LKY being lionised into an ubermensch

From ‘Recognise imperfections without diminishing stature’, 28 March 2015, ST Forum

(Ng Qi Siang): I AM greatly saddened by Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. He was a great leader and deserves our respect for making Singapore the great country it is today.  However, I am concerned that many Singaporeans have been accused of being “disrespectful” of Mr Lee by mentioning some of his mistakes or policies they disagree with. Mr Chia Boon Teck has even called for such speech to be punished with punitive action (“Take the disrespectful to task”; Forum Online, yesterday).

…Moreover, by deeming the discussion of Mr Lee’s faults taboo, we lionise him excessively and present an inaccurate picture of the man to future generations. For all his great deeds, Mr Lee also made mistakes. Some of his policies, such as the “Stop at Two” policy, led to undesirable outcomes like an ageing population. His strict governing style has also been the subject of much controversy.

In order to give Mr Lee an honest assessment, we should recognise these imperfections without diminishing his stature, as historians do with other great figures, from Winston Churchill to Thomas Jefferson.  This will allow future generations to better relate to him as it gives his legacy a human touch. It also allows them to learn from both his errors as well as his successes.

However, by lionising him to the point of ignoring his weaknesses, we risk mythologising him into an “ubermensch” that future Singaporeans cannot relate to. By glossing over his mistakes, they may be deprived of important lessons that may help them avert the mistakes of their forebears.

Mr Lee himself has acknowledged that he is not perfect. As a man who did not take to heart how others perceived him, he would not want the value of his legacy to be lost for the sake of universal laudation. Free debate will allow for a more meaningful discussion of Mr Lee’s place in history.

When Low Thia Khiang mentioned that LKY was considered a ‘controversial figure’ because ‘many Singaporeans’ were sacrificed and had to pay the price for his one-party rule during a solemn parliamentary tribute, he was swiftly rebuked for being insensitive in light of his passing. The Catholic Church’s Archbishop William Goh said that Lee would not be canonised because although he achieved a lot of Singapore, he had his FLAWS, in particular the crackdown on parishioners during the 1987 Marxist conspiracy (Time to move on from Marxist conspiracy, 28 March 15, ST), a dark period under LKY’s rule that is conveniently omitted from the memorial biographies. I doubt anyone would accuse the Archbishop of disrespecting the dead man, unlike the brickbats tossed at the leader of the Workers’ Party.

Some critics go for the jugular, and become the target of a witch hunt as you would expect given this emotional period. Playwright Alfian Sa’at condemns the ‘fishing village myth’ and how the week of mourning was also a ‘history revisionism free-for-all’ (Playwright Alfian Sa’at questions LKY legacy, 27 March 2015, ST). Loudmouth Youtuber Amos Yee posted a video titled ‘Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead’, calling LKY a ‘dictator’ and comparing the adulation to that for Jesus Christ. Yes this is the same kid who thinks CNY is bullshit.

To be sure, LKY was no saint, as much as we have to be thankful for his glorious work. The glossing over the ‘controversial’ aspects of his leadership is inevitable as Singaporeans, having no king, emperor, saints , superhero or common God to adulate since our founding, finally have the chance to mourn a strong father-leader figure, many to the extent of messianic idolatry. After all, rational behaviour is hardly expected when a nation is bereaved, if the 10 hour Padang queues are anything to go by. Respect the phenomenal heroics of the man, but also remember him as a mortal with hopes, dreams, loves, quirks, habits, and yes, the occasional mistake. Aspiration, not divination. And of course, it pays to get your facts right.

Tribute in India

If the exaggerated mythologising of the man is not kept in check, we’ll have our children believing that LKY descended onto our little pitiless island on a flying giant unicorn, threw rainbow confetti across the land, which magically sprout HDB blocks, his sweat and tears transforming into the clean drinking water that we all take for granted today. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and we risks slaying it if we overdo this rose-tinted tribute to LKY’s legacy, the gushing sentiment leading to a mass selective amnesia. We want to celebrate the man in our history books, not the myth.

The ubermensch is German for ‘Superman’ or ‘Overman’, and we hear of mourners calling out to Lee as their ‘superhero’, ‘idol’ or bizarrely ‘PAPA’, unaware that the man himself was known to eschew a personality cult, and was always reluctant to have buildings named after him. Since his death, we have petitions to rename Changi Airport to LKY airport, people changing their Facebook banners and profile pics to LKY and black ribbon decals with his face on cars. He was ultra-pragmatic both in life and would want his death to be likewise, without the wailing grandiosity and postmortem epithets such as ‘Architect of Modern Singapore’, and ‘Chief Gardener of Singapore’. I can imagine him shaking his head from above, telling Singaporeans to go home to their families, get back to work and stop screwing up the Padang, doing injustice to his life’s work as the Garden City creator. Life goes on, as what as he had designed in the Singapore ‘DNA’ all along, for us to carry on with or without him.

If there’s anyone disrespecting our late leader, it’s the grievers leaving behind a sad mess for others to pick up after them while deifying the man, not the critics trying to make him sound more like us fallible, petty, jealous, angry human beings, warts and all.

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While it is heartwarming to see genuine acts of compassion from ordinary people on the ground, it would be nice to see such kindness being displayed on an everyday basis. Yes, even in Hello Kitty queues.

Breadtalk LKY bun in poor taste

From ‘Breadtalk apologises for Lee Kuan Yew commemorative bun’, 25 Mar 2015, article in CNA

Bakery chain BreadTalk has apologised for a “commemorative bun” it put on sale to mark the passing of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Proceeds of the sale of the buns were to be donated to the Community Chest, BreadTalk indicated. However, the move was criticised on social media as being in poor taste. Some on Facebook said it was a “disgusting” attempt to cash in on the passing of a founding father of the nation.

…The buns had gone on sale with a sign: “Thank you for your unwavering strength and dedication in transforming Singapore. Filled with gula melaka-flavoured grated coconut and mixed with attap seed, this kampong-inspired creation is a tribute to a visionary leader who gave his life to build a nation from a kampong to a successful Singapore today. Let us join hands and hearts to honour him, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.”

D'ough!

D’ough!

This is just wrong. ‘Li Bu Kai Ni’ (can’t bear to leave you) should be made of a spicy red-hot tom yum filling, more representative of LKY’s fiery passion for Singapore, instead of some flaky coconut. While people in crutches are out there braving the heat queuing for hours to bid farewell to the icon, the people at Breadtalk were thinking of how to use this sombre event to promote their brand, for charitable causes or otherwise. They should just sell black charcoal red bean buns throughout this entire week of mourning instead.

It isn’t the first time that Breadtalk mixed pastry with puns; In 2010, they were accused of being racist for selling Naan the Nays. During the presidential election campaign in 2011, they dedicated the TAN-TART to all 3 candidates. When Steve Jobs died, they created the APPLE OF MY I.  I don’t recall Apple fans running riot over their stores demanding they withdraw this monstrosity. Not sure if they did any ‘Black and White’ creation when Michael Jackson passed away.

Occasionally they run out of ideas, naming one of their ring buns the ‘Circle Line’ to promote the new MRT line.  The commemorative ring pastries were launched in early October 2011. 2 months in, and the actual Circle Line broke down in one of the worst PR disasters in the history of Singapore’s public transportation.

The Circle Jinx

As if naming LKY after food isn’t bad enough, PAP MP Teo Ser Luck invented a crossfit workout named LKY91 dedicated to his hero, 91 being the age of LKY’s demise. No doubt the late LKY was an exercise addict, but surely he deserves better than be honoured by air goddamn squats and ‘double unders’. Not to mention in the late stages of his life he was suffering from peripheral neuropathy. LKY91 reads more like a torture manual rather than an exercise routine. Maybe you should rename it the #fml91 workout. Because that’s what you’ll say to yourself over and over 91 times for subjecting yourself to this physical abuse.

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This clip is the perfect response to all this personality cult nonsense, one that says ‘I ain’t got the time for your dumbass bullshit’.

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.

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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’

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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. 

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 sassy 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 this time. Now, if only there’s a song lyric for that.

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.

Lim Kay Tong as LKY in 1965 movie

From ‘Lim Kay Tong to portray Lee Kuan Yew in SG50 film’, 8 Oct 2014, article by Genevieve Sarah Loh, Today

After an extensive two-year search for the right actor to play the nation’s founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the upcoming SG50 film, 1965, producers of the movie have picked veteran local thespian Lim Kay Tong to fill the role.

The film has been five years in the making, starting off as a biopic about Mr Lee, but evolving into a story about the time the nation experienced racial riots. As the film’s executive producer Daniel Yun told TODAY last month, it was about “how fragile racial harmony can be and how we can take it for granted”.

In their search for a leading actor, the producers spoke to almost 20 people, including local actor-turned-Hollywood mainstay Chin Han.

Interestingly, Lim Kay Tong was cast in the lead role of the 2004 local film Perth as a taxi driver prophetically named HARRY LEE. Though LKT seems to be a shoo-in for the role despite the lack of physical resemblance (LKY is taller, for example), I would be more interested to see who the other candidates were besides Chin Han. I’d expect the criteria to be English-speaking, Singaporean with some Hollywood experience preferred, and I can’t even count the number of other local actors who could meet the minimum standard with one hand. In terms of Hollywood blockbusters, Chin Han in fact beats Kay Tong hands down if you go by number of appearances in movies, though his roles were largely restricted to bit parts, with the exception of the Dark Knight where he played a typical Asian scumbag (which LKY is so obviously not). Chin Han’s age of a youthful 44 also matches that of LKY in 1965 (42). Maybe having ‘Masters Of the Sea’ as part of his filmography was the deal-breaker.

I can only think of a total of 3 other actors who could fit the bill. Edmund Chen, for example, is effectively bilingual, though Hollywood may only remember him for his role in Street Fighter:The Legend of Chun Li, where he gets a few kicks in with the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s Balrog. I’ve a feeling he may be too good-looking for the role too. Adrian Pang, a solid dramatic actor and recognised thespian himself, worked alongside Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in Spy Game. The last one is the just married Ivan Heng, who was in Luc Beeson’s Fifth Element. So who were the other 15, I wonder. Could Mediacorp staples Pierre Png or Tay Ping Hui possibly have cast their lot in the mix? If Huang Wenyong were still alive, could he have been considered for the role despite the language handicap?

Before LKT, there were rumours that HK acting god Tony Leung would be chosen for the role. LKY was also depicted by Chinese actor Zhang Guang Bei in a Deng Xiaoping drama series. LKT’s heavyweight role may very well overshadow all the other aspects of the 1965 movie, the fact that Joanne Peh and hubby are in it but not playing lovers, that there’s a Singapore Idol in it (the last one, perhaps), and 2 of the main cast are not even Singaporeans (Qi YiWu and Deanna Yusof). But most telling of all is that 1965 is bankrolled by none other than the MDA and MCCY, and PAP bigwigs like the PM himself and Yaacob Ibrahim will be invited to the movie premiere and, regardless of how bad the movie actually turns out to be, praise the film not just for LKT’s powerhouse performance but that it is an ‘objective portrayal’ of events, not in the least ‘self-serving’, ‘one-sided’, nor does it contain a single ‘distortion’ or ‘untruth’. Not like some other film about other people fighting for independence. 1965 is a film immune to criticism or censorship, and I sympathise with the reviewer assigned to rate it once it’s out.

I’m just surprised that the responsibility of directing didn’t go to Jack Neo. Maybe he’d have come up with a more interesting title than the boring ‘1965’. Like ‘Lao Lee’,  ‘Ah Lee to PM’ or ‘Where Got Riots?’. If the PAP decided to make a movie about the ‘watershed’ 2011 GE, I have my own selection of actors to play the ministers/MPs.

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And of course Baey Yam Keng. As himself.

 

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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