PSLE not a sacred cow but a big elephant

From ‘Scrap PSLE? Not yet, but space out exams’, 22 Sept 2012, Voices, Today

(Ng Ya Ken): We can change the components and emphasis or assessment method of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), but we cannot eliminate the need for a standardised grading mechanism, at least not now. Scrapping the PSLE may not solve the problems we have now. Neither would replacing it, because parents would hunt for new tuition lessons to help their children score in the new system.

With our competitive education system, after we get rid of one big elephant, another big animal will come to take its place. Perhaps we can only abolish the evaluating mechanism when all secondary schools are perceived by parents as equally good. In the long run, we must close the quality and perception gaps between good and very good schools.

In the meantime, we can think of ways to lessen the tension caused by the PSLE for our young and their parents. For example, we could split the exam into three parts, with the first two parts to be taken at the end of Primary 5 and at the middle of Primary 6.

…Also, let us not label the PSLE a “sacred cow”. The term carries a negative connotation when not aptly used.

Of all the wildlife analogies to describe a life-changing event for most young Singaporeans, the most apt in my opinion is the ‘big bad WEREWOLF’ as suggested by Senior Minister of State Lawrence Wong, when he said ‘there is no silver bullet, no magic solution’ when it comes to the dreaded PSLE. Like the mythical beast ravaging the daily lives of villagers, this academic sieve is often blamed for our pressure-cooker educational system and society in general, though the more pragmatic-minded may defend its existence as a necessary evil, just as a fable needs its proverbial dragon to slay. Despite all these arguments about having a fairer system to pigeonhole our children, and how PM has insisted that children live their childhood, there will still be some with this mindset of conquest and ‘baptism of fire’ when it comes to the PSLE or anything like it. These include not just parents, academics, but even some CHILDREN themselves, who take the exam so seriously and gamely that the cramping of playtime, the tuition expenses, the mental disorders, are all worthy sacrifices in the name of being victorious in what’s essentially a national competition for secondary school placing.

No other trial exemplifies the term ‘pursuit of excellence’ than scoring in the PSLE, and no thanks to the media lauding top scorers annually, green-eyed parents all over the country will feel inadequate if they’re not gearing their little champions for the battle of their lives. For decades we have subjected our kids to ‘survival mode’, and we can’t make drastic changes overnight unless we’re reasonably certain that 6 years of Social Darwinism has done more long-term harm than good. The PSLE is like the Singaporean Hunger Games, except with only sweat and buckets of tears. Like any story of courage and triumph over adversity, the PSLE too has its Heroes’ Hall of Fame, which likens its conquest to that of snaring the Crown jewel, or completing one of the seven tasks of Sinbad. If you take the monster out of a Greek legend, you won’t have an ‘Odyssey’. You’d get the Love Boat instead.

Our champions and Hall of Famers are naturally media darlings, and no congratulatory story is complete without some heartwarming  filler to assure kiasu parents that if top-scorers can pull it off despite their troubles, so could their kids. The current grand champion and record holder is 294 scorer Natasha from St Hilda’s in 2007, whose grandfather died just before she sat for the exam. The media also buzzed over Natasha’s piano and violin lessons, her ambitions to be a paediatrician, and being rewarded for her efforts with a place in RGS. 2009’s champion, China-born Qiu Biqing could hardly speak a word of English, but slew the ‘elephant’ despite coming from a ‘neighbourhood’ school (Qi Fa). Whether you’re disabled, a foreigner, pint-sized, read nothing but Harry Potter in your free time, work part-time at your parents’ hawker stall or suffer from dyslexia, nothing makes a score sweeter than a tale about how you overcame the odds to beat everyone else who requires 3 days of tuition a week.

Still, any anxious parent with a child in P6 reading such accolades would instantly, and irrationally, associate smart kids with schools which breed, and accept, PSLE champions, nevermind what people are saying about ‘every school being a good school’ following the recent demolition of the banding system. Clearly, in this case, the best in the country, whichever primary school they’re from, is heading for the best ‘brand name’ school the highest PSLE score can buy. A 2000 Today article described top scorers as ‘St Hilda’s STARS’ (30 Nov 2000), and even till now, you hear of ‘top’ schools being embroiled in scandal, whether it’s teacher-student sex or drugs. There will be a stratum of prestige, the cream of the crop, that will continue to endear as long as top schools only accept top scorers, as long as top scorers are treated like they are the best and brightest brains our country has to offer.

Interestingly, the past 5 years’ PSLE top scorers were all girls (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011), with the exception of Alex Tan in 2010, who was described as the ‘son of two doctors’. Grand champion Natasha and Alex were from GEP as well. Whether as a means to spur or baffle parents with these seemingly mixed signals on what a top scorer is made of, perhaps the Ministry should look into curbing such implicit rankings through blatant top-scorer fanfare as well. Like the 4 four blind men touching different parts of the elephant, we’re still missing the big picture, and if it turns out the PSLE is more a hydra than a marauding beast, scrapping it through brute force alone without addressing the culture of branding, reputation and kiasuism that exists because of it will just mean another ugly head spontaneously regenerating to take its place.

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$1 million HDB flat nothing to be traumatised over

From ‘Khaw eases fears over $1m flat price’, 9 Sept 2012, article by Rachel Chang, Sunday Times.

News of a Housing Board flat being sold for a record $1 million may be swirling, but National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan urged Singaporeans not to be “traumatised”. There will always be “units with fantastic views that fetch fantastic prices“, he said of the sale of the executive maisonette in Queenstown, which is still in the works. The price includes a cash over valuation (COV) of $195,000.

“More important is the larger picture,” Mr Khaw said at a dialogue with Sembawang grassroots leaders. “Are prices affordable generally for most units? I think we have largely achieved that in the last few months with the pricing of the new Build-to-Order flats.”

At the same time, he noted that the record resale price was indicative of the fact that “in public housing, we can get very good living conditions“. For example, when the Pinnacle@Duxton flats come onto the resale market in a few years, “there will be many millionaires there”, he noted.

In 2010, a couple of property experts made the following prediction about HDB pricing, when quizzed about the chances of it exceeding the million dollar mark.

(Eric Cheng, ECG Property): ‘Generally, most HDB flats will not go beyond $750,000. I doubt any flats will cross the $1 million mark, at least not for the next two to three years…For $1 million, one can buy a condo unit, or even a small landed property in the Sin Ming area. The valuation for a top-end HDB flat is around $700,000, and who can cough up the $200,000 (COV)?’

(Albert Li, C&H Realty): ‘I think the $1 million mark will take a while to reach. HDB prices may rise, but not so fast.

The above was in response to a Bishan maisonette with roof terrace being sold for a ‘staggering’ $950,ooo to a Singaporean businessman. In the space of 2 years, that record looks set to be broken, the culmination of a series of record sales of public housing that the latest $1 million price tag wouldn’t strike anyone as ‘traumatising’ anymore. Khaw, of course, has a flair for justifying ridiculously priced items, whether it’s Brompton bicycles or designer chairs. Someone could mark up bottled water to $10 and he could explain it away using such high-horse Khaw-conomics. Here, the ‘fantastic’ view, and the breeding of HDB millionaires are in his opinion ‘value for money’ reasons. No wonder Prince William and Kate are paying Queenstown a visit. Residents there can relate to royalty like no other heartlander can. After all, some of them live in ‘very good living conditions’. Fit for a queen, I might add.

Here’s a quick look at astounding 5-room HDB sales over the past few years to explain why our jaws aren’t dropping anymore. If there’s anything that needs to be tranquilised it’s this spell of spiralling prices.

5 room/executive flats

June 2007 – Jalan Membina,  5 room, $675,000, buyer unknown.

June 2007 – Kim Tian Place, 29th floor, $720,000, buyer unknown.

Nov 2007 – Marine Parade, sea view, 18th floor, $730,000, buyer unknown.

Jan 2008 – Queenstown, Mei Ling street, 21st floor, $890, 000, buyer unknown.

April 2010: Bishan maisonette, 24th floor, $900,000, to an Indian Singaporean couple.

Sept 2012: Queenstown, Mei Ling Street, a possible $1 million, buyer unknown.

So in the space of 5 years, top-dollar flats have increased in value by almost half a million dollars. But it’s not just these penthouse wannabes that are getting pricier, they are epicentres sending ripples of escalating prices throughout the neighbourhood. The median resale price of Queenstown flats is currently half a million dollars, something beyond most first-time buyers. Khaw is busy ignoring the ‘halo’ effect of ridiculously expensive housing, while acting like he has one hovering above his head.

Even 4 room flats are catching the fever:

4 room flats:

Nov 2009 – Queenstown, Strathmore Ave, 4 room, 40th floor, sold for $653,000, to an Indonesian PR and Singaporean woman.

March 2010: Bras Basah 4 room flat, 25th floor, in Bain Street sold for $650,000 to a Taiwanese PR couple.

But wait, there’s more. In 2010, a TWO ROOM flat in Chinatown was sold for $245,000, which cost more than a Punggol 4 room flat at the time. We wouldn’t bat an eyelid anymore if the same 2-room can hit the half million mark by the end of this decade. The exceptionally lucky few would benefit from such skyrocketing prices, while the rest of us still staying in Khaw’s majority of ‘affordable’ housing away from these hot districts watch our dreams of upgrading slowly fade away while prices swing wildly beyond our reach and PR tycoons snap up these spots like nobody’s business.

No I’m not traumatised at all, but perhaps the next generation of Singaporeans would, when they realise that while their peers have become instant millionaires overnight from selling the million-dollar flat they inherited from their parents to snap up  condos or landed property, they’re struggling to cope with the mortgage for their 2-room broom closet, which could very well cost as much as a 4-room in Ang Mo Kio today. It would also be a terrible time to get married and settle down, and if the government is serious about promoting family and babies, they should staunch this bloodletting right away, before this becomes not so much property boom as a national DOOM. Maybe a ‘national conversation’ is not as important as PAP’s ministries actually talking to each other for change. Yes, MND (Khaw) and MSF (Chan Chun Sing), I’m referring to you guys. Go cycling together and make friends or something.

In Chiobu We Trust extremely distasteful and vulgar

From ‘Suggestive poses in exhibition distasteful’, 8 Sept 2012, ST Life!

(Koh Shimei Magdalene):I refer to the article Online Queen Bees Born To Pose (Life!, Aug 27), about an art exhibition called In Chiobu We Trust – A Pop-up Art Party.

Organised by the Chiobu Movement, the exhibition took place on Aug 31. I found some of the pictures exhibited of near nude girls in suggestive poses to be extremely distasteful and vulgar. The pictures featured in the article speak for themselves.

I take great offence to them as I feel they are insulting to the female gender. These days, it seems that anything and everything can be considered art, just by spinning a complex concept or story around it.

I am shocked and disappointed that no relevant authority has stepped in to comment or impose restrictions on this event. I would also like to suggest that art exhibitions be given viewership ratings similar to films.

In my opinion, Singapore society should not tolerate and encourage unhealthy subcultures to thrive, and we definitely cannot afford this to become a norm in our society as we have witnessed in Western countries. The effects are detrimental to nation building.

Nice Ass…mask

Magdalene Koh did not specify whether she actually attended ‘In Chiobu we Trust’, a ‘secret’ pop up party whose location was divulged in the Life! section of the ST.  Not sure how successful Chiobu turned out to be, with its build-up subdued by another ‘secret’ event held during the same period, Diner en Blanc. According to the article on Aug 31, Chiobu is a collection of photo submissions by ‘hipster’, social-media savvy females below 30 doing wild, cool stuff on road trips, the brainchild of photographer Alvelyn Koh (or Alko). It’s like someone compiling Instagram photos or Facebook profile pics and exhibiting them in an Indie gallery. It could have been called ‘In Camwhore We Trust’, though the writer above may think the use of that word alone will have a profoundly destructive effect on our ‘nation building’.

Check out this entry of a woman having an orgasm on a stone lion. I wonder if the Taoist Federation of Singapore has anything to say about this; the most sacred of temple guardians being defiled by straddling, moaning chiobus.

The jungle cannot sleep tonight

A senior SAM curator referred to these ‘chiobus’ as ‘an interesting SUB-CULTURE of young women who are ‘opinionated, fashionable and daring’, among whom must include ‘My Grandfather Road’ creator Samantha Lo. It also helps if you have a jazzy name that’s a combination of two proper names. The key members of this chiobu troupe are also popular bloggers; The girl in the donkey mask Tan Min Yi has a blog called “Psychological Romance’, as well as a Facebook portfolio with glam model shots of her wearing Red Indian headgear and sticking a gun in her mouth. Ang Geck Geck’s blog is a mouthful: ‘A Female Cat roars, Louder Than Before’, from which you may download her Chiobu video, a meditative celebration of femininity that seems to be inspired by Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (both videos have SPARKLERS in them). Tree of Chiobus, perhaps. It also features some naked lesbians preening away to the hashtags of #dreams and #freedom. #Cool!

It’s not all about ladies in various states on undress or gay love though, Holly Graberek presented portraits of herself in a Mexican wrestler mask, a Bedouin bandit and as a VERY EVIL LOOKING JIA JIA PANDA. The stuff of nightmares, really. I can’t go to the River Safari after this. Ever.

Another submission has a subject planking face down in the Botanical Gardens in what appears to be a swimsuit, a typical prank shot which somehow qualifies as art. It looks like someone Photoshopped away the ‘Do not cross’ yellow police line around it.

This is both planking and Horseman-ing. Or Plorsing.

I did the same thing on the old Bukit Timah railway tracks once but it didn’t go viral on Facebook as I had hoped. Maybe it had something to do with the fact I was fully clothed, or more likely, I’m not a chiobu who uses emoticons that look like complex math algorithms, use the word ZOMG in my tweets, or insert the line ‘I am Chiobu, Hear me ROAARR’ in my email signature. But is the Chiobu movement solely for skinny photogenic waifs with fancy cameras? Would ‘plus-sized’ ladies posing nude in the name of art and charity be considered part of this ‘movement’ as well? How about those oversharing images of their buttocks for artist Amanda Heng?

The event itself, according to this review, was held in the dimly lit, cosy premises of book-cafe Pigeonhole. There’s also a couple of DJs in the house, yo! I’d imagine the playlist full of Lana Del Ray dubstep remixes.

God is a DJ, and so are these chiobus

It also puts AWARE in a difficult position to comment given the good intentions of the Chiobu movement. Just like ‘anything and everything’ can pass off as art, pouting to the camera semi-naked can also pass off as a powerful statement of self-expression. The word ‘chiobu’ itself is ironically derogatory to some women, a Singlish/Hokkien slang for ‘hot babe’, ‘chick’ or ‘shawty’.  But it helps that it’s ridiculously catchy, just like the Ladies’ card slogan ‘The Men Don’t Get It’. It wouldn’t have worked if the organisers called it ‘In Queen Bee We Trust'; that would sound to me like a gallery full of Bridezilla collages, in which case you don’t just need an age restriction; It should be totally MANDATORY that you forbid MEN to enter for health and safety reasons.

Vulgar or not, the cult of Chiobu is a sign that our arts community is very much alive and in vogue, that there are young edgy women out there pushing boundaries who give Vernetta Lopez a reason to sell her memoirs, though it does hint that it takes some eye-candy and soft-porn to tickle the Singaporean nerve for art. But what else is new? Has Magdalene heard about Josef Ng’s Brother Cane act? Or Indian artist T Venkenna sitting naked for hours and charging people to pose with him? Maybe they should have submitted the Chiobu Movement for the Venice Biennale instead. I mean, surely the Europeans can relate to chiobus in semi-Furry attire, eh?

It’s been a poor year for men in general, with many thrown in the slammer for underaged sex or corruption. In response to the Chiobu movement, maybe it’s time for the other sex to stand up and be counted. No, you don’t have to be Pan-Asian or ‘cool’, or pose on a windy beach for it, in fact, the more ‘uncle’ you are the better, whether you’re chillin’ with a Singha or hangin’ in Yangtze cinema. I’ll call it In Ah Peks We Trust.

Preschool graduation concerts in expensive hotel ballrooms

From ‘Pre-school concert too costly, say parents’, 3 Sept 2012, article by Melody Zaccheus, ST

PARENTS have sent an open letter to a kindergarten asking why they have to pay $65 for their children to attend a graduation concert. At least 30 of them have signed the document imploring the principal to reduce the price.s

Ms Irene Lum, whose daughter attends the kindergarten, wrote to The Straits Times last month complaining about the cost of the event at Kallang Theatre. “Graduation is an important part of our children’s education journey,” said the 38-year-old. “It doesn’t make sense for the school to charge so much and make it difficult for families to afford.”

The kindergarten is run by the Punggol North PAP Community Foundation (PCF). Its vice-chairman Lily Hugh sent an e-mail to Ms Lum to say the price included snacks, lunch and transport to and from rehearsals, and on the actual day of the concert.

…Five other PCF branches told The Straits Times that parents are charged between $40 and $50 per child. Most of this goes towards paying for costumes….Montessori for Children, which has campuses at Broadrick Road and Newton Road, has booked ballrooms at the Conrad, Sheraton and Swissotel hotels for its graduating pupils.

At Pat’s Schoolhouse, founder Patricia Koh is usually busy at this time of year, putting the finishing touches on the script. This time, the children will be staging a concert based on Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory at Raffles Hotel Jubilee Theatre. Tickets are $50 each.

Pat’s Schoolhouse’s $50 ticket only grants you ENTRANCE to the show. In 2010, the same preschool could charge you up to $270 which includes a bundle pack of two tickets (Mommy and Daddy), calendar, video, photo and costumes; an astonishing amount that’s worth more than a front row seat to watch Jay Chou live($228 in 2010). The fact that Pat’s can actually score a ‘Distinction award’ for Group Performance by the London College of Music just goes to show how much pride and effort is spent on posh extravaganzas, though how such an accolade benefits the preschool as a centre for LEARNING and its ‘graduands’ baffles me. It’s a KINDERGARTEN, not a theatre company. If I had wanted my kid to be the next Phantom of the Opera I would have enrolled him in drama nursery or cast him in Drypers ads right away. For a kindergarten performance, my expectations would be along the lines of draping my kid a caterpillar costume that’s made out of a green sleeping bag and have him wriggle around a bit, not recite Shakespeare in a junior toga or giving Mediacorp Channel 8 a run for the money.

Red Cliff: The Next Generation

But perhaps kids like such outlandish, over-the-top theatrics these days, and wouldn’t settle for anything less than sweeping period drama and intricately designed plastic spears. In my time we pranced around in recycled props lip-syncing to nursery rhymes like Old King Cole or Hickory Dickory Dock, where crowns were made of rings of cardboard strips and giftwrap, not an actual headpiece with velvet cushioning inside. There wasn’t any ‘choreography’ to speak of, but now parents part with their money to see their little thespians perform historical epics that they won’t be reading about until at least a decade later, just to humour preschool teachers with closet ambitions to write grand musicals and win Tony awards. Yet not all preschools charge ridiculous admission cum costume fees for their concerts. NTUC’s My First Skool made it free for parents in 2010, where the kids didn’t have to put on silly make up or trudge around in furry robes playing the Last Emperor of China.

Still, I wonder why parents are complaining about a one-off concert ticket when they’ve no qualms paying for enrichment classes IN ADDITION to preschool. Some parents prefer to just have their kid wear an oversized frock, go on stage, grab a scroll and walk off without the entertainment, a rite of passage that even schools like PCF Pioneer dispensed with to make way for the MAIN event of the night; a multi-ethnic, magical spectacular where the actors will grow up to become embarrassed teenagers who wish they had taken the role of the coconut tree in the background rather than the gyrating hula boy or girl.  Other than charging for concerts, Montesorri organises preschool camps which cost at least 1K, in which failure to participate would mean your kid not graduating with the rest of his class. Either way, parents will be sucked dry before the REAL test of primary school even begins. With enough luck, your kid may be inspired from his award-winning performance to want to pursue his TRUE calling, that of a fearless, concubine-collecting, Mongol warrior rather than, you know,  studying for PSLE.

Perhaps our ministers had something to do with this whole graduation concert ‘tradition’. VIPs started making special appearances in the early seventies to attend ‘costume parades’ at PAP kindergartens.   In the eighties, kindergartens went all out to impress guests of honour such as Goh Chok Tong and Yeo Cheow Tong, a time when PCF was already holding such concerts at the Kallang Theatre instead of community centres of the past. To entertain Tony Tan, PAP Sembawang had kids crooning the rousing number ‘Count on Me Singapore’ in 1986, and it wasn’t even NATIONAL DAY.  Since then, you may no longer settle for Jack and Jill went up the Hill anymore. Someone on stage must play superstar, there must be exploding glitter at the finale, even an INTERMISSION if need be, parents will erupt in thunderous applause with their camera-phones in one hand, overpriced memorabilia in the other, and pockets as empty as the memories that their kids will have of the entire event.

LKY and the ‘folding up’ of Singapore

From ‘Get married, have babies’, 12 Aug 2012, article by Leonard Lim, Sunday Times

…In his annual National Day dinner speech to residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC and Tiong Bahru, Mr Lee kept his message on population simple: The country’s citizens are not reproducing enough, and migrants are needed as a temporary solution. But in the long run, mindsets must change, and the trend of declining birth rates needs to be reversed.

“If we go on like that, this place will fold up because there will be no original citizens left to form the majority,” he said. And we cannot have new citizens, new PRs settle our social ethos, our social spirit, our social norms.

“So, my message is a simple one. The answer is very difficult, but the problems, if we don’t find the answers, are enormous.”

Oh boy are we in trouble. According to the CIA Factbook, we are down in the doldrums in terms of total fertility rate at a miserable 0.78, which is way below the minimum number to replace ourselves. But what’s interesting about LKY’s exhortations to procreate is not what’s being said, but what’s NOT. For example, he did not say that educated women with pHDs should get boyfriends and settle down. He also did not specifically urge the Chinese to pick up the slack. What can only be inferred, from how he social-engineered the Singapore population experiment over the years and from the number of PRCs working here, is that it’s the faltering Chinese Singaporeans that he’s really concerned about.

Racial composition is rarely mentioned these days, but it seems that the old man built this nation using his own golden ratio of how each ethnicity should make up the population, even if it meant staunching its growth at certain critical periods in Singapore’s history, and to see his formula for success fail in the face of ‘personal choice’ is like God stomping his feet because his creatures are not sucking on the sweet nectar of the fruits that he created for them. I would feel the same way if I’m playing Simcity and my little people refuse to reproduce themselves. Anyone would be tempted to push the reset button rather than see your piece of work destroy itself. You get the feeling that LKY’s lament is more an emotional one than one that involves deep, probing reflection or acceptance of the fact that where we are now is the result of an abject failure of balancing First World ambitions with First World problems. We are having it faster, stronger, better but weaning ourselves off the face of this earth while at it, like tireless, naive male spiders trying to get it on with the Black Widow of progress.

The last time LKY mentioned ‘racial balance’ was in relation to the SAF and the tenuousness of our position in the region in terms of defence.

‘If we continue this way without the new immigrants and PRs and their children doing national service, the composition of our SAF will change. So please remember that…..It is in Singapore’s interest to have immigrants who can be integrated without upsetting the racial balance.

In response to the influx of Hongkongers in the eighties, he expressed a resolute fondness for the ‘status quo':

Let us just maintain the status quo. And we have to maintain it or there will be a shift in the economy, both the economic performance and the political backdrop which makes that economic performance possible…..You look at the educational levels of the performers. It has got to do with culture, nature and so many other factors. But year after year this is the end result. Let’s leave well alone. The formula has worked. Keep it.

‘Nature’, of course, is a euphemism for RACE. A UMNO MP did not mince his words when taking the cue from LKY regarding the fate of the Malay majority in Malaysia, saying that LKY’s coercions were to ‘strengthen the dominance of the Chinese on the island’. When you mention ‘racial mix’ and optimal ‘performance’ in the same breath, it becomes quite obvious that you’re hinting that a certain group is driving the success of the country, though that looks set to change at the rate we’re welcoming Caucasian billionaires with open arms, not to mention plying foreign income off our two casinos. LKY wouldn’t want to mess up the HDB ethnic quota too. The Ethnic Integration Policy, by capping the proportion of races in housing estates, was intended to ‘maintain a healthy racial mix’, without specifying what an ‘unhealthy’ composition is. In 20 years when our homegrown population will presumably halve in size, the EIP and its secret ratios will need some revisions as well. I mean, you don’t want your neighbours rioting and burning the flat to the ground over curry smells would you.

We have no data on the proportion of races among Singaporeans renouncing their citizenship, erstwhile pretending that emigration doesn’t exist. If making couples have sex more often is an insurmountable hurdle, how about trying to figure out what’s making Singaporeans want to LEAVE? It’s likely that the answer would partially explain our reluctance to have children. Chan Chun Sing and the MSF have their work cut out for them, and if he’s serious about pushing our TFR up, perhaps he should come clean with the numbers, examine the reasons why people abandon their Home, and let us all know of the gravity of the situation, instead of hiding painful facts from Singaporeans like sweeping broken glass under the carpet. If all else fails, be wary when our NEWwater starts tasting funny and you feel tingly sensations in all the wrong places after drinking it.

But it’s not just a freak census that LKY’s terrified of. It’s the PM’s position and PAP leadership itself. In 1988, LKY remarked that Singapore ‘was not ready’ for an Indian Prime Minister, that he would have considered S Dhanabalan if not for his ‘Indian ethnicity’. Our cabinet still holds a majority of Chinese ministers, and remains a reflection of the ground demographics. So when it looks like that precious ‘formula’ is on the brink of shattering and LKY’s worst nightmares are on the verge of coming true (though he probably wouldn’t live long enough to witness it), we have an ENORMOUS problem on our hands, and it’s not just a matter of the EXTINCTION of the Singaporean, but the fall of a NATION, when the house that is our little red dot is no longer a home. In the spirit of the business parlance used by LKY, Singapore Inc may have to ‘close shop’ if nothing is done. And it takes more than a cheeky Mentos ad  (National night, hip hop or hip flop?) and a Ministry playing the role of Love Guru to do it.

We’re not ready for a world without LKY

From ‘Singapore heaves huge sigh of relief at Lee Kuan Yew’s NDP appearance’, 10 Aug 2012, article by Melissa Aw, Yahoo News.

…In the past week, rumours swirled online and offline that the former Singapore Prime Minister’s health was fading quickly. Day by day, the speculation grew stronger and wilder.

…Although a quick check by Yahoo! at Lee’s Oxley Road house on Wednesday showed nothing out of the ordinary, rumours continued to grow online and offline. Soon, the health of Lee became a topic of national debate and the “will he or won’t he appear at NDP?” question grew into a audible chorus ahead of National Day.

Even members of the media were not immune to the frenzy.  The Straits Times’ political journalist Tessa Wong addressed the rumours on Twitter, dismissing claims of a cover-up and that Lee was alive and well.  Channel NewsAsia editor and presenter Glenda Chong also stepped up to clear the rumours on her Facebook wall on Wednesday.

Without mentioning names, she wrote, “So a lot of people have been asking me a question! He’s alive and please watch NDP tomorrow… Trust me he’s alive, otherwise I will be extremely busy!”

The reporter above was kind enough not to pose the REAL question on everyone’s minds this past week leading up to NDP. Did LKY DIE before the parade? Then there are the conspiracy theorists and their ‘body double’ explanations for his miraculous appearance. The truth turned out to be stranger than the fiction one sees in typical Dictator stereotypes or madcap movies like Weekend at Bernie’s; the old man’s still alive, though to say that such rife hearsay kept everyone tense on the edge of their seats and emitting a huge gaseous sigh of relief is probably pushing it. The nail-biting twisty climax to what appears to be a bad M Night Shyamalan political thriller is an apt image of LKY looking dapper in red, giving a victorious double thumbs up. It could have been two middle fingers instead.

Leader in Red

Don’t these internet gossips know that if they’re trying to start a fire online they’re equally likely to get burnt? Yaacob Ibrahim just added one more reason to this list of ‘Reasons to Regulate the Internet’ in his push for a Code of Conduct. But what’s interesting about the Yahoo article is not so much its content, but the title of its weblink in full:

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/spore-not-ready-for-a-world-without-lee-kuan-yew-.html

Which raises the question: What will become of us when LKY is dead and gone? Will we be like sheeps without a shepherd? A rock band without a drummer? A brothel without a mama-san? Sewer rats without the Pied Piper?

It’s not surprising that LKY has ‘used up’ one of his 9 lives before. In 2010, ex-Singaporean and now American lawyer Gopalan Nair admitted in his Singapore Dissident blog to publishing a hoax that LKY had ‘suffered from a massive heart attack':

Even though I made up everything I said about Dear Leader about his heart attack, and none of it is true, I can assure you that the scenario that I painted assuming that he dies is completely correct.

So what scenario was Nostradamus here talking about? According to his original tall tale, ‘such a happening can destroy the business confidence and cause total destruction in the small island city state.’ There were also ‘peaceful protesters and demonstrators… holding placards reading “Democracy” and “Down With the Dictator” and chanting slogans.’ As far as I’m aware there were no ‘Hurry up and Die already’ campaigns going on in the build-up to NDP aside from the scatterbrained hullabaloo and white noise in social media. If the sources were in fact reliable, I would think most of us would have been stunned at first, but gradually come to accept and carry on with our lives. We wouldn’t be thinking of packing our bags and, like Gopalan, seek asylum in a country where you can get gunned down by madmen while watching Batman in a movie theatre or praying to your gods in a temple. In fact, Gopalan is still drilling in our heads even in the midst of this gonzo media circus that we’ll be hapless without LKY, that the stock market would plunge, and the Sing dollar would be worthless. WORTHLESS, I tell you. Woe is me!

If LKY did have a major coronary, the media would have jumped on it like a rabid coyote, as how they have done in the past reporting on the state of the elder statesman’s health from minor infections to bladder evacuations. We really didn’t need to know. Telling me that LKY was ‘ill’ before the parade is nothing new, so someone decided to up the ante and say ‘Hey, why not have him DEAD for a change?’

2011-Peripheral neuropathy (as revealed by daughter Lee Wei Ling)

2008 -Abnormal heart rhythm (article above)

2003- Prostate Surgery 

1998 – Infection arising from minor surgical procedure (SM in hospital, 23 Nov 1998, ST)

1997 – Acute respiratory tract infection (SM Lee in hospital due to infection, 7 Sept 1997, ST)

1997 – Elective evacuation of the bladder (SM Lee to undergo elective evacuation of the bladder, 11 Jan 1997, ST)

1996 – Balloon angioplasty (SM’s balloon angioplasty op a success: PMO, 16 March 1996, ST)

It’s easy to spin insensitive yarns about someone’s father and grandfather when you’re based overseas and still persist in egging LKY’s lawyers to sue you for slander, but more importantly, bad taste. Gopalan had it easy compared to Twitter users like ‘izreloaded’, who got name-dropped in the Yahoo article above as one of the perpetrators of a highly contagious rumour. But it’s one thing to plant a lie in the national psyche for your own sick indulgence, another to condemn the country into anarchy and chaos because of the demise of one man, especially if you’re not doing anything to help avert the impending end of Singapore as we know it, a ringside commentator pulling one awful joke after another. This Gopalan prophet of the coming apocalypse may have no love lost for LKY, but where’s the faith in the the rest of us? If the old man is as formidably crafty as he’s reputed to be, he would have set a series of events in motion as part of an elaborate grand scheme of command and control, to ensure that Singapore runs like clockwork centuries after his death, like how we splice a dead Nat King Cole with his daughter Natalie in an ‘Unforgettable’ duet and still make it number one on the charts.

Still, nothing bugs a nation like an dead or dying dictator/autocrat. Fidel Castro was reportedly dead (false) earlier this year, the dates of rumour-mongering occurring near two special dates for the Cuban leader, similar to how sparks flew near our very own 9th of August. Barely taking over the reins from his late father, Kim Jong Un was ‘assassinated’ by gunmen in what would have been the month of his dad’s 70th birthday. Equally ‘killed by Internet’ were Hosni Murbarak, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Suharto. This bespeaks a frivolous trend of ‘Dead Evil Leader pranking’, which plays psychological parlour tricks on our basic emotions. Rumour feeds the need to be heard, the sudden loss of a figure of stifling authority feeds our need to be free, while the stock market blips attest to our fear. What we need the most now, though, is the belief that we can carry on. With or without LKY.

And we can only hope that when the time comes, it doesn’t end up like this.

We are all doomed

Megachurch funding Sun Ho’s music career

From ‘City Harvest’s Kong Hee and 4 others questioned by police’ and ‘City Harvest’s Crossover Project lies at heart of CoC inquiry’, 26 June 2012, ST

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and four others, including former board members, were arrested on Tuesday morning following a probe into financial irregularities of the church by both the police and the Commissioner of Charities (CoC). Among other things, the CoC found financial irregularities of at least $23 million from the church funds. Its spokesman said the funds were used with the purported intention to finance the wife of pastor Kong, Ms Ho Yeow Sun’s secular music career to connect with people.

…At the centre of the inquiry by the Commisioner of Charities (CoC) is the City Harvest Church’s Crossover Project and the misrepresentation on the use of the charity’s fund. The project was set up in 2002 purportedly to use Sun Ho’s secular music to connect with people and reach out to non-Christians. By 2003, it had drawn flak. According to the CoC, an individual alleged in the media that the charity was funding Sun Ho’s music career.

This attracted public attention. Although the person eventually issued a public apology and retracted his allegations, the church faced media scrutiny. In response, it issued press statements and made several representations to its members to state that they had not funded Sun Ho’s music career. However, unknown to the executive members of the board, the church’s funds were used to run the project, said the CoC.

In Jan 2003, a CHC member named Roland Poon told the ST that he was ‘encouraged’ to purchase five copies each of Sun Ho’s two albums at the time, and accused church leadership of using funds to push Ho to superstardom.  He later spent tens of thousands publicly apologising in various media out of sudden, dramatic repentance. I wonder how the same man would feel now if the very people he pointed fingers at almost a decade ago were found to be guilty of misusing donations to manufacture a pop star, one who sells sex more than gospel to the masses. What if he was RIGHT all along? It would be the most wasteful apology ever.

There’s nothing wrong with Ho’s ‘secular’ music (other than being utterly tuneless and forgettable) and a sex-kitten image even if she’s a pastor’s wife, though critics were quick to notice Sun Ho’s extravagances once they got bored of her peek-a-boos. In 2003, she was at the Hollywood Film Festival promoting her debut single ‘Where Did Love Go’ in a RED ARMANI SATIN GOWN. This was a track produced by the legendary David Foster, the man behind the success of classic syrupy balladeers like Celine Dion, Elton John and the reason why karaoke is still alive today. Miraculously, this formula of a mega-producer combined with a virtual nobody from Singapore  propelled ‘Where Did Love Go’ to the top of the Billboard Dance charts. It’s likely that the fee paid to Foster alone cost more than the profits of Sun’s first album in Singapore. Minus the CHC fanbase of course.

Five Mandarin platinum albums aside, she’s also the only Singaporean artiste to ever appear at the Grammys twice.   In 2007, the good Christian diva image was shed, and a collaboration with Wyclef Jean of the FUGEES resulted in CHINA WINE, with Ho channeling a premenopausal Nicki Minaj going by the street name of ‘GEISHA’. By taking such gimmicky liberties with all things Asian, China Wine is to Christianity as Annabelle Chong is to Singaporean film.  Most Singaporeans would have realised by now that Ho wasn’t going to be the Asian Charlotte Church. If she had worn crucifixes over lingerie in her performances there wouldn’t be the slightest hint of irony at all. China Wine even sounds like a euphemism for some date rape drug, judging from the raunchy chorus:

China wine, china wine, china wine, china wine, china wine, china wine
Mix da china wine with di dutty wine

I’ve no idea what ‘di dutty wine’ means, though it sounds like Jamaican slang for semen. More telling is the following line:

Look upon da girl a shes a dirty wina
Ed Hardy, dats her designa

(Sun not only wears Ed Hardy, but used to own a store at Heeren with husband Kong Hee. Her wardrobe’s full of it too. Apparently hip clothing sells better than bibles)

Sun Ho in an alternate Christian universe

2009 saw the release of ‘Fancy Free’, which had Ho in MILF meets Lady Gaga Ninja garb while sounding like Gwen Stefani. The music video was directed by Joseph Kahn, the creative hand behind Britney Spears’ Toxic video. A couple of saucy videos, expensive collaborators, endorsements from congregation and you’ve earned yourself a Hollywood home. In 2010, it was reported that Ho rents her place in Hollywood Hills at $28,000 a month, supposedly sharing the same ground that Brad and Angelina walk on. If she could convert either one of them, all would be forgiven. China Wine included.

With CD sales plummeting worldwide and Ho not producing a hit single since her turn to the ‘vamp’ side, it’s not possible for someone to lap up a lavish Hollywood lifestyle without a ‘little help’ from your flock. Whether by the Grace of God or shrewd ‘investments’, Ho has put Singapore ‘on the map’, even if she’s been packaged and sold like a comfort woman with dreadlocks while at it. It doesn’t, however, excuse the CHC bigwigs of turning the prayers and generosity of many into one bad Ed-Hardy endorsed dancehall-reggae-rap -astrophe after another.  Interestingly, in a 2003 Today article, it was reported that Ho was named one of the Outstanding Young Persons by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. One of the past winners was a certain CEO of another charity who later got himself into trouble as well using funds for dialysis patients to affix gold taps in his toilet.

His name? T T DURAI.

Postscript: As befitting of a charismatic leader, CHC members continue to support the shamed Kong Hee, clamouring for him outside court, tweeting words of faith and encouragement and a certain Christopher Pang  being so bold as to threaten the COC with defamation in a written letter to MCYS Minister Chan Chun Sing. Meanwhile the cash till rolls up to $50 million, with luxury property in Sentosa added to the windfall, and Kong Hee is desperately tweeting verses from the Bible like the one below,  forgetting to include @JesusChrist in his plaintive pleas. Not sure if Chan Chun Sing belongs to any denomination himself, though he used to study at Economics at CHRIST’S COLLEGE, Cambridge.

The Case of the open MRT train door

From ‘So, was door of moving train open?’, article by Rachel Chang, 22 June 2012, ST

TRAIN operator SMRT has assured passengers that its trains will not be able to move off if the doors are not properly closed. This is in response to a picture posted online of a train supposedly running with one of its doors open.

‘We wish to reassure commuters that the MRT system is built with many fail-safe features to ensure passenger safety,’ the company said in a statement yesterday. SMRT also said it has looked into the matter and questioned the veracity of the picture.

…It also said that Ms Samantha Francis (content producer of STOMP), 23, who claimed to have taken the picture at Lakeside MRT station on Tuesday night, was not actually at the MRT station that day. This assertion is based on CCTV footage and Ms Francis’ ez-link card details, it added.

In the statement, an SMRT spokesman also said that the railings of the train tracks visible in the picture do not match those at Lakeside MRT.

No Open Door Policy

You know a nation is deprived of worthy news when it is gripped by something like a train door refusing to close, sensationalising it to a ‘mystery’ and ‘web of intrugue’ of detective story proportions. People seem more interested in knowing if (Oops!) SMRT did it again, rather than speculating why rich foreigners are falling more than 50 floors to their grisly deaths off Skypark, Marina Bay Sands. Where were the CCTVs then? Since Stomp’s Samantha has stepped up to defend allegations of duping the nation and no record of her presence was found, it’s either she got the station wrong, or she’s a shape-shifting vampire who can pass through gantries undetected and whose image evades video capture. That at least explains why she works for a soul-sucking website that encourages and rewards the shaming of innocent people in public, even if some ‘content’ turn out to be hoaxes like ‘Woman combs armpit hair on MRT’.

 In all these years in service, SMRT has accepted partial responsibility for crushing people on the tracks, apologised for breakdowns, lapses in security against Swiss graffitti artists, overcrowded trains and platforms , but fully stands by the mechanics of their train doors. Perhaps the fact that they’re are so good at clamping objects like grocery bags adds further support to use ‘fail-safes’ as a valid reason to question Samantha’s snapshot as physically impossible. It’s also the last saving grace for SMRT; they’ve had their share of cable tie, signal and power cable woes, even their escalators occasionally fall apart,  but hey, at least their  DOORS are still fully functional.

Fail-safe but not fruit-safe

Or are they? In 2010, SMRT conceded that the doors CAN OPEN A BIT when on the move, creating a maximum allowable gap of 10cm. Called a ‘push-back’ device, this is useful in a situation where things get trapped, like say the bag of fruits above. Is it then physically possible for a few strong men to overcome the opposing push-pull forces and pry a door open by more than 10cm? Judging by how someone had to break a window during the North-South Line breakdown for air, probably not. But curiously enough, this isn’t the first time that someone has complained of train doors opening in between stations, with SMRT again raising the guardian spectre that is the ‘fail-safe’ mechanism in their statement in 2010:

The train has been withdrawn from service and we are currently performing checks,’ the spokesman said, adding that all LRT trains are equipped with fail-safe features to ensure passenger safety. For example, a system ensures that trains will not be able to move off if the train doors are not properly closed.

Treating a hidden set of levers and pistons as a PR fairy godmother who comes to your rescue aside, what’s important here is nobody fell out of the gaping hole, if it in fact existed. And like their motto of ‘Moving People’ suggests, SMRT should do the same for this matter, do the necessary service checks and everybody just MOVE on already. If there’s anything good coming about this, no matter what the outcome and whether Ms Francis keeps her job, it’s that you’ll think twice before leaning against train doors, and especially think twice before posting anything from Stomp on Facebook.

Postscript: SPH editor in chief Patrick Daniel eventually apologised to SMRT for what turned out to be firstly a photo deliberately taken out of context (it was believed to be taken at a terminal station instead of actually moving) and a brazen attempt by Samantha Francis to con SMRT, resulting in her sacking. But what’s worrying about this case is the source of the photo, which Samantha claims to be taken off Twitter. Let’s hope it remains a microblogging tool rather than a microstomping one.

Woffles Wu lying to the police

From ‘Plastic surgeon Woffles Wu fined $1K for lying to the police’, 13 June 2012, article in asiaone.com

Renowned plastic surgeon Woffles Wu Tze Liang was fined $1,000 after pleading guilty in a district court today for conspiring with an elderly employee to provide incorrect information to the police. Wu got Mr Kuan Yit Wah to lie on two occasions to the police that he was the driver behind Wu’s car when it was caught speeding in Nov 2006 and Sept 2005, reported The Straits Times.

…Senior Counsel Harry Elias asked the judge for leniency, stating that Wu had made numerous contributions to Singapore and the aesthetic surgery sector. Wu operates an aesthetic surgery and laser centre at Camden Medical Centre in Orchard Boulevard, and is often quoted in newspapers on issues relating to plastic surgery.

For ‘perverting the course of justice’, Dr Woffles has to pay a paltry sum which costs almost a tenth of what he earns from a chin implant, or a 50th of a liposuction procedure. Just a single NIPPLE surgery can pay off this fine easily (Woffles doesn’t like ‘em ‘big, grisly, shrunken rambutan nipples’. Funny man).  Woffle’s ‘abetment’ charge is just cheating without any money or gifts being exchanged.  Though no money or ‘gratification’ were exchanged in this case, paying someone to take the rap for your speeding offence has landed less prominent people in jail (2 months’ jail for paying man to take the rap, 25 Dec 2009, ST). In 2010, Charlie Lim Chau Lee was jailed 6 MONTHS for getting friends to take the rap for running a red light.

Last year, model Evangeline Tay was fined $2000 for engaging the eager aid of an ex-cop (6 months jail) and a property agent (3 months) to be ‘fall guys’ for her beating a red light. That is, putting your conspirators in the slammer for a total of 9 months while you get a slap on the wrist and a prescription for Prozac. Apparently she was suffering from an Alex Ong disease (depression), hence spared a jail term. God knows how many important people Woffles have saved from the decaying brink of their ‘golden years’ in the course of his work. In the land of the saggy, the man with the Botox syringe is king.

According to a 15 June ST article (Woffles Wu pays fine, but speeding probe is ongoing), Woffles reportedly said:

‘I believe many people similarly did not know that this is an offence…I was fined for providing the name of someone who was not driving the car, and it was a silly thing I did’

Not knowing if something is a legal offence doesn’t make it less WRONG. Did he think sabotaging someone else was some kind of ‘silly’ prank? There’s no playfulness or mischief in his actions at all. Just fear and deceit, especially for one who willingly exploits 1) an elderly person, 2) an employee and 3) knows that because of the scapegoat’s age he is unlikely to be jailed (and a fine can be settled out of the spare change in his pocket). Woffles not only obstructed justice, but coerced a vulnerable human being into a difficult position (perhaps in exchange for an unlimited supply of his patented ‘Woffles Lift’). For someone who eliminates fine lines and crows’ feet for a living, one must wonder how many more frown lines he must have inflicted upon this poor uncle. It doesn’t even make sense to suspect a 80 year old man for speeding at more than 90 km/hr unless he’s got his walking stick jammed against the accelerator.

One can’t deny Woffles’ contributions to a svelte, wrinkleless, A-cup free society. He’s even ‘presented’ a local movie called Singapore Dreaming. But it’s not the first time this God of the Botox cult has had his integrity questioned. In 2002, he was fined $4000 by the Singapore Medical Council for professional misconduct running a sideline selling skincare products while head at SGH. Plastic surgery, media spokeperson, involvement in the arts and flamboyant 8 days columns aside, a relatively unknown piece of trivia about Woffles is that he used to be a snooker king in the eighties, a ‘smooth criminal’ indeed.  It’s unlikely that Woffles’ reputation and professional integrity as an award-winning plastic surgeon would get tarnished by this incident, though you’ll probably never see him make the list of most trustworthy Singaporeans  again.

Postscript: On 17 June 2012, Law Minister K Shanmugam clarified the charge imposed, dismissing any claims that Woffles was let off easily because he was ‘rich’. He escaped on a technicality since he committed the offence when ‘misleading’ the police  fell within the Road Traffic Act and not the more severe Penal Code in 2008. To be more specific, he was ‘rich enough to hire the best lawyers’.

Well, since the AGC has prompted us to consider the law before 2008, it’s easier to dig out inconsistencies in how it was applied then. In 1993, a man who gave his brother’s particulars after he beat a traffic light was found guilty of giving false information to the police. Delivery assistant Foo Wah Lee was slapped with a 3 week jail sentence (Man gets jail for lying to Traffic Police, 26 Nov 1993, ST). In the same year, a hawker was jailed for lying that it was his wife who was caught beating the red light so that his licence would not be suspended (Motorist jailed for lying to avoid suspension, 8 May 1993, ST).

In 2003, national footballer Ahmad Latiff  was suspected of taking the rap for his wife after his BMW was caught speeding. According to the report, a person making a false declaration to authorities is guilty of a criminal offence which carries a maximum of TWO WEEKS jail. However, the footballer was acquitted eventually after charges were dropped (National plater acquitted of speeding, 22 May 2003, ST). In the latest press statement, the AGC stated ‘as there was no major accident or injury, the AGC said it was considered appropriate to charge Wu under the Road Traffic Act’.  Neither was there any accident in the above examples, but offenders faced jail time anyway.

It appears that the only difference  between a 1K fine and a jail term is Woffles got SOMEONE ELSE to lie on his behalf, whether Mr Kuan did it on his own accord out of indebtedness or was coerced remains unknown. But it ‘s clear what Woffles’ INTENTION was, as he admitted in his quote above (‘I was fined for providing the name of someone who was not driving the car’). Woffle’s scapegoat appears to be carefully selected, he did the same thing TWICE, and he hid this cheating incident away for 6 years, yet this pinprick penalty was within ‘the norm of usual sentences’. As for the police taking an old man’s cooked up stories, time to take some lie-detection courses, guys.

Keyboard thug apologising to DPM Teo

From ‘JC student apologises to DPM for blog post’, 8 June 2012, article by Stacey Chia and Matthias Chew, ST

Junior college student Reuben Wang was so annoyed by what he heard from a VIP at a seminar that he blogged: ‘F*** you, sir.’ The VIP was Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the key speaker at this year’s annual Pre-U Seminar attended by more than 500 students last week.

Reuben’s blog post went viral and he blogged again, unrepentant about his use of the expletive. But on Thursday, the St Andrew’s Junior College (SAJC) student had a change of heart, met Mr Teo at the Ministry of Home Affairs and apologised to him.

The JC1 student told The Straits Times later that he realised his post was ‘rash’ after reading his friends’ comments. Mr Teo said: ‘I am glad he has taken the time to reflect, and recognises that what he said, as well as the way he said it, were wrong.

…He accused Mr Teo of dodging difficult questions during the question-and-answer portion of the seminar on May 29, by turning the questions on students instead of answering them himself. They included questions on press freedom and a sense of belonging in Singapore.

Reuben wrote the profanity three times in his 700-word public post. Three days later, he wrote again to say he stood by his remarks, even as he conceded that his use of the swear word was in ‘bad taste’.

‘I  see people asking you questions but you tossed them right back, so I’m like F*** you..ooo-hoo-hoo!’

Just before Reuben had a sudden change of heart and decided to man up and apologise to TCH, someone wrote an article bashing his behavior as the sign of a cowardly, impertinent youth gone wild with no ‘respect for an elder person’, referring to the generation of kids who’re more vocal online than face to face as ‘a generation of keyboard thugs’. Fact is  ‘keyboard thugs’ have always existed, before even blogs or Facebook, and it’s not just irresponsible brats with no experience in the ‘ways of the world’ (unlike ‘elder statesmen’) who’re ‘hiding behind screens’ dishing out the dirt. Reuben doesn’t deserve to be given a name associated with certain gangsta rappers, and anyone who’s an advocate for Internet ‘hygiene’ should himself refrain from calling 17 year olds names as well.

Bone Thugs and Disharmony

If critics are so appalled by the utter disrespect displayed by an otherwise passionate 17 year old like Reuben, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise when they trawl random forums, where one will see anonymous ‘fuck you’s aimed at politicians in general, including the ELDEST politician ever, without even bothering to end it with a ‘SIR’. ‘Lack of respect’ and ‘Asian values’ are also used on plucky journalists who dare to interrupt elder politicians as well, as ‘Why My Vote Matters’ Today reporter Lee Ching Wern would attest in 2006, after calling the PAP ‘arrogant’ before the likes of LKY. ‘Asian values’ which tell you the right way to bow before seniors has no place in healthy political discourse, and even a politician on a ventilator with peripheral neuropathy approaching his 90th birthday shouldn’t deter challengers, as long as you pose your argument like a gentleman.  Of course it’s one’s choice if you decide to use ‘F-U’ is a stat sweetener (hence more attention) for what you write.  It’s probably unfair to generalise our youth as a bunch of gutless, ungrateful, vulgar cyber-whingers. If you equip a kopitiam uncle with the necessary skills, he’d probably slap TCH about with a couple of Hokkien vulgarities as well. And he may even be OLDER than our DPM too.

Before the rather harsh ‘thug’ connotation, bloggers like Reuben were  ‘keyboard warriors’. A derogative term meant to describe anyone whose online bark is worse than their bite, instead of the usual classic virtues of sacrifice, strength and honour associated with the ancient word ‘warrior’. Celebrity model blogger Xuesha used it against people calling her a bimbo for mispronouncing ‘Forbes’. A YOG Cheer contest winner used it against critics of JJ Lin’s ridiculous Oh Yeah Oh Yeah cheer. Before you know it, anyone with an honest OPINION is dubbed a keyboard warrior (which makes me the Braveheart of all keyboard warriors…You can take away my blog, but you can’t take away..MY KEYBOARD!!). It’s only in 2011 when the GE took hold that ‘keyboard warrior’ applied to people expressing their political views online without following up with ‘action’. Yet we know of people who talk  in public all the time with the same end result (NATO:No action Talk Only). Do we call them ‘microphone’ warriors then?

Once were warriors

Last year, the Cyber Wellness Student Ambassadors created a role unfortunately titled ‘Cyber WARRIORS’, where instead of launching online attacks on incompetent teachers as the role suggests, these volunteers are in fact countering ‘cyber-bullies’, who are a vicious subset of ‘keyboard warriors’ more aligned to the ‘thug’ family. To add to the confusion, we also have ‘trolls’ too. Thugs, warriors, bullies, trolls. I think we should rename the Internet  community ‘Middle Earth’, more specifically MORDOR. I guess we know who’s Gandalf the WHITE then.

This tired tactic of ‘questioning the questioner’, despite its intention to ‘provoke thought’ instead of spoon-feeding kids with answers, should be used sparingly, lest it be seen as an unlimited ‘Get out of Jail card ‘when one DOESN’T have the answer himself. DPMs can’t afford to say ‘I don’t know’ in front of the bright-eyed future of Singapore, and we can’t expect them to have the answers ALL the time.  As a public figure, in fact for any public speaker with subject expertise in my opinion, you need to at least show some mettle and set an example through wisdom and confidence. You need to inspire instead of being seen as a ‘good listener’. You need to hold the handles on your child’s training bike and give direction before letting it go. You want your audience to occasionally nod in unison instead of sitting slack-jawed and dumbfounded feeling like this ‘dialogue’ was an utter waste of time.  You need to deliver a ‘take-home message’ not ‘homework’. Otherwise it’s not so much Q n A but rather Q n Q. Or you can totally dominate your quizzers like the consumate lawyer-politician that is LKY.

Perhaps our history of political stifling and fear indoctrination have rendered our youths mute in the face of politicians, which explains our pent-up hostility online. LKY once complained why no Singaporean spoke up at a NTU student forum. Vivian Balakrishnan had a tough time engaging youths in 2008, with one attendee saying that ‘you can’t anyhow say what you want to a minister…in case the minister shoots a question back at you’. Asking the questioner questions back isn’t the only thing deterring aspiring youths from confronting ministers. Some would even pry into your private life and ask you to to weigh your priorities between a pHD and having a boyfriend. It’s also not surprising that some conspiracy theorists would see this a calculated ploy to boost TCH’s ratings after his own WP bullying. A rascal says ‘fuck you’ to him and he not only tolerates it but entertains a face-to-face apology cum getting-to-know-you session, which gives the impression of a leader who not only encourages the youth to ‘think for themselves’ but is magnanimous and obliging as well. The government’s PR unit must be wetting their beds in ecstasy.

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