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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

The Slap

In News Reports, Society on May 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

So many views have emerged over the slapping of Amos Yee that you can’t say a thing about it without someone emerging to… slap you down.

In case you didn’t know, Amos breached his bail conditions by posting online again complaining about his bail conditions and describing how his father had hit him, especially when he wanted to go to court in his pyjamas. His well-meaning bailor who put up $20,000, a stranger to him, pulled out because Amos wouldn’t abide by bail conditions. Then another stranger turned up in court yesterday to slap him in front of the media.

I’m summarizing the range of views here and my apologies if I left out any strand of thought

a. Those who clapped loudly along with the slap thinking that it’s about time the boy got his comeuppance. After all, he is undeniably rude and abusive and has no qualms about spreading his vitriol in public.

b.  Those who clapped quietly because it’s not right to condone violence on others and agree that the stranger shouldn’t have taken matters into his own hands. But they’re still gleeful that he did what they have an urge to do themselves if they could or had the guts to.

c. Those who say the stranger shouldn’t have done what he did because it’s just plain wrong. And have no views (I don’t know how it is possible to stop the brain from going there) on whether Amos deserved one tight slap or not.

d. Those who say that those who clap loudly or quietly are wrong because they are really piling on a troubled kid who just might have been abused at home by his father whom he himself described as a “killer’’ and a “bastard’’.

e. Those who say that the stranger was merely doing what his parents should have done (but of course the stranger is wrong), although they don’t know what the parents have done over Amos’ formative years.

f. Those who say that violence on others, whether by strangers or relatives, cannot be condoned. They do not subscribe to the “spare the rod, spoil the child’’ type of upbringing which they say is old-fashioned and out-dated thinking. Besides, it’s also cruel.

g. Those who think everybody should shut up especially if they are not child psychiatrists, do not know Amos or his family and, oh yeah, because the case is before the courts.

h. Those who heap abuse on anyone who differs with them, indulging in ad hominem attacks and engaging in vocabulary almost close to Amos’ quality.

i. Then they are those who conflate the slap with a whole host of other issues surrounding Amos, such as whether a 16 year old should be tried in an adult court, whether the Sedition Act is too heavy for what he did, whether he was being prosecuted more for his anti-LKY rants rather than seditious remarks on religion, why others who attacked him aren’t also being prosecuted….you name it, you can attach a whole lot of issues to Amos.

Before anyone asks, I belong to group b. I got vicarious pleasure from seeing the slap administered. But that is about as far as I would go. We all refrain from acting from basic/base instincts because we’re civilized people who abide by the rules of society and by the law. My regret is that no member of the media or any cop collared the stranger to find out who is he, why he did what he did, and to throw the book at him for executing some version of “mob justice’’.

I know I will be attacked by those who disagree with my group b choice and will call me all sorts of names and declare their “disappointment’’ ecetera. I suppose I can be politically correct – and keep quiet. I wanted to be, because I think that’s what Amos wants – the glory of public comment/interest. And I didn’t want to give him that. Besides, silence is great no? You can’t get into trouble for shutting up. Or if you want to say something you know will get you attacked, you use a pseudonym or set up a fake account or something. But that would be cowardly. So, by that measure, Amos is a hero for saying what he did online so openly….

The Amos issue excites comments because it touches on the law (why the Sedition Act?), court processes (strange bail conditions), freedom of speech (is this more about the anti-LKY rant?), upbringing (unresolved teen issues?), family circumstances (too lax/tight?) and yes, even child/teen abuse whether at the hands of parents, strangers or the State. All of us think we know a bit of the different facets and even have some pretty firm views on parenting styles.

Parents look at Amos and wonder if they are keeping a tight enough rein on what their kids do online. They will put themselves in his parents’ shoes and wonder about how the Yees brought him up, whether he was simply beyond their control – and thank their lucky stars that their own children are well-behaved, or so they think. There will always be an element of self-righteousness and even hypocrisy because we do NOT know his family background and we’re NOT child psychiatrists – but we think we know it all. The thing is, you can’t stop people from having a view, at least, over his public actions.

Likewise, we are all products of our own upbringing and know of people who turned out well or not, because or despite of family circumstances. So we base our judgments on our own experience and anecdotal evidence. To each his own view, I say. We can agree to disagree on any aspect but I think we must and should agree that the stranger was in the wrong to slap him if we are to live in a society based on law and order. And we must and should let the courts proceed with its case without anyone on the outside prejudicing the process or hoping to influence the outcome.

BTW. The Slap is the title of a 2008 novel by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas. At a barbecue, a man slaps his neighbour’s son, who has been misbehaving without any intervention by his parents. Plenty of drama after that. Some characters believe the boy should be taught some discipline, others think the police ought to be brought in to investigate the slapper. And there’s a range of positions in between. Very good book.

* my apologies. He is being prosecuted under the Penal Code

Bully – and risk being bullied

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 22, 2015 at 2:54 am

I am so glad that IKEA did not change its mind about sponsoring pastor Lawrence Khong’s magic show despite the objections of the LGBT community. I am also pleased that the pastor has NOT said anything. If he did, there would never be an end to the fracas….

I looked at the protests about the show which basically centred on Mr Khong’s uncompromising public attitude towards those of a different sexual orientation. Like many, I wondered what his magic show had to do with his views, unless he chooses to use it as a platform to “convert’’ others to his point of view through some magical brainwashing technique. Or maybe his magic show is so bad that IKEA should be ashamed to support it.

I guess it was not so much Mr Khong’s show as the fact that it was a Swedish store that was involved. Sheesh! The Swedes support Lawrence Khong? How can? Shouldn’t it be more “inclusive’’ and embrace diversity? Aiyoh…this company from a wonderfully advanced country doing this?! How can?

Actually, the LGBT lobby shot itself in the foot by talking about diversity. IKEA made a pointed reference to its support of the Wild Rice production of Public Enemy, helmed by a prominent gay man, Mr Ivan Heng. It looks as though IKEA had been rather even-handed in its choice of activities and organisations to support.

It is normal for consumers to put pressure on corporations because of their perceived failings. Boycotting those who use child labour to produce their products, for example. Here, there was even an abortive attempt to not buy palm oil during the height of the haze to hurt unscrupulous plantation owners who use slash-and-burn techniques to clear land in Indonesia. Whether companies succumb depend on how much they value their reputation and whether they can withstand the effects of a boycott.

In this case, IKEA incorporated Mr Khong’s magic show as part of its loyalty programme of discounted rates for members. That, it seems, is enough to rile the LGBT activists who show themselves to be as intolerant of other people’s views as they say other people are of theirs. Does the community intend to hound Mr Khong’s magic show wherever he goes – and will corporate sponsors pull back because they don’t want any heat from the vocal lobby? Will the lobby claim victory then, never mind that it acquires an image of being strident and, hmmm, intolerant?

There’s another point which the community should consider. If the boot was on the other foot and the pro-traditional family lobby comes out in force to do the same, what would it do for its cause of getting the community recognized as part of the mainstream? What if, for example, the members of the lobby decide to boycott all the organisations who sponsor the annual Pink Dot? Would the LGBT lobby then start denouncing them as intolerant homophobes? Even worse, what if they start petitioning the civil service not to hire gays, because their employment runs contrary to the State’s pro-traditional family stance?  In the case of IKEA, what if the pro-Lawrence Khong supporters and traditional family groups decide to boycott the store BECAUSE it sponsors Mr Heng’s play or pulls Mr Khong’s show?

There is some wisdom in the official advice to not to take things too far or to push too hard. The Pink Dot organisers have been superb at keeping its event low-profile; they can’t help it if more and more people converge on Hong Lim Park. Still, the ever-growing crowd has already prompted a backlash with the Wear White campaign last year.

Never mind the LGBT numbers here, no one will say that they are in the majority. Yet there are many people who emphatise with the LGBT community and wish the members well. They are not anti-gay and go about their business quietly. Bullying tactics, however, will make them sit up and take sides. Might it not be better to let things happen naturally than start a culture war?

This is not to say that the LGBT lobby should shut up and sit down. It should not tolerate discriminatory acts against one of its members, such as employment termination because of sexual orientation. It should raise an outcry if, say, a homophobic play is put up for audiences – although I think the censors would get to it first. It will find many supporters if it works for the well-being of its members rather than push its agenda on others who might not be ready for it.

Bullying won’t work – or there will be bullying back. How is this good for anyone?

Teaching kids about cheating.

In News Reports, Society on April 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

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Ex-journalist/blogger/university lecturer available for homework-completion projects. Fees will start at $200 an hour, and will vary according to degree of difficulty and immediacy of assignment. For “immediate’’ assignments that must “pass up tomorrow’’, tutor will require transport allowance to and from clients’ home with surcharges levied for work done after midnight (tutor’s surcharge not just taxi midnight surcharge).

Only parents with above-average children may apply. And that means anyone because I’m sure every parent thinks his/her child is exceptional.

You know, I think I can make heckuva lot of money offering my services this way. I think I will be especially good for “project work’’ assignments and long-winded essays. Anything to do with General Paper, I also can do. In fact, I don’t even mind completing homework assigned by kindergarten teachers. I like colouring.

What makes this a more attractive job than plain vanilla tutor: You can do the work at your own time, like a freelance writer with a deadline, and you won’t have to deal with pesky kids or have their kiasu parents wondering if boy-boy or girl-girl has really, really improved and can score A or not…

Anyway, The New Paper on Sunday reports that this is a new business that our education system has generated. What a wonderful revenue stream for teachers, ex-teachers and those who think they can be teachers but don’t want to be! One teacher who charges $250 an hour says he makes 75 per cent of his monthly salary this way. If he abides by the Education ministry’s a 6-hour-a-week maximum guideline for private tuition, he can make a maximum of $6,000 a month. Sounds good…

Are many parents availing themselves of people like him? The TNP report has three parents doing so, including one who said she sets aside $800 a month for such special services.

The reasons:

  1. Too much homework, CCAs and the poor kid doesn’t have time to rest.
  2. It’s only for unnecessary or superfluous homework which does help in final grades, that is, not core subjects.

TNPS backed up its story by referring to another in 2012, when it interviewed 80 parents who sent their children to “elite’’ tuition centres. Close to half “had hired or would hire’’ tutors to finish their children’s homework. In fact, one parent hired such a tutor to finish her 14 year old’s tuition centre assignments. She reckoned that since she waited a year to get her daughter into the centre, it would be a waste for her to give up the spot just because of unfinished work. (Makes me wonder if the tuition centre boots out kids who can’t finish homework assigned…got such a thing ah?)

TNPS also said it had come across websites which offer such services including a group that says it would complete projects, essays, reports and homework at a cost – even for undergraduates. The company has a no-questions-asked policy: “Whatever their reasons are, we do the work for them because we get paid to do so. We cater to that demand and we do a fantastic job.’’  So said its spokesman.

To think that we have been grumbling about the $1billion tuition industry, un-tutored tutors preying on parents and kiasu parents loading more classes on their already-gifted kids just so as to ensure they stay ahead or keep up with the pack. That the issue has been raised to a national level with tuition centres requiring registration and even accreditation.

You can’t help but think parents are going nuts…

Nutty parent 1: “Of course I’m going nuts! It’s the education system that is making me nuts! My kid will go nuts too if you see how much homework the teachers give! Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of “homework policy’’ so we don’t stress the kids out, like how many hours of homework a week?’’

Nutty parent 2: “There’s nothing nutty about this. If my kid cannot finish his homework, he will be penalized and it will make him look bad in class. I don’t want to destroy his self-esteem. How his classmates cope? I don’t know. I guess they just don’t get much sleep. I just think that as a responsible parent, I should help him out. Especially since I can afford it.”

Nutty parent 3: “What monkey business? In any case, it’s only “stupid’’ homework which I don’t think is going to affect his exam scores very much…so that’s okay. The teacher won’t know anyway since everything is typed. I would have helped my own kid out if I could, but I am just too busy. The homework also sometimes quite hard…’’

I’m sure everyone has a point of view on this matter. Teachers, for example, will tell of parents who complain if their children get too little homework. Or that the parents/students do not know how to manage their time. Or explain that parents these days just want their kids to do “well’’, even if that means the work has to be done by other people, in other words, they cheat.

That’s right. It’s cheating.

And it’s a shame if parents and homework completors (especially if they are teachers) do not see it this way but choose to dress this up as a transaction or some kind of parental aid for a poor, burdened kid.

Was it so long ago that students were warned about having “other people do their homework’’? Isn’t it better not to complete the homework or to tell teacher “cannot pass up on time’’ than having a beautiful piece of work that is really a con? Or would teachers flip at such responses and prefer to be lied to?

I wonder what such “protected’’ students will say to their classmates: “Heng ah…last night, my dad got so-and-so to come to my house at midnight to finish this homework…Yours how? Finish already? Not yet? You poor thing…Your daddy no money to hire someone ah…”

I don’t want to tell parents about how to bring up their children. It’s not my place to do so. I’m quite sure a lot of the responses will have to do with this onerous education system we have and terrible teachers. All I can say is: I wonder why people don’t deal with the issue by simply bringing it up to the people in a position to change things. What has happened to parent-teacher meetings? Where is the school board/advisory committee/alumni? Can’t the parents – if they are REALLY concerned – make an effort to reach the school principal?

Why throw money at a problem when it is possible to make the problem go away? If fact, why compound the problem by throwing money at it?

Honouring LKY

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 11, 2015 at 2:57 am

On Monday, some very important questions will be asked about how we should honour the memory of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Now, I am NOT being sarcastic because I DO think something should be done to keep him or at least his thoughts alive beyond merely ensuring re-prints of all his books. So the MPs have come up three suggestions which I suppose will generate a bit of debate given how everyone has something to say….(I’m just going by my FaceBook wall)

The three:

1. Have his face imprinted on coins and dollar notes.

I like this idea.

After all, given that we have our first President’s face on dollar notes…why not? It’s something that our currency board can do quite easily and I rather like some variety of faces on my dollar notes…. And Mr Lee himself never said no. He was against monuments built for him and I suppose that would mean statues and busts. He wouldn’t be against being in the hands of bankers or fishmongers would he? He was a man of the people and everyone would have a bit/a lot of him in their wallets…He was concerned about economic development and our Singapore dollar is super-strong, a reflection of the man as well.

Of course, those who don’t like him might want to deface their notes. But that’s their lookout. If defaced so much that it is no longer accepted as legal tender, too bad…That will teach people to be careful with their money! Hey, that’s another LKY maxim!

2. Re-name Changi Airport after him

Not a popular choice it seems even though he was the man who moved the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi. And SIA pilots are sure to remember the man who thumped them and threatened to replace all of them! There are plenty of precedents abroad. Charles de Gaulle airport in France, JFK in the US. Better, methinks, than Ho Chi Minh city?

People will have to get used to saying “I have to get to LKY tonight’’, “Planes delayed at LKY’’ and “Did you get any duty-free booze at LKY?’’ But we Singaporeans can get used to anything….One argument in favour: Besides Singaporeans, foreigners will be forced to be educated on the legacy of LKY as well…His name will be remembered forever, far and wide. Hurray! The Singapore dollar, on the hand, is only circulated on this tiny red dot.

So why unpopular? Methinks people rather like the term “Changi’’, more than the LKY name for the airport. I like Changi too…It is so Singaporean. And we don’t need to ape the ways of foreign countries do we?

3. Have a Founder’s Day for him

Quite a popular choice, since it’s likely to be public holiday. So should it be on the day of his death, March 23? Or his birthday, Sept 16? Some people, however, think it should be a PLURAL Founders’ Day – for all the first-generation leaders since he wasn’t the sole architect of Singapore.

I’m not sure about this since he would probably tell us to “stop this nonsense and go back to work’’. Also, what would we DO on Founder’s (singular) Day? Re-play old broadcasts and enact scenes from LKY’s past? Have mass readings of his books? Hold an LKY festival? Or should the day simply be a day that’s marked on the calendar like Teachers’ Day, Racial Harmony Day, Total Defence Day or Youth Day? That is, no public holiday…but the school children will have to do something…?

As you can tell, I am personally not in favour of this. I am also not in favour of preserving his Oxley Road home given that it is the family’s wish to have it demolished. We should respect their wishes.

Monday’s sitting is sure gonna be interesting…

PS. Actually why don’t we name a battleship after him? And I don’t mean steamboat.

Furniture buying

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 10, 2015 at 10:12 am

The Cabinet reshuffle has led to speculation that the general election, due by January 2017, could be held early, according to a TODAY report. Plus, the PAP G can reap an “LKY dividend’’, from the goodwill demonstrated by the populace in the aftermath of the first Prime Minister’s death. It’s a minor reshuffle, with Mr Masagos Zulkifli elevated to full minister and becoming second minister in both the Home and Foreign ministries and Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew taking on a second portfolio.  Messrs Lim Swee Say, Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan-Jin have done some portfolio swopping. Me, I am still tickled by the idea of our multi-tasking Cabinet, who are members of the A team, said the Prime Minister.

So I went furniture shopping…

Me: I’m looking for some cabinet…can you advise me please?

Salesman: What sort you looking for? Kitchen cabinet? Shoe cabinet?

Me: Actually, something more multi-purpose…can put shoes, books and all kinds of knick knacks. Maybe for the living room…And maybe another for my bedroom with drawers for underwear and cold weather clothing.

Salesman: For living room ….how big?

Me: Ah…something adjustable, stackable. In case, I accumulate more stuff over the years…Somethings I just cannot throw away, you know…last forever.

Salesman: You want with glass panels or open shelving? Glass can show off your ornaments….Or you want them covered so you can hide stuff …

Me: Hmmm…open shelving must dust everyday…But very good to show off my Lee Kuan Yew books. But maybe put at the bottom because they are very heavy. Some glass doors for me to show off stuff I’ve bought from abroad or some sg50 mementoes…

Salesman: Different size compartments? All same size? We can stack small ones and some got double the size. Or we can have separators within compartments.  Everything adjustable…

Me: Maybe some have two separators so I can put stuff of different colours in one stack…Hmm…your cabinets come in white? Difficult to maintain or not? Can get rid of stains easily?

Salesman: Don’t worry Ma’am. We have all sorts of cleaning fluids. Just dab and like bleach, stains go off. Case-trusted and CPIB-approved. But don’t use too much or the wood will get rotten…

Me: What? Your cabinets all made of wood? I thought something stronger…

Salesman: Ma’am, then you looking for filing cabinet – we have cast-iron one…

Me: Don’t need filing cabinets…got computer. Just sell me one living room cabinet, soft compressed wood, white, with big and small compartments and shelves that can adjust up and down. Some got glass panel, some don’t. Do you have shoe cabinet?

Salesman: Of course! Very cheap. Very good. But stock only come in October.

Me: Aiyah, I think don’t need then…I buy from NTUC.

Salesman: Okay ma’am. I have a Class A type living room cabinet for you. Very good to display, very multi-purpose. People see …sure to go waaah…I can also offer you Class B type cabinet for your bedroom. For your socks and all that…Sometimes, can put in living room as well if living room cabinet suddenly collapse because you put too many things….

Me: Your stuff so lousy ah???

Salesman: Not lousy. Very good. Don’t believe me you just ask people…they will all kee chiu…

Me (dubious): Hmm…how much and when can you send over?

Salesman: Depends on how many compartments and how big each compartment. But don’t worry, still below market rate. Let me calculate…

Me: I don’t mind paying if you sure it’s good quality…so when delivery?

Salesman: Arhh Ma’am, you have to carry home yourself and assemble yourself. Got instructions…very easy to follow….Ma’am! Ma’am…don’t run away…Still haven’t shown you our kitchen cabinets!

When vocal minority meets silent majority

In Politics, Society on April 3, 2015 at 8:00 am

A discussion between Vee Meng (vocal minority) and Si Meng (silent majority)

VM: “….what did say? ’’

SM: “…erm…what? Didn’t say anything…Eating my prata lah….’’

VM: “You haven’t been listening? That’s the trouble with people like you…so contented with your lot! Can’t you see so many things are wrong here? People can’t say what they want! The media is muzzled! We rank so low on human rights watch! We just care about money, money, money! Everything here is geared for the rich people, big business. We, the ordinary citizens of Singapore, are being trampled on and we don’t even know it!’’

SM: “That bad ah…I thought we’re always Number 1? You want to share another prata?’’

VM: “You should read more, especially what people are saying on the Internet. Then you’ll realise that this is not paradise and why people are buying homes in Johor and even, get this, staying there for their retirement!’’

SM: “Ya, I bought a place in Iskandar for investment and got burnt… Did you read about property prices here coming down? Shiok! I want to buy a new place, but then my old place now too cheap to sell….’’

VM: “Can you don’t just think about yourself? Think about single mothers who don’t get much help! Think about the old lady who collects cardboard and the old man who works at McDonalds! They should be enjoying their retirement! What kind of society are we becoming?’’

SM: “What? They didn’t join CHAS ah? Very good. Very cheap. My parents even better. Just wave PG card and get discounts everywhere… I hope cheng hu PG me when I turn 65.

VM: “My dear, dear Si Meng, you’re not connecting with me…I give up on you…You are the sort of people who just go with the flow, comfortable with your job, your HDB flat, your car…your little life…apathetic and couldn’t care less…’’

SM (slightly distressed): “Okay, okay. Of course, got some things wrong here lah. Like, I wish PSLE not so hard because paying for my children’s tuition is killing me.

VM: “Ah good. Something we agree on at last… We have a crazy education system that is driving parents nuts. Your children no longer have a childhood because they have to start running the rat race since kindergarten. Every school is a good school? Pah! It’s a myth! Even ministers don’t send their children to neighbourhood schools. The system just wants to churn out people for the economy. This ITE/poly thing…what master craftsman they want to produce? This place simply can’t afford to have more graduates so they want people to be happy to become master craftsman. We’re just digits in this economy, nuts and bolts to make the machinery run. Just soul-less people.’’

SM: “Eh? So cheem. I just want my children to get As and get good jobs.  Just don’t become cleaner or road sweeper.’’

VM (sarcastic): They won’t. Most of the jobs taken up by foreign workers already…

SM: “Oh ya. I also don’t like so many foreign workers around. Too crowded here already. They don’t even clean or sweep properly…

VM: “Talking about foreign workers….you agree with me that we must treat them well, right? You know their employers make them eat stale food? I still don’t think their living conditions are as good as the cheng hu say, never mind the new rules. We must treat these people better…and not subscribe to the capitalist demands of businesses who just want to profit from their sweat and blood.

SM: “Eh, my maid get day off every Sunday…’’

VM (in full flow):  “And look at the abuse of power. The ISA is still around. People are getting sued. Some kid rants on YouTube and cheng hu takes him to court! Just because he dissed Lee Kuan Yew! He’s non-conformist, like me! We should counsel people like him, not use the law on him!

SM: “Ya…his parents should just cane him…so boh tua, boh suay….”

VM (ignoring SM): “Have you seen what the Western media are saying about Singapore? All these controls on society. We always have some campaign or other. Laws against littering, graffiti and now this public drinking ban. We can’t even buy chewing gum here!’’

SM (placatory) : “You want chewing gum ah? I brought some from Malaysia. Before GST.’’ (passes chewing gum)

VM (making big show of chewing gum as an act of rebellion): I am thinking of starting a petition and get all the civil society types to sign. Maybe I’ll even book a slot at Hong Lim Park and get people to speak up. You should come along and see what this is all about…A good education.’’

SM: “Saturday? Not free lah. Got errands to run, send kids for enrichment class, dinner with in-laws…where got time?’’

VM (desperate): “Not even to ask for your CPF to back?’’

SM (lights up) : “Ya! Ya! I want my CPF! What age again we get it back? Can’t remember…When are we supposed to get GST rebate ah? And this Singapore Savings Bond thing…good to buy or not?’’

VM (shakes head): “I give up on you…You should be ashamed to call yourself Singaporean. Like sheep. Please don’t tell me you’re one of those fellows who queued 10 hours to go past the old man’s casket? Do you even know why you’re honouring him? Have you thought about PAP hegemony, repression, Operation Cold Store (no, not Cold Storage) and the Marxist conspiracy? Don’t you recall all that gerrymandering, political bullying and how the opposition always gets screwed? I know we should respect the dead but are you trying to turn him into a cult figure?’’

SM: “Aiyah…I…. queued… because…he…is…Lee Kuan Yew. Good enough reason for me. Eh, can you don’t talk so much or not? Tiring to hear..And where is that prata? Still haven’t come yet?!! What kind of service is this???’”

For the PM, the father’s son

In Society on March 28, 2015 at 12:27 am

Dear Prime Minister,

You look awful. I know you can’t help it; very few people who have lost a father can. Older folk will tell you that you need to rest, drink lots of water and take medicinal soups. Younger folk might well recommend cool cucumber slices to take away the puffiness that has built up around your eyes these past few days. Your own father will probably recommend meditation.

Yet I know you cannot rest. You have too many hands to shake, too many people –  including very important people from abroad – to greet and you are being snowed under by cards, flowers and well-wishes. Maybe you will retain some as keepsakes and give everything else to the National Archives? Then again, this is not the time to worry about post-funeral arrangements. You still have to get through tomorrow.

It must be tough to be the son of Lee Kuan Yew. Personally, I’ve often wondered if you’ve ever felt the need to measure up to the man. To be sure, some of us did not know what to think when you were inducted into politics; this Brigadier-General with big framed glasses. No one doubted your intellect, we just wondered what sort of a leader you would become. How much like your father would you be?

I think many Singaporeans have been/are still curious about the father-son relationship. It’s probably none of our business but I can safely say we devour every bit of news that involves the Lee family. Your sister helped with her articles, painting a more personal picture of Lee Kuan Yew and showing us glimpses of his devotion to his wife, your mother. Then there were, of course, your FaceBook posts. They made you more like us, although frankly, this citizen wishes that you would remain prime ministerial, mythical and mysterious. But that’s just me.

Over the past few days, your fellow citizens have watched you keep a leash on your emotions. ALL of us wanted to know if you are holding it together. We dissected and analysed your every look and word. People asked, example, why you didn’t mention “my father’’ when you addressed the nation on his death. Others said you were speaking as Prime Minister, not as the son of Lee Kuan Yew. It must be hard to divorce the two roles. Sir, you did it admirably.

Reams of information have now come out about your family life. I have to say that I still can’t get over the family taking their baths by using scooping out water from a jar, as your brother Mr Lee Hsien Yang disclosed. That frugality is something most of us admired of Mr Lee. It pains me every time I come across people who say that the Lee family have amassed a fortune somehow. When they say this, I think about how your father stood up in Parliament to clear the rumour that the two of you had bought some condominium units at a huge discount. Never mind that there were never any open accusations, just whispers. I think about what your father said in the past about leaders of Third World countries who fly in to rich countries in their private jets to ask for, ahem, aid. Your father even had to account for the Singapore Airlines flight that took your mother home from London when she fell ill. He paid for it, he said.

I see a lot of his frugal nature in you, and I thank God for that.

How must you feel now that hundreds of thousands of citizens are honouring your father?  More than touched, I’m sure. They queued for hours to have just a few seconds in front of your father’s casket. Yet, in that same action, we see the Singapore that has been built over 50 years, in the efficiency of the logistics and the patience and resilience of its people. We are not a cold people; and this is not a soulless country. I hope you wave away all the insane and inane remarks by unkind people and those who are in too much of a hurry to dissect his legacy. He was after all a public figure, even if he was your parent.

I know you are not religious by nature, but it will not stop me from praying for your father’s soul, and for God to give you strength.

He was a great man.

As you said, there will never be anyone like him ever again.

Yours sincerely,

A citizen of Singapore

A Catholic send-off

In Society on March 27, 2015 at 10:31 am

I suppose sitting for three hours in an air-conditioned church waiting for a service to start is a lot better than queueing for three hours under the sun. Never mind that you can’t snack, nobody passes any bottled water around and you can’t have a pee break because somebody will immediately slip into your seat at the pew. But at least, we could pray together – one rosary, one chaplet of Divine mercy and choir master Peter Low took us through all the hymns to be sung. That filled up a lot of time.

It was a requiem mass celebrated by the Archbishop himself, along with so many priests I couldn’t keep count as they walked into St Joseph’s Church at 1.15pm. The Papal Nuncio, the Pope’s representative, was there too, and His Grace entered the church under a canopy being held up by six lay people – the first time I’ve seen this happen.

I made up my mind to be at the mass ever since the Catholic Church first announced that it would do holding one. Both offline and online, there were some interesting discussions about why the Church was doing this for a professed agnostic who sometimes described himself as a nominal Buddhist. In fact, there was nothing “religious’’ during the wake. Only cultural, as when his grandsons carried his picture behind the casket as it made its way out of the Istana.

Through his life, Mr Lee Kuan Yew kept the State “secular’’ and drew a line between politics and religion. Of course, this made the religious unhappy sometimes. Like passing the Abortion Act, having lax bio-ethics rules (as compared to other countries) and which Catholic can ever forget the incarceration of some laypeople in the Marxist conspiracy of 1987? We probably didn’t forget, but it seems that we forgave, going by the turnout for the mass with people packed to the rafters and in the compound. But, maybe, we forgot that he greatly admired the Catholic institutions, with their welfare organisations and mission schools. After all, he sent his son to Catholic High.

The organisers only printed 1,000 leaflets for the order of the mass, a gross under-estimation. It was just like how the state’s funeral organisers under-estimated the unending lines of people who wanted to pay their last respects to the man in Parliament House. I didn’t see any children, mainly adults and plenty of retirees. All were garbed in subdued colours. It was, after all, Lent and Catholics have of plenty of practice on sticking to the appropriate dress code. The church was, as usual for Lent, somberly adorned with purple cloth at this time.

What was different: people put up their cellphones to record some bits of the proceedings, which wouldn’t have happened during any normal mass except weddings.

I had wondered what the Archbishop would say in his sermon. He was nowhere near as emotional as the MPs who paid tribute in Parliament yesterday and enough got a laugh when he told of how Catholics had called him and told him to go to SGH quickly to anoint Mr Lee when they heard he was worsening, that is, to give Mr Lee his last rites. I think Mr Lee would have chuckled too. Archbishop William Goh did his best to point out that whatever policies Mr Lee had promulgated that riled the religious, he did so with an eye on the greater good of Singapore. In other words, it was never a personal nor a religious attack.

The Archdiocese formulated the following Prayers for the Faithful, adapted from the Rite of Christian funerals for the unbaptized. I reproduce them here for fellow Catholics.

  1. Lord listen to this family of faith, we commend to you Mr Lee Kuan Yew, that he may be held securely in God’s loving embrace now and for all eternity. Let us pray to the Lord. “Lord Hear our Prayer.”
  2. For Mr Lee’s family, especially the Prime Minister and his family, that they feel the consoling presence of Christ in the midst of their pain and grief. Let us pray to the Lord. “Lord Hear our Prayer.”

It was not a teary affair, at least not until the end. That was when choir master Mr Low led the congregation in the final song, Rest in Peace, Lionheart.

(sung to the hymn, You are mine)

Great guiding light with vision grand

You gave your all for this our land

With verve and might, you shaped and forged

You led the way, you made your stand

Your journey’s o’er, Great Lionheart

You gave your all, you did your part

Carved in your heart forever more

May we remain “My Singapore’’

You gave your best, you did your part

In peace now rest, Great Lionheart

Being Lee Kuan Yew

In Society on March 27, 2015 at 1:36 am

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew. Beyond obvious gender differences, I don’t have his searing intellect and that ability to cajole, persuade and bully. I don’t even own knuckle-dusters.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew, because I can’t see myself obsessing over the big picture every day, like how to make Singapore a better place to live in. I think I will go mad if I can’t make small talk.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew who took studying a language so seriously he hired a tutor even in his old age. I am younger and I prefer to study a language in a less stressful way by watching television serials.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew who can talk about the internationalization of the Singapore dollar and cleaning up the Singapore River. I don’t understand the former, and I take the latter for granted.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew who made pragmatic decisions based on changing circumstances, like having casinos in Singapore as an economic piston. Although, like him, I am a non-gambler.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew who was always so convinced of the rightness of his decision that he swept obstacles out of the way. I am too tentative and I worry about not being “nice’’.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew who was so devoted to his wife that he would talk to her every night, although she couldn’t speak – no matter where he was. I am also not disciplined enough.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew who was so frugal in his habits and lifestyle that he bathed by ladling out water from a jar. I like my hot showers.

I cannot be like Lee Kuan Yew, although sometimes I wish I can.

Mourn now – fight later

In Society on March 25, 2015 at 7:55 am

Such a strange thing is happening in the ether. The normally silent majority seemed to be speaking up. They are thumping those who had hogged the online space with their cutting, unkind comments about anything to do with the Government. Or the People’s Action Party. Or Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

I was surprised at first at the outpouring of online emotion, so protective of Mr Lee and his legacy. I can’t help but think that those who have been sitting at the sidelines of the Internet space have decided to put their gloves on. Woe is you who dare to say anything rude about Singapore’s first prime minister! Whack! Bam! Slam!

As for those who think that the Internet is about letting anyone speak their mind, however inane and insane their words, they are finding out that this is not the case. The internet herd, typically anti-establishment and even rude, is turning the other way.

Yet I wish we could stop fighting, at least for the next few days. Can we stop arguing about the merits and demerits of the man who’s just died? About whether people are right to want to wear black this Sunday or whether some MP’s idea of a tribute being a workout is daft? About whether too much expression is symptomatic of the mentality of sheep or any kind of criticism of the man is out of line?

I gather that online friendships have been broken; a lot of “unfriending’’ going on these days.  Some people are vying to be more demonstrative of their admiration than others, at least that is how it is being construed in some quarters. Others who have always taken a hard anti-LKY line have softened, prompting charges of bending with the wind. Gosh. The death of Lee Kuan Yew is inspiring a lot of emotions. May we not let them pit ourselves against each other.

Last night, friends and I encountered an admittedly drunk young woman alone in a bar, telling us about how she had split up with her boyfriend after an argument about the kind of leader Mr Lee had been. It seemed to be fundamental point of difference for her. I guess at any other time, the couple wouldn’t have had such a big blow-up. The difference is the timing: Mr Lee has just died.

Yes, he has died, which is why I don’t think we can have much meaningful or rational discussion – at least online – at the moment. Think of those times when you lost a loved one, you would sit quietly and cry, recall last moments or reminisce about good times. Friends at the wake will be respectful, even if they did not know the deceased.  Mr Lee has a large family, and I don’t mean his immediate one. That’s why people jump at any sign of impropriety. Even family members will quarrel about funeral arrangements, like whether wearing black is the right protocol. I, for one, had wondered if it was “good form’’ to clap while his funeral cortege passed along the road earlier today and decided to close the FB discussion because I was worried that it would get out of hand.

Therefore, we are now commenting on the eulogies. Should eulogies be positive or are they actually propagandistic? Should they have some critical comments or would this be considered nasty? Or should they be balanced? And “balanced’’ according to who? It is inevitable that when a public figure has passed on, people feel the need to pass judgment.  On him. And on others who have passed judgment on him Methinks Mr Heng Swee Keat wrote the best eulogy and that is because he did “reporting’’ – he told us what we didn’t know about Mr Lee’s working style. His use of the “red box’’ (plus picture) to hold all the parts together is brilliant.

Frankly, I am beginning to have my fill of foreigners weighing in on the man’s legacy, after not being able to get enough of it earlier on. The key players have weighed in, and now the fringe actors are doing so. I can’t even recognize the Mr Lee whom some of them have described. He was either saint or Satan. Then there are those who put a sting in the tail, to conform to their own ideals of what a leader should be like. I think Mr Lee would have waved away all these speeches and eulogies. He had said before that it was for Phd students to mull over. In other words, history will decide.

I agree. I think we should mourn now – and fight later.

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