truth nugget #16 (my Singapore)

at the moment, Singapore is like a young, swollen river. the undercurrents are swift and decided. it knows where it’s going and knows that some risk has to be taken to get there. the people of Singapore are riding that river.

the adventurous, the forward, the audacious, the plucky, are moving with it, braving the rapids, knowing that the waterfall will come, and it’ll be terrifying, but it is inevitable, and the fall will be thrilling and the pool will be worth it.

the timid, the fence-sitters, the stubborn, the fearful, are trying their best to anchor themselves, not wanting to know the changing landscape that lies beyond each meander, afraid of the rocks and tide, denying that to everything there is an ebb and flow.

but the rain will go on. and the river will burst and when it does, my river companions, all of us will have to decide whether we want to sink or swim. the river will be brimming with us, jam packed, but we don’t have to climb on each other’s heads, we just have to hold each other’s hands and take the plunge together. sink or swim.

on the banks of this river, sit our leaders and ministers, sheltered as ever from the downpour of reality, having a cultured picnic of afternoon tea. they look on at us and make bets. they portion off the river and decide which groups of people deserve to be thrown a rope, and where they’ll set up their state-of-the-art fishing gear, so that those groups won’t have anything to eat. they discuss ways to drill a deep, destructive hole into the bedrock so they might get from where they’re sitting, to the calm pool below the falls, without having to drown and die, and definitely without getting their white uniforms wet and dirty. they don’t know that time, like the river must run its course, especially a river as young and eager as this one. without the journey down, there is nothing to be learnt. there are no shortcuts, even when you think you have the resources to make one.

we’ll sink or swim, but we’ll get there, old and young, natives and newcomers. they’ll get lost under the pile of rocks and red tape, in their stupid, white suits.

(more like a chunk than a nugget, this one. pardon me.)

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truth nugget #16 (my Singapore)

2 thoughts on “truth nugget #16 (my Singapore)

  1. hi @editbarry. thank you for this.

    it’s interesting how Singapore is viewed by people outside of it. there is much truth in this article and the facts are indeed hard to deny. Singapore has achieved, in such a short time, what many developed/ing countries are still trying to achieve. but this comes at a price.

    yes, the inequality here is seemingly controlled and it does seem like we have every angle covered. we do, actually, for the most part. but here are my arguments as a Singaporean who has lived 31 years in my country.

    – the provident fund that Joseph Stiglitz speaks of is fantastic on paper. until you discover that all the money you have set aside mandatorily does not always come back in full to you. there are so many restrictions on how you can use the money in your own fund, money that is indubitably earned by your own hard work. perhaps the most disturbing of these is, when you reach the age of 55, your hard-earned savings cannot be removed from the fund unless you have a minimum sum of SGD139,000 (to date). that will in turn be converted to a retirement fund where you will get between SGD500-1,000 a month. if you ARE somehow able to meet this minimum sum (most middle-class Singaporeans are not), then you’ll get a higher amount every month. if you are not, then there are other sources that can be pledged towards the provident fund, eg. your property. the truth is that most Singaporeans are still paying for their housing when they are 55 because we also have one of the world’s highest property prices, so the majority of the middle class are technically in debt even during retirement, have no access to their savings if they do not have a large sum of money in their funds (don’t forget there is a minimum sum to be kept in the medical fund as well: SGD38,500), and still have to save outside of all of this if they are to have cash on hand for emergencies. there are also many stipulations on how you can use the money for home ownership, depending on whether you are a first-time owner etc. etc. etc. same goes for the medical fund. despite the fact that all of this money is supposed to be YOUR OWN, the reality is that it is not exactly available to you when you really, really need it.

    – while there may have been some regulation on “wages at the bottom not beaten down to the exploitative levels they could have been”, we STILL do not practise a minimum wage here and much of the exploitation goes cleverly unseen. Singaporeans may not be living in “poverty” compared to other parts of the world, but when you consider the standard of living, most Singaporeans are not making enough to make ends meet.

    – it will be interesting (and terrifying) to see how the government deals with the rising inequality here. in the writer’s article he says, “but Singaporeans have acknowledged the problem, and there is a lively conversation about the best ways to mitigate adverse global trends.” anyone who lives in Singapore will know what the government means when they use the word “conversation”. there’ve been a couple of “national conversations” which have both ended with the government doing exactly what they set out to do in the first place. the voices of the marginalised Singaporeans who are actually facing these financial problems are never really listened to. for us, it’s a big farce. imagine thinking you’re having a healthy debate about something, only to realise that you’ve wasted all your breath.

    – Singapore is, in fact, more of an authoritarian state than a democracy. it’s no secret. from the way our money is used, to the rights we have, to the way the government dismisses the calls of the people and functions quite separately from the people’s needs. my reason for this blog entry is to empower Singaporeans to take the plunge. to not be afraid. I will never deny the amazing things Lee Kuan Yew and his cronies have done for my country. but there has to come a time when we question the things they’ve done that have been detrimental. recently, the Ministry of Education decided to take a number of Literature courses out of schools with the reasoning that it is “responding to a changing social context”. I am a musician and a writer and I know for a fact that Literature is the one subject that teaches you to be analytical and to question. Singapore has been infamous for leading its people like sheep, encouraging blind following and shooting down anyone who challenges or asks questions. if anything, it is the lack of desire for reform and revolution among those who have been made into sheep that makes Singapore look like an ideal society to the rest of the world. we don’t talk back, we were trained not to. if we are run so well, why then were we recently voted the unhappiest people in the world?

    again, on paper, we look like we have everything under control. I will be the first person to acknowledge that there is no way Singapore would have achieved its status and be acclaimed as such a “success story” if the ruling party had not governed the way that it has. and there are many, many things I am grateful for. however, as my analogy goes, if our leaders do not recognise what is happening on the ground (the middle class unable to afford their houses, their groceries), and stop prioritising how we look to the rest of the world, we just may implode.

    thanks again for bringing this article to my attention! =)

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