Poet Grace Chia silenced into shock

From ‘Gender bias allegations over Singapore Literature Prize English Poetry results’, 6 Nov 2014, article by Corrie Tan, ST

Poet Grace Chia, whose poetry collection Cordelia was shortlisted for this year’s Singapore Literature Prize in the English poetry section, has strongly voiced her concerns over the apparent sidelining of women’s writing, saying that the results have left her “silenced into shock“.

The prize was awarded jointly to poets Joshua Ip and Yong Shu Hoong for their collections on Tuesday evening. The other poets on the shortlist were Tania De Rozario, who had previously won the 2011 Golden Point Award for English Poetry, Koh Jee Leong and Theophilus Kwek.

Chia wrote in a public post on the Junoesq Literary Journal’s Facebook page on Wednesday night: “The fact that the prize has been given to two co-winners who are both male poets is deeply informing of choice, taste and affirmation. A prize so coveted that it has been apportioned to two male narratives of poetic discourse, instead of one outstanding poet – reeks of an engendered privilege that continues to plague this nation’s literary community.”

If Ms Chia were indeed ‘silenced into shock’, she wouldn’t be complaining about literary sexism in a Facebook post. What does ‘deeply informing of choice, taste and affirmation’ even mean? Allow me to ‘poetise’ her sweeping rant with a poem of my own.

Cordelia didn’t win
Having 2 guys win is a sin
I’m stunned, I’m mute
Is it cos I’m too cute?
The pen is mightier than the sword
But mine failed to get me that award
Prose by ladies ain’t worth a dime
Especially if they were made to rhyme
Guys I challenge thee to a poetry slam
And make sure you say ‘Sorry ma’am’
I’m a women poet hear me roar
Imma call out this gender bias to settle the score

Though I have to admit I can’t for the life of me name a single female (or male) local poet, it’s probably unfair for Grace to claim that this bias ‘plagues the nation’s literary community’. Some of the best writers in this country are women, whether they be bustin’ rhymes or getting into trouble with politicians as a sideline (Catherine Lim). Poetry, however, seems predominantly male-dominated. A sensitive question to ask then, would be whether men are naturally BETTER at poetry than women. That would also explain why there are more male rappers than female, but it would incur the wrath of feminists waving the gender equality flag who think women are equally good, if not better drivers than men. Or maybe it’s a statistical fluke because so few people even want to venture into poetry in the first place.

I’d hate to think that poetry is a dying trade here. They’re probably more people listening to cassette tapes and gramophones than reading poetry, and I admire writers who have no qualms about introducing themselves as ‘poets’. Most people would imagine them as solitary bards strolling under the moonlight twirling their hands in long flowing robes creating sonnets on the go, or emo teens penning down melancholic verse on their blogs while contemplating suicide. The only thing more lofty-sounding than ‘poet’ is probably ‘sonnetist’. You can’t survive in Singapore without being a multi-hyphenate if you want to specialise in poetry. In Grace’s bibliography, she is credited with other publications, including Silver Kris, SIA’s inflight mag, and curiously, Success in Real Estate (Vol III).

There’s also this piece by Edwin Thumboo that’s apparently lauded as Singapore’s ‘MOST FAMOUS POEM’, called Ulysses by the Merlion. No I haven’t heard of it either. Ask a random Singaporean to quote a piece of poetry and they’ll struggle to come up with anything other than ‘Rose are Red, Violets are Blue’. Maybe we’re just too lazy to memorise anything lyrical outside of Kpop songs. In Korean.

Or maybe this is a ruse to get people to read ‘Cordelia’.  This is a sample of how the online blurb describes the poet and her work, some of the reviews by critics lively enough to be poetry themselves:

‘…EXCAVATES from the imagery of life..’: What is this, a manual for grave-digging?

‘(Her voice) lingers with a satisfying PIQUANCY long after it’s heard’: MMMM..Piquancy..

‘…the SYLVIA PLATH of Singapore’: Don’t go putting your head in the oven, dear

‘ …More seasoned arrows than gems, thrusting into the skin of pretense and complacency’: I don’t want to touch this deadly book, ever.

‘…Grace’s name in Mandarin is translated as “demure cloud”‘: …Crackling with thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening.

‘…These poems pull electricity up from the magmatic earth and down from an ether crawling with myth and dream’. Now THIS is just RIDICULOUS. Why don’t you just use the term ‘EARTH-SHATTERING’.

Fantastic cover art, by the way. Makes a good poster for the sequel to Annabelle.

About these ads

Pizza Hut calling customer a pink fat lady

From ‘Pizza hut Singapore apologises for calling customer ‘fat”, 14 Oct 2014, article in CNA

Pizza Hut Singapore has apologised to a customer who found the words “Pink Fat Lady” scrawled on her receipt. The customer, Ms Aili Si, who was at the chain’s Bukit Merah outlet on Sunday (Oct 12) evening, found the words written on her pizza takeaway receipt.

She posted a photo of the receipt on the company’s Facebook page, along with the message: “I don’t think it is nice for your staff to describe me as such on my receipt. As a customer I definitely hope to be treated with basic respect deserved by any others. I hope to receive an apology from the staff and Pizza Hut.”

She added: “Just feel insulted. What’s wrong with being plus size? I’m a customer and I pay for my pizza! Not that I’m getting it for free!”

It ain't over till the fat lady complains

It ain’t over till the fat lady complains

No, there’s nothing wrong with being ‘plus-sized’, ‘big’, ‘chubby’ or any other euphemism for ‘fat’. What went wrong was that the Pizza Hut server should have just asked for a name instead of writing out 3 words that would identify her most accurately. Would the customer be any less angrier had the receipt read ‘Pink Big Lady’? Or the exotic bubble tea sounding ‘Pink BBW’?  Some feminists, in fact, even take offence to the word ‘Lady’. If you didn’t get the name of a customer like Aili, or afraid to make a catastrophe of it like they do at Starbucks, perhaps the safest way to describe her on a receipt without getting flamed on social media is ‘Full-figured Woman in pink’. Which is how some people would describe rose wine.

Some years back, a bunch of women displayed ‘plus-sized’ pride by posing nude in a calendar for charity, as a crusade against the fat stigma, and incidentally during a time when the BBW fetish community was gaining ground. The word ‘Fat’ to describe someone’s physique in everyday conversation, particularly that of a woman, may be even less frequently uttered than another taboo word ‘Pregnant’, unless it’s used as a superlative for some over-achievers, like the lady who holds the  Guinness Book of Records for the World’s ‘Heaviest’ Woman. Back in the seventies, we had no qualms about blasting fat people for not looking after their health, or even celebrating their rotundness. Today we’re more afraid of hurting their feelings than worry about them hurting their heart and arteries. In 2008, the Ministry of Education scrapped the TAF CLUB , a national school fitness programme that spelt FAT backwards, and renamed it to the HHF (Holistic Health Framework), which tells you absolutely nothing about how chunky these kids are. Conversely, you don’t hear people complaining about the words ‘THIN’, ‘SKINNY’ or ‘SMALL’; in fact sometimes these are even taken as compliments. If you wrote ‘Pink Skinny Lady’ instead, you may even get a tip.

If you’re on the curvy side and want to get some XXL clothes, you don’t go to a ‘Fat Lady Boutique’, you shop from ‘Joy in Curves’, Big on Attitude, and the god-awful sounding ‘PLUSYLICIOUS‘. From the names of such shops alone, you’d notice this patronising tendency to associate women on the heavy side with ‘attitude’, ‘confidence’ and ‘sexiness’, when most overweight women are, well, just plain Janes.  We restrict the F-word to the realm of food science, as in calories from FATS, or when used in the beauty industry to denote something repulsive that needs to be destroyed with fire, like ‘fat burner’, or ‘eliminates fats’. There are movies titled ‘Big Momma’s House’ and not ‘Fat Momma’s House’, or ’200 pounds beauty’ and not ‘OBESE beauty’. Hipster FnB establishments are named ‘Fat Boys’ or ‘Two Fat Men‘ but not ‘Two Fat Women’. The IMDB synopsis for Shallow Hal reads ‘ A shallow man falls in love with a 300 POUND woman because of her ‘inner beauty”, not ‘falls for a FAT woman’. It seems more socially acceptable to be as heavy as a pregnant sow, than to be called the 3-letter word FAT.

There are some instances, however, where adopting a PC-stance against fatness would just seem out of place. You don’t say ‘It ain’t over till the plus-sized lady sings’ for example. The ‘Yo Momma so Big’ insult just doesn’t have the same sting as ‘Yo Momma So Fat’. Weird Al Yankovic would have never pulled off a MJ parody hit had he sung ‘Curvy’ instead of ‘Fat’. Some do take the euphemism to the extremes, the worst examples being ‘Queen-sized’ and ‘Natural Body Type’, which is like calling a complete idiot ‘selectively talented’.

I’m not sure if ‘Veg Lvr’ or ‘Shrm Dlt (mushroom delight?) from Aili’s receipt refers to vegetarian pizzas, which may be a sign that she’s conscious about her weight, despite being defensive of her ‘plus-size’. Perhaps to test just how sincere Pizza Hut is in their apology, I should do down to any of their branches for a takeaway order, make a nuisance of myself,  and see if the staff would write ‘Crazy Ugly F**ker’ on my receipt.

 

 

 

 

 

Focus on the Family’s workshop promoting rape culture

From ‘Christian charity defends workshop which Hwa Chong student called sexist’, 7 Oct 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A Christian charity that conducts sexuality and relationship education workshops in schools has defended its programmes, after a student said it promoted gender stereotypes. Student Agatha Tan, a first year junior college student at Hwa Chong Institution, had on Friday attended a workshop in school, run by Focus On The Family Singapore, a pro-family Christian charity.

…She referred to a booklet given to students, which said girls need to feel loved, can be emotional and have a “deep need for her boyfriend to find her beautiful”. The booklet also said boys are “visual”, and that a “guy can’t not want to look”, and they have a desire to “visually linger on and fantasise about the female body”.

Ms Tan said the booklet “paints girls as hopelessly dependent beings who are incapable of surviving without guys”. She called it an “extremely sexist view” that “trivialises girls’ problems” and “serves as a foundation for the further boosting of the male ego”.

…But Focus On The Family Singapore – approved by the Ministry of Education to run sexuality education programmes in schools – said on Tuesday that the workshop that Ms Tan attended is not a sexuality education programme. “It is designed to be a relationship programme to help young people unravel the world of the opposite sex, uncover the truths of love and dating, and reveal what it takes to have healthy and meaningful relationships,” said its head of corporate communications, Ms Vicky Ho.

In Agatha’s lengthy rant about how sexist the FotF booklet is, she accuses the programme of ‘promoting rape culture’ in school, and detests the use of the word ‘gal’, which makes the intelligent, modern woman sound like a dim-witted floosy. Agatha comes across as a worthy candidate for AWARE membership, a young, aspiring, independent woman who would intimidate the average jock who’s enslaved by raging hormones and makes dick jokes all day long. Alas, mainstream media is full of gender stereotypes, from men losing their minds over a woman’s perfume in TV ads, to ‘gals’ in sexy sports attire seducing men in a SAFRA club. Surely it’s an exaggeration to cry ‘rape’ everytime the female form is objectified to sell a product, whether it’s a gym membership, a sportscar or a Christian workshop for young adults.

We hardly take such distortions of gender identity seriously, that is until an organisation like FotF claims to be one of the leading authorities in adolescent relationships and starts to drill into innocent young minds a half-baked, pseudo-scientific account of what today’s young women, and men, want. Instead of admitting that their material is mostly a sweeping, lazy generalisation of how boys and girls behave, FotF has the cheek to maintain that what they’re dishing out are the actual TRUTHS of love and dating, when these are in fact tired cliches masked as sage advice, stuff which read like rehashed Aunt Agony columns right out of the 60s, when young ladies are supposed to curtsey before a line dance and boys only grow testicles after learning how to ride a horse like a swashbuckler.

Here’s my breakdown of the relationship ‘tips and tricks’ which FotF advocates for a ‘healthy and meaningful’ relationship:

1. Reverse psychology always works if you’re a woman. If  she says ‘sure..go ahead’, you walk away at your own risk. If she says ‘I’m not upset’, she actually refraining from kicking you square in the balls.

2. Shouting gets your point across. e.g the interrobang in ‘ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME ?!’ It’s OK if you’re a girl, you’re supposed to be an emotional, needy creature with the privilege to boss your man around.

 3. Believe everything a man says. Especially when he says ‘I love you’. Because he means it. Obviously.

4. A girl will NEVER EVER go after you just for your money, because ‘emotional security’ and ‘closeness’ are far more important than financial security. So stick to that greasy fryer and shift work, young man, your woman still loves you so long as you spoil her with sweet words and attention.

5. Guys are just as complicated and fickle as girls. One moment they like girls with good ‘personalities’, the next moment they like ‘all types of girls’, then they like those who’re confident being ‘themselves’.

6. Guys are goddamned sex maniacs who can’t wait to lay their hands on your naked body. Only you, girl, have the POWER to put an end to his irrepressible lust once and for all.

I think FotF should stick to doing what they do best, like, focussing on the FAMILY and babies, and leave the troubled teen crap to people who live in the real world, because reading this patronising hokum is like consulting the love horoscope, or a literal version of the cheesiest Beverly Hills 90210 episode ever. Prepare your acceptance speech for the ALAMAK awards, FotF!

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 10.06.55 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 10.22.54 PM

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’.

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.

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