Clubhouse for maids a space to call their own

From ‘Clubhouse for maids a good move, but charity leader’s remarks irksome’, 17 March 2014, Voices, Today

(Mannat Johal):…I am heartened to read about the clubhouse, which will provide facilities such as a computer lab and library, as well as various courses, for only S$4 a year. This will greatly benefit domestic helpers and make their experience working in Singapore a lot better. They will have something to look forward to each week, knowing that they can enhance their skills and spend time fruitfully at the clubhouse.

What irked me, though, was the statement by the President of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST). He said: “We want (the workers) to go to a place where they can be among themselves, where they will not be disturbing the owners of the building or residents of the area.”

This gives the impression that domestic helpers generally cause owners and residents annoyance by simply patronising places such as tourist attractions. No such problems are said to exist when Singaporeans and tourists patronise these areas. Are domestic helpers that different? Should they not be allowed to enjoy these areas as we do? Are they that much of a nuisance compared with tourists, who are possibly more unfamiliar with Singaporean culture and etiquette?

Also, why does FAST want domestic helpers to be among themselves? Singapore is a multiracial society where harmony between people of different races, religions and backgrounds is a significant feature.

In 2001, Sri Lankan maid Sanda Perumal, along with her employer Angie Monksfield were given the boot out of Singapore Cricket Club because having maids in the premises was against internal club policy. As recently as 2011, some condos were still banning maids from using swimming pools.  Having a clubhouse just for maids would seem like an apologetic gesture for years of discrimination bordering on colonialism, a place where FDWs may benefit from the enrichment activities that such centres can offer rather than doing wild stuff like turning a stretch of Orchard Road into a street party . The other unspoken purpose here is to keep foreign workers out of sight, out of trouble, though you can’t stop them from murdering their rich employers. It’s like how people are uncomfortable with having workers’ dorms just down the road, treating the living quarters of others like a concentration or leprosy camp. The next question then: What about having a club for workers from Little India? One which holds a masterclass on anger management perhaps? A place where they can bond over some Darjeeling tea instead of Tiger beer?

Ethnic enclaves form all over the world as part of natural urban progression, and some even serve as tourist attractions, classic examples being Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. What FAST is concerned with here is gatherings of FDWs disrupting business, but one can think of some iconic commercial spaces that may have benefited instead from foreign workers milling about, never mind the occasional drunken brawl, sleaze or spontaneous mass dancing.

1) Lucky Plaza

Though initially viewed as an ‘image’ problem, Lucky Plaza remains till this day Orchard Road’s premier maid hangout, and some businesses have learned to adapt to capitalise on the loyal throngs, from fast food chains like Jollibee to IDD sellers and remittance. It’s also the first place I would think of if I have a sudden craving for Pinoy fare like sisig and pata.

2) Golden Mile Complex

Earning its title as ‘Little Thailand’, Golden Mile is renown as a foodie destination if you’re looking for authentic, homely cuisine. Some Thais refer to the Beach Road complex as their ‘second home’. Locals looking for some alternative entertainment to Bangkok barhopping can boogie all night long at places like ‘Pure Thai Disco’.

3) Peninsula Plaza

A lesser known enclave, this place is our very own ‘Little Myanmar’. Not all’s rosy in terms of local business though, with some lamenting that Peninsula has turned from a ‘classy mall’ into a ‘Myanmar market’. It has also become a collection centre for Cyclone Nargis donations and a place to congregate and discuss politics. In my youth, it was a place to get rare records and band merchandise. Yes, those were the days when it was cool to wear a cap with your favourite band’s logo on it. Backwards.

4) City Plaza and Joo Chiat

The newest enclave on the block, City Plaza is turning out to be ‘Little Indonesia’, and would have been a ghost town if not for maids flocking there on weekends. For obvious reasons, it attracts Bangladeshi workers too. Joo Chiat, with its string of bars and restaurants, is close to becoming ‘Little Vietnam’. Now you know where to go if you’re in the mood for pho or Ayam Penyet. Or some intimate Vietnamese hospitality, if you know what I mean.

So, with or without these club facilities, our FDWs already have a place to mingle (sometimes with other foreign nationalities) and be seen, even if it means moonlighting on the fly or simply fooling around. The fact that places like Lucky Plaza and Golden Mile have hardly changed at all means that the authorities are silently aware of their social (and economic) significance.  It is, however, unrealistic to expect migrant workers to integrate with Singaporeans on weekends, when they already spend almost their entire working lives dealing with us. In some situations, in fact, we’d rather they leave us the hell alone.

Let’s not forget the many other ‘enclaves’ and invisible boundaries that we draw around us every single day. Christians have their mega-churches, Muslims their mosques. Billionaires have their fancy clubs, golf courses, Iggy’s and Nassim Road. Women have Ladies’ Night and entire shopping mall levels dedicated to them. Hipsters have arty-farty cafes, expats Robertson Quay, and even seniors have ‘retirement villages’. What’s the big deal about a clubhouse for maids?

We’re a motley nation, not an orientation camp where everybody sits around the campfire singing ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, and by all means let FDWs have places to ‘call their own’ as long as they abide by our laws and don’t have mass orgies in public. A artificial enclosure like a clubhouse may be a place for maids to be ‘among themselves’, but without the flavours of home and the calming familiarity that Lucky Plaza brings, it’s unlikely to be a place to ‘belong’.

About these ads

Safra gym ad condoning sexual harrassment

From ‘Seeing red over Safra’s healthy distractions’, 10 March 2014, article by Lee Wan Sim, My Paper

AN ADVERTISEMENT aimed at attracting people to sign up with the Safra National Service Association’s clubs has ended up riling some online. The ad shows two men working out at a gym ogling an attractive woman behind her back, with the tagline: “A great workout, good friends and some healthy distractions.

Several netizens saw the ad as degrading to women. A woman named Cindy Ng posted a picture of the ad, which she said appeared at a bus stop in Upper Thomson Road, on the Safra Facebook page on Saturday.

She said this was “outright distasteful, completely disrespectful to women and borders on condoning sexual harassment”. Several other commenters – both men and women – agreed, with one user called Faith Toh claiming that “through this ad, Safra has endorsed the objectification of women”.

However, others disagreed, saying it was “harmless” and did not degrade women. In a Facebook comment, Safra said the ad was meant “to showcase some bonding moments among our NSmen while having a tongue-in-cheek approach to life experiences”.

“Be it in the gym or anywhere else, it is not uncommon for some women to be checked out by men or vice versa,” it said, adding that the ad was “not aimed to devalue women and neither does Safra condone it”.

Pumping iron never looked so good

Pumping iron never looked so good

AWARE, as expected, got into the thick of the ad controversy, saying that the poster encourages perverted leering and makes gyms dangerous for women. I’m not a fan of gym workouts, but I’d gather one reason why there are often mirrors there is not so you can sneak a glance at someone’s rack, but to ogle at your own bulging awesomeness like the narcissistic handsome devil that you are.

Ogling is universal for both sexes of course, but it’s only played to comedic effect in pop culture when men are the ones doing the eyeballing. Women complain about the sleazy attention to the point of calling it a precursor for gangrape, but few would realise that staring at a comely woman tends to depict men as the more IDIOTIC sex. Whether it’s having them fall into a manhole, walk face first in a pole or fall off a chair, the gag is always on the one nursing a ridiculous hard-on and drooling from the mouth. It happens in sex comedies and ads selling products from shampoo to low-fat yogurt. Why isn’t anyone complaining that the ad undermines our ability to think outside our genitals?

If anything, attractive women are usually the total opposite of HEALTHY distractions. They turn men into total morons, and no exception in a gym if in your attempt to impress the babe on the treadmill, you pump more iron than your body can take and end up with a torn triceps, injuring yourself before you can even think of doing any actual molesting of your own. Even if a woman does get any kind of unsavoury propositions from stinky men in a gym, there are plenty of defensive weapons at her disposal, like the little dumbbell the SAFRA model is carrying for example. The last thing we want to do is chat up a girl who’s all pumped up for her boxercise class, with a devastating 5 pounder in her grasp.

No one in the right mind would sign up for SAFRA just to check out the ‘healthy distractions’. You could do it tactically on the MRT, at work, the beach etc and it would be the perfectly normal thing to do since most men have control over their animal urges and have gotten away with daily ogling without turning into sex maniacs. When you take a staged snapshot and stamp a gym membership product on it on the other hand, it suddenly becomes a glaring endorsement of rape culture and sexploitation. AWARE sure knows how to flex a feminist muscle or too, what with the flag-waving and man-bashing and all. They may get an army song lyric banned, but I doubt their argument here holds much weight.

Iamclarena calling Indians smelly

From ‘Police investigating ‘iamclarena’ for making racist remarks on Twitter’, 11 Jan 2014, article by Lim Yan Liang

The police are investigating a Twitter user for making racist remarks on the social networking portal. The woman, who goes by the handle ‘iamclarena’, had recently posted a series of racist remarks against Indians with her Twitter account.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the police confirmed on Friday night that a report had been lodged against the woman for making racially aggravating remarks on social media. The woman, who also goes by the handle ‘Clarena Clanen TzeYi’ on Facebook, is the second person this week to be investigated for posting racist remarks on the Internet.

In 2012, Law Minister K Shanmugam, of all people, received an email from a resident complaining about his Indian neighbours and their ‘Indian sweaty smell and unwashed bodies.’ He found the insult ‘disturbing’ and I assume he didn’t call the police immediately to investigate the matter, nor even call the racist in for a ‘chat’. If ‘Iamclarena’ had sent a direct message to the same minister’s FB page instead of blasting on Twitter, I wonder if he’d do anything about it. I wonder if he even knows what ‘CB’ means.

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In 2005, a Today writer’s daughter was told by her KINDERGARTEN classmates that ‘all Indians are smelly’. When his 3 year old son boarded the school bus, some boys would ‘cover their noses’.  Maybe the kid really had a severe case of BO, but no scientist would want to conduct a study to see if some races emit more unpleasant odours than others, so we’ll never know. There are smelly people of any race, of course, but the Twitterverse is full of people who insist on telling us who the smelliest are. Are we going to investigate them all?

Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 10

Google’s also doesn’t filter its popular query drop-down list, as you can see below.

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But it’s not just Indian body smells that are the butt of racist jokes, even the aroma of their curry annoys the living hell out of some people, with some attributing what they eat to how they smell. Their hairiness is also a running joke in Russell Peters’ (himself of Indian descent) gigs, while local DJs refrain from mimicking their accent. Some would label you a racist even if you believe in ‘positive’ stereotypes, like Indians are good at computer stuff, running, or hockey. Where then, do we draw the line?

Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 6.11.57 PM

The accusation of smelliness isn’t confined to the Indian race. PRCs are also mocked for ‘not bathing’ and ‘stinking up the MRT cabin’, but somehow being labelled malodorous is a greater insult for some races than others. You don’t call someone a ‘stinking Jew’, for example. The police are unlikely to track you down if you say PRCs are dirty and smelly, or generalising the Malays as ‘lazy’. But bring up something as emotive as Indian body odour and you’re asking to be probed. Likewise, the terms ‘drunk Indian’ and ‘drunk Caucasian’ also stir different emotions given the context of recent events. Well at least we know Indians ‘don’t rob banks’.

Iamclarena might end up doing jailhouse Macarena for her foul-mouthed tweets, if only for the sheer stupidity of her actions, though I would suggest the police follow up on Shanmugam’s racist, sarong-hating resident as well. Someone mad enough to complain about Indians to an INDIAN LAW minister sounds like a more serious threat to national security to me.

Heather Chua is really a 22 year old man

From ‘Man probed for posing as woman and making racist remarks online’, 11 Jan 2014, article by David Ee, ST

A 22-YEAR-OLD man is under investigation for making racially insensitive remarks on Facebook while posing as a woman with the fictitious name of Heather Chua. The comments targeting Malays last week caused an outcry among netizens, and led to several police reports being lodged.

Yet to be named, he is assisting police with investigations. The “Heather Chua” moniker gained notoriety online from early last year after numerous posts denigrating, among other groups, the poor and the lower-income.

“She” also hit out at Institute of Technical Education graduates, public housing residents and national servicemen. “Heather Chua” claimed to be a 40-year-old Singaporean who studied engineering at the National University of Singapore and attended Raffles Girls’ School and Temasek Junior College. “She” also claimed to live at Sentosa Cove. Photographs of luxury cars “she” purportedly owned were posted on the Facebook account.

…In a Facebook post last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he had received complaints about “Heather Chua”, and was glad the Singapore Police Force had established the identity of the man believed to be behind the fictitious profile.

If a hacker claiming to work for the Anonymous legion can get caught by the police, what makes the brainchild behind ‘Heather Chua’ think he could hide behind a fake Facebook profile? The last time someone posed as another person on FB to make disparaging remarks did so under the moniker Rachel Ann Beguia, who insulted Singaporeans as a whole. The post that triggered the hunt for ‘Heather’ was related to Muslim dietary habits, and proved to be as offensive as sharing a link to a Pig on a Kaaba image.

Heather Chua may have started out as a parody account, a fictional persona of an attractive, snobbish and ridiculously wealthy elite, the kind inspired by the likes of  Wee Shu Min.  Citing her home as Sentosa Cove, she followed up her ITE diss by calling HDB dwellers ‘brainless low-lifes’.  It’s hard to imagine that such people exist, or that locals actually LIVE on Sentosa Cove. Last year the same Heather complained about NSmen being slackers and no one seemed to suspect her of being fake despite her familiarity with the army. She also happened to be an admirer of our PM, the very same PM who’s now glad that she’s been nabbed for investigations.

Thankfully, some bloggers were quick to call out Heather as a fraud, as ‘she’ turned out to be. If ‘Heather’ was conceived as an arrogant, racist bitch on the pretentious stage that is FB and her creator may be potentially arrested for sedition, what about characters in plays and movies who spew racist insults, like Adrian Pang’s porn director in Porn Masala? Would screenwriters or producers of racist scripts be called to ‘assist’ the police in investigations?

Racism aside, it’s not the first time someone got flamed for commenting on the educational level or affiliation of the boys they prefer to date. In 2011, relief teacher and blogger Jiang Lai said only ACS boys were worth dating. She was later arrested not for seditious remarks but for attempted suicide, with suggestions of ‘borderline personality disorder’, a neurosis which perhaps all FB users suffer from to various degrees. It’s interesting to see what the real Heather Chua is diagnosed with after being exposed and possibly charged. My bet is on ‘depression’, or at the very least he was ‘going through a difficult time in his life’.

Mediacorp New Year Countdown too cheena

From ‘Why Mandarin segment on Channel 5 show?’, 3 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Maria Alice Anthony):WHILE watching Channel 5′s countdown show on New Year’s Eve, I was shocked to see a host speaking in Mandarin during the programme. I had to switch between channels to check if I was tuned in to Channel 5, an all-English channel, or Channel 8, the Mandarin channel.

If the hosts were present to translate the English-language segments into Mandarin, where were the hosts to do translations into Tamil and Malay?

Why was a national celebration turned into a bilingual event catering to only one ethnic group?

Maria’s party-pooper rant about the TV50 spectacular is mild compared to theatre actor Ivan Heng’s scathing Facebook complaint about how ‘cheena’ the programme was, where MCs send greetings in Mandarin and you have singers like Wang Lee Hom headlining the event instead of homegrown artistes. To be fair, the show kicked off with a multiracial mix of talents including legend Dick Lee and the original Singapore Idol Taufik Batisah. But you’d soon realise how barren the Channel 5 ‘English-speaking’ talent pool is when you have Gurmit Singh coercing people to ‘make some noize’ as host. FOR THE 7823th TIME. The last time I remember anyone doing MC duty for BIG parties in English was Moe Alkaff.

Gurmit’s partners Joanne Peh and Bryan Wong are themselves ‘cheena’ veterans, but if you look back at the history of our 50 years of television, cheena has clearly dominated the scene, and the fact that two-thirds of the MC lineup were Channel 8 artistes suggests that national television, not to mention NYE countdowns, is unsustainable without Channel 8 celebrity. In one PCK/City Beat/Under One Roof skit, Gurmit was trading jokes with 4 ‘cheena’ artists and 1 Pierre Png, technically now a Channel 8 regular after crossing over from 5. In the final minutes of 2013, the hosts interviewed in succession a who’s who of Channel 8′s star roster, from Zoe Tay to Jack Neo, all of whom didn’t even attempt to say three simple words of Happy New Year in English. Not a single Suria or Vasantham personality was in sight. It was probably the most-watched sequence on stage when everyone’s ready to ring in the new year, yet it almost felt like Cai Shen Ye on a golden steed could ride in at any moment. And where the hell was James Lye? Or the fabulous Muthu?

Critics didn’t just pick on the language bias in the past, but even racial quotas. In 1999, Mediacorp, then known as TCS was accused by a forum writer of being a ‘Totally Chinese Station‘, where English dramas have mostly Chinese as lead actors, or foreign talents with mixed heritage (but still look Chinese). Nothing much has changed since. Think of a current Channel 5 hunk in a leading role and he’s most likely to be Chinese. Or half-Chinese. That’s if you can even think of such a programme in the first place.

It’s really all business and eyeballs for Medicorp, a company that has to struggle to reflect the ‘inclusivity’ of the real world by selling ‘make-believe’. I wouldn’t want to pay money to watch a mash-up of PCK and Moses Lim doing Dick Lee’s rendition of Rasa Sayang on NYE, especially when there’s always catch-up TV. But diehard fans will flock just to watch Jeanette Aw pirouette in a shimmery dress.  If you want a REAL Singaporean year end party, you should have been at Boon Lay instead of sitting at home miserable and wasting time channel surfing. As for Joanne Peh and Bryan Wong, see you in a few weeks’ time at the Lunar New Year Countdown then. I doubt anyone could complain about that being too ‘kantang’.

NS as a 2 year character enrichment programme

From various letters, 15 Oct 2013, ST Forum

(Paul Sim Ruiqi): I READ the results of the Institute of Policy Studies survey on public perceptions of national service with much caution (“Poll reveals changing perceptions of NS”; last Wednesday) – in particular, the finding that more people viewed NS as a way to instil discipline and values among the young than as a pillar of national defence.

NS should not be seen as a two-year enrichment or character-development programme as much as it is an individual’s contribution to the nation. There is an undue emphasis on the transformation of boys into men, as portrayed by recent movies and television series.

(Gerard Ong):…We must never forget that we train our national servicemen to fight to win – nothing less.

…When I was called up for NS, many of those in my cohort and I were convinced that we were going to be trained to be fighting soldiers. We understood that the discipline and values that came with our training were incidental and part and parcel of military life. We wanted to be out in the field, learning how to handle our weapons, field craft, operational procedures, shooting and unarmed combat.

We came in wanting to be fighters, not disciplined team players, which we had already learnt how to be by playing team sports or joining school uniformed groups. The survey findings should be examined closely by our leaders and Ministry of Defence, as the public’s perception of NS as primarily an instiller of discipline and values is rather disturbing.

There was a scene in the Ah Boys to Men 2 movie where the main cast applied their military skills to enact revenge on a couple by bombing their car with shit. A comedy played for laughs, some viewers thought Jack Neo’s movie trivialised NS, calling it sexist, misogynist and bad for SAF overall. By the end of the movie, we never know if the boys are capable of killing the enemy, but are constantly bombarded with the message that NS is great for life-skills, family bonding and ‘camaraderie’. There is, however, no evidence that men emerge from NS as better friends, husbands, employees or leaders, and the social benefit of NS, grossly exaggerated in pop culture, has turned from a by-product of regimentation and suffering to a convenient justification for having NS in the first place.

The army itself is guilty of plugging the ‘character building’ angle. Being in uniform would supposedly make you more attractive to women. It also makes you think of your father as an embattled hero and role model. Unlike the ads for the Air Force which emphasise protection of the motherland, the Army insists on humanising NS because the original bloody intent of conscription i.e killing people is a bitter pill to swallow. Especially if you’re a worried parent who’ve seen one too many boys die for nothing.

The researcher who led the poll, Dr Leong Chang Hoong, revealed to the media that only 1 in 10 women would serve NS, and then followed up to say ‘even simple gestures from the female population, such as ORGANISING LUNCH for men training in the field, would make a “significant psychological impact”. Is it any wonder Singaporean women would decline the offer to don the uniform and hang out with the boys, only to be summoned to make Ayam brand tuna sandwiches or cook instant noodles in mess tins for them? I doubt anyone would argue that NS for girls would make them better wives or mothers without receiving a nomination for AWARE’s Alamak Awards. Why stop at green eyeshadow? How about distributing a recipe booklet called ‘Outfield BBQ for Heroic Boys in Green’ or something.

I’m not sure if the survey addressed the ‘fighting soldier’ argument as to how many of our men are actually battle-ready and willing to die for the country, that includes the writers above who support the ‘pillar of national defence’ rationale. The reality is many men spend their NS in filler, ‘supportive’ roles like ‘storemen’ or logistics supervisors, and are likely to pass out of it without a single day of field camp, without a sense of undying self-sacrificing purpose that anyone who puts on that uniform is supposed to have. Men without a single meaningful memory outside of staying in the bunk and waiting for orders to perform odd jobs.  At the other extreme, some have compared NS to SLAVERY, whereby minions are drilled in unarmed combat and how to stab dummies with a bayonet. Sort of like gladiators, perhaps. And then there is this guy, who has clearly applied aggression, the vital force of a winning army, in real life. In a LIBRARY. Shudder in fear, enemies!

Despite gaining all the ‘discipline’ and ‘values’ over 2 years, your boss may still quietly frown on your frequent call-ups, or you may miss out on crucial projects that could have earned you a promotion. Some can do without the ‘enrichment’ altogether by getting themselves downgraded, to the extent of celebrating it in public. How ironic that a ‘chow keng’ becomes a millionaire even before you manage to land your first job because you’re too busy defending the nation. Well, at least you still have your lifelong friends and an arsenal of explosive swear words, eh?

Our boys aren’t born Vikings, nor do they pass out of BMT mass chorusing ‘We will still be Friends Forever’ in Vitamin C’s hit ‘Graduation’. Personally I wouldn’t call NS a total waste of time, but I wouldn’t make a big-deal macho fantasy out of it either. The ST editor referred to our defence strategy as that of a ‘poison shrimp’ (NS is no glorified boot camp, 12 Oct 2013, ST) which deters anyone from stepping on it despite our miserable size. It’s dangerously unrealistic to think that we’re tiger prawns instead.

Long Live the Queen banner smacks of colonial hangover

From ‘Long live the Queen archway raises some eyebrows’, 29 Sept 2013, article by Melody Zaccheus, Sunday Times

An archway in Queenstown proclaiming “Long live the Queen” has left some scratching their heads, even as residents gathered last night for a concert to mark the estate’s 60th anniversary.

The arch was put up as part of the celebrations at the estate, which was named after Queen Elizabeth II. Nine of 15 Singaporeans The Sunday Times spoke to described the arch as odd, calling it a “colonial hangover”.

“It’s not appropriate as we are an independent country and no longer under British rule,” said polytechnic course manager Tia Boon Sim, 57, who lived in Queenstown for the first 16 years of her life.

…My Community founder Kwek Li Yong, 24, said the arch – featuring a photo of the Queen and decorated with the Union Jack – is a re-creation of a larger one that was erected in 1953 in North Bridge Road to celebrate the Queen’s coronation. “History teaches us to look back at events. So, we are tracing the estate’s roots back to when the British started it, as Singapore’s first satellite town,” he said.

Named by the British on Sept 27, 1953, Queenstown began as a project by the Singapore Improvement Trust to tackle overcrowding in Chinatown. The trust was later replaced by the Housing Board in 1959. It was in Queenstown that HDB built its first blocks.

God Save this Archway

God Save this Archway

According to the book ‘The Politics of Landscapes in Singapore: Constructions of ‘nation’‘, the ‘Street Naming Advisory Commitee’ was advised in the late sixties to avoid ‘British snob names’ in a bid to sever post-Independence Singapore’s colonial ‘apron strings’.  Areas in Queenstown such as Commonwealth, Queensway and Margaret Drive were advised to change to Malay names. However the Board resisted because Queenstown was ‘well-known throughout the world’ and should be preserved. In the same chapter, it was revealed that Bugis and Tanjong Pagar MRT stations were originally to be named ‘Victoria’ and ‘Maxwell’, after the monarch and a colonial family respectively. Till today, we still have a ‘King Albert Park’, where unlike Queenstown heartland folks, people actually do live like royalty.

Having a ‘colonial hangover’ implies that our past under British royalty was as merry and free-spirited as a drunken orgy, but in today’s context has been extended not just to kowtowing to the Queen and her ilk, but our white overlords in general. I think a more accurate description would be a ‘colonial hang-up’, like the feeling of not wanting to let go of an ex-boyfriend who treated you terribly but you still love to bits. The archway regalia and cheesy title is a bit over-the-top, but this is similar to the way we feted the royal couple when they visited Singapore’s first satellite town last year, short of taking them around in a horse-driven golden carriage and having people dressed as grovelling butlers in tailcoats serving them TWG tea.

The kings and queens today are not those who live in grand palaces and sit on thrones, but those in the realm of K-pop or mavens of technology, and this homage to Queen Elizabeth II by Queenstown residents would strike us as Old World sentimentality that is incompatible with our current aspirations as citizens of a digital age. Celebrating a town’s anniversary like a Royal Jubilee is harmless in my opinion, but it raises the question of whether we, despite being an independent country, have fully shrugged off our colonial past, or have we descendents been somehow possessed by the lingering spirit of the time, that when we see a Caucasian speaking in a posh accent, we are subconsciously compelled by this ghost to either curtsey and shudder with fear, or have the sudden urge to instigate a mutiny on the bounty.

As late as 2007, locals have complained about snooty discriminatory treatment under the euphemism of ‘nursing a colonial hangover’. Bellhops at the Raffles Hotel reportedly allowed a Caucasian family to jump a taxi queue after shouting ‘this one for the ang mohs!’. Sumiko Tan asked if she was guilty of suffering from the same syndrome, complaining of ang mohs ‘lording over Singaporeans’ after a traffic scuffle. To some, a colonial hangover simply means ‘Westernisation’, like having weird English names even if you’re ethnic Chinese. A more specific syndrome related to this submissiveness is the ‘Pinkerton Syndrome’, which refers to Singaporean women preferring white men over locals. A case of ‘bigger’ meaning ‘better’, perhaps. These days, ‘Pinkerton’ and ‘colonial hangover’ seem to be used interchangeably and loosely, only because no one wants to utter words like ‘racism’ or ‘slavery’. (Interestingly, the name of Prince William’s private secretary is Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton)

However, we have our white colonial masters to thank for our architecture and tourist icons , from the grand Fullerton Hotel to Empress Place and Fort Canning, though these were built with the hands, blood, sweat and tears of our very own forefathers. We indulge in a spot of afternoon tea in tiffin rooms, the ‘quintessential colonial pastime’, though the key ingredient behind ‘high tea’ has its origins in another ex-colony, India. One man’s ‘nostalgia’ is another’s ‘colonial hangover’, depending on your gut reaction to the image below, courtesy of Raffles Hotel, the pinnacle of colonial luxury that would make any Old-World plantation owner feel right at home. Without the whips of course.

A fling with Singapore sling

An article in the Hindu Times even referred to our country as a city-state ‘basking in its colonial hangover’. If that’s the case, then we don’t need a cure for it, do we? We have the Singapore Flyer mimic of the one in London, why not build the next casino like Big Ben then? Who knows, Singapore may even be more ‘British’ than London itself in 20 years. We even retained some of the crappy laws which our ex rulers have ditched a long time ago. Some people have tasted scones before even knowing the existence of ang ku kuehs.

You could even accuse me of nursing a ‘colonial hangover’ just because I love Fish and Chips, listen to music from British bands, support Manchester United instead of Home United, or watch Monty Python skits. In its milder form, I would be referred to as a ‘banana’ or ‘jiak kantang’. Yet, I haven’t heard of anyone being accused of ‘Occupation hangover’ if they study Japanese as a third language or are members of Sushi Tei. In 2001, a Today reader complained about our ‘fixation with our British-colonial past’ and imperialism’s ‘dark power’ over the minds of the people, just because Bridget Jones Diary seemed to be more popular than Jurassic Park. Bollocks, really.

SAF ‘Shades of Green’ ad demeaning to women

From Aware Facebook page and omy.sg, 7 Sept 2013.

Women, interested in a career with the Army? Quick, get out your eye-shadow palettes and pick your favourite shade of green, because that’s what will land you the job!

These packages went out to women in Singapore, advertising the Army Women’s Seminar 2013. It comes complete with a fake mirror and eye-shadow palette.

We want to let the Army know that make-up doesn’t stir our patriotic sentiments. Can you help us think of a creative, effective way to send them a message? The seminar is on the 14th of September, so we’ve to put our strategy together soon. Leave a comment on this post if you have a good idea.

Shades of Sexism

Shades of Sexism

SAF needs women badly and they’re on a recruitment spree to meet their target of an additional 500 female officers by 2018. If not for AWARE complaining about their marketing blitz being sexist, I wouldn’t have known about this Army Women’s Seminar. By harping on the Army objectifying women through the gimmick of green eyeshadow, AWARE has inadvertently given ad agency Mandate an unlikely helping hand in promoting the event. Any AWARE AGM would make a military seminar for ladies look like a flower arrangement workshop in comparison.

I’m sure AWARE fully supports the idea of having more ‘Girl Power’ in our armed forces, but maybe they should be ‘sending a message’ to the Army about the lack of female generals (the highest ranking female today is still Colonel) rather than picking on an ad for favouring provocation over patriotism. Personally I thought this fake makeup kit isn’t half as bad as the ‘trophy boyfriend’ ad some years back which suggested that women ovulate in squealing ecstasy at the sight of men in uniform. It’s also a novel way of getting women interested, instead of using models that suggest that female soldiers are supposed to look in a certain way that combines grace, dignity and steely courage, as below:

I see a woman wearing makeup

Or that they would fare well in the army by looking downright intimidating, like a discipline mistress in school.

Your future boss, ladies

I think the intention of the ‘Shades of Green’ ad is to portray an army career just like any other worth pursuing which involves dolling up as most professional women do, be it a high-flying corporate executive, an OL or an SIA stewardess. It also busts the stereotype that you have to look like a women’s judo champion, or a GI Jane, in order to serve. If a lady CEO dresses like a slut in public, AWARE is unlikely to complain, but if a female SAF officer dabs on lipstick in front of her male colleagues, it’s sexual oppression, nevermind if she does it while in full battle order and a rifle in hand.

It would be very helpful if AWARE actually does constructive creative work of their own and run some gender-neutral campaigns to support such events themselves, or better still volunteer to secure the frontline in the event of a real war. Those talons would come in really handy then.

NTUC Income ad degrading to property agents

From ‘NTUC Income’s comic ad falls flat’, 7 Sept 2013, article by Maryam Mokhtar, ST

NTUC Income has taken down and apologised for a controversial commercial which insinuated that property agents were untrustworthy. The ad was part of a new branding campaign launched last Monday, offering customers “transparent” advice on insurance policies.

But more than 130 comments, which included one property agent calling it “degrading”, on NTUC Income’s Facebook page led to the plug being pulled three days later on the online part of the campaign. Television ads for the campaign were also halted yesterday.

…The campaign involved one commercial featuring dubious salesmen from the real estate, construction and retail industries, who supposedly delivered less than promised. Another 32-second ad featured just the property agent lying about the perks of a unit to a potential buyer.

In one scene, the female property agent looks at the camera as she describes the flat as having a “rich history”. But the word “haunted” appears beside her. When she claims that the unit’s owner is “relocating”, the caption reads “loan sharks are coming”.

…Said netizen Huang Qi Heng on NTUC’s Facebook page: “Your advertisement is degrading our profession as realtors. We strive to protect our clients’ interests more than ours.”

Property agent Nur Mohammad Hafeez of CrestOne Realty told The Straits Times that the ads were “insulting” to those in the profession. “How can you sell a policy by singling out an industry and stereotyping them?”

Realty bites

Last year, NTUC Income took a more subtle approach to unscrupulous rogues in the service line, with their ‘Terms and Conditions’ TVC featuring a fishmonger being ‘economical with the truth’. It also featured the same ‘asterisk’ to denote ‘the fine print’.  No one complained about that ad stereotyping fish sellers as conmen then, probably because the scene was wildly exaggerated for ‘comic’ effect, something that was clearly lost on people complaining about the latest TVC.

The property narrative somehow seems too close to real life for comfort that it’s no longer funny. We’ve heard of people moving into houses secretly terrorised by Ah Longs or used to be the site of a gruesome murder-suicide because desperate agents would understandably withhold such details from buyers if they want to clinch sales. If not blatant lies, real estate terminology is also laden with euphemisms, from ‘cosy’ (small) and ‘has character’ (old) to the ever debatable ‘affordable’.

People in all sorts of business survive on selectively pitching their product and avoiding the obvious unmentionables, and if they were being totally honest with you they wouldn’t be able to pay for their own homes. Doctors don’t tell you all the rare side effects of a drug that could kill you, megachurch pastors don’t tell you what they do with your tithes and we all know how glib-tongued (and generous) politicians can be just before elections.

NTUC Income itself launched a ‘Think Orange’ campaign in 2011 which took potshots at unreliable insurance agents as a ‘negative demonstration’ of what buying policies shouldn’t be like. If a realty giant came up with its own ads depicting bad eggs as contrast for their staff, I doubt anyone would accuse them of degrading their own profession. You don’t see many property TV ads anyway, probably because they spend most of their marketing budget on annoying flyers or dolling agents up to look like Mediacorp celebrities.

Still, it’s a stark reminder that such scoundrels do exist not just in realty, but in REALITY in general. One reason why estate agents could be taking this snub personally is that housing is such a emotional, delicate topic that affects the lives of generations of Singaporeans. But it’s EXACTLY because housing matters so much that there will always be unethical salespeople exploiting the gullible for their own gain. It’s just unfortunate that when NTUC portrays it, it gets under people’s skin rather than just tickle them.

*The Blogger’s comments, opinions, observations, reflections, thoughts and information posted are the opinions of the Blogger only.

Charity for disabled children removing ‘spastic’ from its name

From ‘Charity drops ‘spastic’ in new name’, 16 June 2013, article by Theresa Tan, Sunday Times

The Spastic Children’s Association of Singapore has changed its name to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore. It is the latest charity serving the disabled to re-brand itself with a more politically correct name….Corporate communications manager Melissa Shepherdson told The Sunday Times the change came about after parents’ feedback that the word “spastic” was derogatory. “We want to protect our clients’ dignity,” she said.

It has also applied to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to change the name of its Spastic Children’s Association School to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School.

…The word spastic, used to refer to a person with cerebral palsy, was not laden with negative connotations in the 1950s, when the charity was founded, going by various reports on the word’s definition. But it has since degenerated into an insult used to describe someone as stupid and clumsy.

…As today’s parents are more mindful of politically correct language, many special education schools catering to disabled children have in the past decade coined new names that make no reference to disability, or dropped the word “special”.

Ms June Tham, executive director of Rainbow Centre, said: “Some parents feel that the word ‘special’ is a stigma and gives the impression that the child is abnormal. We know that some parents reject their children or are ashamed of them, and using negative words reinforces their negative feelings.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 7.27.44 AM

The old logo of the Spastic Children’s Association above features a half naked boy in a heartwrenching pose. Today it looks like a corporate logo for a government agency with what appears to be raised arms of joy. Incidentally, there is another ‘CPAS’ in Singapore which has nothing to do whatsoever with spasticity (or so it seems): The Certified Public Accountant Singapore‘.

‘Spastic’ used to be a derogatory taunt that I encountered only during my secondary school days, and meant general idiotic behaviour. In the US, however, ‘spastic’ refers to clumsiness or ‘over-excitedness’. They even named a Transformer ‘Spastic’, which was pulled from the UK. Somehow ‘blind’ as an insult has gotten away with it. If your boss scolds ‘You must be BLIND’ when you miss out glaring info in a report, you’re not going to sue him for verbal abuse. When he says ‘Your report is bloody SPASTIC’, on the other hand, you might have a case against him. Even the word ‘special’ is no longer as ‘feel-good’ as it once was, as the phrase ‘special treatment’ would tell you.

UK ad circa 1977

UK spastic association ad circa 1977

Other name changes for the sake of political correctness mentioned in the article include the dropping of ‘Autism’ from Singapore Autism School to ‘EDEN school’ and ‘Singapore School for the Visually Handicapped’ into ‘Lighthouse School’ (which to me sounds vaguely ironic, even patronising). ‘Visually Handicapped’ itself is a euphemism for ‘BLIND’, and the SAVH’s timeline of name-changing to appease the public is a classic example of how PC has evolved. In 1951, it started off as the ‘Singapore Association for the Blind’, and morphed into SAVH in 1987. A ‘sub-committee of the Blind (1964)’ turned into the ‘White Cane club (1972)’, which retains its name till this day as a recreational branch of the association. That’s like calling a social group for amputees the ‘Wheelchair Club’. Today’s MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore) was once called the Singapore Assocation for RETARDED children (1962).

So it seems that some neurological handicaps are more offensive than others. Cerebral Palsy is fine for now, but it appears that the word ‘Autism’ is still being shunned by some parents. Hence the biblical trope ‘Eden’, which according to the Autism Resource Centre, is inspired by the proverbial Garden where its ‘fruits gave life’.  I’m not sure if naming a special school after a mythic paradise is overdoing it though. The logo of Eden school is a tree with round hanging fruits, one of which I could assume is the forbidden one that tempted and corrupted Adam and Eve into an eternity of sin, which is, one could argue, the ‘life’ given to us today anyway, handicapped or not.

In 2003, PATHLIGHT school (for autistic kids) was launched with assistance from MOE, complete with ‘smiley face logo’ that tells you how ‘joyous’ the place is.  Not to be confused with ‘NORTHLIGHT’ school, which caters to kids who are not mentally disabled, but are poor academic performers (or ‘slow learners’ in the past) There’s still room in this age of uppity PC for the likes of Autism Children’s Centre in Clementi and St Andrew’s Autism School which refrain from flowery names that stray from its cause, but it’s only a matter of time before these get rebranded into shining beacons of hope and aspiration, such that eventually the only way to tell if a school is for ‘special’ kids or not is that its name reads like a gospel and says NOTHING about the illness that its students suffer from.

‘Cerebral Palsy’ doesn’t sound like a term one would abuse in the same way as ‘spastic’, but we once thought the same about ‘autism’, or God forbid, ‘educationally subnormal’. Describing your kid as ‘different’ or ‘special-needs’  may not be socially acceptable to some these days, but apparently changing the name of his school into an extra-special one is. I believe it would be simpler to say that your child has autism or cerebral palsy rather than run rings around euphemisms like ‘special’, ‘different’ and ‘differently abled’, or pray that people know what Pathlight school does without you having to explain that it’s not exactly a school for Christian children or angels from heaven.

Or we could follow Derek Zoolander’s example, naming his dyslexia school as the ‘Derek Zoolander’s Center for Kids who Can’t Read Good’. The Spastic Children’s equivalent could be ‘Center for Kids who Can’t Move Good’.

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