I was reading the Christmas bonus issue of the Economist on the plane home and an article about the French got me thinking. The magazine described the sense of malaise, ennui and negativity that pervades the French people. Everybody was fashionably downcast it seemed. I couldn’t tell whether the magazine was taking the mickey out of the French or dead serious. After all, the headline was Bleak is chic. It coined a new word: “ miserablism’’.
I wondered if some phrase or word would fit Singapore’s sense and sensibility in the year 2013. After an intensely intellectual conversation with my brother, we declared that the right word/s were buay song. The year of discontent? Naah. Too cheem. Just buay song.
Singaporeans seem very buay song over everything this year. What is it? A simmering resentment? A mass of confusion? Too many things happening in this country? Too many voices competing for attention? Disillusionment with the present? Discouraged about the future?
The year opened with the hated 6.9million population figure and unprecedented protests as people tried to wrap their heads over how to fit the figure here. Everything that was bottled up boiled over. Resentment over crowded infrastructure, rising car and property prices and the sneaking feeling that foreigners here were eating our lunch instead of helping us make it.
Other sneaking feelings: That the elites were perpetuating themselves and their progeny through the education system’’; That somebody somewhere was getting ahead of the individual-me – unfairly – in the meritocratic system; That we actually have poor people.
Telco and transport glitches didn’t help. Neither did the visit of the haze. No wonder tempers frayed. Suddenly it seemed that wonderfully efficient Singapore was breaking down although frankly, we couldn’t have done anything about the haze except distribute masks.
If we thought having an unprecedented illegal strike by the Chinese bus drivers last year was a shock to the Singapore system, the Little India riot shook us to the core. Foreign imports bring more than just bodies to the economy. These are people schooled and acculturated differently in their home countries. They didn’t belong here.
Then there was the mechanism that threaded everything. And for the first time, it wasn’t the G. It was social media or variously described as the Internet beast. It had a presence in everything. It initiated. It rejoiced. It informed. It thrashed, amplified and distorted. It did both good and bad. For the voiceless or those too scared to put up their hand, it was a release valve allowing for ventilation and vitriol. For those with opinions, it was space for both cranks and geniuses.
It was also a place for the buay song to kpkb as the PM so eloquently put it. But I daresay that other non social media users felt pretty buay song too. Of course, now you will ask for evidence. I don’t have any although the G will probably have plenty of surveys that say differently. If there is a “buay song’’ result, I wouldn’t make it public if I were the G. In fact, the common retort is that the buay song quotient on the Net is no reflection of offline sentiment. I am not so sure.
It was also a year that the G moved fast. More flats. New rules on lending, transport fares. Changes to Primary One registration. Embarking on a scheme of universal health insurance although that is what it would not choose to call it. And of course, clumsily patching together rules to regulate online conduct if not content.
The poor G is in a conundrum – if it gives in, it is accused of pandering; if it doesn’t, it is accused of being arrogant.
Should we really have been so buay song in the past year? There are bright spots and things to look forward to after all, like the Sports Hub’s completion and the URA Masterplan which evoked a grand vision for Singapore. There was one big bright moment methinks, such as the Our Singapore Conversation. We discussed the trade-offs we have to make to move ahead from the status quo. There is the promise that conclusions will be incorporated into policy. We have seen a couple – a move to the left on welfare and a nuanced notion of meritocracy.
Even then, it is in the Singapore nature to whine. Still very buay song.
You would have expected the opposition to capitalise on the buay song-ness of Singaporeans especially since it won the Punggol East byelection but the Workers’ Party has been a damp squip. Other parties are relegated to online statements and forums although this probably more activity than we have seen in a long time from them. Not just at the G, plenty of people are buay song about the opposition too.
It looked like everything went wrong in 2013 and needed patching. Did it?
I have just come back from Lombok, a thoroughly laid back place where the Ferrari is a horse and carriage. I was thinking it was not a bad place to spend a month out of every year just vegetating. Then again, I can afford to do that because I am a middle class Singaporean holding on to a strong currency. A beneficiary of a system (now broke?) that allows me to even consider something like that.
At Changi, I get a thrill when the immigration check-in machine welcomes me home by name. I hear Singaporean voices. I see the Christmas decorations lining the route to and from the airport. I marvel at the green spaces and parks I pass by, the tall HDB buildings and the hustle and bustle of people and cars.
Of course, I also read about the jams on the MCE. And people unhappy with the DNC exemption moves. And I think to myself, if this is all the news there is in Singapore, the place can’t be too bad.
Perhaps, we have unreasonable expectations of ourselves and everyone else. We want improvements by leaps and bounds. We want First World comfort at Third World prices. We want a say and don’t like being contradicted, especially by the G. Maybe we’re just unreasonable people.
Or maybe I’m the unreasonable one. Just buay song.
In any case, I am glad to see the back of 2013. Happy New Year everyone!