truth nugget #64

I’m not a Hindu but I have many friends who are. they consider Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated in honour of the God Murugan, to be a sacred celebration and much preparation and devotion goes into the procession that is held every year at this festival. devotees walk a predetermined route, some carrying milk pots on their heads, others with piercings of limes or leaves, and the most glorious to behold of all, the kavadi, where spears pierce through flesh to carry the heavy tiers of all sorts of different symbolic decorations. in order to aid the devotees on their trying journey, music is played, and I have heard it before, wonderful rhythms on the drums and beautiful, holy chants that touch the hearts of even non-believers. Singapore is the only place in the world that has placed a ban on music, alleging that it incites public disorder. an appeal was just rejected with the judge stating that “religious practices have to be practiced in accordance to laws regulating “public order, public health or morality”. bollocks. there is NOTHING disorderly, unhealthy or immoral about music, Judge Tay Yong Kwang. 

I am a Singaporean and I live in a country that professes to be multi-cultural, multi-religious and a society that claims to practise racial harmony. those are misleading claims, and the evidence to support that is blatant. 

my neighbours are Taoist. in fact, they’re pretty damn staunch and the mother of the family goes to the temple almost everyday. and yet, they never burn their offerings during the Seventh Month in the bins downstairs nor on the sidewalk where so many people seem to think it’s ok to do so.

the father of the family told my mum that he went to speak to the Town Council peeps to tell them that the bins right below our apartments are ridiculous and they need to do something about them because the smoke and ashes come right into our houses and we have to spend all day with our windows closed in this heat for almost a month. we also have lovely trees outside our corridor which are browned by the smoke and there are bats and birds who live in them and are affected terribly by the burning. my neighbour’s beautiful plants, which he takes so much pain to nurture have also, over the years, been destroyed by the fumes. let’s see what happens to my mum’s lovely plants now that she has just started growing a little garden. 

guess how the council replied? “sorry sir, we cannot do anything about this situation because people cannot be told not to follow their culture and religion.” he was indignant and of course tried to remind them he’s Taoist himself, so they thought they would placate him by saying, “ok sir, we will remove the bats.” and when, exasperated, he tried to explain it IS the bats he’s concerned about, they said, “ok sir, we will prune the trees, then.” seriously? totally missing the point, again. 

we live in a Singapore that hypocritically flies a multi-culturalism flag and waxes lyrical about tolerance and racial harmony but allows for this sort of inequity where one group of people is told it’s absolutely their right to pollute public space and the air we breathe, where at 11pm on a Sunday night, the Taoist wake happening in the void deck right below my bedroom window is crashing cymbals and blowing horns and fanning the flames of the biggest bonfire I’ve ever seen (meanwhile my cat’s having the shits) and another group of people is told that they don’t have the right to beat the drums or play traditional music loud enough to overcome the sound of traffic, just once a year at a very important Hindu festival. this has made my head roll from the time I was old enough to understand discrimination but nothing has changed. 

I am so thankful for my neighbours, who care about nature and their fellowpeople, and I wonder what it is about them that makes them who they are and so different from all our other neighbours who don’t see things the way they do. and so different from a government and all their paper pushers in all their many spineless, bodies that exercise authority over this country. 

something’s gotta give, Singapore. you so afraid there’ll be more riots? why don’t you give people fairness then? you think disorderly conduct happens when people are treated with respect? 

EH, PRIZ. USE YOUR BLAIN AH, USE YOUR BLAIN. 

truth nugget #64

truth nugget #59 (LKY)

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I haven’t yet said or really known what to say about Lee Kuan Yew’s passing. I was in Kuala Lumpur when he died and I had my own tiny grief party among my very good Malaysian friends, but being away I didn’t really know how to feel; in fact I felt even more disconnected than I usually do. after a while, I even stayed away from social media because some of the hate I felt from some of my countrypeople made me feel inexplicably sad and at the same time the repeated rhetoric of “you are our father, thank you for what you did for our country” also felt like knee-jerk mourning out of ignorance than anything else.

but when I arrived in Changi Airport yesterday evening, and saw the propaganda-soaked slideshows everywhere about how the man himself turned our port and airport into what it is today, I still burst into tears.

truth is, even those of us who know our history have a very complicated relationship with this man. because of what has been taught to us since we were little, many of us do consider Lee Kuan Yew Singapore’s father and because of the man he was, like it or not, every Singaporean has daddy issues. I’ve never been a PAP sympathiser, I have openly spoken up about my issues with the hypocrisy of our governing style and our embarrassing lack of human and civil rights, not to mention the joke that is our press and the clueless child that is our censorship board, amongst many, many other things. so why am I hit so hard by the death of the man who started it all?

I don’t know how many of you have read his book “Hard Truths”. my Uncle Glenn gave it to me and he, like my Grandpa, has a fascination with the man. Mr. Lee was older and had much less of a filter when the book was recorded (interview style) and he was very candid about what he felt our situation was when we split from Malaysia and what he felt we had to do to keep our island afloat in the middle of giants that could very easily sink us. was he paranoid? maybe. was it all self-serving? possibly. was he right? I don’t know. but he sure made it impossible for us to even contemplate the alternative.

I understand the polarised Singaporeans, the ones who are full of anger and the ones who are full of gratitude. they’re two different kinds of people. I don’t think I’m sitting on the fence, but I am in between. that’s also because I am part of a third group, those of us who have been fighting for a hypothetical Singapore that we don’t know if we would even be in the position to fight for had he not done some of the things he did. what could have been the alternative? Malaysia kicked us out, we didn’t “strengthen” ourselves LKY/PAP style and we might have found ourselves once again conjoined to our neighbours, this time maybe without any governance of our own and living under Syariah Law. another possibility: we get kicked out, he runs the country like a utopia with everything that we wish for, human rights, free speech, equality, and we either win awards for being the most enlightened society in the world or we become another failed Communist experiment.

I’m not saying I know, but no one really knows. he did what he thought was right, he did all he knew how to do. he had a vision and it might have been selfish or it might have really been the only way he saw Singapore moving forward. he crushed people who opposed him and no doubt he was a dictator who openly condoned eugenics and nepotism. I was always taught to speak my mind but no one had to tell me to be careful about what I say about Mr. Lee or his ruling party, the way he did things made fear a natural part of our genetic code. but many fathers are built that way. it doesn’t make it right, it just makes them human.

there has been this overflowing gratitude from Singaporeans now that he’s gone. some people are shocked by it considering how much we love to complain, but I’m not. most of us aren’t informed and that’s how he liked it. Alfian Sa’at has put out the hashtag #erasinghistory because it’s true, what the government has led us to believe is, much of it, far from the truth. we weren’t a “sleepy fishing village” that LKY magically transformed into a hub of godawful skyscrapers. we had a British infrastructure in place that he simply built on. my mother was born before independence and she can attest to that. we weren’t a swamp people who didn’t know any better. our education system was already here in 1959 and we still very much follow the British syllabuses. but when Malaysia didn’t want to gotong royong with us anymore, I think he panicked. and he needed to start history afresh for himself and his party because he didn’t know how else to take the blow and save his face. he’s a man and it was a very human thing to do. but was he qualified to run our country then, being just a man? who else would’ve done it who wouldn’t have been just a man as well? his opponents might have brought us to a different place, we’ll never know. but just like all screwed up relationships with fathers, most of the time we don’t get to pick ’em, and we just have to live with them. some kids can forgive when they are gone, some kids can’t. some kids can see all sides and understand where they were coming from despite the hurt they caused and just take it the way it is, because he was just a man not some patriarchal God, and these kids know better than to have higher expectations. the daddy’s girls and boys who considered themselves the ones in daddy’s favour will continue to put wreaths on his grave and champion all the things he did because they don’t see the things he didn’t.

he was a master of economics and he made us richer than we thought possible but we complain about what had to be done to get our GDP where it is. he also spoilt us and gave us everything we thought we wanted without having to ask, and made us bitchy, whiners. he also understood geopolitics like no other and every politician around the world tips their hats off to him for his smarts, foresight, hard work, determination, gumption, balls. he might have dealt with the threat of corruption through fear and bullying, but he dealt with it. he might have been a money-minded, tyrannous grinch but he advocated hard work over welfare because he felt that’s what made a disciplined, successful society. let’s be honest about this man. about the things he did and the things he didn’t. about the ways in which he tried to bring up his country that were laudable, questionable or outright wrong. he was a man and he made many mistakes and had many successes. I don’t know if he was a good man but he knew what love was, and in many ways he was great. there are many reasons that people the world over are celebrating his life.

I won’t miss him, that’s not why I cried when I came home. he had a fulfilling long life, I’m not sad because he’s gone. but it’s a similar feeling to why I mourned so violently for my own father, I cried for all the things we could’ve been, I cried for all the possibilities. there are things we will never know and never see because of the things we never got to choose. I cry for that, I cry for us and the end of this era that was his life.

but now, now we have a choice. he’s gone now and we no longer have to live with a self-appointed father/mentor. all us Singapore kids have our own feelings and the fact that many of us see the things he did as the foundation of what our country rests on (good or bad), means we cannot deny what a great and powerful man he was. but how long is the entire fate of this country going to be his sole responsibility? how long are we going to say Lee Kuan Yew brought this country to where it is (good or bad)? how long are we going to complain about the lies or truths of our history? when are we going to start writing our future?

truth nugget #59 (LKY)

truth nugget #36

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say what you want about the man, Lee Kuan Yew is unapologetically himself. he is not someone who gets his way because he is spoilt; he gets his way because he is crafty. he does not mince his words and he has the foresight of some sort of self-serving prophet. he loves his country and has done everything he has done in the name of loving it; although many Singaporeans don’t adhere to the same definition of love as he does. he has survived many things and turned 90 on the 16th of September, in the year 2013. I salute him for his life and for his vision and even though Singapore is changing and moving and possibly out of his grasp, I acknowledge his ethos of perseverance and consistency.

happy 90th birthday Lee Kuan Yew. thank you for all the things you’ve done and all the things you’ve taught me not to do.

truth nugget #36

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.)

truth nugget #16 (my Singapore)