Racing away from racism

Seng Han Thong’s mis-speech has provided all the justification the People’s Action Party government ever needed for a cooling-off day prior to polling day.  It demonstrated how fast a particular interpretation of a careless remark can spread. Fortunately, with online media, corrections can be made quickly too. Still, they need about 12 to 24 hours to work.

It may seem redundant now, but for future readers of this article several years hence, it may be useful to recapitulate a little of the background. Following the massive metro breakdowns of last week, there were many complaints (including from Yawning Bread) about poor communication between SMRT Corp staff and commuters stuck in the stricken system. SMRT’s frontline staff dripfed increasingly upset customers with infrequent updates that were largely meaningless, sometimes delivered with such bad diction, they were unintelligible.

BlogTV had a talk show in which the deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, Seng Han Thong (member of parliament for Ang Mo Kio) appeared, among other guests. At one point, Seng referred to something he had heard from the “PR” (public relations) — you’ll hear him say it at 2 min 1 sec: “I notice that the PR mention that some of the staff, because they are Malay, they are Indian, they can’t converse in English good, well enough, so [unclear] I think we accept broken English . . .”

Outrage filled social media over his “racism”. More interestingly, Cherian George, writing on Journalism.sg criticised The Online Citizen for fanning it by mis-reading Seng’s remarks (There’s enough real racism in Singapore — TOC needn’t cry wolf).

Seng quickly put out a message that he had been misinterpreted and that he was sorry if people were offended as a result.

“In my interview with blogtv.sg, I made a regrettable mistake in my language, which may be misconstrued as me saying that people speak bad English because of their ethnicity. I sincerely apologise to all Singaporeans, who have been offended by this error.”

– Straits Times, The Big Story, 22 Dec 2011, MP Seng Han Thong apologises for SMRT staff comment, by Royston Sim

SMRT Corp then issued a statement to The Online Citizen, saying:

“Regarding Mr Seng Han Thong’s Facebook post which contains the transcript from his comments made on BlogTV, we wish to clarify that Mr Seng may have misunderstood comments made at our media conference last Friday.

When asked by the media about the lack of information given to passengers and feedback from some that they could not understand the English announcements that were made, SMRT’s Executive Vice President Mr Goh Chee Kong had explained that the company faces a challenge in trying to train its drivers to make announcements, as not all of them are comfortable speaking in English.

At no point did Mr Goh highlight any particular race in his remarks.

Our train officers are encouraged to make announcements as appropriate. However we have provided them with pre-recorded messages to assist them. These are the areas we are working to improve. We are now working to beef up our announcement to include pre-recorded messages in the four official languages, and training for our train officers and staff so they can communicate better with passengers when a situation arises.”

BlogTV also put out a statement on its Facebook page. Digging up the relevant quote from a radio program, it said:

Mr Seng explained that he had heard the comment by the SMRT spokesperson, on the news. And he was expressing on BlogTV, what he had heard.

The comment was made by SMRT’s Senior Vice President for Communication and Services Goh Chee Kong in response to a question on how SMRT planned to improve its communication with passengers. This was broadcast over the radio.

“What we’re mindful of is that our people, our staff at the stations and in the trains may not be making sufficient announcements and also good enough announcements. And that’s because our staff of different races, it could be Malay, Chinese, or Indians or any other race, they sometimes find it difficult to speak in English. However we’ve encouraged them to make the announcements and not to worry about that. At the same time, from our ops control centre, we’re making more announcements and I put someone there from the communications department to make the announcements so it becomes more regular.”

– Blogtv.sg Facebook page, 22 December 2011.

As you can see, Goh evidently did mention “Malay, Chinese or Indians”, though it would also be correct to say that he did not “highlight any particular race”.

If one is inclined to be critical, one might attach significance to the way Seng processed Goh’s mention of three races down to two — and the very two that happen to be the butt of much racism in Singapore. One might say, in reformulating, even if unconsciously, Goh’s remarks the way Seng did, Seng revealed his thought patterns.

Then again, it is just as possible that it was an innocent slip of the tongue, or that Seng recalled Goh’s remarks incorrectly.

Given the fact that they were impromptu remarks and that various interpretations are possible, it is difficult to make too much of those words.

* * * * *

What I found gratifying was the way it became resoundingly clear that Singaporeans — at least those on social media — were dismayed by Seng’s words, even if they had initially read more into them than warranted. It shows how Singaporeans believe in being above racism.

Sometimes we take such credo for granted, but a quick look across the Causeway over to Malaysian politics will show that it is not always so everywhere. There, leading figures of UMNO, the major component of the ruling Barisan Nasional, regularly appeal to race in its bid to win votes. They do so secure in the belief that large numbers of their constituents want to hear such sentiments.

So perhaps we should calm down and appreciate the silver lining.

But only for a moment. For the headline in Journalism.sg is also correct: There is plenty of real racism in Singapore. At one level, we deplore it, but in our daily lives, many of us practise it. I sometimes wonder whether our ardent denunciations also serve as excuses for not looking into ourselves.

In fact, in thinking through the draft of this piece, I considered including an account of an incident just earlier this month that shocked me. In that incident, the racism came from a young Singaporean, brought up in a Christian environment. And then I decided that to balance such a tale, I should include another story from only a few months earlier and still quite fresh in my mind, so it would not look as if I was singling out Christians, which in turn led me to consider including a third story, this time of a person of minority ethnicity behaving as racist as those from the majority — for a broader, more balanced picture.

I have so many stories about racism in Singapore, I feared it would mean 10,000 extra words to this article. Finally, I decided that, going by the experience of Seng Han Thong, frugality in words might be the better virtue.

39 Responses to “Racing away from racism”


  1. 1 Yujuan 23 December 2011 at 02:52

    It’s already in the PAP’s DNA that they think they are entitled to shoot their mouths off for the greater interest of Singaporeans. If there is an uproar, just apologise or say something abstract like “I stand corrected” or such and such a Ministry has no record of the comments. The big boss does it, all the subsequent little bosses just follow copy cat style.
    Most of the times, such MPs like Seng are just trying to show themselves off, trying to raise their profile and be noticed by the public.
    So no need to take their comments as creditable, best to ignore whatever they say.

  2. 2 ricardo 23 December 2011 at 03:45

    MP Seng’s words certainly reveal his own prejudices. In future when such incidents occur, we should all email Lee Hsien Loong and tell him such behaviour is deeply offensive; like TPL & Lim Wee Kiak.

    But even the subject of announcements in English is racist. In the old days, a bus driver would have no hesitation in telling the public what is happening in fluent Malay, Hokkien or Tamil. Why not all three (broken or not) and in Singlish too?

    Today, perhaps add a plea for passengers to translate for Ang Moh fellow travellers.

    There are two distinct but inter-related issues from the MRT breakdowns. Firstly the technical maintenance which should have occurred.

    Secondly, and more importantly, how SMRT deals with emergencies. Fundamental to this is communication which was obviously sadly lacking.

    There must be enough ex-NS SAF servicemen and officers who are cringing at the incident.and wondering what has happened to the SAF’s famous reputation for efficiency and flexibility.

    Perhaps SMRT has decided, for cost reasons, to employ only FT who have not experienced the discipline of NS. (excuse this racist remark 8>D)

    • 3 yawningbread 23 December 2011 at 10:59

      I think the last sentence is uncalled for because it is plainly incorrect. It is obvious that SMRT’s frontline staff — the train drivers, bus drivers and station control officers — are virtually all Singaporean. To say “to employ only [foreign talent]” is to create an unsubstantiated point. And why does one do that? Is there an agenda?

      Can we look into ourselves and ask if this rising xenophobia is any different from the racism we deplore?

      • 4 Poker Player 23 December 2011 at 14:31

        It’s a reaction to increased immigration (including foreign workers) but wrongly targetted.

        I think it is perfectly legitimate to react to any government action diminishes your economic worth. Foreigners are pawns – don’t target them. Target policy makers.

        I have said this before. Notice how the justification for importing workers is never used for lawyers, law firms, banks – and until something like a decade ago – telcos.

        Or closer home – a political playing field as level as that for the labour market.

      • 5 ricardo 24 December 2011 at 06:07

        > I think the last sentence is uncalled for because it is plainly incorrect.

        The sentence was plainly racist. Hence my apology & the 8>D smiley.

        It was an attempt at humour which I hope hasn’t been prohibited by PAP policy. As I hope also, attempts by the public to keep other people informed in the absence of useful and comprehensible SMRT info.

        Has the kiasu mentality become so prevalent that people are reluctant to help other people .. using the best means at their disposal (their native Malay, Hokkien, Tamil, Mandarin, Singlish etc) .. because of mandates from management that only “official” info (regardless of whether it is correct or useful) and the Queen’s English be offered to customers?

        If so, Singaporeans have sadly moved backwards from the days of Merdeka. (apologies for yet another racist statement)

  3. 6 Cherian 23 December 2011 at 09:20

    In an update to my blog, I clarified that I wasn’t trying to suggest that TOC was wrong to highlight Seng’s remarks. However, they should have stuck to the facts – an MP and union leader making extremely ill-judged remarks, which he attributed to an SMRT rep. Halimah did this in her response, without being any less hard-hitting.

    The main reason I feel strongly about this because when we cry “racism” and it’s not verifiable, it undermines the anti-racism cause. It makes it too easy for the unconscious racists and outright bigots to claim, see, the commentators have some other agenda. In this case, many Singaporeans will come away concluding that TOC was using the episode to further its anti-PAP agenda. This becomes another excuse “for not looking into ourselves”, as you correctly put it, Alex.

    I think that opinion shapers should reserve their anti-racism shots for slam-dunk cases: where the perpetrator has nowhere to hide. I’ve said to TOC eds that I wish TOC had been around during the Choo Wee Khiang affair: when the PAP backbencher said in Parliament that there were so many Indian foreign workers in Little India that day seemed like night. He was ticked off by the Speaker (though only after Chiam See Tong rose to object) but was otherwise let off.

    That’s the kind of remark that a TOC should have campaigned vigorously against, calling for his dismissal from the party or suspension from Parliament or whatever. Anyway you look it at it, it was racist. In contrast, making such judgments about Seng require us to look into his heart, and we are better off leaving such soul-searching to the individual concerned and his maker.

    • 7 ricardo 24 December 2011 at 06:57

      I second Halimah Yaacob’s response as being the most measured and fair.

      But as for looking into MP Seng’s heart, this is precisely what we as voters MUST do.

      You can listen to all the rhetoric and promises come election time but if his heart does not coincide with yours, what’s the betting he will foster policies which coincide with your concerns?

      PAP bashers, including myself, need to remember not all PAP MPs are used car salesmen & worse. Halimah is a good example.

      But it is our DUTY to tell the PAP in no uncertain terms that they should not be using the GRC system to allow racists, incompetents and Dignity seekers into Parliament.

    • 8 Thor 26 December 2011 at 15:05

      Curious if you were still with ST during CWK affair and what was your public response at that time. It’s easy to kick up a fuss when he is discredited for other reasons. To be critical and look at both sides is an excellent notion but in this case it smacks of supporting an establishment figure who has no foot to stand on and undermines your own credibility.

    • 9 exalt 11 January 2012 at 15:30

      “In this case, many Singaporeans will come away concluding that TOC was using the episode to further its anti-PAP agenda. “–>Exactly my personal feelings. I couldn’t help but strongly suspect that TOC lost their neutrality on this one story. Their lack of a convincing justification or apology just makes things worse for them. Is this the limit to what citizen journalism can achieve, in terms of objectiveness, anyway?

      I wonder if TOC should have attended Dr Cherian’s class, perhaps they wouldn’t fail so badly…^^;;

  4. 10 Poker Player 23 December 2011 at 09:27

    The public reaction to it was correct. The moment a public figure says something that can be interpreted as racist, public reaction must be strong enough for him to want to clarify his position as quickly as possible.

    Anything less strong would allow racist language to slowly creep into respectable public discourse.

    • 11 Poker Player 23 December 2011 at 09:38

      BTW, irony of ironies, the non-establishment public is doing the job of the establishment ISA.

      The public is keeping racial peace by making sure establishment figures toe the line.

      The PAP story is that the ISA is for the establishment to keep the public in line for racial peace.

  5. 12 Chanel 23 December 2011 at 10:07

    “…Cherian George……criticised The Online Citizen for fanning it by mis-reading Seng’s remarks”

    Cherian George is wrong. The authorities have told the public, in no uncertain terms, that repeating or quoting racist comments made by others is also a crime. As a PAP MP, Mr Seng should know better.

  6. 13 Alan Wong 23 December 2011 at 11:55

    As far as I know, many of our fellow Singaporeans of Indian & Malay (except for a minority from the older generation) descent can converse quite comfortably in conversational English. Frankly, if they are really that uncomfortable speaking in English, I think they wouldn’t have been recruited by SMRT in the first place unless we have a situation that it is really difficult in recruiting English speaking candidates for train officers like in the case of SMRT/SBS bus drivers.

    So obviously PAP MP Han Seng Tong made 2 mistakes, first in interpreting incorrectly the public statement by SMRT PR officer & secondly in conveying his mistaken interpretation over the TV show publicly. Maybe this MP’s poor understanding of good English himself may explain why he can make such mistakes in the first instance.

    If it is, then it is just another blunder made by a PAP MP, simple and straightforward. Nothing to do with any Indian or Malay’s lack of English communication skills.

  7. 14 Godwin 23 December 2011 at 12:25

    “… it became resoundingly clear that Singaporeans — at least those on social media — were dismayed by Seng’s words, even if they had initially read more into them than warranted. It shows how Singaporeans believe in being above racism.”

    I cannot share your optimism. I think the online lynch mob is merely using this as an opportunity to bash PAP.

    • 15 Anon-r-us 23 December 2011 at 17:38

      Certainly that’s what this feels like. Seng is the latest TPL. When will they learn that the net does not suffer fools gladly? He seems like a very bad choice of representative for an English TV show and now the mobs have all the ammo they need for another round of attack.

    • 16 Poker Player 24 December 2011 at 17:48

      Don’t over-estimate what is required for considering a moral value as having entrenched itself in a community.

      The most sexually conservative society will still have men lusting after other women and consummating their lust if they can get away with it. The very same men will show indignation at the same transgression if committed by others.

      A moral value is successful in a society if people don’t openly oppose it and those who transgress do their best to hide it.

  8. 17 Anonymous 23 December 2011 at 12:26

    He should have learnt from LKY: “I Stand Corrected!”

  9. 18 George 23 December 2011 at 12:50

    Chanel is correct. The sedition law clearly says that it is unlawful to say such words in whatever context. It’s like such words are to be treated as ‘radio active’. Ignorance is no excuse.

    From the clip you include, my conclusion is it’s probably a verbal slip on that occasion but I also agree that could also have been a Freudian slip.

    Perhaps, a ‘clever’ host would have restated his words more fully and correctly provided of course he or she or their assistants have done due diligence/research of all pertinent materials before the show. If we are mindful about airing controversial/sensitive topics over national TV this is necessary. But on the other hand we should not recoil completely and deem such topics off limits or self-censor. This would be negative and regressive.

    Germane but off topic: This incident once again underscores the poor language skills of Singaporeans in general. IMO, it reflects once again the result of the ambivalence that exists in the teaching of languages here. The bi-lingual policy is like a typical Singaporean being caught with a foot each on two sampans that is diverging. If he has strong thigh muscles, he can keep both sampans moving in the same direction with effort. In reality we know few has this ability. But, if his muscles are not equal to the task (which applies to the majority) of learn/mastering two languages, he ends up in the drink as the boats move in divergent directions!

    • 19 siva 23 December 2011 at 17:15

      Apologies that this is off-topic but I agree with George’s last paragraph completely. The standard of English education here in most neighbourhood schools is pretty appalling. It’s such a complicated issue though, and a very emotionally charged one. One thing that would be good to do however is to try and remove the stigma or negative class associations that are linked with the use of proper english. I know this is not going to sound good, but an over-dependency on singlish, without an ability to code-switch, really stifles the capacity of the user for higher thought and hinders the expression of anything but very simple ideas. It really has become a crutch to to this nation, and has had far reaching implications politically, socially and culturally.

      • 20 Leuk75 23 December 2011 at 19:40

        Understand your concerns but I simply cannot agree that bilingual policy is a cause of this. A typical European is conversant in two or more languages. I work for a Swiss company and our HQ execs are fluent in English, Swiss German and French at the minimum. Depending on which canton they grew up, they have to learn the canton primary tongue (German, French or Italian) and at least one other official language in Switzerland. English is optional but most people pick it up anyway. Our grandparents also naturally could converse in several dialects and certainly pidgin Malay. Reason being they had to communicate with their neighbours!

        Now we are flooded with Singlish and instead of allowing people to naturally follow their interest and necessity in picking up languages, your “mother tongue” is forced on you and by default of your registered “race”. That I think is the real reason why we never developed the natural language skills. Instead, mangled English becomes our default when it most certainly is not mother tongue for a large number of people.

    • 21 Blaise 24 December 2011 at 03:01

      IMHO, language skill and the ability to communicate effectively are two different things. It’s how we end up with signage/notices/written correspondence that, even if free of grammatical and spelling errors and misused words, manage to fail completely at getting the intended message across.

      • 22 Kliff 31 December 2011 at 14:08

        It is true that to communicate effectively and clearly one would only need basic language skills and common sense… But this has proven a challenge to a number of Singaporeans. This shows how our language education have become eschewed and fails to impart a number of us with the confidence to communicate clearly and properly regardless of it being in writing or speech.

  10. 23 Godwin 23 December 2011 at 14:16

    “… caught with a foot each on two sampans…”

    LOL.

  11. 24 Anon j22W 23 December 2011 at 18:29

    I listened to the video playback before reading this article or comments. I could find nothing racist whatsoever in the statement. Slightly confusing, yes, not clear, yes, but racism never entered my mind. When someone utters a racist comment, it is usually immediately clear. In this case it was not, at least to me. There was no malice, anger, angst or ill intent in the words. I interpreted the statement as simply meaning to say that “Some of the staff can’t converse well in English”, whether it be because English is their second language or other reasons. The insertion of the Malay or Indian examples added nothing to the meaning and was slightly confusing. Yet he did not specifically say that these races can’t speak good English, which would have been preposterous. As much as we should speak out against racists, we should also refrain from labelling someone as racist when their words are innocuous and not intended to be racist.

    His remarks did, however, leave me with a poor impression of the calibre of the person selected for such a high position. The fact is, he should not even be making any comments publicly until the inquiry is completed. It could be interpreted as trying to defend the organisation.

    • 25 Poker Player 24 December 2011 at 23:36

      “The insertion of the Malay or Indian examples added nothing to the meaning and was slightly confusing. Yet he did not specifically say that these races can’t speak good English, which would have been preposterous. As much as we should speak out against racists, we should also refrain from labelling someone as racist when their words are innocuous and not intended to be racist.”

      Suppose Seng Han Thong was giving a speech paying tribute to the pioneering generation of politicians (with all of the living ones in attendance). He lists them – Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, etc. Do you think he would be careless enough to forget to include LKY?

      This sort of thing shows what is important to you and what you are sensitive towards.

  12. 26 Tan Tai Wei 24 December 2011 at 09:25

    It may not be the speech itself, but the reaction to it that’s worrying. Are we all so inclined to interpret any slight purportedly verbal slip in that racist manner?

    It’s a fact we all know that the average Singaporean, whatever the race, doesn’t speak English well, leave alone well enough to explain a public announcement. And so we note that Seng himself, despite being PAP MP, did not speak well when saying that.

    So the facts being communicated by SMRT and Seng are that even as all speak badly, the majority of those trapped in trains and disrupted in the stations were Chinese, and so there was the added difficulty of catching Malay and Indian accented “singlish” by most commuters.

    So we seem to be making a mountain of an innocent, well-meant incidental remark, spoken by one whose first language is obviously Chinese. We should empathise with him on the difficulty, rather than somewhat deliberately adding to it by building this mountain of racism on it, showing we are all suffer from racist hypersensitivity.

    • 27 Poker Player 24 December 2011 at 23:20

      “So the facts being communicated by SMRT and Seng are that even as all speak badly, the majority of those trapped in trains and disrupted in the stations were Chinese, and so there was the added difficulty of catching Malay and Indian accented “singlish” by most commuters.”

      Is it just me or does anyone else detect an air of desperation in this?

      • 28 Jack Jack! 25 December 2011 at 17:45

        Who’s desperate?

        Maybe you guys are the one that is really desperate, keep hopping on this subject endlessly!

        The is a limit to anything, just like the guy who smash the MRT train window! Soon you will know how much damages you could do to the Singapore on-line community! You all sounded more like the angry Chinese netizens who seem to bark at anything!

        Sure, just keep going to build up your credibility, if you still have one!

      • 29 Poker Player 26 December 2011 at 11:14

        When somebody who is not SHT tries harder than SHT to rationalize SHT’s behaviour – the person with the credibility problem is not the one who points this out.

  13. 30 swh 25 December 2011 at 02:53

    “In fact, in thinking through the draft of this piece, I considered including an account of an incident just earlier this month that shocked me. In that incident, the racism came from a young Singaporean, brought up in a Christian environment. And then I decided that to balance such a tale, I should include another story from only a few months earlier and still quite fresh in my mind, so it would not look as if I was singling out Christians, which in turn led me to consider including a third story, this time of a person of minority ethnicity behaving as racist as those from the majority — for a broader, more balanced picture.”

    I wish to offer an interpretation of your final paragraph here, which kinda intrigued me a little. The fact that you underwent such a complicated thought process suggested to me that, in this respect, you were slightly overly self-conscious of what you were posting?

    Truly non-racist people would have a clear train of thought – undisturbed by their conscience – that they are able to post something with confidence and not be haunted by “What If” reactions from readers.

    You mentioned that “At one level, we deplore it, but in our daily lives, many of us practise it. I sometimes wonder whether our ardent denunciations also serve as excuses for not looking into ourselves.”

    And I agree, aggressively denouncing racism may just be causing us to deafen ourselves to our inner reality.

    Maybe, after all, everyone is inwardly racist to some extent.

    • 31 Poker Player 25 December 2011 at 13:09

      “Maybe, after all, everyone is inwardly racist
      to some extent.”

      As an American teenager would put it – duh!

      This is not news to anyone who has through this.

      Even the Pope would time to time have lustful
      and vengeful thoughts. Morality is how we manage
      the conflict between private urges and public needs.

  14. 32 aziz kassim 25 December 2011 at 11:47

    Nobody know who is racist, they hide their feelings. But by their actions and scants remarks, one can draws who is racists. I have staunch christians friends who is chinese but when come to races once in a while he splewed the hatreds, he taughts his chinese buddies shares his ugly remarks, but unfortunatly he got scolded from his own chinese freinds, I donot blame him for being racists, everbody is racists one way or the other and I thanks the goverment for having the ISD, I regret PAP chosen SHT, I found he is openly racist and no diplomacies and these is dangerous. Halimah yacob is doing good jobs but for the other 2 malays mps, I feel sad, they should have spoken out, instead, they are afraid of loosing their rice bowls, am I proud of these 2 male malay MPS, a big no! u got no prides.

    • 33 Poker Player 26 December 2011 at 14:54

      “I thanks the goverment for having the ISD”

      US citizens get to keep habeas corpus and Obama. Having the ISD around did Dhanabalan no good.

  15. 34 patriot 25 December 2011 at 11:54

    Well, as a ruling politician and one who had always leave Singaporeans with very negative impression, especially after he was set on fire, the responses on his remark, was only to be expected.
    There could also be a possibility that Seng Han Tong might have taken the advantage of someone remark to flavour it with his own agenda. Again, it is only fair to expect Seng HT to find whatever reason he could offer to mitigate whatever mistake and flaw that resulted/caused the breakdown and the failure in the follow-up measure. He might have the intention to appease the Public, he might also have the intention to exculpate those running the Transport System from their incompetency and negligence.

    At a personal level; Seng HT can hardly impress anyone in his command of inglis or even singlis, so for him to say other fellow Singaporeans of the same deficiency, is definitely going to invite rocks throwing at him AS HE WAS the One who had threw stone at others first. It is definitely not that Singaporeans like to flame(metaphorical) him, he seems to like attention and playing with fire.

    patriot

  16. 35 DetachedObserver 25 December 2011 at 15:49

    The more informed amongst us will realize race is nothing more than another form of group identity which all human beings desire and want.

    IMHO, one of the reasons why race continues to be a lightning rod issue in Singapore politics is because our leadership sets the tone for many socio-political issues along racial lines – even though would be more appropriate to classify into categories of poverty, national security, religious inequality, et, al.

    Ironically, whether it is it an outdated mode of thinking perpetuated by the influence and legacy of an octogenarian, it does not really matter in the political sphere since everyone else will continue to think along these lines. At least for the next decade or so till everyone realises its really more like segregation along wealth lines.

    As for MP Seng Han Thong, I generally have no comment. If he and the common rank and file PAP MP were chosen for their wit, intelligence or wisdom, the inner circle would not have set up the Administrative Service and they would not have allowed Miss. Tin to become a candidate.

  17. 36 George 26 December 2011 at 14:10

    Leuk75,

    Bilingualism, i.e. the way it is done here, is most definitely a big contribution to vary many Singaporeans’ inability to master a language adequately to ‘talk themselves out of a bag’ when the need arises – as on this occasion, and the mess we find ourselves in right now.

    Just the other day, I happened to read up about someone, a Welsh mezzo soprano, who had actually attended school to learn several European languages. My point is simply this: there are some who are naturally gifted, predisposed and motivated, call it what you will, to learn languages other than what they were ‘born’ with, and there are many (I would venture, the great majority) who are just not born with the flair for learning different languages and be EFFECTIVE in their use.

    You mentioned many Singaporeans, esp. the older generations who speak more than one language and several dialects, surely the operative word is their level of proficiency. What’s key here is the respective levels of effectiveness and proficiency in them.

    I can understand SHT’s pragmatic point about use of singlish or broken English (I think that was his point), but I cannot foresee the SMRT or the govt agreeing to this ( I may be wrong) since it would be like blowing our boast of a ‘world class’ mass rapid transport system to smithereens! But then again look at what can and did happen to a world class high speed train system in China – surely, a great lesson in how too much haste can result in less speed!

    Another reason, a big factor, why SHT’s idea is unworkable is the huge presence of foreigners in our midst, on the train, almost everywhere public, who are unlikely to have acquired any level of proficiency in singlish or our brand of broken English.

    Really, the right and proper thing for the SMRT and SBS to do is to train more if possible ALL of their station, control room and train staff members to communicate intelligibly and intelligently in all the four official languages as part of an enlarged service package. If they can plan, stage and practise emergency scenarios, no reason why they cannot include the necessary ‘speechware’ in the training package. It’s whether you want to or not !

    If anything, the incident has exposed a number of corners that have been cut by the SMRT to save cost at the expense of the long term serviceability and operation of the entire system and the safety and comfort of the commuting public.

    Perhaps, too, it is timely for the govt to dictate a limit to the dividend they may be paid to shareholders as this is after all a public service which has been privatized in the name of optimizing operational efficiency and flexibility and running and transport cost and NOT primarily to make profit for its own sake.

    When the stated policy is to discourage car ownership in favour of mass rapid transport then the commuting public’s experience on board our train and buses must be such that ‘even others talk about’ to quote an original SIA advert!

  18. 37 Thor 26 December 2011 at 14:54

    People must be held accountable for their actions and words. Especially when they are elected into office. I agree that racism in whatever form as cited by YW is not acceptable. But please be careful not to tell people how they should feel. Some of us live with racism everyday and are incensed by what he said. And when Shanmugam and Cherian defend SHT, their credibility as a minority representative and independent observer is diminished.

  19. 38 Singlish 28 December 2011 at 12:13

    Human is racist and human disapprove racism. Duh, argue over this.

    SHT made a racist remark from a non-racist remark by SMRT’s PR. Shouldn’t it be highlighted to Singaporean who didn’t see the Blog TV?

    Cherian is clearly marking a personal sh*t defense for SHT. YB, your last paragraph almost make the same mistake.

  20. 39 tinny bee 6 January 2012 at 15:07

    Laymen like us are more than fine to make jokes about ourselves. I poke fun of my own malay heritage, so does my chinese and indian friends. Its all just harmless good fun.

    However, same cannot be said for politicians whom we have always been told is creme de la creme. Especially when he’s a chinese with atrocious pronunciation.


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For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.

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