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.

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. 🙂

Going Up

She slowly leaned forward to hold the door open for us, as a spritely old gentleman carrying a large plastic bag, entered just ahead of me.

“Thank you”, I said, and in silence, we pressed the buttons that would transport us to our floors. The doors closed.

“Perchah ah?” (“broken” in Malay), I heard her ask purposefully.

“那个门” (“that door” in Mandarin), he replied, and then stopped.

My back was to them so I could not see their expressions. In the awkward silence I heard a happy desire to share, frustrated only by a lack of common vocabulary.

I exited the lift with a smile as I greeted them both with a goodbye. Perhaps the keys to our future harmony lie in our past.