PAP leaning too much to the left

From ‘Budget 2015: NMP Chia Yong Yong cautions against PAP leaning too much to the left’, article by Siau Ming En, 3 March 2015, Today

While Budget 2015 has been praised be some Members of Parliament (MPs) and observers as being left-leaning, Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong today (March 3) cautioned against an expenditure that leans too heavily to the left, leading to members in the House thumping their armrests in approval.

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the Budget Speech, Ms Chia said: “We have in conclusion, a budget that is arguably very generous, and for which I am also very thankful. We have a budget that has been praised and approved as being leaning to the left.”

“But I would also argue that if we lean too much to the left, we will not have much left,” said Ms Chia.

MP Alex Yam, a man of the times, followed up with a stinger line from Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable': ‘To the left, to the left’, while MP K Karthikeyan said ‘If we go too far to the right, it’s not right’. Someone please set things right, or we’ll be left with directional puns all day. From the way Parliament is being conducted these days with all this merciless finger pointing at opposition MPs, things seem to be moving not left nor right, up or down, but going around in circles.

Right on, girl!

Chia’s concern echoes what the Budgetmeister himself Tharman said in a 2013 interview:

If I compare our thinking in Cabinet, or the weight of thinking in Cabinet, when I first entered politics about 11 years ago, I would say the weight of thinking was centrist but there were two flanks on either side of it,” he said. “There were some who were a little right-of-centre, and there were some a little left-of-centre. “Now I would say the weight of thinking is left-of-centre. You still get diversity of views in Cabinet, but the centre of gravity is left-of-centre.”

A ‘left-leaning’ ideology generally indicates belief in ‘socialism, equality and state assistance for individuals’. Like Chia, other MPs were concerned that we were being too generous with the Budget on ‘social spending’, that we risk becoming a welfare state. Hence all the armchair thumping like they were having a fan-girl encore at a Beyonce concert. I have no idea what ‘centrist’ thinking is, though it sounds vaguely like sitting on the fence.

Curiously enough, the PAP in its not-so-humble beginnings in fact started out as a LEFT WING SOCIALIST PARTY, as admitted by LKY himself in 1959, who pushed for his own brand of ‘democratic socialism’.

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Hence the great socialism ‘experiment’ began, and Singapore by the late sixties was proudly referred to as ‘the only democratic socialist country in Asia’. We later became an esteemed member of the Socialist International, but were forced to ‘resign’ in 1976 over ‘anti-PAP’ allegations, namely the mistreatment of political detainees.  Our socialist stance then was seen by some observers as straddling the middle ground between communism and right-wing authoritarianism. Oh look, money for all you poor, hungry people one moment, execute drug traffickers, cane vandals, regulate websites, ban movies about exiles and sue bloggers in another. Socialism, Singapore style, is the multiple personality disorder of politics.

In a 2001 interview LKY brushed aside the socialist label (‘I wouldn’t say I consider myself a socialist. I was convinced that it was a civilized system of government’), reminiscing about how the UK Health system in the 40’s introduced him to what he later refers to as a ‘malfunctioning’ system. Today, however, we continue to espouse ‘democratic socialist’ ideals, which according to our PM Lee, the ex-socialist LKY’s son, entails ‘an open and compassionate meritocracy, a fair and just society’. Having a ‘Singaporean Singapore’ was part of our unique brand of socialism as well. What we can’t decide on is how far ‘left-of-centre’ we have become, a term which suggests that we have been playing it straight down the line all along. Those who believe we’re a fascist state would beg to differ.

Considering how extreme left the PAP once was, maybe we have been steered in the ‘right’ direction all along. Now, if only there’s a song lyric for that.

Malays excluded from Navy due to lack of halal kitchens

From ‘Malays deployed in the SAF as sailors: Ng Eng Hen’, 16 Feb 2015, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

A person is deployed in a sensitive unit in the Singapore Armed Forces based on his ability and beliefs to ensure that he is not a security risk, not on his race, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Monday night. He also revealed that the SAF has started to deploy Malay servicemen onboard ships as sailors who will go out to sea. Previously, Malays in the navy were only deployed as “sea soldiers”, who primarily patrolled naval bases.

…Responding to a question on a perceived bias against Malays in the SAF and why they have been excluded from the Navy until now, Dr Ng said it was a “practical issue” of having halal-certified kitchens onboard ships. “(This is) because in a confined space, it is hard to have a halal kitchen. If you spend months out at sea, it is difficult.”

But provisions have been made for Malay Muslims who are willing to serve, said Dr Ng. “So we made and found some accommodation and started to have Malays in the navy as well, if the person is willing.” He also reiterated that Malays now serve in the army, navy and air force, adding that with Singapore’s small population, the SAF does not discriminate against anyone and promotes its servicemen based on their ability.

“We want to get the maximum out of each person in the SAF…we are putting the best people in the best positions.”

But for sensitive positions in the military, the SAF is not blind to the fact that “people can be blackmailed“, said Dr Ng. “We ask ourselves, can we trust this person in that position to make sure he will not be made use of, that he will not be vulnerable.”

In 1987, then Trade and Industry Minister BG Lee was bashed by critics across the Causeway for remarks which reinforced this ‘perceived bias’ against Malays in the armed forces, that the Government did not want to ‘put its soldiers in a difficult position where their emotions for the nation may be in conflict with their emotions for their religion’. In response, Chiam See Tong accused the practice as discriminatory towards the Malays and not being in the spirit of regional harmony, that the best way to build a nation was to ‘trust everybody’ to have that trust reciprocated. He was swiftly slammed by Malay MPs for trying to be a ‘hero’ for the Malay community when he was in no such position to do so.

Some observers suggest that this ‘cautious approach’ is due to an initial fear of Malay ‘Trojan Horses’ within the military, or in plainspeaking terms, ultimately a question of ‘loyalty’ amongst our own countrymen given our geopolitical ‘situation’. Lee Hsien Loong back then added that this was the ‘reality that we cannot run away from’, and the Malay situation would improve over time as the nation became ‘more integrated’. By ‘integration’, in the case of the Navy, surely we mean that a Malay soldier by now would have no qualms about firing a torpedo at someone else of the same ethnicity/religion in actual war, rather than the SAF accommodating extra space for halal kitchens on board ships, which begs the question of why these weren’t considered in the first place. How does the SAF decide which unit is more ‘sensitive’ than another as they gradually phase Malay soldiers in anyway?

What we do know is that we have Gurkhas tasked to guard the very lives of some important politicians, which I would consider a highly ‘sensitive’ deployment. Unlike our own born and bred Singaporeans, the fierce loyalty of these foreigners has never been in doubt. In Chiam’s own words, ‘We trust all kinds of foreigners but we do not trust our own Malay citizens’. In 2013, PAP MP Zaqy Mohamed raised a valid point about our eagerness in enlisting new citizens or children of foreign spouses into the army, and whether SAF was playing fair if it continues to maintain this ‘national security narrative’ affecting the military prospects of own Malay Sons of Singapore (MP asks how position of Malays in SAF compares to those of new citizens, Feb 6 2013, ST)

The ‘practical’ matter of dietary requirements aside, Ng Eng Hen also mentioned, rather strangely, about the SAF needing to screen out ‘people who can be blackmailed’, which I would infer as someone trained to be a soldier, but forced under circumstances to turn his weapon on his own people, or run away to join a mercenary brigand. Under what circumstances exactly isn’t clear. We have heard of NSmen turning their weapons on themselves though. To date, more tragedies have occurred due to suicide or accidents rather than an ‘emotionally conflicted’ soldier going ‘Trojan Horse’ on the military, or someone forced to steal SAR 21s for a terrorist cell group otherwise their sex videos may get leaked on the internet. Maybe we should focus more on soldiers with undiagnosed mental disorders posing a danger to us all in peacetime , rather than being fixated on the notion that men of a certain demographic are a higher ‘security risk’ in sensitive units compared to others during actual war.

So, as Chiam has pointed out,  it appears that there still remains, especially in a time when we have our own people joining armies to wage war against Syria, a lingering trust issue in the military despite our integration efforts. At the same time, as the Defence Minister has stated himself, we don’t want to put Malays in high-ranking positions just to meet certain expected racial quotas, which would amount to ‘tokenism’. What we need is an honest, open discussion about the actual place of Malays in the armed forces, what exactly constitutes a ‘security risk’, whether this concern is still relevant today, and not, to put it in army vernacular, a ‘smoke-out’.

In the late nineties, LKY was more specific as to what a Malay soldier shouldn’t be commanding, namely a ‘machine gun unit’, that it would be ‘tricky business’ if such a soldier had family or religious ties to our immediate neighbours and that ‘he and his family’ would have a tragedy on their hands if we did not think this through. He did not say if it was OK for them to pilot fighter jets, drive tanks or even help design weapons in a research lab for that matter. PAP Malay MPs were quick to shrug off the senior Lee’s comment as an ‘honest and candid one’, and needs to be put in the right ‘context’ given our geographical realities. The reality is that if it were anyone but LKY telling us what a Malay should or should not do in such an indelicate manner, even if it were ‘candid’ to the point of satire, they may just be arrested for sedition.

Battle for Merger a reality check for revisionist views

From ‘Reprint of the Battle for Merger will provide reality check for revisionist views’, 10 Oct 2014, article in CNA

The re-publication of a book of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s radio talks from 1961, The Battle For Merger, will provide a “reality check” for revisionist views, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at the launch event on Thursday (Oct 9).

“I hope it will awaken interest among younger Singaporeans in the events of this crucial period in our history, educate them into what actually happened, what the battle was about, and why it was so crucial that the right side won,” he said in his speech at the launch.

Originally published in 1962, The Battle For Merger is a book that contains a series of 12 radio talks delivered by Mr Lee between Sep 13 and Oct 9, 1961, giving a vivid account of the ongoing political struggle over merger.

Among the many superlatives used to describe LKY’s radio sermon, the best come from his son, the current PM, himself, who recalls the ‘superhuman‘ effort of 36 broadcasts in 3 languages, and how the Battle of Merger still reads like a THRILLER today. In TCH’s speech, he called it a ‘gruelling’ exercise which left our founding PM ‘thoroughly exhausted’, but later makes a too-brief mention of the critical event that is the 1962 referendum.

..In the referendum on merger held in September 1962, 71% supported the PAP’s position while 25% cast blank votes as advocated by the anti-merger group.

Although public support for merger was unequivocal in 1962, and Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia on 16 Sep 1963, the differences in views between the Singaporean and Malaysian governments as to how a multi-racial, multi-religious nation should govern itself caused merger to fail.

The essence of a good thriller, or any book worth reading, is to ‘leave out the boring details’. In politics, such filtering is de rigeur in government propaganda, and to refer to one supreme leader’s personal, ‘self-serving’ account of history as a ‘reality check’ is an insult to the entire study of History as we know it. A reality check is a painful reminder of how real life works, like failing in business if you pursue a naive fantasy of starting an organic ice-cream parlour. The ‘Battle of Merger’ launch, instead of extinguishing the ‘revisionist’ spirit, is more likely to add fuel to the fire.

It’s probably true that without the PAP’s tactics in securing the merger and subsequent break-up, we wouldn’t be where we are today, even if some would label the short-lived marriage with Malaysia as a ‘mistake’. While we generously laud our pioneer politicians as hardworking, tenacious and selfless in their fight for freedom, we refrain from other adjectives that contribute partly to the success of the ruling party and hence modern Singapore. ‘Cunning’ and ‘Opportunistic’ would be a couple of them.

For a quick summary of what the Battle for Merger was all about without downloading all of LKY’s speeches, this ‘Diary of a Nation’ episode from the 80’s would suffice, though we all know who are the ones penning their thoughts in this ‘diary’. Maybe the MDA will re-telecast this entire series on national TV, crappy music and title credits and all, and give it a G rating so your babies can watch it too.

The SG50 committee is not interested in telling you how the PAP twisted the electorate’s arm during the 1962 referendum, from the strategic use of the Singapore flag in one of the 3 options to the screening of movies on how to vote for merger, or how you couldn’t even vote ‘NO’ to the whole idea. They want you to know that it was ‘unequivocal’. Digging further into ‘history’ will suggest that perhaps ‘unequivocal’ was an exaggeration. The SG50 doesn’t want you to know David Marshall once described the Referendum as ‘dishonest’ and ‘immoral’, an insult that deserves to be published in full glory, by the ST itself no less.

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Any history student, or thinking Singaporean, would be obliged to find out exactly why some people thought the Referendum was a sham. For starters, this was what the Referendum form looked like, which may give you some inkling of whether ‘unequivocal’ is the right word to use here. You may also want to read further on how the PAP decided to handle ‘blank votes’ (defaulted as Alternative A).

TCH also doesn’t explain what a ‘revisionist’ view is, probably alluding to the commentaries from the recent banned Tan Pin Pin film, which attemp to ‘revise’ history as written in the textbooks. It seems to me like a polite term for a radical deliberately creating strife by distorting events, or through outright LIES, when most of the time it’s really an attempt to ‘fill in the blanks’ behind the scenes, or give this ‘thriller’ that is the Singapore Story, a not-so-happy ‘ending’.  No one ever calls for Singaporeans to reject ‘denialist’ views, or victors who prefer to leave the ‘convenient truth’ intact and arrogant enough to tell you what ‘reality’ is when they were too young then to know what the hell was going on.

There may indeed be a book out there written by someone free of all bias, one which gives the most accurate account of the merger history, warts and skeletons and all, but it’s probably so boring and painful to read that it went out of print a long time ago. In the meantime, there’s Dennis Bloodworth’s The Tiger and the Trojan Horse, which offers juicy details amid a colourful cast of characters beyond LKY, including Lim Chin Siong, the ‘Plen’ and Goh Keng Swee, with many twists and turns as a proper thriller should have, instead of one man hogging a microphone for days. Still, our DPM is right about how this would ‘awaken interest among young Singaporeans’, except that the PAP, through merciless rebuttal, censorship and instigating fear of us even discussing Communism in public, continues to underestimate the public’s ability to ‘think independently’, a skill that we’re all urged, ironically, to develop in school. That is, don’t just rely on ONE source to form your own judgement of events, ESPECIALLY if it makes better reading than the Da Vinci Code.

Suzhou Industrial Park ex-CEO probed for corruption

From ‘Ex-CEO of Suzhou Park in graft probe’, 21 Sept 2014, article by Kor Kian Beng, Sunday Times

Suzhou Industrial Park’s former chief executive officer Bai Guizhi, a Chinese national, has been investigated for graft, in the most serious scandal to hit the first bilateral project between China and Singapore.

….SIP’s administrative committee, an arm of the Suzhou city government overseeing the project, is believed to be responsible for Mr Bai’s appointment and that of other key posts in the industrial park.

CSSD chief executives were Singaporeans from 1994 to 2000, when a Singapore consortium held a majority 65 per cent stake in SIP – which was set up with the backing of Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the late Chinese strongman Deng Xiaoping. The key goal of the 288 sq km industrial park was to replicate Singapore’s industrialisation expertise and to transfer the Republic’s “software” and way of doing things to Suzhou and other cities.

From Jan 1, 2001, Chinese nationals were appointed as CEOs after a loss-making streak in SIP saw Singapore shrinking its stake to 35 per cent and its share of the park to just 8 sq km, instead of the 70 sq km planned. Things have picked up for SIP. It has become one of China’s most successful industrial parks, and garnered international awards.

A Singapore consortium now holds a 28 per cent stake in the CSSD.

To mark 20 years of the ‘special and long-standing friendship‘ between Singapore and Suzhou, the city’s mayor planted 5 Osmanthus flowers (the official flower of Suzhou) at the Gardens by the Bay. Things, however, haven’t been all rosy since its inception in 1994, this sprawling lovechild of LKY and Deng Xiaoping. The latest graft incident would be what our esteemed elder statesman would refer to another of the Chinese government’s ‘municipal shenanigans’. Despite all the ‘teething problems’ which LKY had with the Chinese authorities, Suzhou has been flourishing since, even winning the ironically titled Lee Kuan Yew World City prize recently, despite us having a physical presence of just 8 sq km.

Here are some interesting tidbits about our maiden ‘bilateral’ project:

1. Singapore’s social order was an inspiration for Deng Xiaoping, who in 1978 called us a ‘capitalist version of the COMMUNIST dream’, before the SIP program began. Yet any mention of communism in our media today gets slammed and banned by the government, as what happened to a recent documentary by Tan Pin Pin.

2. The SIP’s estimated cost was $30 billion. For 4 years since it was set up, it was making losses of up to US $24 million annually. Our flagship ‘government to government’ cooperative wasn’t exactly off to a flying start.

3. Lee Hsien Loong disclosed in 1998 that 10 of the 24 companies of the Singapore consortium were government-linked companies and statutory boards. $115 milion was pumped in.

4. In 1998, city vice mayor Wang Jinhua told a group of German investors to pump their money directly into rival and precursor industrial park SND (Suzhou New District), which was run by local authorities, without involving Singapore. LKY complained to President Jiang Zemin about it, despite the situation in China being a case of ‘The mountains are high and the emperor is far away’.

5. The founding CEO of the Suzhou project was former MP Chan Soo Sen. He went on to become Independent Director of a company that calls itself MIDAS Holdings.

6. 2001 was the year Singapore ceded management duties over to the Chinese government. The NY times called it a ‘face-saving’ exercise. LKY blamed the Chinese government for promoting SND instead. Other political observers surmised we had no bloody idea what we were getting into. I believe there’s another Chinese saying for ‘small fry in a big pond’. LKY expected ‘special treatment’ for his baby, but wasn’t prepared for the reality that is, well, competition, underhanded as it may be.

7. The Economist referred to the SIP as an attempt to ‘clone’ Singapore in a Chinese city. Other extensions of our ‘software replication’ would sprout up in Tianjin and Vietnam. In May rioters set fire to 3 factories in the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park complex. Seems like the ‘software’ was not flameproof.

8. In 2009, despite his disappointment with Chinese business practices, LKY maintained that SIP was the ‘right decision’. Not sure if it was ‘right’ for bilateral relations,  or ‘right’ for Singaporeans in general, especially since to the layman, the Suzhou incident appears to be a case of the Chinese ‘borrowing’ our ideas and hijacking the Singapore brand, then running off with it, applying our ‘software’ to copycat cities to the tune of billions of dollars; i.e it turned out ‘right’ for the Chinese. Then every 10 years, they come down and plant token flowers in our $1 billion garden. Which is NICE, rather than just ripping us off like this thing they did with Apple without giving credit where credit’s due.

Success or flop, there are take-home lessons from our experience with SIP, yet our government continues to woo China like an infatuated puppy, still stuck in its Sinophilia, insisting that the SIP was a resounding masterstroke of the genius that is LKY despite the apparent ‘glitches’ in the software. A Guangzhou Knowledge City is in the pipeline as we speak, lauded as one ‘driven by the private sector’ unlike the previous projects, which is in fact a 50:50 venture involving Temasek Holdings-owned Singbridge International. The man in charge? Wong Kan Seng, who had always believed that there was ‘money to be made‘ in China. Isn’t that the guy who…never mind.

If the SIP and similar ventures were products you could pick up off the shelf, you can be certain that it’ll say ‘Made in China’ on the labels, and next time when a foreigner asks you if Singapore is ‘somewhere in China’, he wouldn’t be totally off the mark. Maybe it’s time for some software updates and bug fixes, before we go around pointing to SIP and claiming credit like an excited kid telling his parents that this entire city would never have existed if he hadn’t built a Lego model to inspire it from the beginning.

National Stadium should be named after Lee Kuan Yew

From various letters, 16 Nov 2013, ST Forum

(Kong Peng Sun):…Had it not been for one of our founding fathers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, we would not have our nation and stadium today. He has sacrificed a lot for this country, leading it to be so successful economically and able to stand tall even among the developed and advanced countries. There is no bigger way to honour Mr Lee than to name our stadium after him.

(David Tan Kok Kheng):…When the original National Stadium was officially opened in 1973 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, it was seen not only as a move towards a more sporting nation but also a step forward in nation building.  If there is one single personality who comes to mind when we think about the building of this nation, be it economically, socially, in education or even sports, it is Mr Lee.

(Lim Teck Meng):…The Grandstand (West) could be the Choo Seng Quee Grandstand, after our most successful mastermind who created our super team and started our unique Kallang Roar.

The Main Gallery Stand (East) could be named after our most famous footballing son, Fandi Ahmad. Till today, there is no footballer like him who has given fans lots of memories with his fantastic performances.

The Northern Stand could be dubbed the Majid Ariff Stand, after “Mr Twinkle Toes” who is our only footballer to have made it to the Asian All-Stars team.

The Southern Stand could be the Dollah-Kim Song Stand, after Dollah Kassim and Quah Kim Song for the moment that epitomised the Kallang Roar days: In extra time of the 1977 Malaysia Cup Final, Dollah crossed to Quah to score, allowing Singapore to beat Penang and bring back the Malaysia Cup after a long hiatus.

Our ex-premier has been named after many prestigious awards, the World City Prize included, but has yet to even have a street, or MRT station named after him. Some have called for a capital in Singapore to be named ‘Leekuanyew City‘, among other viable proposals such as a hospital and even our beloved Changi airport. A public amenity like a spanking new stadium shouldn’t have any issues with branding if you decide to name it after an important person instead of sticking to sentimental, marketable monikers like the ‘Grand Old Dame’ or ‘Kallang Stadium’. One may argue, however, if honouring a powerhouse politician over sporting legend is taking the piss on local sports. You also risk having critics of nonagenarian ministers mocking the stadium as the ‘Grand Old FART’ instead.

Naming parts of the new stadium after famous footballers sounds like a decent idea if we can’t decide on anyone ‘big’ enough to fit the bill, except that the National Stadium, or Singapore, is not all about football and we might not be fair to sportsmen who actually made it to the Olympics, like Tan Howe Liang for instance. ‘Dollah-Kim Song’ also sounds more like a Korean rapper than a striking partnership. LKY aside, EW Barker has also been suggested for his contributions to sporting complexes in housing estates. But if you’re deadset on choosing a leader who spearheaded sports on an administrative level, you’re forgetting one particular person – someone who came up with the idea of having a National Stadium in the first place.

According to the SSC Sports Museum history of the National Stadium, the construction of the original National Stadium would not have been possible if not for money raised from the national lottery. Between 1968 and 1976, more than $20 million was raised. The operator was Singapore Pools, the lottery games were Toto and Singapore Sweep, and the minister who came up with the brilliant idea (inspired by the Bulgarians) of building a stadium using Singaporeans’ gambling money was none other than Othman Wok.

In 1965, Encik Wok, then Social Affairs Minister, argued for a stadium of ‘Olympic’ standards in Kallang to help put Singapore at the forefront of international sport. As the chairman of the Singapore National Olympic Council, he launched the Singapore Sports Awards in 1967 to recognise sporting excellence. Tasked with the ‘toughest job in sports’, Wok himself was a sportsman in his own right, a hockey player and rugby captain back in RI. I can’t imagine LKY indulging in any team events other than fist-shaking debating. Or even kicking a chapteh about for that matter.

In 1971, Wok introduced the National Stadium Corporation Bill in Parliament, which laid the groundwork not just for the physical stadium infrastructure but the future of Singapore sports. Fans of F1 should note that he was also an avid supporter of the Singapore Grand Prix back in 1967. Punters should be reminded that without Wok and his vision for a National Stadium, we’d have no TOTO too. The man has even met Football God PELE in person, which alone should be sufficient reason to give Wok the edge over LKY, Barker or football personalities from Fandi to supersub Steven Tan if you want to name the stadium after someone who’s done more for sport than merely give a speech on its opening day.

The Othman Wok Stadium has a nice ring to it and if I had the chance I’d vote him in. Let’s save LKY for bigger things. I hear Changi Airport’s Terminal 5 would be ready by 2020.

Wok this way

Singapore not a cruise ship, but a sampan 2.0

From ‘Singapore remains a sampan, but an upgraded one’, 31 Oct 2013, article by Sumiko Tan, ST

SINGAPORE will be in trouble if it thinks it has arrived and can afford to relax, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated yesterday. The country is small, and while it is no longer as poor and defenceless as it used to be, it must continue to be on its toes and work hard to improve.

Speaking to the Singapore media at the end of his official visit to France, he said “my eyes popped out” when he read a commentary in The Straits Times likening Singapore today to a cruise ship.

Commentator Koh Buck Song had argued in Monday’s Opinion pages that Singapore politicians’ oft-used metaphor of the country as a sampan, easily tossed about by the waves of global competition, was no longer valid. He said it risked promoting small-mindedness and cramping national self-confidence and ambition.

Instead, Mr Koh said, Singapore was more like a well-oiled cruise ship that caters to every need. As it offers the smoothest of journeys, passengers can relax because they feel secure, he added.

Mr Lee, however, warned: “Once you think you are in a cruise ship and you are on a holiday and everything must go swimmingly well and will be attended to for you, I think you are in trouble.

“We are small, we are not as poor as we used to be, we are not defenceless, we are able to fend for ourselves and to make a living for ourselves, and we are better off than before, and I think that we need to keep on working hard, to continue improving.” As to what might be a more appropriate metaphor, he said with a laugh: “I think we have upgraded our sampan. It’s sampan 2.0.”

This is my sampan, this is my land, this is my future, this is my life

It’s not just politicians using the sampan analogy to refer to our vulnerability when things get rough and we are forced to ‘weather the storm‘. A ‘prominent economist’ described Singapore as one which would sink if a ‘few monkeys’ jumped on board. A writer for a city guide to Singapore titled Cultureshock! refers to us as a ‘canoe’, not a steamship afloat on the ocean. Perhaps we may consider an alternative form of naval transport between the two extremes, that Singapore is more like a catamaran instead, a vessel owned by only rich people that doesn’t keel over in choppy waves, but will be ripped to shreds in a tsunami, or by Jaws.

In 1972, PM Lee’s father gave a stern warning to bank union workers not to ROCK THE BOAT if they wanted to share in Singapore’s prosperity, echoing S Rajaratnam who a year earlier used the same expression on minorities promoting ‘chauvinism’.  In his later years, LKY believed Singapore had grown enough room and speed to qualify as a PLANE that cannot afford to go on ‘auto-pilot’, and here his son is undermining that image by referring to our country as sampan 2.0, without specifying what exactly has been upgraded or what bugs have been eliminated. Judging from the spate of flash floods of late, we know the leaks in the boat are still there, and the captains haven’t changed one bit since the sampan came into existence. What has changed, though not necessarily for the better, is that our sampan has gotten prettier, pricier but WAY HEAVIER over the years. If it doesn’t capsize due to turbulence, it could very well just sink under its own weight. If the sampan had a name it would be called The Greedy Sardine.

In Koh Buck Song’s piece (Sink the Old Sampan, 30 Oct 2013), he explains the ‘small cruise ship’ comparison in terms of on board recreational facilities (Zouk, casinos), efficient services, cosmopolitan population, an endless variety of activities to cater to every need and bizarrely, for ‘lifelong learning’, which makes sense if you’re the type who spends half a day in the ship library rather than go out there and play bingo with aunties. I for one would rather be stuck in a tub with a ladle for a paddle than go on a cruise. Luxury liners also happen to be heavy polluters, hosts to cheesy cabaret shows where entertainers drag you into a ridiculous conga line, and you can’t stroll the boardwalk in peace without bumping into sweaty fat passengers wearing skimpy trunks that leave little to the imagination carrying a sloppy club sandwich in one hand and a dripping Cornetto in the other.

Maybe PM’s eyes wouldn’t ‘pop out’ so much if Koh Buck Song had compared us to one particular cruise ship known for something other than 24 hour dining or casinos; The Love Boat.

LKY antagonising an entire generation of Chinese

From ‘Life after Cabinet…and death’, 11 Aug 2013, excerpts from ‘One Man’s View of the World’, Think, Sunday Times.

…Occasionally, when I disagree strongly with something, I make my views known to the Prime Minister. There was an instance of this when the Government was looking to reintroduce Chinese dialect programmes on free-to-air channels.

A suggestion was made: “Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas.”

I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack?

I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show.

Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren. It will creep back, slowly but surely…

When the Speak Mandarin Campaign brought its War on Dialect to radio in 1982, clamping down on dialect broadcasts over Rediffusion, that didn’t stop master storyteller Lee Dai Sor from producing his own albums, TWELVE of them in fact. That’s more albums than all the Singapore Idols combined. His bestseller cassette, Ru Chao San Bu Wen, was a folk legend about incompetent Qing emperors. In 1983, he rejected SBC’s invitation to perform at a New Year show because he had to speak Mandarin. In the media, he reportedly ‘retired from broadcasting’, but now we have confirmation from LKY himself that the plug was pulled on his show because it was in Cantonese.

This was a man who could sell the Singapore Story better any million-dollar NDP, but had to pursue his passion working for Radio Australia and Rediffusion Malaysia when his own country turned him away. Celebrated as a folk hero, drama company Toy Factory produced a play about Lee’s life, titled ‘Big Fool Lee’, a homage to Lee’s influence as the voice of a generation who refused to be muted by LKY’s social engineering. ‘Big Fool’ died in 1989, but his spirit, like dialect, lives on today.

Dialects have already crept into mainstream consciousness and pop culture, ‘slowly but surely’ no matter how LKY tried to suppress it with the same vigour as SARS. As late as 1990, Cantonese ‘patriotic’ songs like Sparrow With Twigs were banned from airplay and only recently reinstated. In a big way too, being featured in local movie ‘That Girl in Pinafore’. It’s not just the older generation ‘threatening’ to make dialect fashionable again. Local rapper Shigga Shay boasts about being a ‘Limpeh’. Mr Brown’s ‘Lekuasimi’ was a spoof of an NDP song. Royston Tan’s 881 made us (the English-educated included) all sing ‘Che Lang Che Pua’ in KTVs again.

We continue to order ‘kopi siew dai’, not ‘coffee, less sugar’, and order ‘har gao’, not ‘prawn dumplings’. Dialect has already been embedded in our social fabric, gone beyond the days of ‘Wah Lau’, and there’s nothing a 90 year old Hakka politician can do about it. Especially when his own PAP successors are using it as rhetoric. Goh Chok Tong used ‘pah see buay zao’ in reference to ‘stayers’. You could use the same phrase for Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese and what have you. If there’s anything that needs a resurgence it’s Mandarin itself, our general grasp of it left a lot to be desired, though we have more than enough PRCs moving here to help us, well, ‘keep up’ with the language.

Unlike Mandarin, dialect doesn’t exist in textbooks nor does it appear in listening comprehension tests.  It lives only in the hearts, minds and mouths of Singaporeans, young or old, proud enough to speak it and keep it alive, campaign or no campaign, a glorious artifact that binds us to our roots. Anyone can be a polyglot or Chinese scholar if they train hard enough, but only in Singapore can one be a true master of the dialects, like the late Ah Nan was. Those who agree, please Kee Chiu.

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