SIFA film withdrawn due to cut Molotov Cocktail scene

From ‘Singapore International Festival of Arts withdraws two films from Open event’, 18 June 15, article by Mayo Martin, Today

Organisers of the Singapore International Festival Of Arts’ (SIFA) pre-festival event The OPEN have withdrawn two films from its movie line-up after the Media Development Authority Singapore (MDA) said these required edits before it could be screened.

The films were Tony Manero by Chilean director Pablo Larrain and A German Youth by French film-maker Jean-Gabriel Periot.

…In a statement, organisers said they were informed yesterday (June 17) that both movies required a scene each to be cut due to sexual and mature content, respectively. Rather than screen a film with edits, the organisers have chosen to pull out both films “to respect the integrity of the directors’ vision and craft”.

The two scenes in question were a fellatio scene in Tony Manero and a scene featuring a video on how to make a Molotov cocktail in A German Youth. Both films had received an R21 rating on the condition that the scenes be edited.

…SIFA director Ong Keng Sen told TODAY: “The objection to the fellatio scene was that it was too graphic and extreme, but I told them it should be put into context on why people are behaving this way. It was about how violence and decadence has been imprinted in the human being.”

Meanwhile, A German Youth is a documentary that was shown at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. It traces the founding of the militant Red Army Faction and Baader-Meinhof Group.

Ong questioned the objection to the Molotov cocktail scene, citing how the information on making one is already available on the Internet. “I tried Googling how to make it and it’s all within the first four entries. We have to ask ourselves if these censorship guidelines are still applicable when all of these are available on the Internet,” he said.

Well, you can google ‘nude uncensored sex’ on the Internet and get exactly what you want but that doesn’t mean we should scrap censorship altogether, be it for mainstream movies or ‘niche’ festival films. Cutting out a blowjob scene is probably expected of MDA, but snipping a scene teaching you how to make a homemade bomb is strange given that we do allow films featuring ‘occasional recreational drug use’, as well as cinematic step-by-step manuals on how to design and operate improvised weapons of fiery destruction, nevermind if these actually work in real life.

This scene from Salt starring Angelina Jolie, for example, tells you how to escape from a room conveniently stocked with volatile chemicals and a fire extinguisher by assembling an instant flamethrower in less than a minute.

The one and only Macgyver can blow people up using a video camera and silly putty. The whole series, in fact, is about the man making weapons out of scraps.

Which suggests that it’s OK if you’re the good guy making an explosive out of baking soda, detergent and shoelaces, but not if you’re intending to use it in a riot against the Authority. If that’s the case, we should also censor films and TV featuring scenes of people smashing bottles in half and turning them into stabbing weapons. We already banned beer bottles in Tekka hawker centre for the exact same reason anyway.

In fact, in the fifties before we had videotapes not to mention Youtube, the ST even revealed an old-timey homemade bomb recipe in one of their riot reports: Petroleum jelly/trade rubber, petrol, cotton fuse. Today, you can experiment with DIY detonators using nothing but ingredients and accessories bought from Daiso. You could build a bomb in pyjamas over your kitchen sink without having to put on goggles, labcoat or safety boots. You don’t need an obscure film from a festival that few people care about to transform us into amateur terrorists overnight.

Other than cracking down on festival films glamourising bomb-making, terrorism, explicit sex and homosexuality, our censors also objected to themes that potentially threaten religious and racial order. In 2004, we banned ‘The Final Solution‘, an Indian documentary that was considered ‘inflammatory’ because it dealt with communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. Singapore’s very own ‘To Singapore With Love’ was a liability to national security. I’m not surprised no one has thought of making a film based on the true story of Mas Selamat’s escape. It would probably be banned as well because it puts a certain minister in a bad light, and teaches viewers how to slip out of a toilet and cross over to Malaysia amid tight security, without having to assemble a single Molotov cocktail while at it.

Then there were the weird ones. In 2008, we banned ‘Bakushi’, a Japanese film about rope bondage. 6 years later, we passed ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ without cuts on the big screen with an R(21) rating. Perhaps there is hope for fetish fans after all. Still, it’s ridiculously ironic how the cut Molotov cocktail scene is categorised here as ‘mature content’, when the censors obviously think adults are not mature enough to handle it, that people would suddenly become ‘self-radicalised’ after watching a foreign film, go raid liquor and hardware stores, then fly a private plane above the city and drop little homemade bombs causing death, destruction and chaos everywhere.

Pearl Bank apartments to be gazetted for conservation

From ‘Why the sudden decision to conserve Pearl Bank?’, 5 June 2015, ST Forum

(Loke Chee Meng): I AM surprised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) decision to consider conserving the Pearl Bank apartments based on a submission by the owners (“URA sees merit in conservation plan for Pearl Bank”; last Saturday, and “Conservation ‘can unlock Pearl Bank’s value'”; Monday).

Until recently, Pearl Bank would have met the wrecking ball had the owners’ last attempt at a collective sale been successful. The owners’ representative made no bones about conservation being hatched up as an afterthought to salvage the dwindling value of the ageing property after previous collective sale attempts failed.

Integral to this conservation deal is a consideration for an increase in the property’s gross floor area. If this increase were not granted, would the owners still be keen on pursuing conservation?

URA’s principle in conserving the building befuddles me. It was perfectly willing all along to allow Pearl Bank to be redeveloped after a collective sale. Why does the URA now deem the development worthy of conservation, after three attempts at a collective sale failed?

Conservation rules should not be so arbitrary that they can be exploited for self-interests. It is the authorities’ responsibility to proactively identify potential conservation buildings, as owners would make submissions only as and when it benefits them.

With more leasehold properties ageing, we may see more frivolous submissions, if the authorities do not step in, and this will undermine the process of conserving genuine historical buildings.

The 40 year old horseshoe-shaped Pearl Bank Apartment (PBA) was once described as a 38 storey 3-D jigsaw puzzle, housing 272 units, plus 8 penthouses, in a single  block. One ST writer waxed poetic about its ‘cylindrical design inspired by rounded river pebbles, fabricated to exact tolerances with just the right balance between tightness and looseness’. Its interlocking facade has also been compared to Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, an example of the style known as ‘Brutalism‘. Though described as a complex structure created by an alien space race to inspire us pathetic earthlings, it was really the brainchild of local pioneer Tan Cheng Siong.

Unlike other conserved buildings which include shophouses and bungalows, PBA may not be aesthetically pleasing to the eye at first glance, which could be said the same of other buildings of the era, including People’s Park Complex and the vertical slum that is Golden Mile Complex. They’re like the ugly forbears of the sleek condos and DBSS flats that we have now, but like the recently gazetted national monument Jurong Town Hall, what ultimately matters if how influential and aspirational the structures were at the time, even if they look like discarded engine parts of a Borg mothership. Not so lucky was Eng Cheong towers, also a child of the 70’s, which was torn to the ground to make way for the Southbank development. Another relic that was quietly removed from the face of the earth, as I was surprised to discover, was the 7th storey Hotel in Bugis. In its place now lies the Downtown Line Bugis station.

Yet beauty and heritage value alone may not preserve buildings in their entirety. In 2007, a petition was launched against the demolition of the century-old ‘Butterfly House’ at 23 Amber Road, the only bungalow with curved wings and designed by the same Regent Alfred John Bidwell of Raffles Hotel and Goodwood Park fame.  Today, only the porch sans wings remains and it serves as a ‘world-class entrance lobby’ to the 18 storey Aristo condo, described as a juxtaposition of ‘classic charm and modern luxury’.

Personally, it looks like colonial bungalow with a giant concrete tumour sticking out of it. How URA could allow this token monstrosity to exist eludes me. Regent Alfred would rather see his work burnt to ashes, than having a gorgeous house latched onto a condo like a princess forced to carry a tower of bricks on her back. Now that is Brutal. Let’s all pray that PBA doesn’t meet the same fate.

SEA games carnival ping pong table copying artist’s work

From ‘Quirky ping pong table at SEA games carnival resembles work by Singaporean artist’, 6 June 2015 article by Mayo Martin, CNA.

A circular ping pong table at the South-east Asia Games Carnival for children at Sports Hub which bears a striking resemblance to a famous artwork by a Singaporean artist has prompted criticism online.

Cultural Medallion recipient Lee Wen has said he was unaware of it of the table at the Sports Hub. His own interactive artwork, titled Ping Pong Go-Round, has the same circular features, which allow for multiple players. Variations of it have been shown in different exhibitions and fairs such as his solo retrospective in 2012 and last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong. Most recently, it was part of an exhibition of Singapore artists at the ArtScience Museum.

…“I’m trying to find out who’s in charge and talk to them to ask them to stop exhibiting until they settle with me,” he added. “It’s good that they picked up the idea but it’s as if they didn’t think it has been done before. I think they should at least talk to me. I’m thinking of asking for some compensation in terms of artists rights because according to one lawyer I’ve talked to, it’s probably an infringement of copyright.

…The ping pong table in question, called 300° Table Tennis, carries the logo of Atos, a French technology firm appointed by the organising committee to manage the information technology for the Singapore games.

While it forms a “C” and Lee’s work is a complete circle, the latter said his artwork could easily be manipulated and rejigged so that users could enter the central space.

Lawyer George Huang was quoted by the ST (‘Horseshoe shaped ping pong table by SEA games organiser similar to artwork by artist Lee Wen, 5 June 2015’) as saying that Lee’s ping pong table is ‘very simple’ and it’s possible for anyone to come up with the same design independently. Well, everything is obvious on hindsight, George.

According to IPOS, ‘artistic works‘ may be protected under copyright law, but the ‘idea or concept’ of the sport of table tennis isn’t. So what happens when the worlds of art and sport collide and you have an exhibit that’s viewed as ‘artwork’ in a museum, but can also easily pass off as a fancy variation of a traditional game at a sports carnival? If I’m an artist and I put up a ‘performance’ involving a badminton racket with a chapteh instead of a shuttlecock, do I have a case if someone makes it an actual Olympic sport? What if I put people in ridiculous sumo suits and make them play touch rugby? Or captain’s ball. On trampolines?

Ping Pong Go Round isn’t JUST about bouncing balls to one another, of course. The artist himself uses the analogy of a ‘dialogue‘ between players on opposite sides, like a circular conference table. In other reviews, it’s described as a re-invention of the game in the context of ‘contemporary possibilities’. Meaning, instead of playing against one person you could easily switch to another, or play against both simultaneously. There’s not much room to manouevre if you’re in the inner hole with other players, though. So much for ‘broader dialogue’. I could add some crazy rules to the standard gameplay and make it a new sport, or work of art, if I want to. Like playing across 2 table-lengths, playing with two balls simultaneously or you’re only allowed to hit the ball with your batting arm behind and around your back.

Still, It’s a refreshing change from what we usually associate with ‘performance art’, which incidentally was once banned by the NAC in 1994 after someone snipped his pubic hair in public. Lee Wen himself is famous for his ‘Yellow Man’ work as an emphasis on his Chinese ethnicity, where he painted himself yellow from head to toe and described it as ‘wearing a full body mask’, a possible inspiration for the phenomenon known as ‘zentai’ today.

To the layman participating in this ‘interactive artwork’, it’s just crazy ping pong joined in a circle, and probably as fun and innovative as other insane sports mash-ups like roller-frisbee, hockey-golf, basket-polo or bubble-soccer. You’re not going to get inspirations on how to improve your next meeting with the bosses. But hey, ART man.

UPDATE (13 June 15): Sport Singapore acknowledged Lee’s work and has made a goodwill payment, hence resolving the issue amicably.

NAC withdrawing $8000 grant for Sonny Liew’s graphic novel

From ‘NAC withdraws grant for graphic novel publisher due to ‘sensitive’ content’, 30 May 2015, article in CNA

The National Arts Council (NAC) has withdrawn a publishing grant for the graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye on the eve of its Singapore launch because of “sensitive content”. The council declined to elaborate on the reasons behind the decision to revoke the S$8,000 grant.

The experimental graphic novel by artist-illustrator Sonny Liew follows the story of comic-book artist Charlie Chan during the formative years of Singapore’s modern history. It weaves together fictional and historical elements, with nods to events and personalities in the nation’s history, such as Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, opposition politician Lim Chin Siong and Operation Spectrum, the so-called Marxist Conspiracy, in 1987.

In a statement, NAC’s senior director of the literary arts sector Khor Kok Wah said: “We had to withdraw the grant when the book The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye came out because its sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions. The Council will continue to support and work with Epigram, a leading publisher of Singapore literary works, on other projects.”

…Mr Liew expressed his disappointment with NAC’s decision. “I’d hoped the book was nuanced enough in … dealing with the issues. But developments have made it clearer that NAC works under constraints that make it difficult for it to support works that are deemed politically sensitive.”

In 2011, the NAC withdrew a grant for a volume of playwright Chong Tze Chien’s collected plays, which had included Charged, a play that dealt with national service and race.

According to the Funding Guidelines, NAC will reject works that appear to have a ‘negative influence on society’, those that advocate for lifestyles that are seen as ‘objectionable’ by the public, denigrate on the basis of race or religion, undermine the authority of the government or threaten the nation’s security or stability. In Charlie Chan, Operation Spectrum is satirised as a plot to ‘replace all music in Singapore with the melodies of Richard Marx’, which gives a new, rather ominous twist to the lyrics of his greatest hit ever, Right Here Waiting (wherever you go, whatever you do, I will be right here waiting for you). Not only will this ‘indirect censorship’ boost sales of Sonny’s book, it will also draw audiences to rediscover the adult contemporary music genius that is Richard Marx.

A more extreme parallel to Charlie Chan would be the charges slapped on fellow cartoonist Leslie Chew, the mastermind behind ‘Demon-cratic Singapore’. But I would think another reason why the depiction of LKY in a comic book is considered ‘too sensitive’ for funding is probably because of recent discussions to make it illegal for anyone to commercialise the image of our great leader for personal gain. I wouldn’t be surprised if MDA goes around pasting black boxes over panels of Charlie Chan containing references to LKY or the Marxist insurgency. The way around that, of course, is to order the unedited ‘US version’, or head over to the Causeway to buy it, along with a DVD for ‘To Singapore, with Love‘, which would neatly serve as a ‘behind the scenes’ companion to Charlie Chan if you want to know more about that fog of Singapore history known as Operation Spectrum.

Interestingly, Chong Tze Chien, the other victim of NAC’s sudden withdrawal was featured on the organisation’s publication titled ‘Literary Singapore’. The ‘directory’ of writers describes the play ‘Charged’ as such:

Through his signature use of experimental and innovative puppetry and stage devices, Chong’s “Charged” is Singapore’s most controversial and nuanced political play to date – addressing the issue of racial tensions in the most explosive of scenarios – that of a Chinese corporal shooting his Malay counterpart while on military duty.

And then NAC decided: Hmm, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea supporting this after all, I want my money back. What was once lauded as a ‘most controversial’ portrayal of race relations becomes a ‘taboo’ overnight. One moment you’re giving yourself a pat on the back for a ‘progressive’ stance, and the next you’re hurriedly taking it back, like ‘modern’ parents having second thoughts about giving their 18 year old son the car keys before his big date, afraid that they may have to pay an abortion check later. Incidentally, ‘Charged’ won the ‘BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT’ at the 11th Life! Theatre Awards.

I suppose one has to be prepared to make a living the hard way if your grant doesn’t qualify because your book or script is too provocative by NAC standards and may spark a mass riot like Charlie Hebdo. If only they’d told you sooner though. MDA did the same last-minute about turn when they banned Ken Kwek’s Sex Violence Family Values when it was just about to premiere in local cinemas. You could say the authorities were ‘right there waiting’ before deciding to pull the plug.

LKY portrait made up of his name written 18000 times

From ‘Artist wrote Lee Kuan Yew’s name 18,000 times to create this portrait’, 21 March 2015, Asiaone.

Artist Ong Yi Teck has created a mind-blowing sketch of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew by writing Mr Lee’s name approximately 18,000 times. A photo of Mr Ong holding his drawing was posted on Instagram on Saturday.Using only drawing pens with no correction fluid or tape, Mr Ong said he took over “15 hours or so of torturous handwriting session”.

According to him, this is the first time he is attempting to sketch on an A2-sized paper and also the first time he has drawn for nearly 10 hours in one day.

ongyiteck1e

As the former prime minister remains in critical condition at time of writing, Singaporeans from all walks of life continue to throng SGH with gifts and tributes, and there’s no ode more outstanding than one transforming LKY into a painstaking piece of art. Writing ‘Lee Kuan Yew’ 18000 times sounds like a punishment a patriotic history teacher would dish out on a student for getting the date of our Independence wrong. Trust an artist like Ong to turn what to most people is torture into an impressive tribute.

Like Ong, digital artist Kevin Sim created a composite image of LKY using images of bundles of wire late last year. Not sure what the significance of wire is. Maybe something to do with how ‘connected’ Singapore has become.

Kim Dong Yoo did another of LKY made up completely of images of Queen Elizabeth (2010), probably a reference to Lee’s relationship with our colonial masters when he was first starting to reboot the nation.

Though we’re unlikely to see Chairman Mao levels of mass hysteria when the legend meets his maker, I’m certain Singaporeans will never have the same love-hate relationship for another leader as we do now for LKY, a man some have referred to as ‘Emperor‘, the ‘Old Man’ or more affectionately ‘Ah Gong’. We don’t seem to have the same reverence for Sir Stamford Raffles. As the founder of Singapore, he probably deserves more respect than being depicted as a pompous pansy in this sketch. In time to come, our children will think that LKY was the one who founded the nation, not some prim Englishman who’s also named after a large, stinky flower.

For centuries, supreme leaders have been canonised like saints or immortalised through statues, monuments or literary works. They were named after roads, buildings and schools or in the instance of modern rulers like Che Guevara, turned into pop culture icons. Lee Kuan Yew has the distinction of having the World City Prize named after him, among other awards and accolades. There have been calls to even name a ‘capital city‘ in his honour. The man also, for better or worse, has been the subject of other creative tributes, as a cartoon, a bobblehead doll, and works of art verging on ‘dictator-chic’. Soon, we may have a hipster cafe with an LKY theme called ‘Merdeka Coffee’. Amazingly, it didn’t take long for people to admire LKY enough to paint him. In 1968, our ‘Premier Lee’ was the subject in two of Barbara Gough’s ‘Pictures for the Home’ collection. His Lee-gacy, from the irreverent to the god-like, will live on for generations to come.

Here then, is a rundown of artistic tributes to the icon himself:

1) As a Pez dispenser named ‘Papa’

BT_20150213_HYCOVER13AD_1513193

2) Street Art (sKLo)

3) Madame Tussauds wax figure with late wife

4) LKY: K-pop star (a painting you can purchase here for 1750 USD)

5) LKY backpack

 6) In a collection of political cartoons (Morgan Chua)

7) As a meme

8) This. Well, it’s the thought that counts.

9) This is the absolute cutest of the lot. And oh, the LKY as Yoda pic is cool as well (Chan Shiuan). For more images of LKY as Judge Dredd, Emperor Palpatine or Magneto, go to her website here.

 10) And this, well, is just bizarre (Jimmy Ong, LKY as mother and daughter, 2010)

UPDATE: LKY passed away on Monday morning 23 March 15. He was 91. RIP. 

Singtel wants to make ‘everyday better’

From ‘Netizens react to new Singtel logo and slogan’, 23 Jan 2015, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The new Singtel logo unveiled on Wednesday has created quite a buzz. it also came with a new slogan “Let’s make everyday better”, and new service commitments by the telco. The rebranding and logo – the first in 16 years – were conceptualised by creative agency Ogilvy and Mather. The logo and slogan did not get the best reception online, it seems.

…Entrepreneur Calixto Tay wrote in Alvinology.com that the “new logo isn’t making too much sense”, and even asked two designers to come up with some new ones. Those by designer Jeremy Kieran featured the ‘T’ in negative space, and in one, it was made to look like an upward arrow.

There was some discussion as to whether the slogan was grammatical, and Facebook user Sergio Gs IIo wrote: “there is an even worse error: it should have been ‘everyday better-lah.

singtel-new-logo-628x330

The contentious issue here is whether the word ‘everyday’ is appropriate, since strictly speaking it should be ‘make every day better’. The conjoined ‘everyday’ is usually used as a adjective to describe the humdrum, the banal, the common, like our ‘everyday life’, ‘everyday people’ or ‘everyday heroes’. If Singtel had capitalised the word (Everyday) to imply that they’re using it as a noun in this instance, people would probably complain less vehemently. I assume these are the same people who lose sleep over LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem (EVERYDAY I’m Shufflin’).

Most people don’t bother to split the term in, well, ‘everyday’ conversation through email or messaging, and for practical purposes the two have become somewhat interchangeable, just like how we’ve learned to live with ‘someday’ rather than ‘some day’. Not every body, I mean EVERYBODY, has the time or patience to nitpick between the two.

So either this is a genuine case of grammatical oversight, or a deliberate marketing gimmick of using an adjective as a noun. Like ‘Think Different’, ‘Spread Happy’, ‘Imagine Extraordinary’, or the song titles ‘Beneath your Beautiful’ and ‘Excuse My Rude’, except this one’s less obvious and rolls off easier on the tongue. Singtel were quick to defend the slogan as referring to the ‘day-to-day’ things that matter to customers, but ‘Let’s make your day-to-day experience better’ just sounds terrible.

Some marketing folks do believe that the logo is an improvement, especially when the font has been changed from the previous ‘Time New Roman-esque’ typeface. The ‘t’, interestingly, not only has been downsized to small caps, but even has a funky incomplete stroke at the tip, almost resembling the side profile of a Jurassic-era phone receiver. If anyone continues to grumble about the new logo, which has 5 sprightly red dots in some kind of planetary trajectory, I’d be happy to refer them to the one proposed for our new National Gallery as a comparison. The ‘planet’ reference is fitting nonetheless, considering that there are times, in the train tunnel especially, when the 4G connection is literally ‘out of this world’.

A-star scholar biting the hand that feeds her

From ‘Drop ungrateful scholarship holders’, 28 Nov 2014, ST Forum

(Estella Young): WHILE funding for the local arts scene is always welcome, it is disappointing to see Dr Eng Kai Er use her one-woman arts grant as a thinly veiled attack on her scholarship agency (“A*Star scientist starts arts grant in protest against six-year bond”; Tuesday). Depicting herself as the hapless victim of a scholarship bond and describing her scientific research as “narcissistic, masturbatory work” that she is not interested in show a shocking lack of appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on her doctoral studies, not to mention the academic and professional opportunities afforded to her.

It would have been far more honourable for Dr Eng to resign her scholarship once she had resolved not to pursue a scientific career. Remaining employed in the field while publicly sniping at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and the scholarship system is simply biting the hand that fed her.

Eighteen is not too young an age to make a commitment for the next decade of one’s life. A six-year bond is hardly indentured slavery: The savvy scholarship holder who dislikes his job would use the opportunity to hone his professional skills and position himself for his post-bond career change.

Since Dr Eng is unlikely to remain in the scientific field beyond her bond, A*Star might be better off terminating her bond immediately and channelling the estimated $700,000 in liquidated damages to a more deserving party.

While Dr Eng was still studying at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, she and a fellow student paraded around Holland Village in the nude for kicks, probably at the peak of her artistic blossoming then.  A-star decided to let her off with a warning letter. Eng, other than an being an aspiring patron for the arts scene here with her ‘No Star Arts Grant‘ project, is no slouch in areas outside of the Infection expertise that she was groomed for. The Hwa Chong alumni was a national competitive ice-skater, MENSA member and more recently a dancer-director-choreographer for a play titled Fish. She also dances on the MRT in her free time. Not sure if anyone has called her side projects ‘narcissistic’ or ‘masturbatory’; her one-woman arts grant certainly RUBBED some folks the wrong way.

Are you A-star scientist, or Are you Dancer?

If Eng is ‘biting the hand’ that feeds her, then bond-buster Chen Jiahao, aka Acid Flask, must have chomped off an entire arm for accusing A-star of bribery and corruption in 2007.  A-star threatened with defamation, and Chen shut down his blog. Ironically, Eng published a paper that deals with a cellular process known as ‘autophagy’, or a ‘constitutive, dynamic, bulk degradation process’. The word in its original Greek means ‘self-eating’.

The notion that students should already know what they want in life by EIGHTEEN is subjective at best. I didn’t then, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure up till now. Which is why I’m writing a blog instead of paying people to do arty-farty shit. We’re not worker bees cemented to fulfil an ordained purpose till we die, and according to Cherian George, at this age we’re not trusted to vote or watch an R21 movie, yet are supposed to be ready to enter a contract binding us till we’re 30 years old (Bond-busters:Who’s to blame?22 Aug 1997, ST). Things change, people change. You could be working Semliki Forest viruses one day and decide you want to become Natalie Portman’s Black Swan the next.

Most scholars would swallow the bond despite losing interest in their jobs, driven by emotional indebtedness and fear of stepping out of line, but a rare few will react in the most extreme way possible. SAF doctor Allan Ooi reportedly killed himself in Melbourne over his unhappiness with his bond. A scholarship also doesn’t necessarily guarantee promotion success in the real world, with some switching to private after their pride was burnt by high-achieving non-scholars. For those who refuse to soldier on or pursue their other passions whilst giving their benefactor the middle finger like Eng has, breaking the damn thing appears to be the only other option.

In fact, breaking a bond may be the best thing that ever happened for some Singaporeans, like ex PSC scholar Brandon Wade for example, now US-based and millionaire founder of a ‘sugar daddy’ dating website. Hector Yee, doomed to slog at the National Computer Board, broke free and got himself a job at Google. A-star chairman Philip Yeo called his act of defiance ‘bullshit’, this coming from a man who once said he wants ‘hungry leaders, not boring drones‘. ‘National Computer Board’, incidentally, is the kind of boring, ‘droney’ name that summons retro images of clunky, grey computer monitors and floppy disks. The only time you hear someone actually say ‘computer’ is in an 80s sci-fi movie where you’re asking some artificial intelligence behind a screen to summon data for you. Like ‘Computer, set coordinates for Lamda Galaxy’, or ‘Computer, find this rogue scholar and terminate her contract now’.

While originally intended as a mechanism to harvest talents with the ‘moral obligation’ to contribute to nation-building,  the ‘Programme’ has been deemed by some as an ‘instrument for converting free Singaporeans to indentured serfs‘. In a world where we routinely encourage our local brains to venture overseas, ‘dream big’ and hone their skills, the expectation that scholars should return home to serve the glorious motherland after their stint and contribute locally in a stifled work environment seems outdated, even naive.

A ‘bond breaker’ no longer has that stigma of ‘brash ingrate’ tied to it anymore, when ‘staying hungry’ and ‘breaking the rules’ has become the hip work ethic these days. Even if they did stay on to serve obediently as ‘promised’, there’s no guarantee that may even be model workers. Some government drones fall prey to sex corruption, others get caught for child porn and underage sex. Nobody accuses them of being ungrateful brats or depriving others of the chance to succeed, though we the taxpayers pay for their education, training AND their jailtime.

Eng has already been let off the hook once for going full frontal and the dancer-artist seems prepared to bear the consequences after some serious bitching about how her day job sucks ass. If all else fails, a rewarding career of MRT pole-dancing beckons.

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