. But of course, we have yet to reach that level of political maturity. So for the time being, a forum letter will do.

A good government with little insecurities and less of that “why don’t people love me?” complex, in my opinion, is one that not only provides an imperfect official platform for people to serve people, but also allow and support the flourishing of plural spaces to serve the same function. An example would be that in the areas of charity, social work and welfare. It will not stand idly by when people abuse these spaces to propagate hate (e.g. using protected religious speech to propagate hateful mistruths against gay people and dividing society).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A helpful research in an unjust land

There was an article by the Straits Times yesterday, reported by Melissa Pang, titled “Study looks at sexual behaviour of gay men”.

It reported that the Tan Tock Seng Hospital is conducting a survey to study sexual habits of homosexual men, with a view to improve preventive measures as well as the treatment of sexually transmitted infections. The questionnaire comes with a biological test.

The study has “good intentions” to ensure confidentiality and the meeting of research ethical protocol. The study also hopes to “understand the risk factors to come up with solutions”.

In short, the study contributes to sexual wellness of men who have sex with men.

The report does not say “men who have sex with men” (perhaps the most apt description), because that is a crime. The report has to describe the sample group as “homosexual men” and “gay men”.

You don’t have to be a self-identified homosexual man, or a gay man, to have sex with other men. Actions and beliefs don’t necessarily correspond with labels.

The Tan Tock Seng Hospital survey has good intentions, because the data collated may put the researchers in a better position to come up with suggestions and solutions which may influence outreach, policy, education and other domains, benefitting the community in some way.

Here lies the stumbling block. We have a discriminatory unconstitutional law in place which criminalises consensual sex between adult men.

Why discriminatory? Consensual sex between adult men and women is legal, so why target that between adult men alone? It is not logical.

Why unconstitutional? Our Constitution states that everyone is equal before the law. Yet this statutory law has privileged one group (people who have consensual heterosexual sex) over another (people who have consensual homosexual sex). That is Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Section 377A makes some people less equal than others. It also further allows stigmatism.

Advocates of the repeal of Section 377A have, like their hate-mongering homophobic self-righteous bigoted counterparts, have played the same old broken record over and again. The government remains in a state of indecision, not wanting to be responsible to ensuring that our statutory laws are in line with the Constitution.

The presence and imbalance of another law is the one that defends the “modesty” of women. Unfortunately, there is no male equivalent law to protect men from insulting gestures and speech. It is a discriminatory arrangement that is misaligned with the Constitution.

The research laments the poor participation rate, rightly so because they are conducting a study in the dark shadows of legal and social discrimination.

The research is the cart that is put before the horse. How are they supposed to reach out to, do research on, and help homosexual men in Singapore when nothing is done to address the very mechanisms that coerce them into silence.

Sexual wellness is always welcomed for any community.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask for a “social wellness” that is on par with that of adults who have consensual heterosexual sex. How about some “legal wellness”, or rather, equality for all regardless of the adults with which they have consensual sex?

At the very least, the study should be part of a multiprong approach to improving the wellbeing of self-identified homosexual people in Singapore, involving the sincere efforts from other Ministries, apart from Health.

Any way, the ignorant moral terrorists who are hell-bent on conquering the minds of everyone else and turning them into the very same hateful discriminating bigots that they are (phew, what a mouthful), would have qualms with such a study, perhaps highlighting its complicity in the moral corruption of children (a convenient excuse to cover up their insidious imperialistic political tendencies) and the overall destruction of the institution of the family, leading to the apocalypse.

You know what destroys families? For one, people who break marital vows and walk away from being a responsible spouse and parent. Don’t blame the queer. Being straight doesn’t mean we are more moral and more right.

Homophobes may also make the logical leap (yes they are capable of logic, at times) and associate the study with the endorsement of homosexuality. A study on homosexual sexual habits, aiming to get results to improving sexual wellness, would probably mean you’re endorsing and celebrating the “homosexual lifestyle”.

All fundie speak. Even the non-religious homophobes have grown acquainted with the normalisation of fundamentalist Christianity, not that the members of the latter would mind. I know a few non-religious people who describe whatever they perceive gay people to be as leading a “homosexual lifestyle”, implying that sexual orientation and identity are learned, cultivated and hence can be unlearned and discarded.

The arguments here are not original, but they remain relevant, even though policymakers continue to lack the moral courage to do anything to end the legal discrimination of sexual minorities. Never mind anti-discrimination protection, they simply lack the will and confidence to ensure people in Singapore, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, have equal rights.

You want to talk about the threat of gay men. Gay men in no way pose any threat to me and my family. If there is any threat, it is the blinkers and hatred homophobes are trying to put on everyone else, further dividing our society and marginalising those. These are the people who associate an identity with crime and immorality, blackmailing other into believing that discrimination is justified.

It is odd that different arms of the state are not coordinated, in this case, to truly help men who have sex with men. But to give it credit, at least it is taking the lead by conducting a study (which probably isn’t new either). I’m surprised that the report has not received any attention from the gay-haters among us.

I observe that many homophobic individuals (who coincidentally happen to be biphobic and transphobic! WOW! What are the odds?!?!) are in fact fairly educated.

This is a great travesty. You use your bloody privilege of education to enforce continual discrimination against those who are of lesser social and legal privilege.

I strongly believe that if you have the means to articulate, to speak, to write and express yourself in any way that is testament to your good education, you can leverage your privilege to help the marginalised share the same privileges that others possess.

It is because of ongoing discrimination, hate and fear-mongering, and domination of political discourse by homophobic people of considerable political and economic influence, that we get a decent attempt in the survey, only in isolation, but and overall sluggish attempt to improving the lives of homosexual Singaporeans.

I’m not only talking about your middle-to-upper income English educated ethnic Chinese gay Singaporean stereotype, but those who don’t belong to that demography, in fact occupying multiple marginalities. Their issues and needs go far beyond the survey and raise many fundamental questions about our system of governance. This is the very same system whose inaction and inertia represents its insensitivity of the diversity and heterogeneity that defines our society.

Even if the survey does reach its target of 1,000 participants, how are the findings and solutions going to be articulated, and how so in an environment continually fraught with legal discrimination and social stigmatism against sexual minorities?

These constraints are an embarrassment to our society.

I am not asking for more to be done, but merely asking if we have got our priorities right in the first place to “help” members of the sexual minority community here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ker-Yu's "Common Decency"

The Straits Times, faced with decreasing readership (don't worry, I'm still a subscriber), can always bank on a few things to ensure a glimmer of hope for survival in changing media landscape.

Other than it being almost a monopoly of the English daily market (hence the boast of being the most widely read English daily. Hey, one out of one is still one), it has the propensity to publish flame baits of letters from members of the public.

I refer to latest letter by Ong Ker-Yu. She writes:

I am writing to request the removal of an indecent, giant poster plastered across the new Knightsbridge mall building along Orchard Road.

It not only makes no sense as an advertisement for a clothing brand (the man in it has virtually no clothes on), but it is also plain lewd.

A girl gets berated for letting slip the F-word in a speech ('NTU regrets use of expletive during speech'; Aug 1), but it is all right to plaster the giant picture highlighting a part of the male anatomy that should remain private, on the busiest shopping stretch on the island!

I have stood at the crossing between Ngee Ann City and Paragon watching passers-by as they catch sight of it, and every single person I have noticed has either looked away quickly, in what can only be embarrassment, or pointed it out to a friend for a quick giggle.

And let me pre-empt the usual counter eagerly dismissing Singaporeans for being so 'sexually repressed' as to tear it down.

This is a matter of common decency, plain and simple.


I will categorically and unequivocally state that Ong Ker-Yu is a jerk, plain and simple, and I am fine if there isn't any consensus on that.

I only respect her statement that she feels the advertisement is "plain lewd". That is her opinion, and that is fair enough. She further provides an assessment derived from her non-participant observation qualitative research to justify her statement. Fair enough, as she was in fact sharing her opinion.

But the statement that pisses me off the most is the last one "This is a matter of common decency, plain and simple".

Maybe the editors might have done some corrections, but I will assume with such a flame bait oozing utter selfishness and self-righteousness, its pristine form would not have been desecrated by the Straits Times.

There are people who fear their opinion alone cannot change things (to change the world and shape it in a way that's in line with their subscribed ideology would be the "common" scenario because it's rather rational to live comfortably without much opposition, right? Ask Lee Kuan Yew). And they eventually resort to the atomisation and simplification of diverse society, stuff their imperialist supremacist ideological catchphrases into every orifice of its, make the eventual proclamation of universality (it's good to show that your beliefs and views are aligned with yours idea of universalism).

It is a fair approach to discuss the limitations and implications of an issue, but Ker-Yu's sweeping statement is "plainly and simply" contrary to that. At least moral crusaders will hide behind their fragile idea of what the institution of children and family should be, and terrorise us with their "think about the children" rhetoric.

It is not about sexual repression, a point well and critically thought through by a possibly well-educated Ker-Yu, but about what I read to be the selfishness and arrogance in her concluding statement.

It is universalist claims like hers that further divide society, privileging those who happen to fall under the same ideological specifications as the claims, and marginalising the rest who may happen to have, in the case of the advertisement, a different opinion, morally and aesthetically.

The male form is often observed to be more offensive than the female form (historically too, due to physicality and sexual violence), hence (and ironically) the greater attention on how male bodies are to be presented, while gratuitous sexualisation of female bodies remain the default in our society. Even renowned self-righteous George Lim Heng Chye looked at boys and penises and wrote about them in his famous letters to the Straits Times. I'm probably more conservative than him and wouldn't do such a thing in my forum letters.

Coming back to Ker-Yu. I believe she probably represents a segment of Singaporean society, ready to assume and embrace the role of the moral police, because any one can safely assume she would be the among the "good guys" (sorry, can't find a gender neutral term.. "folks"?).

This is where educated people become divided. Some abuse their privileges to further their ideological cause or, often times, the cause of the socio-religious groups of which they are members, at the expense of people who have other beliefs. It is all about creating a bigger space for comfort, and arming yourself with people who think like you, so you can conquer and colonise the minds of others who don't.

Perhaps it is far too deep a reading into Ker-Yu's letter, but it has made me angry enough. I feel misrepresented and insulted every time someone publicly expresses a point of view and passes it off as universal or as part of the "majority".

In short, if you have a problem with something, say it in a personal capacity first and foremost. When you respect your boundaries, and the boundaries that separate you from people who may think differently from you, people will respect you for that.

You can have the right to be sexually repressed (if so), but your self-righteousness is more in my face than the advertisement is in your face. Not cool.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ivan Lau's Agend(er): Transphobia

As expected, a George Lim Heng Chye-ish self-righteous moral imperialist has to invoke his politically privileged position as the good responsible parent, in the form of Ivan Lau has a letter on cross-dressing bit at the National Day Parade 2011 published.

Here's his letter, titled "Drag wrong, guys", at the sensationalist inspiration of the editor (but I won't go any further on that or he'll boycott my letters, if they already haven't).

Watching the National Day Parade is a family affair for many Singaporeans. This year was no different for my family.

There was an impressive display from our national defence troops. Children from different schools as well as volunteers from various organisations put up a great performance, as was the fireworks display.

However, as a parent of three young children, I question the appropriateness of cross-dressing in the segment on racial harmony and nation building.

Prominent male comedian Gurmit Singh, known to young audiences in his role as a male alien in the television series Cosmo & George that airs on Okto, was sari-clad as an Indian woman.

Talented male actor Chua Enlai, known to children as a male host of many programmes on Okto, was dressed as a young, modern woman.

Was such casting necessary in the context of portraying racial harmony and nation building on national television? Or was it the organising committee's intention to portray harmony of another kind, namely that of transgender or transsexuality? It that was the intent, then the show should had been more aptly rated NC-16.


Ivan Lau

Transgender/transsexual harmony? Seriously? Just because Gurmit and Enlai cross-dressed? ...

Oh wait, we are talking about self-professed morally upright folks who are probably both transphobic and ignorant, hence the conflation of transgender, transsexuality and cross-dressing.

The fact the Straits Times and Singapore Press Holdings published this, further casts in stone this erroneous mix-up.

There are people who are trying very hard to educate Singaporeans about the differences and the implications of holding such ignorant beliefs/myths about transgendered persons.

Just because some guy who wears the hat and invokes the imagery of a concerned parent who wants to make a stand and be responsible, and shares his insecurities and transphobia (or rather hide them behind his children) with the dwindling readership of the Straits Times does not mean falsities like that can be perpetuated without a proper dialogue.

When Ivan Lau writes like that and goes unchallenged in a public domain that already does not treat transgendered and transsexual Singaporeans with equal dignity and respect as their cisgendered counterparts, it creates the impression that cross-dressing (itself a thing not to be taken seriously thanks to its presence in the domains of entertainment) can be conflated with transgender and transsexuality.

If we follow the parenting of Ivan Lau, I guess we all should close our minds, be stubborn, bigoted and tell our kids to impose their own ideas of right and wrong onto others. Don't only stop there, just associate bad things, things we don't really know much about with people who we feel and label are different from us.

I wrote a letter in response to the Straits Times Forum, but unfortunately was not published. Thankfully Leona Lo's letter was, even though it was rather short. Not sure if the editor had done some editing (it was indeed short, according to Leona). By the looks of the title "Crossfire over cross-dressing", it seems he has.

Here's Leona's response to Ivan:

Mr Ivan Lau suggested MediaCorp should have given the National Day Parade segment on racial harmony and nation building an NC-16 rating as it featured cross-dressing actors Gurmit Singh and Chua Enlai ("Drag wrong, guys"; Thursday).

Transgender and transsexual women are not cross-dressers. Neither do we enjoy being spoofed on national television. Rather than give us an NC-16 rating so as to keep us out of his children's sight, we would advise the writer to give them a lesson in respect and tolerance instead.


Leona Lo (Ms)

There are different views on transgender, held by different persons.

To use the term "transgender" loosely, cross-dressing is a form of transgender identity and behaviour (not behaviour alone). It is an identity that exists in a certain context.

Earlier scientists saw cross-dressing in the medical and psychiatric context, as pathological. Hence the term transvestism. Some believed that cross-dressing is fetishistic, and that transvestites derived pleasure.

In this view, to be break it down scientifically (and to dangerously simplify it), the form is cross-dressing, but it is medicalised as transvestism, and its function is to personally derive pleasure from it. Therefore, it is pathological, and it is believed to be curable, or can be rehabilitated to normalcy, whatever the institution of medicine decides to be "normal".

Here's another perspective, cross-dressing does not only exist in the medical domain, but also in the domain of entertainment. Here, we have drag. In the domain of the theatre or performance platform, we get people who imitate and mimic the manerisms and dressings of a gender that do not correspond with their physical sex, for the sake of entertainment. Same form, but different function.

This is also considered by some as an art form, which attempts to incite one to see the imitative nature of gender. Art does question. Again, same transgenderal form, but different function.

See the myriad of perspectives?

In other more damning perspectives, there are people (HELLO Ivan Lau!!!) who label pre-operative and non-operative transsexuals as transvestites (crazy, fetishistic, obsessive masturbatory ones at least) and/or cross-dressers because their mannerisms and dressing do not correspond with their physical sex (anatomical sex, normally) as how the tyrannical majority would have want.

A non-correspondence and "misalignment" of gender (mannerisms, dressing) and sex (penis/vagina, breast, etc.) is thus either wrong, unnatural, sinful, crazy or any of the combinations.

In the minds of ignorant self-righteous bigots, what is eternalised as wrong can be righted, what is unnatural can be punished and destroyed, what is sinful can be rehabilitated, what is crazy can be reinstitutionalised. Because these assholes hold very close and dear to their hearts the very flimsy fragile idea that gender and sex are the same thing and are essentialised. It does not help that socio-religious institutions and mechanisms are in place, and continually and uncritically defended by the state, that subscribers to this hegemonic and imperialist ideology think they will also be in the "right".

As written, I have shown only a few of the many different perspectives on transgender and in particular cross-dressing. Do note there are further positions on these, some viewing these positions as mutually exclusive heterogeneous entities, some don't. (If I had to put myself into one, I belong to the latter).

I disagree with the way transgender has been shown to Singaporeans. One common form is drag on mainstream television. It implies we can never take transgender people seriously, and we can laugh at them.

At the same time, transgender visibility has to start somewhere. For instance, heterosexual male-to-female post-operative transsexual women have attained visibility before their female-to-male counterparts, or their homosexual or bisexual male-to-female post-operative counterparts.

Their visibility is also steeped in a history of "Ah Kua" shows and the sex trade, and associated with drag and entertainment. To me, the visibility is a blessing as well as a curse.

On the other hand, I feel it is necessary to have cross-dressing as an art form, to continually remind us (above entertainment), that gender is imitative. This, according to some transgender studies scholars, is a dangerous position as the position appears to make us of transgender individuals and their lived daily realities as a selfish academic pursuit to prove the arbitrariness of gender, an outcome that does not help to improve the well-being of transgender people.

Still, I believe that these two positions, while at tension, do not in any way aim to belittle or atomise transgender realities, in the way Ivan Lau has done.

We may associate with or distance ourselves from particular types (to assume there are salient categorisable groups) of transgender, because we do so in a country that is full of ignorance and transphobia, which in turn hurt the livelihood, well-being and lives of individuals whom we have the audacity to label as "different".

Since the Straits Times has made the choice to publish Ivan Lau's letter, I hope they will have the social consciousness and journalistic diligence to continually educate Singaporeans on transgender issues and address the hurtful myths and transphobia. I thought the newspapers are to play a role in nation-building? The publishing of such a letter belittles and ostracises our transgendered citizens!

Well, here's my unpublished letter:

I refer to Mr Ivan Lau's letter "Drag wrong, guys" (11 Aug 2011).

In an effort to be a responsible parent, Mr Lau has questioned the use of drag at the recent National Day Parade. I disagree with him and do not condone his views.

First, drag for entertainment and comedic purposes, is not new to Singaporeans as artiste Jack Neo has endeared us to his Liang Po Po and Liang Si Mei characters on prime time television. Perhaps Mr Lau may want to consider reserving his slithery mixture of praise and criticism for Jack Neo too. What about Robin William's Mrs Doubtfire or Martin Lawrence's Big Mama's House, movies that have made many families laugh?

Second, I take issue with Mr Lau's transphobia and ignorance. Is he suggesting that transgender persons have no role to play in Singapore? As far as I know, Gurmit Singh and Chua Enlai do not have sexual reassignment surgery, thus rendering Mr Lau's insinuation of "transsexual" harmony a ludicrous overreaction. The fact that these two have made people laugh is a testament of their talents.

Third, as the context in which cross-dressing takes place in Singapore is often in the domain of entertainment, many like Mr Lau fail to see that it is an art form. Art serves different purposes to society, not only providing us with entertainment, but also social commentary and an opportunity to reflect on our lived daily realities.

Fourth, it is a common strategy to identity oneself as a parent to lend more weight to one's criticisms and demands. As a result, certain kinds of people exert a greater influence on governance and policy, even though items such as drag will probably have little or no bearing on their lives or future. I do not believe parenting can and should be used as a front for ideological domination and the suppression of other identities and viewpoints.

Fifth, while drag performances often create the impression that transgender people cannot be taken seriously, Mr Lau's letter further condemns transgender minorities to invisibility. This is something any human being with good sense cannot stand up for. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Even if the portrayal of the sari-clad Indian woman was done by a male-to-female post-op transsexual Singaporean, I as a family man would have no issue.

We cannot define "harmony" with conditions and exceptions, and it extends beyond race, religion, culture, encompassing gender and sexual identity.

Drag or cross-dressing, or any form of transgender depictions, certainly do not affect our respective personal alignment of sex, gender and sexuality, nor do the creation and support for different people threaten our individual brands of "good" parenting.

I certainly do not want my children to be ill-adjusted and intolerant.


Ho Chi Sam

Let me ask you a question, Ivan. What are YOU going to do for the improvement of the well-being and lives of transgender and transsexual Singaporeans?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Erected Plesidency: Tony and others

The media coverage of the Elected Presidency has brought to the fore several interesting observations.

1. The President of Singapore is actually an important person!
Blighted by a history in which the recently much emphasised "highest office" is actually decided via appointment by Parliament, we have been served the suggestion that while he (no she) has remained an important figure, the President has appeared to be a function of the political puppetry of the ruling party. That is not true on paper, but there are people who can believe what they want to believe. In the end, some of us do not see the President as important, powerful or relevant.

The President is the head of state, but when it comes to law-making and changes in the Constitution, he dispenses his duties in consultation with cabinet. Again, people don't see the importance of having an elected President.

Current President Sellapan Ramanathan, now 87, was the second elected President of Singapore (apologies for error when I wrote he was the "first". The late Mr Ong Teng Cheong was the first elected President, beating Mr Chua Kim Yeow in 1993). Mr S.R. Nathan was elected unopposed in 1999, and re-elected unopposed again in 2005 after the other Presidential candidates were deemed ineligible by the Presidential Elections Committee. After years of conditioning in a PAP-dominant political climate, we have grown accustomed to political contests (or at least what appears to be) on the national level, and probably see no difference in the Elected Presidency.

Now with four Presidential candidates, and in the aftermath of the General Elections 2011, I somehow see a change in tone of the Presidency - the kind of tone that the PAP uses to justify why they should be re-elected, why they should be in power again. We are now reminded that the President is a very important person.

The candidates have also spoken about representation and that they will be listening to the people, etc. etc. These approaches to the Presidential Elections have made the Elected Presidency relevant.

The moral of the story - competition is good, as it makes the contest a little more legitimate. (although I can't say the same for the liberalisation of the job market and lax immigration laws)

The idea of how serious and important the Elected Presidency is, is further reinforced by the slanted mainstream media coverage of candidate Dr Tony Tan. Not only has he media coverage, but also the endorsement from the clans (well, one clan) and unions. This brings me to the next point.

2. Unions and clans actually exist in Singapore!
Physically and in paper, they exist, but unions and clans do not really get the exposure and awareness today like they did in the mid 20th Century.

For clans in Singapore, they were steeped in Chinese nationalism and riddled with gang activity, so the early government did what they needed to do.

For unions, well, they lost their relevance a long time ago. We do have one of the better systems of tripartism in the world, but this means the unions are somewhat subjected to some degree of control by the state. It does not help one bit when you have a Minister without portfolio (or Minister in the Prime Ministers Office) as the labour chief. If we were to play word association, the first word that comes to my mind when I hear "union" is "supermarket".

So when the clan(s) and the unions come forward to support candidate Dr Tony Tan, it felt like a non-event and non-issue to me. Despite their large member numbers and the peoples they represent - an indication of their important roles - I feel no connection to these entities.

In a kiasu (scared to lose) bid to support Dr Tony Tan, seemingly heavyweight support from various segments of society is orchestrated for us, but it feels to me very much similar to the Singapore Kite Association endorsing any other candidate.

Yes, the Singapore Kite Association exists. http://singaporekites.com/

I cannot measure how much more relevant Dr Tony Tan will be as a Presidential hopeful, but I can sure tell from the recent media feature and profiling of the Federation of Tan Clan Associations in Singapore and the various unions that have endorsed him, these entities benefit a lot more from the exposure.

I mean they are no newsworthy demigods in the mould of Lee Kuan Yew, but the clans and the unions now seem a little more important. With the media descriptions of their form (membership, address) and functions (purpose, motto) in light of the highly newsworthy Presidential Elections (itself rendered very newsworthy thanks to an actual contest!), they somehow come into existence in the mainstream.

3. Do people really care about the Presidential Elections?
Hard to say. If change is what people want, they won't get it here.

Looking at the media, the free and the muzzled, there is a considerable degree of interest. Perhaps we are still reeling in the aftershocks of the General Elections 2011, which saw the PAP losing more of the popular vote. So an election on the national level, especially in an increasingly (economically) uncertain climate, will be good activity and distraction for the masses.

Everyday when we are served news of Dr Tony Tan and his many endorsements, some of us feel the "FFS!!" feeling. For Fuck's Sake!! It's that mainstream media trying to tell us what they want us to know and think!

Yes, he is a capable man and was a Deputy Prime Minister and his comb-back makes him a lot newsworthier than he already is, but this has come at the expense of the coverage of other candidates. He is qualified and we do not need to be constantly reminded that he is.

It is worth noting that in the process of the over-exposure and the subsequent over-rating of a nevertheless highly rated man, netizens and coffeeshop uncles (or those who occupy both categories) are fed up with the mainstream media, if they already are not. But when it comes to the democratic vote, the media campaign will still work for Dr Tony Tan, because those netizens and coffeeshop uncles are the numerical minority. There are many people who believe in the universe created by the mainstream media, and the universe created for us comprises "Dr Tony Tan" and "others".

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In my opinion, the President should play a role not only in unifying Singaporeans, but also to maintain a confidence in the people during the economic uncertainty (we're talking about jobs here).

Then again, what's up with the "unifying Singaporeans" bit? During S.R. Nathan's presidential reign, we have had people who have been charged under the Sedition Act for making racial and religiously insensitive remarks, we had the AWARE saga, which is an indication of a mature fundamentalist Christian agenda (planted in our English-educated ethnic Chinese society in the late 70s to early 90s) to influence policy and governance, and we have lax immigration laws that lead to xenophobia and a dilution of national identity and sense of belonging. And someone "tried to do my best" and the Presidential candidates of 2011 have to take a jibe at him, huh?