188 words of inspiration stolen from Night Festival

From ‘Stolen art pieces paint ugly picture of society’, 10 Sept 2013, ST Forum

(Aw Yang Kang Ming): I WAS disappointed to find out that people would actually steal pieces of an artwork at the Singapore Night Festival (“More words of art go missing”; Sept 2). The installation by artist Karen Mitchell featured 365 wooden panels that were supposed to represent the shared aspirations of everyone.

Why would anyone want to remove an artistic installation that was supposed to inspire people?

Removing the panels is akin to downloading licensed content from the Internet without permission from the author; it is theft and a clear sign of disrespect to the creator. It also showcases the dissolute side of people; what would foreigners think of our society?

Perhaps the 188 panels went missing because they were not affixed onto any permanent structure.

Did any one of these say ‘FREE’?

When artist Karen Mitchell made her woodwork installation to be of the interactive sort, she didn’t expect viewers to ‘assimilate’ her work so well that they decided to take them home. Clearly, some people still don’t grasp the concept of street art. When they see others playing with these wooden slabs like how one browses wares at a flea market, but don’t see anyone around collecting money, they assume that it’s a free-for-all jamboree like those cheese samples promoters dish out at NTUC supermarkets.

Respect for the artist is one thing, but taking something that clearly doesn’t belong to you from public space is the fundamental no-no which we were taught as babies. I don’t see any practical use of Karen’s panels anyway, unless they were swiped by parents too cheapskate to buy spelling cue cards for their kids. I would, however, pay her if she could craft a sign for me that says ‘SILENCE’ or maybe ‘TOILET’. If anyone did surrender pieces of her work to her eventually, they deserve a gift panel with the word ‘CHAMPION’ on it.

The term that describes such ugly behaviour in the local context is ‘itchy fingers’, and Karen isn’t the first artist to suffer from a meddlesome public. A dragon sculpture displayed at a square near Chinatown Complex vanished completely in 2000 (So who stole the dragon? 15 May 2000, ST). In the 2001 Nokia Singapore Art exhibition, Tay Bee Aye’s 179 small fabric cushions shaped as lips gracing the pillars of Suntec City were nicked. Wikipedia explained away the theft by mentioning that her work was ‘too well received’. You could say the same thing if my sculpture of a famous politician built entirely out of gold tooth fillings got amputated overnight, that it was ‘overwhelmingly popular’ with the public. Sure, these petty looters ‘appreciate’ your handiwork. Like how a starving mongrel ‘receives’ a gourmet butcher meat display perhaps.

Even artistic attempts to spruce up our streets by government agencies are not immune from grubby hands. In 2009, STB introduced flower ‘totems’ to brighten up Orchard Road, but decided to move them to Sentosa instead because people were stealing flowers.  I wonder if in this instance such anti-social behaviour would have been considered vandalism instead, though you’re more likely to be charged for defacing public property than taking a piece of it with you. Spray-paint over the Cenotaph and you’ll go to jail, but I doubt you’ll be punished the same way if you chisel off a bit of staircase as a souvenir. For a country so paranoid about CCTV surveillance that we have them set up to catch people taking a piss in lifts, we still don’t seem deterred from messing around with someone’s livelihood in broad daylight.

Perhaps Karen, and anyone aspiring to be a street artist in Singapore, could learn from this experience and come up with immovable themes instead of designs that easily come apart encouraging people to ‘interact’ with them like a pack of wolves descending on fallen prey. Otherwise, rig each detachable piece from your work with an electric charge so that people will be conditioned to keep their hands to themselves once and for all.

As the Bee Gees famously sung,

‘It’s only words
And words are all I have
To take your heart away’

In Karen’s case, her WORDS, not the audience’s HEARTS, were the ones swept away.

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Ilo Ilo child actor physically assaulted on set

From ‘Why was child actor caned’, 8 June 2013, Mailbag, ST

(Teo Eng Swee): I refer to the article, As Real As It Gets (SundayLife!, June 2), on the award- winning film Ilo Ilo directed by Anthony Chen.

It is stated that the child actor was caned for real several times in two takes while shooting a scene. I was taken aback to read that the child was physically assaulted in the name of achieving realism in the film. Even though his mother appeared to have consented to the caning, this seems to be wrong. Animals are humanely treated during filming. It seems to me that children should be treated to a much higher standard.

I hope that the relevant authorities, such as the Media Development Authority, Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Manpower, will set high standards that safeguard children who are working in the entertainment industry

Koh Jia Ler, 12, had no issue with being whipped on set. In fact, in the interview he said it was a ‘small thing to him’ and admitted that Mommy used to trounce him when he was younger. Which means some parents are still using the old fashioned method of discipline as recently as 2000. I believe a TWELVE year old actor should be mature and professional enough to deal with a little pain for the price of stardom. After all, this could be the very last time he may experience the once familiar hot sting of tough love. These days, men either have to PAY, or go on a graffiti rampage, to get some spanking dished out.

Only time will tell if being flogged for everyone in Cannes to see would leave psychological scars on a growing boy. Protective parents and human rights activists could be up in arms over Ilo Ilo for being too ‘gritty’ for its own good, but forget that they live in a country where even adults are systematically caned as a form of punishment. Foreign audiences familiar with our barbaric penalties would view the scene as a commentary of Singapore’s medieval caning ‘culture’, though modern parents, Singaporean or otherwise, generally shun the rod and spoil the child instead. Better they turn out to be brats who sleep with their iPads than hooked on Prozac and listen to goth. If a stern voice, fierce scowl and ‘reasoning’ works for your kid, then congrats. But if the little bastard turns out to be a problem child from hell, then perhaps a ‘light touch’ which celebrity parenting gurus rave about may be as useful as placing a crucifix on Godzilla.

But this isn’t the first time the dreaded Cane is featured in a local movie. Jack Neo unleashed his fury with one in ‘I Not Stupid Too’.

In the original I Not Stupid, Jack slapped the boy actor playing his son (Shawn Lee) till he BLED FROM THE NOSE. It was almost comical in its brutality. Damn it Jack, either you’re paying your child actors too well or you’ve hired budding masochists for your films. Today, Shawn Lee seems like a normal young adult in a relationship according to his Facebook page despite being viciously attacked by Neo before puberty. Didn’t think he needed ‘safeguarding’ by the likes of MDA, an agency known for doing more damage ‘protecting’ the public than doing nothing at all.

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 12.39.22 PM

Tough love Jack Neo style

You don’t hear anybody complaining about I Not Stupid’s violence against children, nor children inflicting violence on themselves (Shawn’s character considered SUICIDE by jumping) because its attempt at sociopolitical satire overshadowed all explicit depictions of child abuse. In fact, Neo’s film was lauded by the British, for whom caning or smacking children is ILLEGAL. Most locals tend not to gasp and cover their eyes at such scenes, not because we routinely mete out corporal punishment ourselves, but we can understand why some parents resort to smacking Singaporean kids about. For those at the end of their tether but struggling to hold back, you could even say they’re envious of it. But why harp on tortured child actors when women are getting slapped left-right-centre in Taiwanese soap operas?

Let’s hope it’s not just a case of forbidden fruit and Western parents’ secret desire to throttle their unruly kids that earned Ilo Ilo its 15-minute standing ovation triumph at Cannes, that the movie won its prize not because people are drawn to Singaporean kids being ass-whipped as they are to North Korean kids playing hopscotch. If MDA censors Ilo Ilo because of scenes depicting child cruelty, perhaps another Hong Lim protest is in order. We could call it #FreeMyIloIlo, but that would sound too much like a protest about pasta.

Doh’mestic violence

F1 extension delights almost everyone

From ‘News of F1 extension delights all but bay area businesses’, 23 Sept 2012, article by May Chen, ST online

Almost every one, from fans to hotels to Formula One drivers, welcomed the extension of the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday with open arms – every one except several retailers in the Marina Bay area.

Their main beef: The disruption to business when the area goes into lockdown for the three-day extravaganza.

“The race brings a buzz to town, but not everybody is impressed. A lot of people try to stay away and it affects our business, and a lot of other people’s businesses,” said Indochine chief executive Michael Ma yesterday, a refrain echoed by Allan Chia, who operates a pushcart in Suntec City selling mobile phone accessories. “People avoid Suntec City altogether because of the road closures,” said the 35-year-old.

Well, not just the bay side retailers. While the hotels and banks may be popping the champagne with all the money flowing in, the latter flying in VIPs to hobnob with drivers and the rich and famous at the Paddock Club, there have been opposing voices to the F1 Night Race right from the get-go. So it may be rather presumptuous to announce how everyone will embrace another 5 years of night racing, when some groups were already up in arms over the inaugural one in 2008. It’s also worth noting that we didn’t get off to an auspicious start either, with Fernando Alonso winning the first Night race because a Renault teammate deliberately crashed his car to give him an advantage (I don’t know enough about racing to see how that helps). Nobody ever mentions ‘Crashgate’ anymore since, though we had a multi-religious prayer this year to make sure such ‘accidents’ don’t happen. It’s also taboo to even discuss the Ferrari accident near race period, and it’s somewhat ironic that we label supercar drivers here a menace to our roads on one hand, yet embrace the F1 with gusto on the other.

F1 claims to be making conscious ‘green’ efforts to improve on their fuel efficiency and emissions, like planting trees in Mexico or using biofuels, though such actions may register nary a blip on the carbon ECG, especially if they neutralise each other when you need to starve viable forest land to make way for fuel crops. Our Government continues to enthuse over how this event is putting our tiny country on the map, high on the ‘buzz’ that the addictive cocktail of fast cars and posh celebrity delivers, but conveniently forgetting in their delirium that we once made a PLEDGE to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 16% by 2020. Oops.

In 2007, some forum writers spurned the energy-guzzling and glamour posing that comes with each F1, that hosting this event sends conflicting messages to the rest of the world about our stand on energy conservation and combating climate change. One moment we’re talking about supertrees and the next thing you know we’re pounding our streets with oil-guzzling supercars. According to a senior ST correspondent, a single race produces up to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide, this excluding that spewed from freighting cars and equipment into and out of the country. But it’s not so much the noise, the exhaust or the heat that brands every night race an eco-nightmare; It’s the damned lighting.

According to one website dedicated to the F1 Night Race, the lighting statistics are as follows:

Total Power   3,180,000 watt
Track Projectors  1, 485, 2,000 watt each
Power Generators  12 pairs (with back-up)
Aluminium Truss 6,282m
Steel Pylons   240
Power Cables  108, 423m

At 3000 LUX levels, the lighting is FOUR TIMES the lights at sports stadiums. The gorgeous illuminated skyline that we’re so proud of, the one that helicopter cameras glide across every year like a director lingering over naked thighs in a porno film, is the result of a dozen generators belching 3 megawatts of electricity, the same amount that could light up a few Malaysia Cup final matches at the National Stadium, or serve a few underprivileged households. Will Singapore compromise when we face an oil crisis within the next 5 years, or perhaps consider switching to a less wasteful DAY race instead? But you can’t argue about electricity expenditure without sounding like a spoilsport who doesn’t appreciate the exhilaration of night racing. Singapore NEEDS the F1, so they say. But you don’t need bright lights and dozens of expensive parties and concerts to make an icon out of Marina Bay. Sometimes, all you need is an amateur porn star and a camera.

No it’s not about our national identity, the Marina glitter, the F1 fans or the small pushcart businesses in Suntec City. It’s about the after-race Dom Perignons, the $26,600 per table at Amber Lounge,  the $6850 Paddock Club pass.  Few people who could spend thousands on a ticket are really interested in the technicalities of the sport, rather using it as a backdrop for business or high-society pleasure. Money is all there is to it, and while we rush headlong into this glitzy fantasy, our heads reverberating with the erotic growl of the engine and our hearts pumping with adrenaline, our most influential supporters of the race continue to sleepwalk through our energy conservation efforts, dump flyers at us telling us how to save electricity (but not the trees obviously) while raising tariffs, yet preparing for the next race bash by hugging for dear life onto whatever surplus oil barrels we have.

$17 million NDP having too many rehearsals

From ‘Reduce expenditure for National Day Parade’, 14 Sept 2012, ST Forum

(Matthew Yeo): I AM surprised by the amount of public funding for the National Day Parade (“National Day Parade costs rise to $17.2m”; Tuesday). Why was there a need for so many rehearsals? A glitch is all right, especially when we now believe it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.

I am also curious to know why the cost of fireworks and ammunition was not mentioned. Were they really necessary during rehearsals? Each year, there are too many man-hours lost in the rehearsals, which blunt the excitement of the actual Parade itself.

The most expensive NDP ever held ($20 million) was in 2010 at the Padang, not that I remembered anything about it that distinguished this from the rest (It went mostly into laying the stage for the show, including 17 support towers for 3 LED screens). Though expenses dipped last year, it’s worth recalling that some of that 17 million went into making fun packs, and the FUN PACK song, which ended up being scrapped, and wasted, for copyright reasons. Today’s standards, of course, are a far cry from the 1 million budget we allocated to NDP in the eighties, a time when they could produce more memorable National Songs on $2.50 cassette tapes than the multi-million polished laser-guided extravangzas of today ever can. In the past, some Singaporeans thought that props like a $143,000 ‘PSA Dragon’ were a total waste of money, which does make sense considering how you only show off these dazzling displays a couple of times and then chuck them aside forever.

The reason for the expensive rehearsals and previews is that the NDP is not just for the general Singaporean audience alone, where you can ‘glitch’ up and not worry about being flamed online later. The NDP has to be blooper-free because it’s not just us or the government and President watching, but perhaps the rest of the world. As a once-a-year event with a long history of prestige and pride, this singular celebration of a nation, the holy mother of all parades and performances, has to run like clockwork because on this one very special day, the NDP simply has to be the Greatest Propaganda Show on Earth and there is no excuse in not delivering anything less. As a means to show off our military might to make our neighbours tremble with apprehension and showcase our ability to afford pyrotechnics, itself a prime indicator of our economic health, running it like a school play is to risk mockery by the entire nation. Not everyone is as forgiving as the complainant if some soldier misfires, if the parade commander botches his commands, or if someone in the VIP seat starts playing with their phone during the National Anthem. In 2006, someone complained to the press about a SPELLING error on the NDP TICKET (separate, not seperate). Last year, some disapproved of cross-dressing in one of the skits and called for the parade to be slapped with a NC-16 warning. Such vehemence towards cock-ups just goes to show how high our expectations are for this annual blast of pomp and patriotism, like deprived peasants devouring the bloody spectacle of a gladiator match in a Colosseum. You want to see savage beasts dismembering each other, not whimpering pussy cats dodging balls of wool.

But perhaps we’re only looking at costs at face value, for there are environmental reasons to curb the festivities as well. In 2008, someone suggested cancelling the flypast during NDP because it consumed jet fuel and caused noise pollution during rehearsals.  If you’re a nature lover you may bemoan the plight of airborne creatures exposed to the chemical fizz from fireworks or wild shots from 21 gun salutes. Yet, within the same year, the same eco-warrior may have added more destructive carbon into the atmosphere by traveling, turning on the air-conditioner daily or simply watching TV. So yes, although bigger and brighter doesn’t always mean better, the NDP isn’t something to be stinged on either. It’s like replacing your grandmother’s favourite shark’s fin soup with fish maw broth during her birthday bash.

No Tau Huay allowed at Diner en Blanc

From ‘Bloggers upset over Diner En Blanc rule’, 24 Aug 2012, article by Celine Asril, insing.com

Local food is discouraged at exclusive dinner event titled ‘Dîner en Blanc – Singapore’, and this is not sitting well among some bloggers in Singapore even before they could sit down for a meal. The hush-hush food party is a mass picnic pop-up event taking place at an undisclosed location in the city, set to take place on 30 August.

It apparently started on Tuesday, 21 August, when food blogger Daniel Ang – of Daniel’s Food Diary – posted an entry about Dîner en Blanc. In his post, he provided details about the event. He also jokingly included a list of white-coloured local dishes that diners may take along. Then, four days later, he tweeted, at 2.52pm: “Dear fellow bloggers, this is the post I was told to removed by Dîner en Blanc. I hope I have your support [link provided].” This is the first time he has been asked to remove his blog post, he claims.

When asked why, Ang said, “The French organisers conveyed to the PR company that they were not happy with my post. The argument is that chicken rice and tau huay [bean curd] are not in line with their image.”

Prawns aren’t white

Daniel’s suggestion of local fare such as soon kuey and pohpiah was clearly tongue-in-cheek, though the reaction to Diner En Blanc being a stickler for some fancy-ball theme rules has been overwhelming, verging on a possible boycott and a counter-event being proposed by some powerful bloggers to show who’s boss when it comes to local cuisine. Typical of passionate Singaporeans when something so close to their hearts (and stomachs) is being dissed as ‘peasant food’ by stuck-up foreigners: Organise a copycat local gastronomical event just to irritate the hell out of them. The sheer animosity that Singaporeans feel when our beloved tau huay gets snubbed just goes to show how dearly we identify with the stuff we eat everyday, with the nationalistic fervour and vengeance as if someone defecated on our national flag. What are we, hawker Nazis now?

In response to the furore organiser Clemen Chiang quipped: “The diners have to ask themselves if they are comfortable eating you tiao (fried dough sticks) and drinking champagne. If you feel comfortable putting you tiao on your table, carry on.”(Is Tau Hway too low-class for posh picnic?, 25 Aug 2012, ST). Come off it, NOBODY eats you tiao with champagne. You should pair it with hot almond milk paste or Horlicks, both foods in line with the White theme. Chiang also mentioned that this is really an extravagant pot-luck of sorts, that ‘da-paoing’ is not encouraged, similar to another European invention called the Slow Food movement, something which will probably never take off among ravenous buffet-loving Singaporeans who take less time to finish their food than browse menus.

Some good does come out of such culinary revolt though; thanks to some complaints of curry smells last year, we got ourselves an annual CURRY festival. There’s nothing wrong, or illegal, with having silly pretentious dining restrictions for some party; that’s the whole point of having a THEME, or men owning dinner jackets and bow-ties. For example, foldable tables must be 28″ by 32″ and white. Plastic cutlery and paper plates are forbidden (even if they’re white). Only wine and champagne are allowed, while beer and hard liquour are banned (I suppose Guinness stout wouldn’t make the cut too). But silliest of all is how you’d have to CARRY your own table (not to mention the expensive chinaware) there, dressed like you came out of a Jane Austen novel, or the hospital. In this HEAT. Anyway, if you’re not happy with the rules, if you think it’s snob-porn,  if you don’t want to risk being labelled a ‘cheapskate’, if you don’t want to end up looking like you participated in a Wet T-shirt contest instead of a classy Frenchie picnic, you just don’t attend, plain and simple. You could sign up for the nearest hobo convention for all I care.

Actually, we had Diner en Blancs all along

If I held an ALL-MEAT only party and force my attendees to come dressed only in leather or fur, I would piss off plenty of vegetarians. If I organised a Bollywood party and people come in blackface, someone may make a police report. People who could afford it hold all kinds of weird fetishistic parties in secret all the time, like the Secret Cooks’ Nyamatori feast where people eat off naked bodies. Whether it’s a self-indulgent, ‘atas’ black-tie event with ridiculous standards of etiquette, a swinger’s orgy or a tea party where everyone dresses as a character from Alice In Wonderland, what these people do for fun is really none of my business. In the case of DeB, however, the use of symbolic ‘white’ as a theme also suggests a kind of holy ‘purity’, while some may associate it with Western colonialist opulence and race segregation, as what ‘exclusive’ clubs like Singapore Swimming Club used to do in the fifties, banning locals from the premises even if they dressed to the nines and could discuss cricket like a pro with the nearest cigar-munching Englishman.

Chai Tau Kway (white version) may not make the DeB list of suggested foods, but perhaps they would reconsider if Chan Chun Sing were invited VIP and decided to bring it with him to the party in a bid to win bloggers over. I mean, he could even attend the event straight from Parliament without changing. As local Gangnam style goofs ‘Dee Kosh’ and Co would sing: Give me Tau Huay.

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

National anthem is not Mari Kita

From ‘Understanding Majulah Singapura’, 4 July 2012, ST Forum

(Grace Zhang): MONDAY’S article (‘Sung with national pride’) about the significance of national anthems – or their irrelevance – spurred my thoughts about our National Anthem. In all honesty, I almost forgot its title when I tried to recall it; assuming it was Mari Kita (Let Us) because these are the first words, before I remembered that it is Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore).

Sadly, beyond the title, I have no clue what the rest of the anthem means, despite having sung it every single day from primary school to junior college.

My second problem is that the anthem is in Malay. If the purpose of a national anthem is to forge national identity and rally citizens towards a common vision or goal, why choose a language that four-fifths of Singaporeans today neither speak nor understand?

Should our National Anthem be updated? The view that doing so would open a Pandora’s box of unwelcome controversy framed along sensitive racial lines misses the point. The problem is not that most Singaporeans do not understand Malay, but that we do not understand what our National Anthem means.

More effort must be made in schools to teach the anthem to students. I remember being cursorily taught its meaning in primary school, with its translation tucked away in an obscure page of a social studies text. If efforts are not made to impress the meaning and significance of the National Anthem, then generations of students will continue to sing Majulah Singapura every morning without understanding its importance or worth.

Our national anthem has been affectionately known as ‘Mari Kita’ since the eighties, and during my time no effort was made by music teachers to decipher the lyrics for us. Even if you were grilled into appreciating the gist of the song,  if you’re not a native Malay speaker you’re highly likely to mistake your bersatu’s for your berseru’s, and not knowing what either word means. Perhaps it’s not so much we don’t get the lyrics DESPITE singing it every day in school, but rather BECAUSE of it. Whether translated into English, Chinese of Tamil, if you make a chore out of singing Majulah Singapura, it loses its meaning and hence any sense of patriotic fervour whatsoever. When Majulah’s composer Zubir Said died in 1987, the ST headlines read ‘Mr Marikita: Shy, humble and well loved’ (17 November 1987), which translates into the nonsensical Mr ‘Let Us’.  It’s also unfortunate considering ‘Marikita’ has also been abused as a euphemism for an erection, by association with flag-RAISING ceremonies and standing at attention.

Maybe it’s not so much the content or language of the anthem that matters, but the emotions, history and familiarity that its melody and mood stir within every true blue Singaporean who has ever sung it loud and proud during assembly, NDP, or a medal ceremony at the Olympics. Language is irrelevant when you have a homegrown athlete beating others on the world stage, shedding a tear on the podium when the instrumental anthem is played. In fact, ‘Onward Singapore’ doesn’t do justice to the pride and glory that swells inside us when a fellow Singaporean, not some Chinese import, achieves the unthinkable. What matters is how much heart and soul you put into it, nevermind how bad your Malay is.

It’s also hard to come up with anything catchier than our national anthem; the opening drumroll, the empathic horns, the goosebump-raising crescendoes. No composer in the history of Singaporean music has produced a more immortal tune that ranks amongst greats like ‘Chan Mali Chan’, the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Yankie Doodle’. You don’t have to understand English to know that ‘Yesterday’ is a melancholy ballad about lost love, or that ‘Yankie Doodle’ is about musket-carrying soldiers marching and tooting in victory. Chan Mali Chan just sounds like a happy song. Some have lauded Majulah as short, simple and understandable. In fact, the late S Rajaratnam believed that ‘the Malay lyrics were so simple that anyone above the age of 5, unless MENTALLY RETARDED‘ should be able to sing it (Thanks for the link, ‘Matthew’), which makes those of us adults who commit the bersatu-berseru blooper complete idiots.  ‘Majulah’ is a timeless, chest-beating classic that transcends mere words, which, as with all anthems, are ultimately banal drivel without a rousing, effective tune making it come alive. According to Wikipedia’s English translation, two thirds of the anthem consist of the following refrain:

Come, let us unite
In a new spirit
Together we proclaim
Onward Singapore
Onward Singapore

Which doesn’t make me sing Majulah with any more gusto and ‘feeling’ than if I didn’t know what it meant. Anthem aside, not many Singaporeans I know could easily rattle off what the 5 stars of the National Flag symbolise either.  We can’t even remember 5 things in English, let alone an entire song in Malay.

Postscript: A silly rumour has been floating around in the Twitterverse that the suggestion to change the anthem to Chinese was raised by President Tony Tan. No official sources of such a remark have been cited.

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