Do You Know the Way to SG100?

Just read the transcript of SDP’s Dr Paul Tambyah’s rally speech at the Bukit Batok by-election on 1 May.  His speech pissed me off. It made me angry at how our first-world parliament is not populated with more people like him, who have the ability to make such sound, scathing remarks, eloquently and respectfully.  Class.  Instead we get a plethora of pot-shots by overpaid and under-stretched career politicians who don’t even do their own research.  It made me angry that so many good and inconvenient questions will go unanswered because they will be covered in the deafening silence of a majority too scared to rock the cradle in and around parliament.

I know this and some of my FB posts risk me being seen by some friends as one of those pesky Singaporeans who doesn’t appreciate the wonderful life and system we have here.  I see posts, by many of my friends who declare how they love this and love that about their Singapore, sometimes #tagging SG50 and the like. Much as I roll my eyes at every mention of SG50 and that overused red-dot, I love how people are so effusive and positive.  In my defence, I wasn’t raised like that. I grew up in a very cold, negative, household that went through a lot of pain before I even existed and never quite knew how to get over it and so, passed it on to me.  I carry a lot of that generational pain on my shoulders.  It made me grow up quickly, having to fight, often in vain, for the things I love and so, if my picture of the ideal looks darker or less pretty, it doesn’t mean I hate the sunshine or my love is any less.  Having said that, I am learning how to be more sunshinely expressive, so keep posting, friends!

Back to the by-election and the SDP candidate, Dr Chee Soon Juan. To be honest, he used to scare me. I remember his hunger strike and thinking, “Wah so extreme, so militant, ah?  What about his family?” He used to raise questions like, “look at the price of your teh-oh and tell me the cost of living has not risen?”  They were confronting and to my mind, overly-simplistic, not in a stupid sense, but that he expected us to work to understand him, not the other way around – self-focused – great if you’re a crusader, not great if you’re a leader of people.
However, observing him over the past years; after he was barred from teaching in Singapore; banned from travelling which effectively cut off any opportunity for him to earn his keep elsewhere (talk about a non-competition clause!); how he found alternative methods of making ends meet by writing and the feedback he would’ve received from that process and how that would’ve helped him to reflect and grow; how he picks up his daughters from school and lives in an HDB flat.  I know that this is a man who has given everything for what he believes in instead of using political position to land-grab.  In my opinion, this is also now a man who has learnt the value of working with others like and unlike himself.  He’s really grown and he should be given a chance to duel in the hallowed chambers of parliament!
Speaking of growth, SG50 wasn’t built on yes-men who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo.  It was built on loud, oftentimes arrogant, idealistic people who were not afraid to roll up their sleeves, for more than a photo-op, and rock the boat in their day.  However, as it stands, even as parliament grows in number, the seat of power gets smaller, with an ever-expanding silent moat to protect it’s core.  If SG100 is in any way going to build on the growth of SG50, this status quo bias is not the way to go.
That’s why I think people like Dr Chee, and Dr Paul Tambyah should be in parliament, although Dr Tambyah is, sadly, not running in this by-election.  Guys like these are not part-time politicians, part-time businessmen who are beholden to their ministerial salaries and government-linked contracts (paid for largely with taxpayers money, mind you); or a product of Singapore Inc. who, smart as they are, have some seriously permanent blinkers on by virtue of a lack of real-world exposure and are even more beholden to the way of life accorded to them by the current system, having known little else.
Gerrymandering already makes having alternative voices in parliament a near impossibility.  For every bit of ground that any opposition team fights to gain, they have to fight even harder to keep because everything in the system around them has been engineered to dilute their dissenting voice with that of a majority that is silent, primarily for fear of losing what they have.
The majority, like salespeople all over the world, have been trained to live on the edge;  buy that car and condo, spend on that credit card, enjoy this air-conditioning, and use that  to motivate you to work harder, make more money. By the way, if you rock the boat, you could lose it all, so, Don’t. Rock. The. Boat.  Take care of your own and let us do the thinking for you.  So, history is written over and over the same way.  50 years, and another, and another while as a country we chase the dollar bill.  Revolutions.
I think people like Dr Chee and Dr Tambyah are attempting to re-write how Singapore’s history unfolds.  What I like about what they’re trying to do is that they’re not taking a pre-authored storyline wholesale and selling it on to their constituents.  They research and write these themselves, which means they will ultimately take ownership – something I’ve seen less and less of in today’s crop of leaders who seem to serve a  author/paymaster.
As citizens, we have our responsibility to write our own versions of history too.  If we surrender that responsibility to someone else, we will only have ourselves to blame when the after-effects broadside us.  On the other hand, we could look back on days like this and say, “I had a hand in making that happen.  In my own small way, I re-wrote history.”

The Road Less Travelled

Attended my first Life Theatre Awards today. For once, I wasn’t working or chickening out because I didn’t feel sociable. Sitting with colleagues as we reflected on and celebrated each others’ good work, I felt a sense of community and industry which, working independently, is sometimes hard to muster.

The LKY Musical won Reader’s Choice Production of the Year and the tension was palpable when the announcement was made. Theatre people are highly skilled at showing disapproval in varied ways. But the acceptance speech by the producer was honest, without airs; a timely reminder that all of us, old and new practitioners, work really hard against the odds, to create something from nothing.

Kudos to my colleagues and friends, writers, designers, producers, crew, directors, actors, artists, awarded or not, for baring your souls and taking the road less travelled, to bring stories to life and make human nature eminently watchable.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

We Move in Circles

The first day of this new year is almost at an end. I hear 30,000 kg of rubbish was collected at the party to celebrate this crossing.  This new year, itself a construct within a construct. A register of lines around a rubberised band, a box to make it a thing.  We don’t seem to like open endings.
Now, sitting in the middle of a disused fountain, observing the world, I smell the waft of unhealthy cooking. I hear children, the construct of men, playing wildly, calling for their parents, screaming. Dead ahead, an arch, a circle and beyond that, another arc and next to it, sits, of all things, a stone octopus.  Eight legs standing the test of time; a singular piece of ill-fitting construction that hasn’t had to evolve in order to survive this cruel world. I’m sure it made some sense then, as each of these arcs did when they were made, one in front of the other. We really liked circles way back when.  Now they look like disparate stonehenges mashed together, all but forgotten by the throngs that saunter by on their way to dinner. A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.  I think i might die here. I might live.

Thoughts on GE2015: the past, the present, our future

ESM Goh Chok Tong is the senior politician running in my constituency and I’ve been pondering over some comments he made in a recent mainstream media interview (26 August 2015, CNA):

“If the Government doesn’t get good support, you’re repudiating what they’re doing. It’s very important that you give them a very clear signal and support their agenda.

“I’ve travelled all over the world as PM. I know the impact of politics on people’s lives … I came to the conclusion that we can categorise government into three categories: The good, the bad, the ugly.. As you can see now, in many countries in the world, there are ugly governments. We are lucky that we have a good Government. So I look at this election as a mandate for the Lee Hsien Loong Government.

“Opposition parties come and go like nomads. Nomads will not have an interest in the people’s welfare. A new tribe is coming – do they really have interest in Marine Parade’s welfare?… The opposition will be there just throwing all kinds of distractions.”

I also watched a rally speech by WP’s He Ting Ru, a Cambridge educated lawyer with international, corporate and legal experience – one of the “nomads” contesting in my constituency for the opposition. Since returning to Singapore in 2011, she’s been learning the ropes of constituency work by volunteering in Chen Sho Mao’s meet-the-people sessions and doing party level work (which includes policy research and drafting parliamentary papers, part of the process for proposing and questioning policies when parliament sits).

Some of her points during her first rally speech (3 September 2015, Jalan Besar Stadium):

“There is much for us Singaporeans to be proud of despite the worries we sometimes feel about our future. When I decided to run for member of parliament, many of my friends and family were extremely worried… about the impact on my family, my career, about whether I will get fixed… I had the exact same thoughts myself. But then I asked myself, three questions:

1) Do I believe that it is healthy for Singapore to have a handful of people from the same political party, deciding what is best for our country?

2) Do I want a future for my country, where my children dare not responsibly disagree and speak their mind, because they are afraid of being fixed?

3) Do I think that our current policies and policy making processes are perfect, that there is no need for improvement, that nothing more needs to be done for Singaporeans, especially vulnerable Singaporeans?

The answer for each one of them, was no. As a young Singaporean I have my idea about what should be my nation’s path… I want a future where we see more citizens involved in deciding our own future, a future where we pay close attention to vulnerable groups and a destiny where we promote access to opportunities for all…

There is no more direct way of effecting that change for Singapore than running for parliament…The government’s job is not to fix the opposition. The government’s job is to do it’s job well… I decided to run for parliament because I think the government can do better, and all of us can and must help them do so…

When in the polling booth come 11th September 2015, I would like each one of us to ask these three questions:

1) Do we want more different voices to be heard in parliament, voices representing what you want to say?

2) Do we want our children to be able to speak out responsibly without fear because they disagree with the government?

3) Do we want to live in a country which empowers our citizens to create a society, which looks out for the vulnerable, where our elders are active, healthy, and our children are not weighed down by the pressure to succeed at all costs?

I hope the answer is yes to all of these questions and that you would want more voices, no more fear in speaking out, and a compassionate society for all Singaporeans.”

Not surprisingly a lot of what was expressed by the opposition candidate echoed my own thoughts, which are, that Ting Ru and her WP colleagues ask the questions I want to ask and in fact, many Singaporeans have wanted to ask, but those who have asked out loud in the past have been persecuted, prosecuted, sidelined or even exiled.

Since 1984, when Chiam See Tong first won a seat in parliament, we progressed as a nation. Despite clear hurdles placed in his path and, by extension, the path of the residents he served for 26 years, they proved that Singaporeans are not all about freshly painted HDB walls and early Starhub cabling. Despite these deficiencies, Potong Pasir did not fall apart or become destitute.

Again from 2011, this progress accelerated with the WP’s first GRC win. Apart from Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East not being any closer to becoming a slum, this slightly larger opposition in parliament has also created more dialogue. Now there are questions in parliament, about ministerial salaries and about the 6.9 million white paper, for example, and votes against it (none from within the PAP), which are essentially saying, “there are merits to your plan, but it is not yet good enough, it’s too narrow. There will be other ramifications and many Singaporeans will suffer because of it. We must keep looking for possibilities. Let us contribute”.

Unfortunately, this questioning voice is still small and, almost unheard, within the single-party government’s highly protected inner chamber, where all the big plans are made and decided upon.

Over 50 years and even during the past 10, the current government has shown an undying need to protect the seat of power fiercely, and to discredit, discipline and often punish dissenting voices from within or without the party ranks. This is an outdated mode of government – a relic from World War II and an unnecessary hegemony borrowed from the armed forces.

As can be seen from the past decade of gaffes and shape-shifts, gerrymanders and U-turns within the current administration, they too, seem to be scrambling to keep up with the world and are chasing the money trail like every other developed country, albeit with the help of expensive consultants and an insanely rich reserve, happily amassed from relatively good governance (apart from a number of major, superficially investigated, lapses) and handsomely helped by our small geographic size, topography and location, willing population and dense per-capita contribution to the coffers.

What this means, as signs have started to show is, if we continue on this path unabated as the current administration is ordering us to do, the country will increasingly become corporate-like, where the strongest and most connected survive and the weak are eventually weeded out and replaced, even if the weak laid the foundations for current success. That is not a vision of a country for the next 50 years and it is certainly not the country I want.

Singaporeans are no longer servile employees of a corporate nation looking to our leaders for all direction, while waiting for the carrot and the stick to egg us on. We, too need to move out of that mindspace, become our own people and know our own true worth. I feel that a lot of us need our egos re-calibrated, our skills need updating and our world-views need to be consistently expanded and deepened. In short, we need to get our inspiration back. We can’t do that by taking the, “look back on the past 50 years, do you want to lose that?” path.

Consider also that many Singaporeans have established themselves as top learners all over the world and many have consistently produced work in the real-world that is recognized outside of our tiny shores, while not being part of the state-funded and protected machinery. These are the real-world entrepreneurs that are talked so much about by the ruling party, but, for the most part, are lacking in said party because of their (also outdated) recruitment and progression structure that sacrifices diversity for a narrow view of success and “suitability to rule”.

I think the entrepreneurs whom ESM Goh calls “nomads” and “arrogant” exhibit a toughhness and humility that is lacking in many of his own cohort, who can be verbose, but tend to gravitate to reductive binary arguments and put-downs when challenged outside of their comfort zone. ESM Goh’s “good vs ugly” statement is an example of such. At best, it is a simplistic statement unbecoming of an experienced elder statesman; at worst, an oppressive method of sowing fear, in case we don’t do as we’re told.

But back to the nomads in the opposition. I think Singaporeans should bring some of this valuable nomadic expertise and chutzpah back home and allow them to be a conduit between our current government and us; Singaporeans who have smarts and problem-solving abilities of our own to contribute; Singaporeans who have a love for our country that has seen us through decades past. In contrast, if ESM Goh keeps pushing away these nomads, he risks living out the twilight of his illustrious career as a big goldfish in a very small bowl.

Of course, as I pen my thoughts, I don’t expect that anyone from the establishment will read it. Many more illustrious, skilled and accomplished people have written letters to people in our power space asking for change. Very few of them get read and even fewer get more than a cursory consideration.

But I do hope that other Singaporeans will read this and ask of themselves the questions that the nomads ask and that I ask too. It doesn’t matter to me what your individual answer is. We are all entitled to our opinion and our vote. That is the point. But at least, take the time to consider the various alternatives. The unknown is not as scary as we might think.

Sincerely, for our future.

Timothy Nga

#ge2015 #gohchoktong #hetingru #pap #wp #timeforchange #forourfuturesg

The Little Thing(s)

Likes small spaces

Likes small spaces

As I was preparing to feed the cats today, the skies opened up outside and a darkness exploded upon the flat in a crack of thunder. I realised that Wilma, my tiny black cat with white socks, who normally hides around the corner waiting for her turn and comes when she’s called, had disappeared. I called, but no Wilma responded.

Leaving the two boys and Zoe waiting in their usual spots below me and on top of the fridge, I went in search of the little black one and found her huddled under the bed. As I called her name, she whispered tinily. I placed her food bowl on the floor next to the bed. She crawled out to take a sniff, but the sky let out another angry cry and she retreated back to her hiding place under the bed. I closed all the doors to the bedroom, left with a promise to be back and went to feed the others.  Regular feeding in the kitchen resumed without drama and after washing up the food bowls and clearing the litter trays in anticipation of post-meal deposits, I went back into the bedroom to find Wilma’s food bowl still untouched and her position unchanged.

The sky had cleared by this time. Our local thunder god in the east has a pre-disposition towards deafening, but short-lived explosions. We might’ve had a similar upbringing.  I sat down on the floor and called to the little one. With a small sound, she slinked out from under the bed and settled down tentatively in front of me. I cradled her in my arms and as she relaxed, I showed her the window and how the world was beautiful outside with a bit of light and a layer of wetness that meant life had just been refreshed and renewed. I then placed her on the floor in front of her food bowl and watched as she took a sniff and then proceeded to slurp quietly at her meal in peace.

That was when I realised, that after all is said and done, through the battles lost and won, these are the moments that I truly live for.

Wilma's fan

Wilma’s fan

Early Morning Hubbub


7.30am. Full flight back to Singapore. Rousing orchestral music playing on the PA accompanied by visuals of the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra in full swing, interspersed with (mostly old) people triumphantly trekking Taiwanese mountain ranges.

Man in seat B holds an android device in his left hand, scrolling through an endless email list, while his accompanying right hand nonchalantly alternates between picking hairs off his chin and dropping successfully pulled hairs on the floor between his legs.

Last minute boarders with shopping struggle for space.

In seat A, man’s wife lies unconscious, head slumped on his left shoulder, oblivious to the hubbub around her.

We push back and stewardesses remind us to put our devices away.

Man’s left hand deftly turns off device and holds it calmly against his left thigh. Eyes close, right hand falls neatly as he slips into inner space.

We gather speed for take-off. See you on the other side.

Hoi An Happening


I’m sitting by the river reading and, occasionally, looking up to glance at this sampan moored by the pier among the larger boats.

Out of the blue, the manager of the nearby massage and manicure place, strolls over, cigarette in mouth, boards his craft and casually inspects it, before heading back to work when his cigarette expires.

So cool to pilot a sampan to work everyday! The good life. 🙂