Archive Page 3

Saint Lee

They are wrong. The government is not considering a lèse majesté law. The Asian Correspondent used this term in its headline of 26 May 2015  for Carlton Tan’s opinion piece (A lèse majesté law for Singapore’s king, long live Lee Kuan Yew); The Online Citizen used it too in Tan Wah Piow’s piece of 28 May 2015 (Lèse majesté Singapore-style – the ultimate betrayal of the Singapore constitution). Continue reading ‘Saint Lee’

Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour


In a recent blogpost, Kenneth Jeyaretnam highlighted the imminent implementation of the Asean Agreement on the Movement of Natural Persons (MNP). He wrote:

While permanent rights to work in other member countries are excluded the fact that free movement is extended to Contractual Service Suppliers and Intra-Corporate Transferees means that the bar to stop businesses bringing in cheaper PMETs from other ASEAN countries is set very low.

The main text of this Agreement is not hard to find from the Asean website (but a key annex is missing). In its preamble, it gives a nod to “the mandate of the Asean Economic Community Blueprint” dating from 20 November 2007 wherein the “free flow of skilled labour is one of the core elements of an Asean single market and production base.” Continue reading ‘Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour’

Different because some people want us always to be the same

I have nothing new to say, because it is being said by — I am sure — thousands of people in Singapore. But I want to just add my voice to the chorus of boos.


Gaystarnews reported that  Jolin Tsai’s song We’re All Different, Yet The Same has been banned from the mainstream airwaves. “Singapore’s censorship board, the Media Development Authority, recently issued a document to all TV and radio stations banning the broadcast of the song, which it said promoted gay marriage and therefore contravened Singaporean law,” Gaystarnews wrote in its story dated 22 May 2015. Continue reading ‘Different because some people want us always to be the same’

Great Scott! This is what first-past-the-post does

pic_201505_10“SNP landslide” screamed the headlines the morning after the UK general election, held on 7 May 2015. Indeed, the Scottish National Party took 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. In the previous general election (2010) the SNP won just 6 seats.

The biggest loser was Labour. They had 41 of the 59 seats in the outgoing Parliament; it crashed to just one seat, retaining only Edinburgh South (red in the map). The Lib-Dems also crashed from 11 seats to one, holding only Orkney and Shetland (orange in the map). The Conservatives neither gained nor lost, keeping their one seat from 2010: Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (blue). Continue reading ‘Great Scott! This is what first-past-the-post does’

Rohingya refugee crisis: sea camps and economic sanctions needed

Screen grab from BBC video and story of 17 May 2015

Screen grab from BBC video and story of 17 May 2015

Unless Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have a change of mind, over the next few days as many as 8,000 people, adrift on boats in the Andaman Sea, will die. They are a mix of Rohingyas from Burma fleeing persecution and economic migrants from Bangladesh. They’ve been put on boats by human traffickers, but when Thailand started cracking down  — after discovering mass graves in Songkhla province — the traffickers have left the people en route on the water to fend for themselves.

There is no easy solution to refugee crises. But what is stopping Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia from doing the humanitarian thing — saving those on the high seas — is that governments seem unable to imagine even hard ones. I suspect they see no comprehensive solution that they can implement, and in the absence of that they are loath to encourage even more to come across the water by being kind to those who are now in peril. Continue reading ‘Rohingya refugee crisis: sea camps and economic sanctions needed’

Human-free space as proof of creative cultural development



Sometimes a post you see on Facebook is not the latest news. You’re momentarily fooled by it and you can embarrass yourself by reacting as if it was the latest happening. But that’s the beauty of the internet too. Nothing is forgotten. Gems from the past resurface. What you didn’t know before you know now.

And so it was with a Wall Street Journal blog titled Wozniak: Apple couldn’t emerge in Singapore. It was only after I had finished reading it, just as I was about to click away, that I noticed it was dated 15 December 2011. But no matter. What Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had to say is still very relevant.

“Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior is not tolerated [and] you are extremely punished” Mr. Wozniak said in a recent interview with the BBC. “Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great writers?”


Speaking specifically about Singapore, he said that though many people are educated with well-paid jobs and nice cars, “creative elements” in society seem to have disappeared.

Go read it and listen to the BBC interview

In the audio of the interview, Wozniak said innovative change happens when “big guys” are challenged. He spoke about the importance of “liberal counterculture thinking” and how “big guys that just want to crank the wheels and keep things running” must be contested by new ideas. Alluding to Singapore, he described a society where people are “taught this nationalism… not to think what’s right and wrong, but to take a side at an early age. That’s not lined up with creativity.”

“Thinking for yourself is creativity.”

In hallowed journalism style, reporters Shibani Mahtani and Sam Holmes included a response by Singapore officials to Wozniak’s comment.

Speaking about Internet innovation, Jayson Goh, Executive Director for Infocomms & Media at Singapore’s Economic Development Board, said he was happy that “many innovative Internet companies” had chosen Singapore as the focal point for their investment in Southeast Asia, specifically naming Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook.

“We will continue to work…to enhance the infrastructure to create a conducive environment for enterprises to provide innovative solutions,” Mr. Goh said.

Singapore actively encourages startups and entrepreneurship in the city-state. According to government statistics,  29,798 companies were formed in Singapore in 2010 across all sectors, a 13% increase from the previous year.

You can’t help but see Jayson Goh speaking from a (poorly-prepared) script. To start with, why give a number of new companies “across all sectors”? How many of these sell cupcakes, Hello Kitty cellphone jackets, or provide foot reflexology? There’s an awfully large number of such enterprises around town.

Secondly, how does the statistic of new companies incorporated address the question of culture and human talent (including artists and writers) that Wozniak was speaking about?

Thirdly and likewise, how does name-dropping big American companies as investors (“Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook”) address the same question? The reflexive reliance on inward investment by foreign companies only serves to indicate that we are still stuck in the Texas Instruments days — that’s 1969, when a huge song and dance was staged after this American company set up an electronics assembly plant in Singapore (Bendemeer Road, if I remember correctly) employing several hundred young adults (mostly women) doing repetitive menial work. Texas Instruments was high-tech in its day. But rolling out the red carpet for a high-tech investor is not the same thing as having your own citizens be the inventors and creators of original art and science.

More specifically, the WSJ blog mentions a particular investment by Google, positioned to sound like a rebuttal of Wozniak’s point. Whether it was Jayson Goh or some other source that pointed WSJ to this I cannot say (but knowing how these media responses work, you can probably allow that Jayson or another source from the Economic Development Board would have mentioned it as part of their comment). That investment was of a US$120 million data center.

Those two words ‘data center’ were what triggered this post. I had a vague idea what such a thing was. I promptly did a websearch and it more or less confirmed my mental picture of one. It’s typically a huge facility housing numerous servers and switches, backed up by reliable power supply and environmental systems. The top picture is of a data center by They are the workhorses of the internet age, the warehouses of the information goods that our age produces. They are not places where new information is made. Humans don’t figure very strongly in them, let alone innovative creative types.

How does Google building a data center in Singapore disproof Wozniak’s criticism? It does not. It is monumentally embarrassing that we can’t even provide intelligent responses. We read off a script that relies on an audience’s ignorance, conflating one with another: companies registered (cupcakes included) in answer to a question about brilliant inventors nurtured; human-free data centers in answer to a question about artists.

Worse yet, the pride we take in being able to attract foreigners and their money tells us we’re stuck in a groove. We can’t conceive of development any way other than having capitalist juggernauts roll over us.


Behind the brat looms an oppressor still


It’s a terrible pity that Amos Yee’s thoughtless, groundless and hurtful accusation against Vincent Law has taken centre-stage. Vincent had extended a magnanimous gesture of support when Amos needed a bailor. For the boy to make false accusations against him is completely inexcusable.

It’s a terrible pity because it distracts us from examining the political implications of the state laying charges against Amos in the first place. However, even though he has soiled whatever sympathy he deserved (from being a victim of the government’s panicked rush to slay him), we should still be able to put it aside and focus on what happened at the beginning.  Continue reading ‘Behind the brat looms an oppressor still’

Don’t smile at me: Culture conflict from immigration

A few doors away from my flat lives a family that hails from Tamil Nadu, India. There’s a man, his wife and two young daughters. He goes to work each day in industrial overalls, and my guess is that he is either an S-Pass or Employment Pass holder working for a process company in the Jurong area. The Mrs is a homemaker.

Their flat faces a common corridor shared by two others, both of which have Chinese-speaking locals staying in them. So from the first month this Indian family moved in, I felt I should go out of my way to be friendly. I never see the Chinese neighbours speak to them, or even greet them; language may be the barrier.

The man — he speaks English — returns my greeting. I can’t say I’ve gotten to know him, we just exchange hellos whenever we pass each other. But over the past year or so, I think I have made enough of an impression that should he ever need some assistance from a neighbour I believe he would feel that he could ask me.

With two young children and a husband coming home with soiled workclothes, the wife has a lot of laundry, and she uses the common corridor to dry them since the hot afternoon sun comes in that way.  I started off doing exactly the same as I practised with her husband: a smile, a hello, as I walk past, but I’m afraid, it has been a ‘culture shock’, perhaps both ways.

More than a year now, and she has never returned my greeting. At first I thought I was wrong to presume she knew any English, so I soon reduced it to a smile, and no words. Surely, that’s universal enough, no? But still she never smiled back. It wasn’t long before I realised that she doesn’t even make eye contact with me. Sometimes she just looks away and pretends to be busy. But more often than not, she scurries back into her flat when she sees me approaching from a distance. Her laundry would be half hung. More wet clothes would still be in the tub. Yet she would interrupt her work and duck quickly into her own doorway on sight of me. At first, I gave her the benefit of doubt: Oh, she needs to get more clothes pegs or that sort of thing, but after several such instances, I tell myself there has to be another reason.

Perhaps my body odour is intolerable, perhaps my smile just looks sick and predatory.

It gradually dawned on me that she was just uncomfortable, for cultural reasons, to be interacting in any way, however innocent, with a male stranger. To exchange greetings would be akin to speaking, and that was a great big no-no.

I was stressing her out by my insistence on being friendly.

Lately, I also began to notice how cultural habits are being passed down. At the beginning, the daughters were too young to play outside the flat, but now they’re a little older, they have tricycles and similar toys that require space and mobility. Occasionally I see them play in the corridor. But now I find that the girls are called in by their mother when I am within sight. The only times when they’re not called in are probably when the mother isn’t aware that I am passing through.

* * * * *

Earlier this year, friends and I (all Singaporeans) spent a weekend in a condo apartment in Kuala Lumpur. It being Chinese New Year, the kitchen was soon full to overflowing with food. As we were not staying for more than a few days and the apartment would be empty when we left, we just had to get rid of all the food, and fast.

One member of our group suggested we give it to the condo security guards.

“No, don’t,” I advised.

“Why not?”

“What we have is not halal,” I reminded him. “The guards look Malay to me. This is Malaysia and the sensitivity threshold is probably lower than in Singapore. We should not risk causing offence.”

* * * * *

I would situate at least the first tale, if not the second, within the larger issue of neighbourliness and integration of new migrants. Much is made of how we should make extra efforts at getting to know our neighbours and making new arrivals feel welcome. There is certainly undeniable value in not being total strangers to people who are next door, though on this topic too, the government’s propaganda machine has made a social good into another toxic commandment, just begging for resistance. But, leaving aside this propaganda contamination, the point that might be worth considering is how even “neighbourliness” comes with cultural assumptions.

What is friendly behaviour in one cultural context is imposition and intrusion in another. The sharing of food, so often used to cement social bonds in certain cultures, not least the Chinese, and so regularly celebrated by American television and films — new arrivals in a neighbourhood are welcomed by showing up at their door, quite often with a pie in hand — can be explosive.

Integration, despite the best of intentions, can be minefield. And a moment’s thought will tell us why: it calls for a modulation of one’s cultural norms in order to accommodate the outsider. There are very few behaviours that have exactly the same meaning in different cultures. If we use our usual behaviour unthinkingly, what may to us be a welcoming gesture may be awfully misinterpreted.

But then it raises the question: If we want to integrate new arrivals in our midst, should it be the new arrivals who should re-organise their cultural habits to “fit in”, or should Singaporeans too change our cultural habits to accommodate them?

Should I persist in greeting and smiling at the wife? Or should I go easy on her and ignore her, the way her culture expects me to behave? It seems to me that the latter would probably be her preferred solution, but would you then accuse me of surrendering Singapore to the foreign hordes?



In the real Singapore, MDA is the greater evil


The 3 May 2015 statement by the Media Development Authority (MDA) regarding the website (“TRS”) liberally uses words like “fabricated”, “false” and “deceiving readers” without providing any evidence what these instances were. It also accused the editors of “doctoring articles”. I’m not sure what this means. In fact, I am very concerned that any kind of editing could be cast as “doctoring” if the MDA so wishes.  Continue reading ‘In the real Singapore, MDA is the greater evil’

The reporters who wouldn’t let me ignore the Funeral

Enough time has passed since the Funeral for me to write about the whirlwind of media enquiries during that period. Virtually all the enquiries came from Western media, though a Hong Kong newspaper was an exception.

The initial thrust of questions posed to me was somewhat dismaying. Largely, they took this form: Now that Lee Kuan Yew is dead, what are the prospects of liberalisation in Singapore? It was dismaying because it revealed a tendency to see Singapore politics through just one personality. No doubt he was a dominant personality in the 1970s and 1980s, but he had gradually receded, and after the rebuff by Aljunied voters in the 2011 election – when despite his threats, they voted out the People’s Action Party candidates – he seemed to have gone into a sour sulk. Continue reading ‘The reporters who wouldn’t let me ignore the Funeral’

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




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