Archive for the ‘Singapore Politics’ Category

Going through a difficult pHaze: Part 1

In Singapore Politics on June 21, 2013 at 3:01 pm

No one opposes Minister Balakrishnan and Minister Shanmugam in their dealing with Indonesia; their firmness should have been practised a very long time ago. And maybe the haze isn’t the government’s fault–Indonesia certainly seems more culpable whichever way you choose to slice the problem. But when crisis strikes, Government owes a duty to take care of their citizens–this is a responsibility that is completely independent of blame-worthiness. This responsibility means churning out domestic solutions to the problem when we’ve gone too far down the path to a hazy hell. Die-hard fans of the Singapore government will disagree, but we could’ve done better in this respect.

For one thing, construction workers should not be working outdoors without masks when the PSI is in the “Unhealthy” or “Hazardous” range. If we can advise the general population to stay indoors, this prudent advice should certainly extend to any employee–foreign or local–currently working outside in the haze. Perhaps if our new buildings and MRT stations are in such urgent need of construction, then we should at least provide these workers with masks to minimize their inhalation of pollutants. It is a worthwhile investment.

It is baffling (rather, infuriating) that the government has not told companies to cease construction work for now. It seems rather inhumane to subject human beings to laborious tasks in the outdoors when the haze could clog their lungs. Even if the government didn’t issue a stop-work order, I believe these companies have the good sense to protect their employees by temporarily stopping work until the PSI decreases. Yet outside my home I am still seeing several construction workers going about their jobs without any regard for the hazardous air pollution. It is business-as-usual. And I am disheartened that despite a “whole-of-government” approach, we have not shown much concern for these workers.

I’m afraid our dealings abroad aren’t perfect either. Of course, “demanding” “definitive action” from the Indonesian government and the release of names of the corporate culprits isn’t a bad idea. But when the Indonesian Minister starts to call Singaporeans “children” and insinuate that we’re being a tad whiny about this haze issue, it implies that perhaps we need our bilateral dynamics to be a little less belligerent. Perhaps if we had taken such a firm stance earlier–say, 10 years ago–such belligerence wouldn’t be necessary when the PSI reaches 300.

Disasters and apocalypses don’t change your character–they reveal it. Beneath the shroud of this haze, perhaps it has been revealed that we weren’t prepared for this difficult phaze at all. And now we shall all scramble for masks and air-conditioning.


Social work

In Personal reflections, singapore general election parliament, Singapore Politics, Uncategorized on November 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Some things need to be said about mental illness.

Generally, it’s easy to raise awareness about animal abuse and melt people’s hearts with posters of bunny rabbits and cute puppies. It’s never too difficult to elicit an “Awwwwww” or a “Those poor things…!” from the general public.

But when it comes to talking about psychiatric patients………………..you’re probably not going to get the same emotional response. Till this day, too much stigma surrounds the notion of mental illness and rehabilitation.

Before my week-long work attachment at an undisclosed religious mental rehabilitation organisation, I had no clue what psychiatric patients would be like. And at the rehab centre, they were surprisingly normal. It was genuinely difficult to tell the difference between the staff members and the clients–not because the staff were mental, but because there seemed to be nothing remotely wrong with the “patients”. Certainly, those were the clients who’d already been treated and were rehabilitating well, but what I saw did offer some glimpse of hope: Mental illnesses like schizophrenia do not spell the end of all sanity and healthy living.

I met a 53-year-old man named Will. He grasped my hand and said “Hi, I’m Will, the Investigator. I want to keep this country safe, nab criminals. So that Singapore can attract foreign investment.”

He seemed perfectly sane, healthy, rational. I later learnt he was schizophrenic, a condition in which the subject sometimes cannot tell the difference between what is real and what isn’t.

A day later, when I went back to work, he looked at me with an unnerving seriousness. “Aren’t your parents scared of this place? Aren’t your teachers scared of assigning you to a….a mental hospital? You’re not afraid?”

“No, I’m not. We’re just playing Scrabble, it’s not like anyone is going to hurt me. Everyone is really, really friendly.”

“But some of us aren’t…..you know….stable………DO I SCARE YOU?” He kept staring at me, even when I looked away. The truth was, Will didn’t scare me, because he was too normal to frighten anyone.

On a separate note, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many social workers, who handle cases like Will’s and everyone else’s in the rehab centre. I can honestly say that none of these social workers are working in self-interest. It is not a job that typically pays a lot, and like all other noble professions such as nursing, there are certain hells they have to endure on the job. Paperwork is one of them.

I’ve met a businessman who gave up his lucrative construction company to join this mental rehab centre as a programme planner. I’ve met a social worker who had to endure the guilt and grief of his psychiatric clients committing suicide. And I’ve met occupational therapists with amazing patience needed to teach and train disruptive clients.

For these clients, being hit with mental illnesses is like having to start from Square One all over again. Some of them were high-achieving doctors and lawyers who simply couldn’t cope with the stress of their profession and developed mental illnesses that caused them to lose basic living skills like bathing, brushing your teeth and changing your clothes. It’s like being forced to start from scratch. What makes it easier are these social workers who want nothing more than to help them slowly rehabilitate.

All of these social workers are there with an altruistic purpose of serving clients, and because of the religious nature of the organisation, the staff find motivation in their religious goal of helping others. In a secular society like Singapore, we cannot undermine the value of such religious organisations that don’t strive to preach or proselytize, but to give back to the community as best as they can.

In such a fast-paced and competitive country, we talk about achieving “happiness, prosperity and progress”. At the same time, we talk about being “One People, One Nation, One Singapore”. Perhaps it’s time we realised that the two are a tad mutually exclusive. The reality is that with such high-speed progress, a lot of us end up being left behind–whether it’s the mentally disabled, physically disabled, or regular folks who just can’t cope. It is these religious organisations that inspire people with an altruistic incentive to help them.

Unlike corporations,  these organisations aren’t doing this for Corporate-Social Responsibility and public relations. And unlike governments, they aren’t giving “handouts” to win an election.

I feel undoubtedly cleansed after being around these people, and have begun to feel a sense of disgust for the self-serving grandeur politicians build around themselves. Looking at such exhausting, selfless work, one wonders if high salaries belong to the realm of Ministers or to the realm of such people who make true “sacrifices”.

While I fully agree that we need to pay these social workers well, perhaps increasing their pay would create another “ministerial” culture, where we attract the wrong people for the job–those who are concerned with profit, not people. The world of social work seems to be built on altruism–and high pay simply doesn’t fit into that world.

As a society, we need to start talking about uncomfortable things like mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. We need to talk about how much or how little we know about it, we need to say the wrong things so we can learn the right things. Misconceptions must be cleared up, and we must rid ourselves of the unnecessary fear of mental illnesses. No matter how hard these patients try to recover from their illnesses, it is society that must first rehabilitate from its phobias and prejudices. Only then can we hope to achieve true re-integration.

Being Holistic

In Personal reflections, Singapore Politics, Thoughts from school, Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm

It has come to my attention that I am not “all-rounded” enough.

In Singapore, the word “all-rounded” is synonymous to the word “holistic”. Both words are used to describe people, or more commonly, pupils who excel in academics as well as “aesthetics”. “Aesthetics” typically refer to performing arts (like dance), musical ability (usually piano or violin), and personality (though I doubt this is as prized as the former two)

Singapore’s known for being this education hothouse that just churns out students who are bright, articulate and talented. So when someone tells you that you’re not “holistic” or “wholesome” or “all-rounded”, its a just cause to feel hurt. The kind of inadequacy and inferiority you experience is just downright painful. That’s why we students are just so competitive–losing out, even in the smallest of ways, hurts. Especially when you dream of someday going to an Ivy League University and making it big in life. It always, always hurts to think that you’re not up to par.

But now I realise I’ve accepted such criticisms too willingly and I’ve accepted the yardstick for all-rounded success far too readily. I don’t know why my ego didn’t kick in and I don’t know why I hadn’t bothered to go into the automatic mode of defensiveness. Yes, I do want to be humble, and I’ve paid too high a price for not being humble. But accepting such criticisms unquestioningly was just plain stupid. The yardstick by which we measure our individual successes must not ever be dictated by social norm or peer pressure, and that’s the secret to surviving the hothouse environment.

So, what’s MY yardstick? It’s pretty much the same stuff society prizes–intelligence, integrity, personality and talents. EXCEPT my definition of those things differ greatly.

Intelligence need not be measured A1s and C5s. Integrity is not about picking up litter even when it’s not your own. Having a great personality is not just embodying the one-dimensional trait of “being nice”. Talent is not defined by having a Grade 10 Piano cert.

Intelligence is about intellectual rigour; it’s about being able to see rhythms and patterns and nuances in the world around you and making sense of it all. It’s about being able to empathise with opposing perspectives in controversies. It’s about delving deeper, going beyond the surface, and not just accepting  things at face-value. That’s intelligence.

Oprah Winfrey says “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

Don’t get me wrong: integrity does encompass picking up litter, like what school teaches us. And it does encompass–Okay let’s say, if you’re a prefect and your friend does something against the rules,  it would indeed be morally upright of you to book them anyway.

But integrity is much, much more than that.

In a deeper, more intangible sense, integrity and moral courage means daring to go against what’s popular in order to do what’s right. It means standing by your friends, even when they are the most geeky people in class and hanging out with them is going to hurt your popularity with the cool kids. It is never just about playing by the rules and being a law-abiding citizen. In fact, if the establishment does something of injustice and enforces a rule that you believe is wrong,  if you have the moral courage to speak out against such injustice on behalf of others, that’s definitely integrity. If you are powerful, but still choose to stand with the powerless, yes, that is integrity.

Having a great personality IS about being nice, yes. Treating others the way you would like to be treated is extremely important. However, a striking personality goes beyond this niceness, and is one of passions and humors and gumption. It’s the ability to wholeheartedly embrace being human, and allowing yourself to feel intense pleasure, sorrow, anger and fear. It’s about melting away every bit of ice-cold indifference and not letting the monotony of life numb you out from the world.  Furthermore, being able to radiate confidence and warmth and friendliness even in the most uncertain of situations, and imbuing in your peers that same confidence, is essential. Most importantly, being able to forge a connection with the people around you and develop genuine friendships–that’s part of having a great personality.

Lastly, talent is intrinsically linked to your passion. It’s whatever you define it to be, If it’s piano/ballet/violin, sure. But if it’s writing fanfiction and limericks, well, why not? If your talent is academia, science, current affairs and philosophy, you’re not going to have the easiest time finding like-minded individuals, but hey, that’s just who you are.

The establishment will never be able to measure an individual’s true potential, and not all individuals will fit into the die-cast mold of being holistic. In the midst of so much competition to match up to such standards, I have lost sight of what is truly holistic–a value that is meant to vary from individual to individual.

Truth is, we will never encourage “holisticity” if we, as a society, continue to impose upon our youth a cookie-cutter definition of all-roundedness. And no matter how hard we try to emphasize Character Education as part of school curriculum, you’ll find that selfishness will always exist in a society that values competition more than collective interest, and indifference will always be inculcated in generations that continue to be stifled by the culture of competitiveness.

School, Uniformity and Conformity.

In Personal reflections, Singapore Politics, Thoughts from school, Uncategorized on September 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

Today, through bleary eyes I stared at the national flag as it mounted the pole and ascended. I didn’t want to sing the anthem–I had sung it every day of every week of every month of every year since nine years ago when I first enrolled into school. The repetitive monotony made such a ceremony seem insignificant now. But as I observed that flag with lifeless eyes, I realised that there were teachers standing in front of me, and I somehow felt their cold, hard stares, their  eyes boring into my skull. Sing. You must sing the national anthem. Quick, Risa, sing. You’re going to get scolded. My lips parted as I mouthed the lyrics of the national anthem–lyrics that had once been sung with passion and love but were now just insignificant words too familiar to mean anything.

As the crescendo died and the music faded, we students stood closely packed in neat, straight rows as we suffered yet another shelling. Why didn’t you sing the national anthem and school song? It’s so disrespectful. You, girl! Stop touching your hair! Stop fidgeting, girls! Listen to me! You MUST sing the national anthem and the school song! You belong to THIS school and THIS country so you jolly well open your mouths and SING!….STAND STRAIGHT, GIRLS! Why aren’t you listening! And look at your skirts–they are so short! You must uphold school values, girls, you must. we have to be accountable to stakeholders…i mean, parents! what will they think of you when they see you dressed in such a short uniform? I SAID STAND STRAIGHT AND LISTEN! Look, when you go out in public or go on stage, we want you to have your held head high (sic) and we want you to uphold corporate values. HEY! THE GIRL WITH THE HAIR, STOP TALKING!

It seemed, even the microphone couldn’t stand her voice anymore. A shrill howl of audio feedback erupted from the speakers. A painful sound for sleep-deprived students to hear in the morning.

But corporate values? Stakeholders? And more importantly, held head high??? Girl with the hair? We all have hair, thank you.

Last time I checked, I was a student in a school–a school where I could discover my talents, my personality, my own gumption. Suddenly, I find myself an employee working in some large-scale MNC with corporate values. Ouch. Difficult reality for a fifteen-year-old to accept.

Really, just really, how do you expect any of us to have any semblance of school and national pride if you’re giving us a shelling every single morning? Why are you forcing me to sing the national anthem–if I don’t sing it from the depths of my heart and soul, isn’t it already meaningless?

There are school rules against slander. But I am not slandering. You don’t even know what school I come from. I love that school–it’s a great school with some brilliant and passionate teachers, good facilities and a nurturing community. But every day, I find my individual voice, independent mind and gumption suffocated by rules. I know there’s a need for discipline. I understand why we need appropriate uniforms. I get why we need strict rules. But we need to strike a balance in schools. How do we find a way to be firm, but not stifling?

And stifling may prove counter-intuitive for the results-driven school as well. The other day, in English class, the class was–as usual–silent. We listened, we didn’t ask questions. Not even when the teacher asked us to ask questions. Girls, are  you all dead?? Why do you look so tired? I’m asking you for questions and opinions! Give me an opinion! You there, sitting at the back, give me an opinion on this! I want an OPINION!

It seems, no one knows what an opinion is nowadays.

Fertility Woes

In Singapore Politics, Uncategorized on August 18, 2012 at 10:31 am

Apparently, people here aren’t having children because it’s too expensive.

That’s true, considering I walked down the diaper aisle at NTUC the other day and realised that diapers cost a shitload of money (pun intended). Everything in Singapore is expensive–housing, cars, diapers, daycare fees, you name it. On top of that, we’ve got the world’s longest working hours–one in five Singaporeans work more than eleven hours daily. Bottom line, Singapore doesn’t provide a family-oriented environment that encourages citizens to start families.

We’ve heard enough bloggers bemoan the rising cost of living as a reason for the low birth rate, and maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree.

Perhaps choosing not to have kids has become a fashionable trend for people, and lowering the cost of living isn’t going to help our low fertility. Yes, it has been mentioned that gender equality has led to women having more control over their lifestyle choices like getting married and having children. And since an increased percentage receive tertiary education, more women now tend to prioritize their career over starting a family. I don’t think this reason has been given enough credit. If celibacy is now a fashionable trend and if fewer people appreciate the joy of having kids, then lowering the cost of living isn’t the solution.

Gone are the days when marriage and having children were “compulsory milestones”. Maybe it’s time for us to accept that Singapore isn’t that traditional and conservative anymore. With globalisation, we’ve become so Westernized that marriage and starting a family is just one of the many lifestyle choices that are, well, optional. And that’s not a bad thing.

I concede that we still need to make the cost of living cheaper so that more Singaporeans become financially stable. However, I don’t think we should expect the fertility rate to miraculously increase when things get more affordable. Societal ideals have changed with time and our population trend will change along with it. It doesn’t mean we’ll “fold up” like LKY says; it just means we have to look deeper for the solution.

Romney and Our Highly Paid Ministers: A Quick Thought

In American Politics, Singapore Politics, Uncategorized on August 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm

When it comes to the debate about ministerial pay, Singapore gives the following justification for pegging it to the private sector’s top earners’: We need to attract talented people to work in public service in order for us to establish a good government. These talented people are in the private sector. They aren’t interested in joining public service, because they stand to earn more money in the corporate world.

Just a thought: If these “talented people in the private sector” are so concerned about monetary gain that they won’t even consider a job in public service, do we even want them in our government in the first place? Sure, they are “talented”, they’ve got Ivy League university degrees and a bunch of skills that we could use in government. But the application of the skills are slightly different in the public sector than in the corporate world. For instance, the government tends to “over-hire” so as to provide employment. But most companies in the private sector would usually want to cut down on the number of employees they have in order to cut costs and widen the profit margin–here, we can see a clear distinction in the aims of the government and the corporations. So those talented people in the private sector might just be playing a whole new game altogether–they’re focused on profits, not people.

Now, let’s draw a parallel to Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the Presidential hopeful who is supposedly one of the “talented people” in the corporate world that might be able to govern in the public sector. He believes that he’d be a good choice for the American people, because he’s actually “been in the economy”, and he knows “why jobs come and why they go”. Since he “knows a thing or two about how jobs are created and how they are lost”, he sounds like the right man for the Oval Office.

But, no.

Perhaps he knows why jobs are created and lost, but only because he’s the one responsible for destroying thousands of American jobs by buying over companies and firing workers for the sake of gaining profit, slashing paychecks, pumping and dumping shares, and “getting back their bait” by extracting special payments before selling the company off. I’ll let Obama’s anti-Romney ads convince you further on Governer Romney’s track record on destroying the lives of thousands of Americans. But I don’t think we should be surprised as to what Romney did when he was involved in Bain Capital and when he was serving his term as Governer. Everything he did was done in the name of generating a profit–or what “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” calls “cheating the system to make a quick buck”. Ultimately, he was one of those “talented” corporate people who knew the system well enough to make monetary gains from it. That’s a man for the office of Bain Capital and other large businesses, not a man for the office of President of the United States of America. He’s playing a whole nother game–profits, not people.

So you see the parallel.

Campus Activism banned at Yale-NUS Liberal Arts College

In Singapore Politics on July 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I was at first delighted at the prospect of a new liberal arts college in Singapore. The Yale-NUS campus symbolized that Singapore was moving towards freedom of expression and intellectual rigour, and it was testament to the notion that we were becoming a more genuine democracy, where young citizens like myself could engage in political discourse.

However, the average reasonable person would be able to see the blatant hypocrisy that exists in Yale’s new Singapore campus. It is meant to be a Liberal Arts college, but it’s not at all “Liberal”. It is hilariously yet painfully ironic how Yale, an Ivy League University that comes from a country that prizes liberty above all else, has accepted Singapore government’s limitations on campus activism. Students will not be allowed to form political clubs and parties, and demonstrations will be prohibited on campus, just like in any other part of Singapore. So much for feeling optimistic about becoming a more genuine democracy. Campus activism and political discourse on campus is the epitome of freedom, and if we can call ourselves a first-world country, why can’t we become a first-world democracy?

Singapore is known for being pragmatic, and I believe it would be very practical for us to invest in campus activism. The ruling party constantly bemoans the fact that we have a shortage of good, talented political leaders (and it’s because they’re so scarce that we have to attract them with million-dollar salaries). If this is true, let us begin a culture of political discourse and allow boisterous youth brimming with fresh ideas to come forth and speak freely. The problem that our country is facing now is that we don’t have enough young people who are interested in politics and will be open to the prospect of entering the political scene. Why? Because to them, their political views don’t matter and everything is going to be taken care of by the “gahmen”. Also, even if they do have strong political views of their own, they are far too afraid to speak up (except in anonymity on the internet), because they know our country is not one that values freedom of expression. That is an extremely unhealthy political scene, and our supply of talented politicians will soon dry up. It is in our country’s interests to encourage youth to think, to speak and to care about politics, and that will allow for a new generation of talented political leaders to emerge. That is the kind of Liberal Arts culture that we should be trying to promote.

Yale’s agreement to prohibit any and all forms of campus activism is a cause for great disappointment. It will only serve to make our political scene duller, when, in fact, this college was meant to make it more vibrant. Moving forward, I hope Yale and the Singapore authorities will continue to find a way to facilitate campus activism without disrupting the social harmony that we enjoy. I am not suggesting that we allow for political demonstrations on the streets of Singapore, but at least on university campuses, youthful idealism should be allowed to flow freely and unhindered.

Criticism in Parliament Crucial for Policy-making (TODAY letter)

In Singapore Politics, Uncategorized on November 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I refer to the letter “Voters want to hear solutions in the debates” in TODAY 25 Oct 2011.

I am completely in favour of MPs raising alternatives to government policies, in addition to their so-called “complaints”.  But to expect Members of Parliament to have a “well-thought alternative” every time they criticise the government is unrealistic. According to Mr Yee, the Workers’ Party should be supporting their proposals in parliament with robust analysis, like political parties in the US or UK. But this seems idealistic, because even American and British political parties do not always back up their criticism with a full-bodied analysis, and they certainly do not always offer a solution whenever they want to point out a problem. It is neither necessary nor possible to do so.

It is time that we changed our mindset towards the idea of criticism and opposition. We should not see criticism as complaints and opposition as a hindrance to progress. As a school debater involved in student conferences such as Model Congress, I realise that it is only with criticism and opposition that vigorous debate can take place. In parliamentary debates, different views and perspectives can be expressed without fear or favour so that every policy is given a comprehensive analysis by all sides of the House. This way, our Parliament can realize the flaws in every piece of legislation and find ways to improve on policies before they are passed. This is better than having no opposition to point out the potential problems and having such problems manifest after the policies have been put in place.

The bottomline is that criticism and opposition in Parliament is essential to proper debate, and is therefore also essential in creating comprehensive policies that we voters so desperately yearn for.

With opposition, the process of legislating may not be as quick or as easy, but our Parliament will roll out better policies for our country, and that is the beauty of “complaining”.

%d bloggers like this: