The REAL WORLD that we PLAY in

August 28, 2005

As you may have noticed, I have been posting consistently on my blog. This is primarily due to:
a) my laziness to go out
b) my lack of money
c) my boredom

So to entertain myself, I have decided to read about Singaporean political perspectives by various local bloggers. Of particular note is one written by K.S. on his blog entitled What is Blog? His writings, though antithetical to the mainstream governmental propaganda (to put it lightly..), are very perceptive and represents what I would call a committed and responsible voice of the opposition. He is not a member of an opposition party but his views on how the opposition should fight the incumbents are valid and are very well thought out (looking at the strategy pragmatically of course!).

The post entitled “The REAL WORLD that we PLAY in” is broken into part 1 and part 2. And in order to get a better insight on the debate, it is best that you read an entry by Mr Goh Meng Seng entitled Checks & Balances who incidentally is a member of the Worker’s Party and represents an alternative voice to mainstream political ideas.

What K.S. emphasizes on his blog is the “REALITY” of the political situation in Singapore, which involves engaging the PAP in its own battle field. And according to K.S. this would mean fielding opposition candidates with paper qualifications, who do not have weird idiosyncracies such as Tan Lead Shake (DPP) who was protrayed as a slipper-clad “chap” by the media. Instead on engaging on important issues such as unemployment, political freedom, transparency in the government and non-governmental organisations (such as the NKF), what the PAP is prone to doing is launching on attacks on the qualifications of the candidature (the presidential non-election is a fresh reminder I would argue). And I must quote him on this, simply because I have to agree with him, being a young politically aware soon-to-be voter (in two years time at least!).

“Most importantly, they must play and not continue complaining about being unfair. Stop complaining! Brush up you skills, recruit better players and use strategies to beat the ruling party at their own games!”

While it is universally known that the opposition is not (and will never be) fighting on a level battle field, we simply cannot complain childishly among ourselves (in the true Singaporean manner) of the blatant injustice of the political system or hide behind complex political theories to explain random irrational rantings of a certain politician of the opposition party who believes that this will be enough to change the mindsets of the people. Hello? Reality Check?

“The ball was never in your court! Don’t expect it to be passed into your court. Go to the opposing court and played their game and try to beat them to it. Then dribble the ball back to your court. That’s the only way! There is no use complaining and getting upset and refusing to play or refusing to comply with the rules. It is of NO USE!”

K.S. used the analogy of soccer to explain the political situation in Singapore and it is important that we realise that until we get the ball and bring it to our court, we have to play the game in their court with their rules (though as skewed as they can be).

Another problem which he touched on concerning the opposition is the lack of a balanced media coverage of the opposition leaders, who may seem to be virtual unknowns to the electorate. This is very important because if there are already so few interested political voters who actually do their research on their MPs and their policies, who else would know about such opposition aliens? It would be hard to vote for an alternative voice simply because it is the alternative and nothing else.

I must admit that I am literally a political virgin because:
a) I have never been involved in an election before in any capacity.
b) I have only been interested in Singapore politics for a few months after reading Dr Cherian’s book entitled “The Air Conditioned Nation”.
c) I do not have a strong grasp of our political history, which I had found to be very very interesting, especially during the election periods, from the Malay chauvinism of Mohamed Jufrie Mahmood and the Chinese ideologies of Tang Liang Hong, to the controversy behind J B Jeyaratnam.
d) I am a young soon-to-be member of the electorate who have not lived through the “tumultuous years” as our social studies textbook would call it.

These are solely my views on Singapore politics, with respect to the state of our opposition now. I have yet remained undecided on whether or not I would enter politics simply because I believe it would be virtual political suicide for a Malay to be a Malay politician. It would be akin to walking on a political tightrope, pulled across by Malay activists, Nationalists and members of my political party.


The Singapore Malays : The Dilemma of Development

August 27, 2005

“In Singapore today, the Malays have been the beneficiaries of socio-economic deprivation.”

Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri starts off his monograph entitled The Singapore Malays : The Dilemma of Development with such irony and sarcasm that I simply had to laugh. Who knows such Malay intellectuals emphathetic of the Malay problem could look at the issue with such humour? The juxtaposition of “beneficiaries” and “socio-economic deprivation” is just so revealing of the magnitude of the problem that humour seems to be the best way to send the message through.

I will be reviewing the introduction of his monograph which chronologically explains the historical reasons behind the Malay problem (or the Malay Dilemma as termed by Dr Mahathir or the Singapore Dilemma by Dr Lily Zubaidah Rahim. Why are they so obsessed with the word dilemma?) and the various solutions by many of the late Singaporean Malay scholars on the issue, which really had been both enlightening and encouraging. While the start of the whole monograph was humourous and disheartening, he provides a much more encouraging outlook for the Malay community if we were to follow the carefully-crafted solutions by the Malay scholars.

Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri emphatically highlights the importance of historical factors which include the feudalistic mentality of the Malay leaders in particular as well as the repressive (or not?) colonial policy in place. Economically, he underlies how the fate of the Malays were sealed when the Sultan and Temenggong threw away the opportunity of engaging in trade offered by Raffles. Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri’s response to this was particularly harsh:

“It is unbelievable that such a golden opportunity was dismissed with an air of misplaced arrogance.”

It was “misplaced” because the feudalistic mentality of Sultan which provided a knee-jerk aversion to trade and commerce excluded the Malay leaders from being engaged in trade which will soon chart the history of modern Singapore. While Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri argues that the colonial policies were repessive, Haji Sidek Saniff, in the forward to the monograph, wrote how Malay classes were discontinued in 1842 after eight years of existence due to poor response. The Sultan himself also had rejected Raffles’ offer of sending his Malay sons to study in India under the British. Echoing Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri’s stand was Abdullah Munshi. Writing in his autobiography entitled, Hikayat Abdullah, he reflected:

“I had observed their conduct, behaviour and habits from my youth up to the present time and found that, as time went on, so far from becoming more intelligent, they became more and more stupid.”

Again, I just had to laugh at this because of his lack of subtlety and blatant frankness. To quote Mr Wan Hussein Zoohri, “Abdullah’s pungent criticism of the Malays made him the first known Malay writer to emphatise with the problem.” Emphathy through criticism – surely that’s indicative of the lack of appreciation and realisation of the general Malay community of the Malay problem itself!

In the early twentieth century, there were many Malay intellectuals who were concerned with the relative socio-economic inertia that has plunged within the levels of the Malay community. For example, Mr Zainal Abidin bin Ahmad, also known as Za’ba, had written two noteworthy articles entitled “The Poverty of Malays” and “The Salvation of the Malays” in the Malay Mail in December 1923. He painted a particularly encouraging picture:

“They are not, however, naturally of poor intellect, or incapable of high morals. Potentially, they posess such qualities as much as do any other people. But the actualised part of this potentiality is still too poor to bear comparision with what we find in other progressive peoples in the country.”

In this, he expanded the definition of poverty as being inclusive of moral and intellect, notwithsatnding the socio-economic poverty which is still plaguing the Malay community now. His description of the Malay community then is still surprisingly accurate when applied to the Malay community now at some levels:

“Intellectually, the Malays are poor in knowledge, in culture and in general means of cultivating the mind. Their literature is poor and unelevating; their domestic surroundings from childhood are poor and seldom edifying; their religious life and practice is poor and far removed from the pure original teachings of the Prophet. In short, the Malays cut poor figures in every department of life.”

Za’ba identifies a two prong approach to solve the Malay problem: the right education and the unity of the Malays in working hard and cooperating among themselves. Mr Syed Hussein Alatas identifies a more individualised approach. He believes central to answering the dilemma posed by the community is the emphasis on “human factors” as compared to “objective factors”. “Human factors” would include the spirit to think and the will to work hard.

“It is this spirit which leads us to examine the objective circumstances surrounding us and ascertain the necessary steps to be taken to overcome the obstacles for progress in economics, education and in other fields.”

I think this is the best solution yet that I have read in solving the Malay dilemma. The need to look inclusively towards ourselves individually, to have the “spirit” as idealised by Mr Syed Hussein Alatas, before any attempt at change can be effected. With education as primarily highlighted by Za’ba and Mr Syed Hussein’s Alatas and his “spirit to think and the will to work hard”, I believe we can slowly progress forward. The extent by which we have progressed now is debatable. While we lament that we still have yet achieved parity with the other races, we can say we have progressed. But by how much? Until I get official statistics, I really cannot comment.

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August 27, 2005

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Mee Bandung, inter alia

August 25, 2005

I was watching Table for 3 just now. Looking at all the delicious food they were eating, I couldn’t help but realise “hey! I’m eating something delicious too!” This was how it looked:

Mee Bandung - DELICIOUS!

It was simply delicious. It was a colourful combination of soft yellow noodles, crunchy tauge/beansprouts and sawi/kailan (I think?), small slices of tender juicy meat and prawns – all soaked in a rich spicy broth, titilating all of your senses. It was a sight to behold, and an aroma that I simply couldn’t resist.

I nearly did not eat it, because my mum initially wanted to make mee goreng (fried noodles – the dried version of mee bandung). But luckily she asked me before she cooked and I managed to persuade her otherwise. It was a purely orgasmic experience! Sigh! Wish I can eat it again.

My mum is a fantastic cook. Only that the trouble is that most of us don’t appreciate the food she cooks. So from this day on, I shall dedicate some of my posts solely on the food that she cooks – a delectable reminder of orgasmic experiences I have lived through and portents of many more to come.

Singapore @ 40

August 24, 2005

This was a column written by siew91 in newsintercom. I find what he highlights truly reflective of what Singapore is and what we have become. The paradoxical attempts of injecting change, of socially engineering our society to meet several government selected goals and of being afraid of the side effects – these are many manifestations of our society not being ready to accept such changes.

Today we have every reason to rejoice. In 40 years we have succeeded beyond all expectations.” PM Lee said in the televised National Day address. Indeed, we have made much progress in many areas. But are we able to sustain our progress in a rapidly globalised world?

Economic advancement has brought us wealth and has given us a comfortable life. But it has, at the same time, also conditioned us with the narrow-minded belief that money can fix any problems.

We offer high salaries to keep corruption at bay while attempting to attract the best talents to join the government. However, if we are of the opinion that high salaries can prevent excesses or abuse of power, we need only look at the National Kidney Foundation ex-CEO, T T Durai, to teach us better.

To win an Olympics medal, we offer million-dollar rewards and import many foreign sports aces. To date, the Olympics medal remains a dream. In contrast, in the days of pre-independence and non-monetary-rewards, we had amongst us, a silver medalist driven solely by sheer passion for the sport and self-determination.

To sustain economic activity, we give incentives to MNC and foreign talents to invest, work, and live in Singapore. While this policy has worked for us, it is beginning to lose its effectiveness, as serious competition surfaces from other lower-cost countries in the region. With national borders fast dissolving, it is essential to be self-reliant in terms of human resources and talents.

Wealth and political stability have also rendered us a nation of people pathologically fearful of changes.

From the 1990s onwards, we have wanted to be a more open and civic society so that creativity and entrepreneurial spirit would flourish. But we are fearful that an open society will cause all hell to break loose and thus pose a threat to our national security. Thus whenever someone wants to hold a peaceful demonstration, even a pacifist one against war, we will not permit it.

Similarly, when there are too many critical or dissenting views in the internet, we panic and take pre-emptive measures to restore the status quo.

We have also tried to be democratic by having an elected President rather than a nominated one. But alas, we are again fearful that we are not matured enough to make our own decision, so we have a commission to pre-select the President for us!

Unless we are willing to break away from our narrow-minded mercantilistic, protectionist mentality, we might end up like what MM Lee once said, “watch[ing] the world pass us by”. Our success would unfortunately then become our downfall.

Its very sad to realise that all these contradictions are really true. That we might have to “break away from our narrow-minded merchantilistic, protectionist mentality” so that we can move forward.

Kritik Sikap Orang Melayu Islam Singapura

August 23, 2005

I just read this entry entitled Kritik Sikap Orang Melayu Islam Singapura and got a good laugh. In fact most of the entries are hilarious! Heres the poem by the writer called Kritik.

Orang melayu islam Singapura memang bacul! Ramai yang bacul dan penakut! Ramai yang tidak berani bersuara dan menulis didalam blog untuk menegur dan mengkritik!
Engkau boleh lihat….TIDAK ramai orang2 melayu islam Singapura yang mempunyai blog yang menulis berbahasa melayu yang berani mengkritik masyarakat melayu islam mereka sendiri!

Mereka memang manusia penakut…!
Mereka MALAS menulis didalam blog percuma!
Mereka takut untuk mengkritik pemerintah Singapura mereka!
Mereka takut untuk mengkritik masyarakat melayu islam mereka! Mereka hanya suka berbuat bodoh! Mereka malas untuk menulis didalam blog2 percuma yang berlambak2 didalam alam cyber ini!
Itulah sikap mereka!
Kalau ada pun….itu boleh dikira dengan jari!

Apa yang dah jadi kepada mereka?…entahlah apa sebabnya! Barangkali sudah menjadi tersampuk pengikut setan!

Apa yang aku lihat ialah….
Mereka gila wang!
Mereka gila kesenangan!
Mereka gila kemewahan!
Mereka gila selamatkan diri masing2
Mereka gila menjaga periuk nasi mereka!
Mereka gila berlagak baik!
Mereka tidak berjiwa masyarakat!

Aku lihat…
Mereka sibuk mencari wang didalam hidup mereka!
Mereka tidak kisah apa yang akan berlaku kepada masyarakat melayu islam mereka…asalkan sahaja mereka dapat hidup senang…banyak duit….tidak banyak masaalah…tidak banyak stress dan dapat berjalan2 dihari cuti dengan keluarga mereka…sudah mencukupi!!

Mereka sudah jadi manusia bacul!
Mereka sudah jadi malas yang suka duduk rehat2 dan senang3kan diri mereka sendiri.
Mereka sudah tidak berani mengkritik!
Mereka sudah tidak berani menegur!
Mereka bukan lagi berjiwa pahlawan2 islam!
Mereka bukan lagi berjiwa pembela masyarakat!
Mereka bukan lagi berjiwa penegak yang benar demi kebaikkan!

Mereka sudah berjiwa wang ringgit, sudah berjiwa mengejar nama dan kedudukan, sudah berjiwa mengejar kemewahan hidup, sudah berjiwa mengejar keselamatan diri sendiri dan ahli keluarga mereka sendiri sahaja!

Mereka sudah menjadi orang2 yang hanya pentingkan diri mereka sendiri sahaja!
Mereka sudah menjadi manusia yang cukup pandai bermuka-muka dan berpura-pura!
Mereka bukanlah manusia2 yang boleh diharapkan lagi dan dapat dipercayai!
Dunia adalah segala2nya dihati jiwa mereka!

Aku berani mencabar mereka…!!
Kerana mereka tidak mempunyai blog untuk menulis seperti aku!
Kerana mereka memang malas dan bacul untuk menulis dan mengkritik didalam blog!
Kerana mereka sebenarnya …bukan berjiwa masyarakat!
Kerana mereka sebenarnya…bukan pengkritik masyarakat!
Kerana mereka sebenarnya…memang manusia2 jenis yang suka berpura-pura didalam hidup!
Kerana mereka bukan berjiwa pahlawan syahid islam!
Keran mereka berjiwa kesenangan dunia!

Dan aku adalah rakyat Singapura…
Yang tidak suka menjadi bacul seperti mereka!
Yang tidak suka menjadi manusia penipu dan manusia pemalas dan manusia pura-pura seperti mereka!
Sebab itu aku mengkritik bangsa melayu islam Singapura ku sendiri!
Sebab itu aku menulis didalam blog ini….(tidak dibayar pun)
Semata2 untuk mengharap keredaan Tuhan Ku!

Lowest of the low: Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore

August 23, 2005

This was an article written by Yasuko Kobayashi on 23 September 2004, who is a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Asian Studies at the Australian National University. He also wrote the previous article I reviewed on Masalah Melayu di Singapura: The continuous strive to “succeed”.

Maid rights have never been championed so aggressively by anyone. I find this extremely anomalous simply because the whole maid population themselves can form a powerful lobby group capable of challenging the manpower ministry as well as the government on such basic labour laws. I guess most maids are simply more concerned with sending all their income back home, rather than fight for their rights as workers in Singapore.

Maid abuse can never ever be tolerated simply because its dehumanising, ruthless and immoral. Why I say its immoral is because paying them to be your workers (or servants) does not entitle you the right to abuse them when they do something wrong or not to your liking. Again I must emphasize that they are human beings. What this means is that other than treating them as such, they also carry emotional and psychological baggage with them. You cannot have a foreign person working in your house and expect no problems. Homesickness, family problems, relationship problems – all these come with the employer-employee relationship, especially since the productivity of the worker is directly proportionate to her emotional and physical well being. Sometimes, I must concur that the maid is at fault. Many have heard horror stories of ill-treatment of children under the care of maids or maids running off with they so-called “boyfriends” whom they have met at Lucky Plaza.

But this does not mean they are not entitled to basic rights as workers which include a day off a week for rest or even working hours for the maid. What disgusted me the most was to read a book entitled Foreign Maids: The Complete Handbook for Employers and Maid Agencies, in particular about a list of rules for the maid, which includes her smiling and greeting the so-called employer like a trained dog . Its extremely dehumanising!

There has been changes to improve the maid situation this year, with the age limit, educational qualifications and so on. But I still feel that the professional nature of the employer-employee relationship has yet to be formalised and institutionalised so as to protect such a fundamental layer of the society that we so conveniently overlook simply because they are “foreign”. Here’s the article:

Potential for more abuse

A new government package – a sharp reduction of the maid levy for families with children aged below 12 (from $345 to 250) – to stimulate the birth rate announced on 25th August seems calculated to increase the exploitation of FDWs.

This will make FDWs an even more attractive solution to the problem of child care. With legally unrestricted working hours, FDWs are the ‘ideal’ labour force for this purpose.

Babies cry regardless of time, and children grizzle regardless of time; unlimited exploitation of this unlimited labour force is a likely concomitant of the new baby package.

Unlike for Singaporean employees, the Employment Act does not apply to foreign domestic workers. Hence, the relation between the employers and FDWs is left to their “personal arrangement.” This opens up a huge range of interpretations of what the relation can be.

For instance, it is possible for employers to keep pushing around foreign domestic workers, by saying, “oh this is personal arrangement, you see. No written contract about provisions of working hours.”

Recently, in April 2004, the Singapore government did introduce a compulsory guidance course for both foreign domestic workers and first-time employers of them. And on the 30th of August, the Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen mentioned raising the minimum age of FDWs from the current minimum age of 18 years old. Nonetheless, the Employment Act is yet to be applied to foreign domestic workers.

Maid Surveillance

The government positions FDWs in the lowest social stratum, too, by compelling employers and maid agencies to control them strictly.

For instance, it is compulsory for foreign domestic workers to take a medical examination every six months, and this obligation is left to either the employer or the maid agency. This examination includes an HIV and VDRL (venereal disease research laboratory) test, and a pregnancy test.

If this examination shows the foreign domestic worker to be pregnant, she must return to her original country immediately, and it is a duty of the employer to undertake this repatriation.

If the employer fails to do so, then s/he will not receive a refund of the $5000 security bond that s/he has paid.

Similarly, if a foreign domestic worker commits any illegal conduct, the employer may not have this security bond refunded. If a foreign domestic worker commits suicide, then the employer will not receive a refund of the $3000 personal accident insurance bond that s/he has paid.

The society is thus called on to participate in surveillance procedures by the proffered carrot of bond refunds.

Dehumanising Treatment of Maids

In the ways above, the PAP government creates perceptions within the Singapore society that FDWs are the lowest of the low. Largely as a result of this, FDWs are dehumanized and mistreated by the society.

The most obvious form this takes is physical abuse. Only days ago, on 21st August 2004, another case of abuse was reported by Straits Times. A 31 year old woman who bit her maid, burnt her and slashed her with two knives was jailed for 28 months by a district court.

However, FDWs undergo more subtle forms of dehumanising treatment as well.

Agencies often display their products (i.e. maids) for business purposes. Some display the photographs of their maids with a detailed description of them: age, language ability, housework skills and so forth. These details are called “bio-data.”

Other maid agencies display a videotape of maids. On this videotape, the maid speaks to you about her bio-data. “My name is Sari. I am from Indonesia. I am twenty three years old. I love children. …” Some agencies even have maids sitting in the window to attract customers.

Also there is an internet trade in maids: as commodities. You can obtain a whole set of details of your potential maids as if buying products over the internet. And sometimes you can find maids advertised by “promotion” offers, valid till such and such a date. Hurry!!

In scenes of everyday life, discriminative treatment is equally stark. In a food court, one might see (as I did) a maid told to eat the left-over food from the meal of her employer’s family. Some people have their maids sleep in the kitchen, saying, “A room for a maid ah? No need lah.”

Or you can see this posting on a web forum for Singapore employers: “My best friend takes her servant to tattoo store to make a big tattoo saying “Property of KIM” on her back.. I just saw it and it looks very cool. Anyone else do this to their servants ??”

Need for Policy Change

So, although the most obvious forms of mistreatment of maids are not committed by the PAP government but rather by the Singaporeans, we can see clearly the hand of the PAP government behind it.

Its policies towards FDWs create a social environment where their dehumanization and abuse within the society becomes almost inevitable.

Until the PAP government acts to protect the basic right of FDWs, the brand of ‘lowest of the low’ will be deeply stamped on them, which will cause further dehumanization, abuse and death.

This ugly picture does not fit the self-image of Singapore as a ‘first world’ country, does it?