lundi, août 31, 2009

Lotus and Singapore Musings

Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

I was home for our 44th National Day this year - but didn't get to watch the parade. Hub couldn't seem to understand why anybody would want to watch a parade (especially on TV) and insisted that we dine out and then hunt for Eldest Son's ipod in Orchard Road that evening. Still, at 8:22pm I recited the Pledge aloud while waiting for the MRT at Serangoon MRT station - and was the only one to do so between the Circle Line tracks.

Should I feel embarassed? Yes, but not for myself. I was pissed off that those people young and old waiting for their trains just went on like nothing was happening. If they wouldn't recite the pledge in public, they could at least just drop whatever they were doing and listen it out.

I for one was glad not to have to recite the pledge everyday when I left JC. But I welcome the opportunity to do so on the 9th of August at 8:22pm knowing that I would be doing so with so many other Singaporeans at home and abroad. It made us look like Communists (according to some Foreigners) but then if you think about it, Singapore was part of Socialist International till 1976 and had resigned before it could be expelled. Since then it has pursued Socialism albeit the Singapore way at the same time as what looked like free-market economic policies - creating a wealthy capitalist state with weirdly socialist preoccupations like free public schools, subsidised public housing, healthcare etc.

I read this as uniquely Singaporean practical idealism. It churns out a practical materialistic society with strangely idealistic goals (e.g. "good" society, family values, meritocracy etc). The Pledge is a reflection of our ideals (e.g. united people, democratic society, justice, equality...), while the slow progress towards its attainment could be due to our very practical way of doing things (or some would argue that it was the Government's fault, whose else?). And like every relationship in life, be it with family, friends, spouses or even neighbours - one has to keep working on it and never take anything for granted. This call to pledge was a wake-up call for me and if there were people who bothered to organise it (whatever their reasons), I was happy to meet them half-way.

Is Singapore a nation yet? I don't really know, but I have always felt myself to be Singaporean first and Chinese second. And I do not refer to myself as an Overseas Chinese - but as an Overseas Singaporean. I am all for the liberation of Tibet and am disappointed that Hong Kong didn't become independent like us. But I am also proud of my Chinese roots and am sorry that I have not paid more attention to the language or culture.

When I arrived at Changi Airport, the Malay immigration officer told me that she felt like a 2nd-class citizen in her own country. I have noticed myself that in the past decade, the number of Mainland Chinese in the country has increased significantly. And while they filled in many positions that needed to be filled, they also deflate the already low wages in certain sectors making it difficult for Singaporeans who remain in those jobs. And not many of them actually integrate nor could really speak English. I was told that even in the SSAF they have their own Chinese company since they could not understand Hokkien or Singlish. LOL

On a personal level I shouldn't have any problems with them since I am fluent in Mandarin. But still, on a few occasions I actually was quite irritated. For example, I went to this Japanese Foodcourt at Tampines Mall and tried to order Japanese Rice with Curry - in English. The guy cooking and taking orders looked at me and said in Mandarin, "Please speak Mandarin." I started apologizing and then with a shock wondered why I did so. In Paris you wouldn't ask the French to speak African, would you?

Similarly, I was at Bedok Reservoir and stopped a lady to ask for a bus to Tampines. I started speaking and then she told me she couldn't understand me. I had to speak Mandarin. Same story at Orchid Country Club, the pool cleaner couldn't understand English! I also felt that it's not so shiok speaking to a Chinese person who couldn't understand Cantonese or Hokkien. But that's just me.

Still, being a descendant of Chinese migrants myself I suppose I should be more understanding and tolerant towards the new migrants. And perhaps it would be more important for existing Singaporeans to cultivate more graciousness instead of worrying about the new migrants and whether we need them or not. It has come to my attention that some Singaporeans were making noise about maids using the pools at condominiums and country clubs and how that would reduce the exclusivity of such places. I find it embarassing that people should even harbour such thoughts. Aren't maids human beings? Are they not entitled to leisure or pleasure too? If they live and work in the condos, I do not see why they shouldn't be allowed to use the pool like everyone else - as long as they do not bring in their own guests (since they didn't pay for the conservancy charges etc). Some Singaporeans are starting to give themselves self-importance in the wrongest domains and losing sight of the things that make us human - compassion being one of them.

I was also thinking that we seem to be moving away from a generation of elites who grew up from among the population to a generation of elites who probably sprouted from the present or last generation of elites. The top-down governance that Singapore has often been criticised for would surely be accentuated in the future. Ironically our meritocratic system, the constant streaming at schools etc could create a blatant chasm between those who have academic ability and those who don't - and decide early on who may succeed and who may not in the mainstream. In the last trip, I was quite surprised to discover a whole population of Bengs and Lians "hiding" in the neighbourhoods. I grew up in a neighbourhood myself - but was lifted out of the popular culture by education. And for some reason assumed that they (i.e. the Bengs) would one day cease to exist.

The musical about money

Finally, I went to the Esplanade Theatre to catch the Sing Dollar musical. I love the durian architecture (though I can't stand the fruit) and was impressed with the all boys group singing a cappella in the main hall before the show. Critics claim that like everything else in Singapore, the Arts scene is staid and boring - but I say that given our late start and multi-culturalism (neither here nor there), we're not doing too badly. In any case I love Kumar (next time I must catch his one-man show at the 3 Monkeys) and the trio who make up the Tim Sum Dollies, though I wish this musical didn't have so many...songs. I would have preferred more sketches.

Emerald Place

I have visited the new Ion Orchard (do we need another mall?), took pictures at Emerald Hill (me too I'm into Peranakan nowadays) and shopped. I went to a few Temples with mom and renewed myself with rites I took for granted when I was a child. Now that my parents are ageing, I wanted to find out what they would like me and my siblings to do for them when they leave this world.

Singapore Buddhist Lodge (free vegetarian food everyday for all)

Tai Pek Yun - opposite my Primary School housing today the Indian International School

Going back to Singapore gets more and more difficult over the years. It's not just the increasing financial cost, but the heavier heart with which I find my country - knowing that I have been and am missing out so much on my parents, siblings and their children; knowing that I am increasingly out of touch with things happening in Singapore; knowing that my children will be further away from Singapore the older we become and I daresay that Singapore's refusal to allow children born out of 2 cultures to embrace dual nationalities is a contributing factor. If a couple separate, do their kids really have to choose between them? If you are made up of 2 nationalities, will choosing one of them on paper allow you to ignore your other half? I am so Singaporean but I cannot encourage my children to be like me - knowing that they would not be able to keep both nationalities (and they have always lived in Europe). I would have encouraged my sons to serve NS if they could keep both nationalities and this could open up opportunities for them to choose Singapore as their home one day even if until now because of their father they couldn't do so. Why spend so much money trying to get Overseas Singaporeans to return - when right from the beginning options for our mixed blood descendants are closed?

My new Ferragamo sandals

My dad would say in Cantonese now that I'm "spouting Jesus". It suddenly occurred to me when I was waiting for a bus with my parents last week that for the longest time, the Cantonese have always used that to describe someone who is longwinded. Haha, the proselyting Protestants have been part of our local landscape for much longer than I could even remember!

Majullah Singapura! I wish all Singaporeans and those who love us lots of happiness, prosperity and progress in the years to come.

7 commentaires:

Dutchess a dit…

I love your new sandals! They are so pretty and elegant. Sorry, you made a serious blog entry and all I can comment about is you shoe photo. *blush*

But for the record, I completely hear you. And while we are now back in Singapore for the time being, for some reason, I still feel myself a visitor, on the outside looking in.

Beau Lotus a dit…

It's OK, put up the pic for you actually. I was going for the fuschia then I tried this on and thought it looked nicer and more class. Wanted your opinion.

We are lucky, we have both views, and all the richer for that.

Anonyme a dit…

Like you, I see myself as Singaporean first and then Chinese. But proud of my Chinese roots all the same.

Of late, I realise not many Singaporeans are able to relate to their chinese roots which I find a pity.

Because I strongly believe we should not forget where we come from.

So thanks for this post. Now I know I am not alone. :)

Anonyme a dit…

Lotus

Despite your humble murmurs about yr sociopolitical commentaries, I find those pieces very insightful, well thought out and no, you have not lost yr momo. You got Spore's socio-politics right down pat, extremely spot on!

OK, please forgive me if you want to scold or hit me, virtual one that is. But, moi here does not believe in saying the pledge out loud just becos govt asked you to do so. The govt has thru all the decades force fed us the way they want us to think that we have switched off & become indifferent & for some defiant. Many issues have led to these, just one that pops up randomly is the blatant lie about how well our town councils are managed. What BS! Several town councils lost an amazing amt of money, it needed the bloggers to come out & hit them hard before they responded with a revamped style of reporting. Go figure! Also I share the same sentiments as Alex Au who is a famous sociopolitical blogger, his site yawningbread org, has an article detailing why the govt should limit their propaganda & let the citizens respond intuitively instead, its somewhere in the late April/early May archive this year when Alex Au was comparing the AWARE incident & how citizens responded heartily without anyone pushing them to do so.

As for dual citizenship, its a grey area where the govt has not said an infinite no or yes. My take on this is a yes but somewhere down the line between 5 to 10 years time. They cannot say no forever where dual citizenship is the norm rather than the exception. They might want to use an EU country, Austria, as an example where I read somewhere that dual citizenship is granted on a case by case basis.

As for NS, I think it needs a major overhaul. As a female, I think its lagging behind in what other countries are doing. Take Taiwan for eg, its going for a regular armed forces while loosening the NS criteria by shortening it, currently one year to be reduced again & then phased out, I think while relying on regular army. I feel that our NS is way too long, 2 miserable years, have seen family folks, colleagues, friends perpetually grumbling. Ideally should be cut down to 6 months to 1 year. All our male citizens lose out to PRs & those on employment pass & that sense of economic loss is acutely felt by the Spore male citizens. Also the dreaded IPPT for reservist, I personally know of friends whose husbands have no intention of returning to Spore while working overseas in China & USA till they are at 40 & above to avoid IPPT.

Contin'd below........

Anonyme a dit…

Part 2:

Next up, the PRCs. I feel very sorry for my fellow Malay & Indian citizens. Cos I have witnessed this incident myself at the supermarket. The govt here is an absolute hypocrite & this account will show you why. I was at Fairprice supermarket one afternoon. Mind you, I live in a predominantly Malay neighbourhood. A Malay woman approached a ethnic Chinese staff, then later realized that she could not respond to her in English. I was standing close by so I told her where the confectioners sugar was located cos the dumbfounded PRC could not understand her nor do I know how to translate confectioners sugar to Mandarin. I walked the Malay woman to the sugar section & showed her exactly where it was. She was gracious & thanked me. But you could see her dismay upon finding out that she was talking to a PRC in a Malay neighbourhood!

Yes, as an ethnic Chinese I do have a limited Mandarin vocab. But English must remain as our lingua franca. Despite what the govt says that more jobs should go to Spore citizens etc. & NTUC being an offshoot of the govt's mouthpiece also sings to the same tune can churn out PRCs in their Fairprice supermarkets. Hypocrisy in motion & live action for the Malay folks to see!

I was eagerly awaiting for GE but it never came. My ward is frequently contested. I just hope the folks here & elsewhere please wake up to see what's happening around them with big eyes. You need only look at the recent Japan election to see how jaded the populace has become after about 50 years of rule by the LDP.

OK, long rant, perhaps you have switched off earlier in my piece/rant. My apologies for going so long.

Beau Lotus a dit…

Hi Anon, thanks for ranting, it's free on blogger anyway :-).

I've always maintained that everyone is free to think or say whatever he wants - as long as he stands by and can live with it. And as long as he doesn't force others to agree with him or insult those who don't.

I will say the pledge out loud if I feel like doing it and will not stop doing so just because the govt asked me to do it. I do not cut off my nose to spite my face. My dad was telling me about how most of our neighbours wouldn't hang out the flag because they were anti-govt. I feel sorry for them - because they could not make a difference between govt and country.

Propaganda and socialisation are part of organised living. No matter what your agenda or political/economic/religious etc platform, you will resort to propaganda. It is not just our govt doing it, even food, fashion, product advertising is rich in propaganda of sorts. It is all about communicating in order to influence for a certain cause or position.

Some people are more susceptible than others to propaganda, we often chose to believe what we want to believe. So if you ask me, it's all in the level of education, openmindedness and ability to think, weigh and decide for oneself. Which is why it often helps to travel, read and compare.

And contrary to what people believe, propaganda often creates knee-jerk reactions. It appeals to emotions rather than rationality. So if you have a better educated and well-travelled population, propaganda will probably not achieve uniform results within the same community.

Personally, if something is wrong, I would rant in private (including on my blog) but would attempt to deal with the problem in a civilised and rational way. This should be the behaviour of a civilised society. I wouldn't trust my intuition in everything, because intuition is not reason, and especially not in something that would affect many other people.

The govt needs some reigning in, some reminder to wisen up, some warning that we are keeping an eye on it. But it is not screaming or bashing or kicking out at it in a fit of tantrum that would set things to right. We will never get rid of our patriachial system if we couldn't show those up there that we've grown up or are ready to do so - whether they are ready to let go or not.

For NS, it has been a symbolic thing, a manhood story. The timing will have to be adjusted according to perception of need and reality. France, Taiwan etc who have phased out or are phasing out NS are older countries. I am sure it'll come the time when adjustments will be made chez nous too. My son may face NS though he will be renouncing his Sgp citizenship. I will not ask him to avoid it - it is not the way we do things in this family. Those people you know who are staying away to avoid reservist - if they don't manifest, nobody will know, what ends would that achieve? It's like being angry in your own corner - doesn't affect your subject if he doesn't know about it.

Yes, I feel awkward for our fellow non-Chinese citizens like you. I guess we'll have to be more on the lookout to see how we could right the situation - at the same time hope that employers and the new migrants themselves can be brought to realise the situation and be trained to do something about it.

Though I am not sure that setting racial quotas for positions according to neighbourhood would be ideal. We are a meritocratic society. In a situation where a Chinese employee failed to help out a Malay resident, he should seek to consciously improve his English, pick up some Malay vocab. And the employer should make sure that this won't happen again. And you could also try to improve your Mandarin, integration comes after adaptation and is a 2-way process. To help the new migrants do that, we must help them along too.

At the end of the day, I am out of touch with things happening in Singapore and am not sure that I'm in any position to say anything - except rant.

Anonyme a dit…

Lotus,

Beautiful piece to my rant.)))

Still one of my best bloggers to date!